Engaging with the Suffering of Our World February 9, 2009By Hugh Byrne SocialJustice, teachings How do followers of the Buddha’s path—the dharma—respond to the suffering in our society and our world? We live in a world where violence is very often the first solution to a conflict, and in which 800 million people will go to bed hungry tonight. Our patterns of consumption, particularly of energy, are bringing profound changes to the earth’s climate. Despite our wealth, here in the U.S. millions of people lack basic health care coverage. Our new president, Barack Obama, has said that these current crises cannot be solved just by politicians: that we need to cultivate a deeper understanding of citizenship that sees solutions as coming through the actions of all of us, not just elected leaders. How do we as Buddhist practitioners respond to these challenges? Do the Buddha’s teachings—of mindfulness, compassion, wise action and other skillful means of responding to our experience—provide any unique ways of meeting suffering—our own and the world’s? The Buddha’s teachings offer skillful ways: of engaging in wise action to bring about the change that our world needs without being attached to outcomes; of disagreeing without turning those we disagree with into enemies; of having views and opinions but not being lost in or attached to our views and beliefs; and of knowing that violence cannot be ended by violence, only by love. The poet T.S. Eliot said, "Teach us to care, and not to care." The Buddha’s teachings likewise encourage us to care deeply but not to cling and hence cause additional suffering to ourselves and others. Here in our nation’s capital, the Washington chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has been a vehicle for dharma practitioners to cultivate ‘peace in our hearts and peace in the world’through a variety of activities in recent years—including silent peace walks, educational forums on engaged Buddhism, and efforts to bring mindfulness to our consumption and spending choices that also support the lives of others more distant from us. After a period of gestation, the WBPF is becoming active again and invites anyone interested in reflection and action—bringing together practices of inner exploration with the challenges of our world—to join us in the months ahead. As a first step, we are encouraging those who are interested to read Mindfully Green by Stephanie Kaza, which explores how the Buddha’s teachings can help orient wise action to address the major environmental challenges we face—as a guide to our own individual and collective responses. We will develop other future plans for mindful action based on the energy and interests expressed by the group.