Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, Lion’s Roar Special Project’s Sandra Hannebohm looks at how to take action when things feel hopeless. Sign up here to receive the Weekend Reader in your inbox.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that I’m not doing enough. With arctic permafrost thawing decades faster than expected and ongoing social and political turmoil throughout the world, shouldn’t we all be quitting our day jobs to tear down pipelines, protest in the streets, and clean up trash-littered beaches? It feels ridiculous that I’m saving up for old age when my world might be gone in 30 years. Yet, I keep going, because part of me feels there’s a chance that other people will save the world. In fact, I’m counting on others — activists and advocates — to work for the sake of my future.
I once heard an activist speak about how tiring social and environmental justice work can be. Sometimes, when I sit staring out the window before work, I find myself thinking about her, hoping she finds time to eat breakfast that morning before she goes to protest in the streets and confront government officials. While I sit comfortably, she’s out taking action to secure my future.
I think meditators can learn valuable lessons from activists like her, like how to practice self-care to avoid burnout, or how to cultivate loving-kindness in the face of despair. And, activists remind us that we can always do something, even when it feels like we can’t.
The three articles in this Weekend Reader look, with Buddhist practice in mind, at how to take action — in the streets or in our personal lives. As Traleg Rinpoche writes, “When we think there is nothing we can do, we realize there is something we can do, and we see that this ‘something’ is actually quite tremendous.”
—Sandra Hannebohm, editorial assistant, Special Projects
Jack Kornfield on the importance of contributing to activism with Buddhist practice and wisdom.
How can you do this service work in the spirit of practice? As dharma practitioners, the first task is to make your own heart a zone of peace. Instead of becoming entangled in the pain or cynicism that exists externally, you need to face your own fear, your own sufferings, and transform them into compassion. Only then can you offer genuine help to the outside world.
A transcript of a talk by Andrew Harvey – mystical scholar, Rumi translator, poet, and architect of “sacred activism” – given at the 2009 launch of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “Buddhist Global Relief” in New York City.
What, of all the causes of this beleaguered and damaged world, breaks my heart the most?
I ask you to dare to ask yourself this question, and I ask you to dare to listen to what your heart says to you. Because you will find that if you do that your heart will reveal to you a sacred mission that belongs to you, just to you, and that will be the deepest and most radiant voice of your soul and that you will be given, at that moment, an injunction and direction. What you do then, is to join with other people with similar heartbreak, and to work together in your local community, to do something real about what it is that you advocate in yourself.
Buddhism’s mind-training slogans help us work with all the challenges of life, from the upheavals of our own emotions to the inevitable losses and disappointments of this imperfect world. Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche explains how obstacles can be brought to the spiritual path and become opportunities for awakening.
Mind training enables us to utilize adversity instead of allowing misfortune to drive us into a corner with no answers. This tendency to adopt a defeatist attitude in the face of evil is the biggest obstacle to our everyday lives and the greatest hindrance to the attainment of our spiritual goals. We need to be vigilant about the acquisition of more skillful ways to deal with our difficulties and thereby circumvent the habit of waging war on ourselves. Responding with fortitude, courage, understanding, and openness will yield a stronger sense of self-worth and might even help to mend or ameliorate the situation. This is also how we learn to face unfavorable circumstances and “take them as the path” so that we are working with our problems rather than against them. Because fighting with others and ourselves only exacerbates our problems, we continually need to examine our negative responses, to see whether they serve any real purpose or whether they’re capitulations to the unconscious patterns that habitually influence us.