The Conversation is Changing
Note by Belinda Griswold, BPF Board Member and Co-founder of Wild Dharma
Last week I had the great pleasure of walking along Boulder Creek with one of the most radically intelligent (not to mention kind) Dharma teachers of our time, David Loy. As we watched the lively mountain stream tumble through our town, we remembered the many times each of us had brought socially engaged perspectives to US Buddhist spaces. And been shot down!
Take the time I tried to get a dialogue on racism going in my mostly white Tibetan sangha some years ago. No you don’t, girl. No you don’t. We’re not even going to talk about that.
But times are changing, and they’re changing fast. David shared an amazing shift that he encountered at the mega-Buddhist-teachers gathering at Omega some weeks ago that happens once every five years. David presented the same message he has been offering for many years: collective and personal liberation are intertwined, and our task as practitioners and activists is to deepen into this world, not use Dharma to escape it. He’s described this year’s experience to me, and I asked him to share it with all of you, too.
The Conversation is Changing
By David Loy
From Monday evening June 1 through Friday morning June 5, an International Buddhist Teachers Gathering was held at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. It was a memorable, and for many of us transformative, event. Over 200 teachers participated, including a large contingent from Europe and a smaller number from Asia and other parts of the Buddhist world.
The conference provided a fine balance between speaker presentations and participant interaction. I was impressed not only by the quality of the discussions but also by the maturity of the people discussing. As far as I noticed, everyone engaged in an open and receptive way. There was no sense of “my tradition is better than yours” or “I am more enlightened than you are.”
What most impressed me about the conference was the focus on social engagement. During the three full days that we spent together, the second day was devoted to diversity and inclusion (especially racism and gender issues) and most of the third day was on the challenge of climate change (the other topic was mindfulness). Unlike my experience at some other Buddhist venues, I didn’t notice any resistance to these concerns. No one said “This isn’t what the dharma is about.” Instead, I left with the strong feeling that this is the growing edge of contemporary Buddhist teaching and practice — that this will be an essential part of 21st-century Dharma.
The gap between concern for our own personal suffering and concern for the world’s suffering, including social justice, is narrowing.
I don’t know what the long-term consequences of this particular gathering will be, but it felt like some corner has been turned: new possibilities are opening up. The gap between concern for our own personal suffering and concern for the world’s suffering, including social justice, is narrowing. My presentation argued that the paths of individual transformation and social transformation need each other, and my sense is that we are collectively beginning to understand it.
David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. His writings and workshops often focus on the interaction between traditional Buddhism and the modern world, especially the social implications of the Buddhadharma. You can visit him at his website, www.davidloy.org.