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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 56 suffering and dissatisfaction we put on top of the pain is extra. When we can see that that it is true for everyone, we begin to respond with more care, love, and compassion to ourselves and each other. eventually, this comes naturally. it is the heart’s natural expression of our own process of liberation, our own inklings of freedom, of being awake. once we’ve acknowledged how much suffering we have experienced in our lives and have clearly seen how much suffering there is in the world, the only rational response is an engaged, compassionate response to all forms of suffering. as spiritual aspirants, we must commit our life’s energy to creating positive change in the world. Just as we have a personal intention for awakening, we also have an altruistic intention to bring freedom to this world by responding with care and compassion to the overwhelming ig- norance and suffering. We can do this by directly addressing the constant destruction of life through non-violent actions, and by responding to the greed and hatred that pervades the human ex- perience with compassionate and generous acts of service. the practitioners in the communities i’ve founded have devel- oped collective responses based on the realization of individual practitioners of the suffering of others and the need to alleviate it. in san Francisco, our community teaches meditation in institu- tions and to at-risk youth. ten years ago, we began a meditation class at the local juvenile hall, and over the years, that one class has grown to over twenty a month throughout the san Francisco Bay area. in support of this engaged expression of our community’s Buddhist practice, the Mind Body awareness project, a non-profit organization, has come into being, and similar organizations have been founded in new york and Los angeles. thousands and thou- sands of kids, in the midst of a difficult time in their lives, have been introduced to the practice of meditation, not in a strange, mystical, religious way, but in their own language or idiom. in new york city, the meditation community that began while i was living there continues to grow. they’ve expressed their en- gagement primarily by serving the homeless. the community sup- ports a soup kitchen with monthly donations and warm bodies to help cook and serve food on the Bowery, which is down the street from the center where they meet twice a week to meditate. currently, i am living in Los angeles, where the community re- cently opened a meditation center called against the stream Bud- dhist Meditation society. our first task has been to create a local space for people from all backgrounds to learn and practice the Buddhist path, and we are now creating a number of social ser- vice programs. some people in our community are going into lo- cal jails and juvenile halls, some are working with gang kids, and others have begun to organize a program to feed the homeless. We have regular gatherings to discuss and practice spiritual engagement within the day-to-day life of the modern american experience. these acts of engagement are known as the way of the bo- dhisattva, a name that refers to anyone committed to personal positive change and helping others to find freedom from suffer- ing. the way of the bodhisattva recognizes that the goal of spiri- tual practice is not about what we can get for ourselves or what we alone can experience. rather, it is about how we can serve the truth of interconnected existence and defy the false belief that life is about serving ourselves and living as if we were separate from all others and from the world itself. on the path of the bodhisattva, we have many tools: education; resources of money, time, and energy; our capacity to protect oth- ers from harm; and our ability to inspire spiritual awakening in others. the compassion that is the basis for bodhisattva activity is both natural and cultivated. it is a natural outcome of our in- ternal transformation to use our life’s energy, to help others get free from confusion as well—to respond not only with friendli- ness and compassion to our own pain, but also respond with understanding and compassion to the pain in the world. yet for many of us, the needs of the world feel too pressing to wait until genuine compassionate understanding develops. perhaps you’ve already experienced anger in an attempt to change the world. anger is a very understandable and natural reaction to oppression or ignorance. But anger is also a source of suffering; it is motivated by fear. if we want to eradicate suffering, it makes sense to start with our own suffering, but we don’t have to wait till we are free from suffering to take positive actions in the world. as our meditation practice develops and our perspective transforms, the old anger re- action becomes the new compassionate response. outwardly, the difference may be minimal, but inwardly there is a big difference between acting out of anger and acting out of compassion. as i see it, service-oriented actions must be an integral part of our gradual transformation. in Buddhist mythology, there are stories of the many lifetimes of compassionate service the Buddha experienced prior to his birth as siddhartha and his fi- nal awakening. in one life, he was a generous king, in another a compassionate animal. sometimes he incarnated in hell realms, sometimes in heaven realms, but his progression from lifetime to lifetime was always motivated by an altruistic intention. Because we know that we have the ability, on some level or another, to help each other alleviate suffering, part of Buddhist practice is to bring that intention into the forefront of all our en- deavors. We do this by developing a sincere and altruistic motiva- tion, as expressed by the repeated intentions of the bodhisattva: “May my life’s energy be of benefit to all beings. May i be of ser- vice. i commit my life’s energy to compassionate work.” the Buddha talks about having this kind of intention as a pre– all social change starts from a small group of like-minded people. the power of community is at the heart of all political, social, and spiritual transformation.