Get off your cushion and get involved
7. Create Community.
As Buddhist practitioners, we take refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for meditating, bowing, chanting, and lighting sticks of incense, we emphasize the first two jewels and neglect sangha, or community. Working for social justice provides ample opportunity for the cultivation of sangha.
Have a house party to focus on a particular issue or project. It could be a get-out-the-vote party, a letterwriting party, a fund-raiser for an organization you support, an educational evening with a speaker on Iraq, or a viewing and discussion of a video on the Middle East. Invite a dozen friends over and make it a potluck. If your friends are so inclined, you might begin with a period of meditation. Or enlarge the scope of the gathering and have a block party to get to know your neighbors. Join with others joyfully, turning away from that all-too-familiar, downward-spiraling conversation that leads to cynicism and paralysis. MoveOn.org's book, 50 Ways to Love Your Country, is full of helpful suggestions. (For guidelines, see Gwen Gordon's essay "Coming Together For A Change: How to Form an Activist Sangha" on www.tricycle.com.)
Form an affinity group, a group of people who want to work with you in an ongoing effort to make a difference. An affinity group may emerge from a house party or a block party. You can give each other courage as you act for peace in the world. Organize a nonviolence training session for your affinity group in preparation for taking part in a demonstration or even an act of civil disobedience. Two of the national organizations that provide nonviolence trainers to groups are the Fellowship of Reconciliation (www.forusa.org) and the War Resisters League (www.warresisters.org).
8. Make a Firm Commitment to What You Are Going To Do.
Determine to work a certain number of hours or days on a specific project. Find an activist Buddhist buddy, and talk over your commitment with this person. Take action together, go to demonstrations together, register voters together. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed by how many different things there are to do, but find something that suits your skills and interests. Practice mindfulness by listening to your heart: What calls you? Find the interface between what needs to be done and what you have to offer.
Write down a list of what you are going to do and sign it, with your buddy acting as notary public. After all, Buddhists are in the habit of making vows. Think of it as a practice period. Let it be a spiritual practice, and stick to it with a sense of discipline.
9. Bear Witness.
You have been given the gift of human form, so don't just vow to save all sentient beings with your mouth; vow with your body. Buddha sat under a tree at the edge of his own neighborhood and faced an oncoming army. You can work up to this gradually.
Bearing witness is a good thing to do with your affinity group. For example, go on a peace walk together. The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order organizes peace walks all over the world that focus on civil rights and peace issues (see www.dharmawalk.org). Venerable Maha Ghosananda, the Buddhist patriarch and activist known as the Gandhi of Cambodia, who is now in his eighties, leads a Dhammayietra, or peace walk, across Cambodia every year. He says, "Our journey for peace begins today and every day. Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation, each step will build a bridge."
10. Don't Be Attached To Results. Persevere.
The law of karma tells us that beneficial actions produce beneficial results, so even though you may not see those results immediately (or ever), the work you do for peace and justice now will bear fruit at some point in the future. You aren't in a position to judge the results of your actions, so maintain what Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn Sunim calls "don't-know mind." It's a kind of hubris to want to know exactly what's going on. If the results you are working for in the short term don't come to pass, remember the long term. What will the beings not yet born say about us if we give up now? Peace is not the end but the means, and we are already practicing it. No doubt about it—this is a dark time, and vast corporations with their armies and their governments and their dogmas are crushing life all over the place. But the good news is that we're not in this dark place alone, and a lot of people, including a lot of Buddhists, are getting off their duffs to change things for the better.
Susan Moon is the editor of Turning Wheel, the journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the editor of the new anthology Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism.
Image: "Speak Out On America," by Brian Belott, courtesy of White Box Gallery. Mixed media. © Brian Belott, Courtesy of White Box Gallery.