Act Now: Empowering Sanghas to Act on Behalf of Human Rights

green-tara-painting2.jpgOn February 14 2017, Against the Stream published their Statement of Commitment to take a public stand against the abusive policies of the Trump Regime, and a pledge to take action to protect vulnerable communities. Bhikkhu Bodhi just published his “Let’s Stand Up Together” which admonishes Buddhist sanghas to go beyond comforting themselves with quiet meditation and take a public stand against the abuse of human rights under the Trump Regime and wherever it occurs. I published both of those statements here at Engage.

But I’m going to take this a step further: if the Buddhist organization you belong to does not take a public stand against abuses of human rights, and also empower its members to take action to protect vulnerable communities, then do the following:

  1. Demand that your Buddhist organization make a public statement against abuses of human rights, and be specific about the kind and the cause, exactly who is doing what to whom. A blanket statement of “may all beings be free of suffering” is not adequate.
  2. Demand that your Buddhist organization take specific actions to advocate against abuses of human rights and to protect vulnerable communities.
  3. Demand that your Buddhist organization train or empower people to take action skillfully in support of human rights while also limiting risk. Volunteer to organize that training yourself.

If your Buddhist organization refuses to do any of these things*:

  1. Stop going to that Buddhist organization;
  2. Tell them why you are no longer a member;
  3. Stop giving money to Buddhist organizations that fail or refuse to take a public stand against policies that abuse human rights, and to protect vulnerable communities and the environment;
  4. Publish the names of Buddhist organizations that refuse to take a public stand against the abuse of human rights. Let the Maha-Sangha know which organizations are refusing to protect human rights;
  5. Publish the names of Buddhist organizations that have made a public stand to protect human rights. Let the Maha-Sangha know which organizations are standing up to protect human rights and the environment.

It’s time for Buddhist organizations to stop their parasitic subsistence on the system of capitalist patriarchal white supremacy. The parasitic subsistence of Buddhism on a system that causes harm to billions of humans and animals and damages the environment, without making a principled moral stance against these abuses, is not worthy of our support. If a Buddhist organization does not have the moral fortitude to take a public stand against abuses of human rights and protect vulnerable communities, that Buddhist organization must be either reformed or abandoned.

You would think that most Buddhist organizations would not hesitate to publicly support human rights or protect the environment, but I have been personally involved in three instances of avoidance and outright refusal.

A couple of years ago, a climate action group met at Shambhala’s sangha in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is also Shambhala International headquarters. The group drafted a letter addressed to Shambhala International to examine their financial investments, such as endowments and pension plans, to divest from fossil fuel industries. Their response was “we don’t have any financial investments; we mostly have real estate.” We knew that was patently false, as many wealthy people have bequeathed large sums of money to Shambhala over many decades. No further action was taken by Shambhala International and I have since left Shambhala.

In the second instance, I made a request to the governing board of Nalandabodhi that they examine their policies and investments to see how they can reduce the carbon footprint of the sangha and divest from fossil fuel industries. They refused to do so, saying that it was not their concern. I left Nalandabohi for many reasons, but their outright refusal to acknowledge climate change or take action to protect the climate was one of the main reasons.

In a third instance, I tried to invite members of local white-majority sanghas to participate in a discussion group to examine racism and white supremacy in Buddhism. We were going to read Earthlyn Zenju Manuel’s The Way of Tenderness, a book specifically written as a guide to help white Buddhists to face racism and white supremacy in their practice. Everyone I invited refused to participate, and no sangha volunteered to host the discussion.

I am not giving money, time, talent or support to any Buddhist organization that cannot make a principled public stand to protect human rights and the environment, backed up by action.

Perhaps we could develop a Buddhist empowerment ritual for social justice, combining it with a program of intense training in skillful action to engage in non-violent direct action to protect human rights and the environment. We could invoke Tara the Liberator as patroness of a Buddhist social justice movement, a Bodhisattva of compassionate skillful action to protect human rights and the environment.

*Buddhist organizations that have a large immigrant membership in the US and elsewhere may not be able to make a public stand without creating an opening for harm to its vulnerable members. Immigrant sanghas need to skillfully protect their vulnerable members.

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