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Awakening in Service and Action: A Study Retreat on Socially Engaged Buddhism

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Awakening in Service and Action: A Study Retreat on Socially Engaged Buddhism

With David Loy & Donald Rothberg
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA
April 17-23, 2014
More information

About the Teachers

Donald Rothberg: “Socially engaged Buddhism is a dharma practice that flows from the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberation of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.” – with Hozan Alan Senauke, Turning Wheel Magazine Summer-Fall – 2008

David Loy: “There is another issue that has important implications for how Buddhism will adapt to a more global role in the future. Karma has been used to rationalize racism, caste, economic oppression, birth handicaps and everything else. Taken literally, karma justifies the authority of political elites, who therefore must deserve their wealth and power, and the subordination of those who have neither. It provides the perfect theodicy: if there is an infallible cause-and-effect relationship between one’s actions and one’s fate, there is no need to work toward social justice, because it’s already built into the moral fabric of the universe. In fact, if there is no undeserved suffering, there is really no evil that we need to struggle against. It will all balance out in the end.

“I remember a Buddhist teacher’s reflections on the Holocaust…’What terrible karma those Jews must’ve had…’ This kind of fundamentalism, which blames the victims and rationalizes their horrific fate, is something no longer to be tolerated quietly. It is time for… modern Buddhism to outgrow it by accepting social responsibility and finding ways to address such injustices.” – from Money Sex War Karma

david loy may 20

About the retreat

The path of socially engaged Buddhism is a path connecting inner and outer transformation. It is about coming to see that our real work is the same whether we are in silent practice, with our families or communities, or helping to transform our larger society and ecosystems. It is to be aware and present to what is happening, to respond wisely and compassionately to suffering, to understand our interdependence, and to act with grace, equanimity, and passion in difficult circumstances.

This retreat will help us to understand and to walk this path more skillfully. It will include two talks a day, discussion, guided meditations, interactive exercises, and individual meetings with the teachers, all in the context of about two-thirds of each day in silent practice.

We will explore a number of central themes related to contemporary socially engaged Buddhism, such as: its roots in traditional teachings and practices; the relationship of individual, group, and community practices to collective transformation; the nature of a Buddhist social analysis (particularly focusing on economics, ecology, and war and peace); how the three poisons (greed, hatred, and delusion) are institutionalized; principles and practices to guide our speech, communication, and work with media; responses to suffering, conflict, and oppression (such as related to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.); non-dual approaches to social action; and visions of the dharmic society.

Spirit Rock extends a special invitation to young adults (age 18-26) who wish to attend this retreat at a rate of $25 per night, on a first come, first serve basis. A limited number of special rates are available, please apply early.

Comments (1)

  • John Allan

    Many Buddhists need to realize that Brahman / Hindu /Vedantic doctrines have infected their Buddhism. A corrective emetic is needed to purge these views around “karma’ and other ‘teachings’ out of their systems. Obsession around ‘karma’ as a sort of fate and ‘rebirth’ is a massive distortion of the teachings. Part of the problem comes from priestly ‘needs’ to moralize and keep the punters in line and ‘well behaved’ by scaring them with visions of hells and beguiling them with the carrots of ‘heaven’ -. In lock step with this, is the stupid ’3 life’ theory of the 12 nodes of the dependent arising of dukkha model. This model is embraced by both Theravada and Mahayana main streams. Of course the 3 life theory means origins are in a previous life – so can’t be acted upon. Awakening is in a future life so can’t be attained – all you can do make ‘merit’ now, largely by supporting bhikkhus who act increasingly like Brahmin priests – and hope for the best.
    What did the Buddha say. ” Kamma (action) I declare is INTENTION.” and ‘It goes too far to say that everything that happens is a result of previous action; It goes too far to say that nothing occurs because of previous action” – then after the usual observation about dependent arising –“when this is that comes to be…etc”… he goes on to observe that there are such things as natural disasters, diseases etc. Why don’t these people also talk about other people’s Intentions which often have little or nothing to do with one’s own actions or intentions. Ah, no, in this prurient version of ‘responsibility’ EVERYTHING happens because of what you do or don’t do. No matter that this view is based on and encourages grandiose inflation; which is a major breeding ground of gross and subtle violence and abuse of others and oneself.

    Dr. Ambedkha set up a ‘conversion ritual’ for Dalit’s to consciously identify as students of the Buddha. In addition to the 3 refuges and 5 precepts people recite many undertakings SPECIFICALLY aimed at repudiating Hindu doctrines, belief systems and attitudes. Many Buddhists would do well to follow this example and get informed about the Buddha’s own teaching on kamma as intention verses the Hindu version of kamma as ‘fate.’ And discern the differences. The Buddha specifically charged EVERY ONE of his students to ‘discern what is (Buddha) dharma and what is not. It is a duty of every student.

    Implicit in the Hindu vision is a ‘blame the victim’ mentality – which is there primarily to keep the caste system intact. IF BUDDHISTS PICK UP THIS CORRUPT view then social justice is blocked as everything is directed to keeping the status quo of have and have- not intact. The 3 life theory encourages stasis which is exactly what the caste system does. As ‘Buddhists’ holding views like this; our ‘social action’ will be confined to ‘making merit’ and a ‘charity’ proceeding from a sort of ‘noble obligation.’ Sound familiar. Remember, the model of governance and political power in many Buddhist countries is Bhraminical not ‘Buddhist.’ Court Brahmins officiate at the investiture Thai and other South Asian kings. Why? Because the Buddha’s views on what we might call ‘anti-democratic’ models of governance provide cold comfort to authoritarians

    The ‘Buddhist” teacher quoted who responded to the holocaust with the typical high Brahmin response of “Those Jews must have had some bad Karma’ Is just a closet Hindu, in this area of thinking and behavior. This ‘privatized’ vision of blame the victim karma HARDLY EVER says ‘those SS and Nazi theorists were really engaging in bad karma/action. ‘You got caught up in the Holocaust.” “You were on holiday when the Tsunami hit. ” It’s your fault because of something you did in previous life.” This is just plain stupid and a fundamental attribution error. I have even had people assert that ‘I chose to be sexually abused ( at 4) – it’s my karma. Over- ”responsibility” is neurosis and often slides into narcissistic grandiosity. ….Really?? – The whole universe is revolving around you – just so this accident happens right now, or a mugger attacks you, or you are afflicted by a cancer…. to pay you back for being naughty 2 life’s back ?
    Such notions only belong to a Theistic system where the childish view has a bearded accountant floating on a cloud dispensing sweets or thunderbolts.
    Even when the Buddha talks of previous lives it is in a context where he has already asserted that
    ; so intricate are the workings of causality that ONLY a Samma Sambuddha can speak with accuracy about its full workings in a person’s life. Awakened students, Arahants etc., are free like the Buddha BUT don’t have the same developments so even they and other ‘great beings’ can’t be definitive and should exercise caution. So we might exercise some care ourselves in making statements about such matters that cannot be empirically tested, can only be taken as ‘beliefs’ and are usually examples of people repeating (pious?) ideas they have picked up. When those people carry some assigned authority the mischief really begins.
    Time to grow up and tell ourselves, and the next Rinpoche, Sayadaw, Acharn ,Teacher – East or West no matter how fancy the title, who sprouts this unexamined medieval rubbish, handed down on a long (unexamined) tradition, to mind their tongue, read some early suttas instead of commentaries, or sastras and stop defaming the Buddha, and misrepresenting the triple gem and have good hard look and themselves and their attitudes and views.
    John Allan
    Australia

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