Spring has arrived in Berkeley, and I suppose, in various other parts of the world. All is growing here. The wisteria surrounding our front windows and door has already blossomed and turned.
The flowering of civil society in Burma continues to astonish the world. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has gone from years of house arrest to a seat in the new parliament. A slow but determined process of national reconciliation is beginning. In November and February visits with Jill Jameson, I saw this firsthand. Jill and I had the opportunity of working with former political prisoners, monks, and activists from community-based organizations, offering trainings in peace-building and conflict reduction.
Our Buddhist-based approach to training aims at healing, beyond measurable results. Stepping outside the ceaselessly shifting, dizzying world of NGOs and agencies, we try to work in a peaceful environment, with good food, time for relaxation, meditation, and exercise, sharing skills that are based on people’s shared experience. The idea is to build trust and friendship across lines of ethnicity, religion, and organizational mandate. In modest ways, the feedback we get has been very positive.
Clear View hopes to continue this work with Spirit in Education Movement and other local partners in Burma. Towards that end, we have a proposal for a three-year project on conflict-reduction and reconciliation pending with an interested U.S. foundation. We hope to be able to say more about this in a month or two.
On this winter trip to Burma and to India I was working with a new dharma resource: Fostering Social Harmony — A Perspective from the Buddha’s Discourses of the Pali Canon. This anthology of the Buddha’s social thinking was assembled and introduced by our friend Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreword and exercises by me. The idea is to create a kind of workbook for Buddhist activists in the Theravada tradition. While the English version is still a work in progress, friends in Burma are already preparing a Burmese-language edition for publication and free distribution. Of course, your support for this project is most welcome.
For years I felt instinctively that change in Burma, when it eventually and inevitably arrived, would come quickly. This has proven to be true, though the process is far from complete. Ethnic tensions, fighting, and internal-displacement are still the rule in Kachin State and elsewhere. Respected monitors count more than 450 political prisoners in Burmese custody, many having had no judicial process at all. The legal system itself is threadbare and uneven, subject to the whims of local and national bosses. And, of course, poverty is still more rule than exception throughout the country. I am hopeful, like may others inside Burma, and around the world. But our vigilance and our generosity are needed.
My annual trip to spend time with Buddhist friends in India is something I look forward to each year. Not that it is always an easy journey. The seemingly endless flights go halfway around the world, invariably landing in an Indian megalopolis that is immediately overwhelming. Roads and highways are governed by nerve-wracking rules of the road (or lack of them) that depend on constant use of the horn and spatial awareness measured in centimeters. Various conveniences we take for granted in the west are not always easy to find. But there is also the exciting sense that however flawed and incomplete India might be you are a guest in the world’s largest democracy.
This winter I spend some time in Mumbai and Pune, visiting a number of Buddhist groups new to me. As usual, most of my time was spend in Nagpur. I offered some brief words and several songs — including one in Hindi — for several thousand people at the 2012 Buddha Festival, on the grounds of Nagpur’s Dikshabhumi, where Dr. B.R. Ambedkar took the Triple Refuge in 1956. It was one of those occasions where I found myself nervous after the fact, taking in the size of the attentive crowd and the history of the place itself.
At Nagaloka/Nagarjuna Training Center I spent a week teaching young Dalit Buddhists from all over India. We studied aspects of Buddha’s social thought — investigating questions of right view, communication, and the role of women in Buddhism and in society — reflecting on our lives and experience by way of small group exercises.
I am always lifted up by these young people — by their intelligence, open joy, and warmth. They are in the age range of my own children, and in a sense I feel they are my children. This year I also had an opportunity to spend time with the second year residents at Nagaloka, helping them consider their future paths and what is next. Whatever I or we can do to support them is a way to help create a caste-free future for all of India.
There is an evocative Yiddish word for parental joy and pride — nachas. On May 27 our daughter Silvie is graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, with a degree in American Studies. Following a month’s trip to China after graduation, Silvie and her partner Max Livingston are moving to NYC, where she has been hired by Children’s Corps, challenging work as a caseworker with kids in the welfare system.
Alex graduates from Berkeley High on June 15. In August he is also headed for Wesleyan, where he plans to study film, among other things. If anyone out there in the East Bay has work for a smart and funny young fellow this summer, let me know.
It is impossible to put in words how happy Laurie and I are for Silvie and Alex, and how moving it is to see the creative, attentive, and caring people the are becoming and already are.
SHAMELESS COMMERCE DEPT.
• Calling everyone who wields a camera, even an iPhone. This workshop is as much fun as I have ever had at Tassajara.
Seeing Beyond the Seen: Photography as Zen Practice
with Peter Cunningham and Hozan Alan Senauke
July 9-12 (Monday-Thursday)
A professional photographer & a Zen teacher team up to explore the unknown.
Let’s experiment with what it means to use the visual world as a way of practicing the Zen principles of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action. So-called “Zen photographers” are often imagined as moving slowly, contemplatively through time and space but, as we learn in meditation, time and space are always in motion. Such a photographer might look to the outsider more like a dancer than a stone statue!
For information and registration: Zen Photography at Tassajara
• The Bodhisattva’s Embrace is readily available in a new, all-typos-corrected edition and in Kindle format from Amazon.com. To purchase a copy: Amazon/Senauke
• In August — Fingers crossed — my new “buddhistic” recording project, Everything Is Broken: Songs About Things As They Are, will be available as a CD and for download. Songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bernice Reagon, Greg Fain, that old fellow Trad., and myself. Amazing musical help from Jon Sholle, Chad Manning, Sandy Rothman, Eric & Suzy Thompson, Kate Brislin, Bill Evans, and Charlie Wilson.
Thanks for reading this, for your friendship and support. As always donations are welcome through our Paypal account. For gifts of stock or gifts in kind, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. As the season of warmth and light approaches, enjoy and take care.