For all my adult life I’ve been interested and engaged in politics—as an essential arena for determining how we can live together, share resources, and minimize conflict. I came of age supporting the movement for civil rights in the U.S and opposing the war in Vietnam and participated in the U.K. and here in support of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
For most of the 1980s and 1990s, I was a full-time political organizer and advocate supporting poor people in Central America, who were struggling for human rights and dignity. As part of this effort, I helped organize demonstrations, civil disobedience campaigns, and legislative pressure to change U.S. policies in Latin America, which were funding economic elites and propping up military dictatorships.
I wasn’t looking for Buddhism but it found me at the end of the 1980s and gradually transformed the way I looked at and engaged in politics. While continuing to believe in the work we were doing, I came to see how much suffering I experienced when holding on to an “us” and “them” view of the world; how much I and my colleagues were tied to outcomes (e.g., winning elections, passing legislation) and how painful it was when things didn’t work out our way; and how much that dualistic thinking helped perpetuate the cycle of conflict and suffering.
I’ve continued to care deeply about politics and remain engaged in working for social justice and human rights. What has changed is that I see more and more how essential it is that any efforts to effect social, economic and political change be accompanied by change in our own hearts. And, at the same time, spiritual practice cannot be just about inner change, but must also address the social expressions of suffering—racism, poverty, war, environmental destruction, etc.
I remember in the late 1990s hearing the great Cambodian Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda speaking on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in support of the campaign to ban land mines worldwide, and saying, “If we are to get rid of the land mines in the ground, we must get rid of the land mines in our own hearts.”
This bringing together of the “inner” and the “outer” offers great potential for healing the suffering of the world—addressing the challenges facing our country and our world in ways that do not perpetuate the cycle of conflict and division.
It is in this spirit of ‘peace in our hearts, peace in the world’, that we in IMCW are fostering a mindful engagement community, following in the vision of Engaged Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh, HH the Dalai Lama, and the heart-based activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Greta Thunberg, and many others.
In Mindful Engagement 2020: Bringing Our Practice into the World, we’ll be deepening the practices of mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness and other skills to help us meet with kindness all that comes up in these challenging times and engage wisely and kindly to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable society and world. And in coming together in community, we will provide support for each other that can help break down the illusion of separation that is at the core of our suffering.