The Zen Garland Order has as a Core Practice, Engaged Compassion, expressing our spiritual and organizational commitment to the socially engaged Buddhist movement brought alive in our lineage by Zen Master Bernie Glassman and carried on by Roshi Genki. Engaged Compassion refers to seeking practical ways to apply and implement the insights from various forms of Zen practice, realization and teachings to situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice. Engaged Compassion seeks to apply Buddhist teachings in a more activist and social manner than has been traditional. Engaged Compassion even aims to reduce social suffering and oppression through political and social reform.
Engaged Compassion expresses The Zen Garland Order’s ethical framework embodied in The Zen Garland Vows, an impetus of care and love toward all creation. We describe this impetus as “Reclaiming the World.” It requires that we manifest a Presence that actively engages suffering in the grainy particulars of interactive, co-creative existence we call the “Ever-Intimate (Shinzo)”
Zen, as part of Mahayana or Great Vehicle Buddhism, is devoted to the salvation, healing and liberation of all creation, including not only human beings, but animals, insects, valleys, mountains and rivers, Earth, galaxies and everything in the cosmos. Our ideal is the Bodhisattva, a personally enlightened being who commits their life to “hearing the cries of the world,” which means grounding their self in human suffering and working for its healing. The Bodhisattva raises Bodhicitta, the motivation and vow to work for the welfare of all creation. As an enlightened being, the Bodhisattva knows there are no “others.” All creation is our self. In the purity of a Bodhisattva’s spirit of service, there is no one serving, no one served, and no service.
Our beliefs about compassion and how to nurture and live a compassionate life begins by recognizing suffering as the ground of practice: loneliness, loss, sickness, inequity, injustice and misfortune. It’s easy and natural to want to avoid or escape these situations. Spiritual practice requires us to directly address suffering in a commitment to heal ourselves, others and the living ecological interactive, co-creative interconnections Buddhism refers to as Indra’s Net. We embrace our full human nature, our humanity, by embracing holistically our identity with the living cosmos, and by being active, conscious participants in the care for all creation.
Roshi Genki is a Dharma Successor of the late Zen Master Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, one of the most powerful, prolific, and inspirational forces in socially engaged Buddhism. He addressed the issues of suffering with personal intimacy, directness, and creativity. Facing the fact of great indifference to homelessness in America, he invented Street Retreats, taking people for three to five days to live on the street themselves and experience homelessness firsthand. Facing issues of prejudice toward people with addictions, mental illness, and poverty, he created a business with open hiring, training a staff of the marginalized to run a bakery. When contemplating how difficult it was for people with AIDs to find or maintain housing, he worked with the town of Yonkers, NY to convert a nunnery into residences with an onsite medical clinic specializing in AIDs treatment. Here’s an example of Bernie working on a koan in his own words from his book, Bearing Witness:
“On January 18, 1994, I celebrated my fifty-fifth birthday by throwing myself a party on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. There, wrapped in a coat and blanket, I sat the entire day with one question in mind: What can I do about homelessness, AIDS, and violence in this country. Sometimes there were fifteen people at my party, other times as many as thirty. It lasted for five days….some of the coldest days in Washington, DC’s history. We included lawyers, corporate executives, actors, film producers, war veterans, writers, social activists, architects, street people, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, men, women, Africans, and Americans.”
The Zen Garland Order Vows embody the Great Bodhicitta Vow and delineate its meanings further. These vows are one of our seven Core Practices, ethical living, living from the perspective and reality of Oneness. The Vows are a shared set of commitments taken by all practitioners who become members of the Zen Garland Order.
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