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Apr 11
Opinion Pieces
Compassionate Activity in the World: A Call to Action to the Shambhala Sangha
Pond at Karme Choling. Photo by Charlene Leung

Pond at Karme Choling. Photo by Charlene Leung

By Margot Becker

For a long time, I’ve wished to open a discussion with the sangha about compassionate action in the world.  A few months ago, I got my chance.  I receive a fundraising letter from President Reoch.  I was disappointed—again—that the request was solely about improving our centers, our curriculum, our infrastructure.  While these projects are of the utmost importance, I always feel sad—and perhaps a little angry—that we are not working together, collectively, to bring our compassion, energy, resources and love to those in the world who are suffering.  So I wrote to President Reoch, who kindly responded.  This short piece is a continuation of that conversation, and I hope many of you will join in on these pages.

To state it baldly, I believe our sangha is not doing enough for others.  As I see it, our sangha is, for the most part, fairly comfortable.  We do not live in a country of war.  Most of us do not experience daily hunger, and we do not have to watch our children go to bed with empty stomachs night after night. Most of us have a place to sleep at night, rather than a homeless shelter or a street.  Most of us do not work at jobs that pay just pennies a day. Most of us are not incarcerated in prisons.  And of course, we have the great good fortune to hear and practice the Dharma.  This is not the case for so many others throughout the world.

In the requests for funding for our sangha, I began to smell a “collective me.”  We seek to make our own community safe and strong and secure.  And yet, there have been no requests for donations to do good works that benefit others who experience far more danger, fear, want and vulnerability.  And right along side with donations, we do not work together to make these good works happen.

When I first communicated with President Reoch about this, he told me about all of the wonderful good works our sangha members are doing individually and he directed me to the Social Service Network web page that describes some of these inspiring efforts.  Nonetheless, I feel a good Buddhist community can and must make collective efforts to reach out to those who suffer.  If I am not wrong, this is the great Mahayana work that none of us can afford to leave out of our practice.  I can’t say it strongly enough:  our sangha—so based in the transformative power of compassion—needs to take this on.

I believe—and perhaps President Reoch is with me on this—that with open hearts and some good creative thinking, our centers can design and carry out gorgeous acts of kindness.  We would be challenged to open our eyes to the realities around us, think creatively about addressing problems, open our wallets so that we have the material means to actualize our projects, and offer the energy necessary make things happen. It would be an opportunity for all of us to see clearly, take on responsibility, and manifest the active compassion of warriors in the world.

A half a dozen projects come to my mind without much work—projects in our own towns and cities…  projects in Tibet and India…  projects that help kids or older people or just regular folks who face the difficulties of daily life… projects that provide food, clothing, schooling, comfort… projects that provide what we all value most—meditation instruction and Dharma wisdom.  But my solo thoughts are probably a lot less interesting that what we can come up with together.  Personally, I am very curious—and excited—to experience the outrageous garden that will blossom when we as a sangha plant the seeds of collective love and beauty.

I believe that if we the sangha take this on, Shambhala will support us.  So please, become inspired… and comment below with your thoughts and feelings.  Ki ki! So so!

Click here to visit the Shambhala the Social Service Network web page.

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6 responses to “ Compassionate Activity in the World: A Call to Action to the Shambhala Sangha ”
  1. I am with you Margot. I like to see shambhala energy and the karma energy that is abundant here in the west need to be channeled creatively through the shambhala path of social action, community service and engaged buddhism. And this needs to be done by community members who feels like you. Some simple forms like community gatherings and potluck to share this kind of compassionate sangha action can create the mutual support and nourishment many members are looking for and not finding. There needs to be space and time for sharing individual and/or team experiences with habitat, hospice, prison, storytelling, peace work, green action, mentoring, outreach, yoga, contemplative arts, whatever members are passionate about. That’s my two cents.


  2. Henrietta Stern
    Apr 13, 2009

    This discussion interests me a great deal and I have seen bits and pieces of this theme appear now and then over the years at the Center here in NYC, but then the thread disappears (or do I?). My mother lived for 6 years in a Salvation Army senior residence in New York City and I was very impressed with how they served that community as well as other under-served communities. Service is at the core of their mission and they make a real difference in people’s lives everyday, as they did in my mother’s and mine. I would love to see us extend our individual practices out into the community in a more organized fashion. Don’t you think it would also provide members with more accessible opportunities if it were offered as another path at each center? Some of us might not have considered doing community service or perhaps don’t have the time to reach out to yet another organization or are overwhelmed by the choices or effort or are just too reticent. Having the support of the center and the sangha might be just what people need to serve their communities and discover their own gifts. I know I am inspired!

  3. Kristine McCutcheon
    Apr 13, 2009

    How do we take it further?
    Here in Halifax we changed one small thing and it really helped a lot of our own community.
    We switched from paid and catered feasts to pot luck. This made feast practice more accessible to those who didn’t have 10 $ (it still costs five) but people bring food. The option to bring WAY MORE food is always there. Peoples generosity is great.

    But that is still about making just our community comfortable.
    Taking it out another step is when we have so much food at a feast that it goes to our local woman’s shelter or the youth house next door. That could be out next step.

    Setting up forms that support our intention to be generous is definitely key.

  4. Results 1 – 10 of about 13,700 for “charity scam”.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Margot. Here in Northern California we have undertaken a regional food drive which has already generated donations to local non-profits feeding the hungry. The plan is for every center in our region to maintain a food collection program on an on-going basis, thereby making a visit to each center an opportunity to practice generosity. We have provided the names of regional food-banks and non-profits to each center so that they can arrange for the donations. It’s a small beginning, but a good one. I wrote an article early on in the Shambhala Times calling for the same sort of change of view you articulate in your piece and I’m delighted to see others like yourself talking about the path of generosity in a practical way.

  6. The inverted form of the “collective me” is the “self-appointed we”.

    Perhaps one should not have swallowed the red-hot iron ball to begin with.

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