Engaged Buddhism is the taking of one’s practice from the meditation cushion and out into the world. It was a path first taken 50 years ago by a small group of monks — including Thich Nhat Hanh — who decided to leave their Vietnamese monastery and try to help bring about peace during a terrible time of war. It was an act of bravery made in the name of love.
At its core, this path is about how we are all connected — we inter-are — and how being aware of this connectedness as we live our lives can bring about greater well-being for all.
I have referred before to Thay’s illustration proving the interconnectedness of the universe by considering a piece of paper. Without rain or the sun to nurture the tree, he says, there would be no piece of paper. Without the lumberer, there would be no paper. Without bread to feed the lumberer, there would be no paper. For a piece of paper to exist, there must be clouds and time and energy and soil and the mother and father of the lumberer. In fact, to look at a piece of paper, as thin and small as it is, we can see the entire universe as part of its existence. When you understand this, you know that you are never just you, separate from everything else.
Think of this in terms of people, and it is the same thing. In order for one person to be ahead, another will be behind. It is the nature of things; there can’t be an above without a below. In order for some to be affluent, some must live in poverty. No one among us can claim a lack of responsibility. But it is not a punishment! Just like the piece of paper, we are all made of everything else. We inter-are, with sunshine and water and even those with whom we may not feel any connection.
What to do with this information? Once you absorb it, once you really take it into your heart, you know what the answer is. You can share the pain of those who are suffering and wish them well through your thoughts and deeds. You can be deeply careful with the earth. You can see the homeless person in the street and the corporate executive alike as beautiful souls, connected to you and everyone else, and each just as worthy. You can bow to him or her. Then, once you have opened your heart in this manner, you can begin to make change in a thousand small ways.
To do this, it is important to be cognizant of the problems that exist and persist in the world. Then think about your own actions, and how those actions create ripples. Everything we do has a reaction, and we can strive to create positive ripples; ripples that intentionally create peace and true kindness, benefiting the earth, other people and all living things.
This is Engaged Buddhism. This is courage in the name of love.