When I interviewed Vaḍḍhaka earlier this year, he spoke of what he saw as ‘a tendency in the West to see Buddhism and meditation in particular as a way to escape the world or to hold what’s happening at arm’s length’, and it is this tendency that we have been working to counter over the past few weeks, for Buddhist Action Month.
Although few of us will consciously use meditation as a way to cut ourselves off from what is going on around us, it’s easy to relate to Buddhism as an activity that we mostly do in our spare time – when we meditate before work, for example, or when we go to a class at the Buddhist Centre. Yet, in the quote above, Sangharakshita is challenging us to engage with Buddhism as something much more than just a hobby. If we really wish to be transformed by the Buddha’s teachings, we must allow the barriers that we put up between our work and our meditation to be broken down entirely.
In Vaḍḍhaka’s opinion, this process necessarily involves extending our understanding of mindfulness from the psychological to the political: ‘We have to use mindfulness to look outwards; to consider our work situation as a whole, our economic system as a whole, and not just to focus on internal or subjective conditions, important though they are.’ In this way, we’re using mindfulness to reflect on whether the conditions we live in are conducive to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. Vaḍḍhaka explains, ‘You might be looking at your work situation and, when you assess it mindfully, decide that the solution is to leave your place of work or challenge the way that your workplace is run.’ The key is to recognize the fact that, as we follow the Buddhist path, we can both shape and be shaped by our environment.
So as we reach the end of June, it might be worth thinking about what we can do to extend Buddhist Action Month – not only into the rest of the year, but also into the areas of our lives or worlds that we feel are particularly ‘un-Buddhist’.
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