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What I think too many Western Buddhists fail to even glance at is the role Buddhists throughout Asia play in aiding social change. I’ve heard so many Western practitioners talk about the change they’d like to see happen in local & national government (American), yet they fail to take part in social action besides voting.
To us, maintaining one’s practice is of prime importance & should be considering our teachers’ oft stated fact that achieving liberation takes work. Great work. If practitioners spend the majority of their leisure time in meditation (or in private retreat!), I could understand not taking an active role in social affairs. But this is not the case for the vast majority of us.Most are like me- we spend some of our free time in meditation but waste a great deal of time on social media, watching T.V., running around socializing, reading non-Buddhist texts, etc.
Once I posted a story on facebook concerning a previous life of Lord Buddha, a life before he was born as Prince Siddartha. He was aboard a boat with 500 others. He discovered that a man was planning on killing the ship’s captain which would lead to the death of the remaining 499 because no one else could steer the ship. In his wisdom, coupled with his love for his fellows, Buddha (remember now, this is him in a previous life) killed the murderous man in order to save the hundreds of men (and I believe, if memory serves, to keep the man with murderous intentions from accumulating the vast amount of negative karma that would accompany the mass murder). He was motivated by love. Semi-jokingly, I added to the post that I was going to start a non-pacifist Buddhist group who would work towards social change and call it “The 500.” I thought this was a great name that captured the importance of taking social action to benfit others!
Sadly, my point was completely missed. I was told the Buddha had the wisdom to know it was the right action to take. I was told that the story was just an allegory for this-and-that. I was told- I was told- I was told.
Of course the Buddha did have the wisdom to see the benefit of his action. But my point was that Buddhism isn’t about withdrawal from the world. When Buddha discovered the murderous plot, he didn’t sit in full-lotus & send out light, he didn’t sit & just accept what was going to happen because it was the crews karma & that everything is impermanent anyway so why not just let it all go down. He took action in order to save the crews’ lives.
Buddhism isn’t only about sending light to those you feel resentful towards. It’s not about obsessing on the love you feel or don’t feel or want to feel. Yes, it’s about love, but while we’re in this world, it can take the form of social action. And more & more, I’m beginning to think that it must take the form of social action. At least for me.
The love I feel or am training myself to feel isn’t going to stop social injustice. It’s not going to stop capitalists from murdering indigenous people & their cultures. It’s not going to bring back the 200 species that went extinct today. It’s not going to stop the spreading of cancerous toxins throughout the world’s ecosystem. It’s not going to stop the sale of liquor in White Clay that’s a modern American slow genocide of the Sioux. But my love coupled by action may help.
We have the monks of Myanmar monks, Vietnamese monks, the non-suicidal protesters of Tibet as noble examples of Buddhism being non-pacifist. I think us Western Buddhists can learn from them. They remain Buddhists & angents of love while also taking social action.
I understand social action isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m just now feeling its genesis within. I’m unsure what I can do. But the more I learn of the suffering that’s thrown upon my brothers & sisters, human & animal, the greater revealed is my love for them.