Mindfulness and Engaged Social Action Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness and Engaged Social Action

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Good Citizens:

Engaged Buddhism is Buddhism that penetrates into life. If Buddhism is not engaged, it’s not real Buddhism. This is the attitude of the bodhisattvas, beings whose whole intention and actions are to relieve suffering. We practice meditation and mindfulness not only for ourselves; we practice to relieve the suffering of all beings and of the Earth itself. With the insight of interbeing—that we are inherently interconnected with all other beings—we know that when other people suffer less, we suffer less. And when we suffer less, other people suffer less.

As students of Thich Nhat Hanh many of us aspire to do this: to practice for ourselves and also to “practice to relieve the suffering of all beings and of the Earth itself.” We often ask ourselves: What am I, individually, called to do? What are we called to do as a community of practice? What concretely is the next right action?

Since the beginning of this politically-charged year, the members of the Still Water Working Group have been reflecting on how to balance two priorities that sometimes seem to at odds. One priority is to create a welcoming environment for all who wish to learn and practice mindfulness with us in our Still Water groups. We would like to support everyone who comes to a Still Water group regardless of how they look, where they were born, or whom they choose to love. We also wish to create a welcoming environment for those who have political and social views that are different from the majority of our members. From experience we know that the suffer, too, and that mindfulness practice can help reduce the suffering they and the people around them endure.

Our second priority is, as individuals and as a community, not to be guilty bystanders. We wish to stand together with those who see clearly the systemic causes of suffering and work to eradicate them. In the 10th Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh helpfully distinguishes between supporting collective actions that align with a spiritual community’s core values (such as protecting human rights) and taking sides in political partisan struggles:

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. However, as members of a spiritual community, we should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict.

After several months of sharing about the two priorities and understanding better how they link into each other, the Still Water Working Group developed a draft statement of our Mindfulness and Engaged Social Action intentions. A copy of the statement is below. After our meditation period this Thursday evening at Crossings, we will read the statement together and explore what arises for each of us. Does the statement align with my aspirations? Does it speak to my heart? Does it provide helpful guidance for the Still Water community?

Similar Dharma sharings will take place this week in most of our Still Water weekly groups.

We hope you can join us.

Whether you participate in one of these groups or not, you are encouraged to share your reflections on the statement with the Working Group by sending an email to info@StillWaterMPC.org.

I’ve also included below a related short question and answer with Thich Nhat Hanh about spiritual growth and social activism.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center

Mindfulness and Engaged Social Action

As a community of practice in the Plum Village tradition we share certain core values, including: 

    • Mindfulness: To be fully present and awake in our own lives and to be aware of the inextricable interconnectedness of life.
    • Compassion: To have the intention and capacity to be with, relieve, and transform suffering.
    • Community: To live and grow supported by and supporting others.

We believe that these are fundamental human values and that they transcend political partisanship. We welcome into our community all who support these values regardless of the candidates or parties they support. As an inclusive spiritual community, open to all who wish to reduce suffering in themselves and in others, we will encourage loving speech and compassionate listening at all our gatherings. 

As a community of practice we will also endeavor to embody Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching that even in the midst of partisan conflicts no one is our enemy. We will endeavor to understand the views and suffering of those we disagree with, as we endeavor to understand our own, through deep listening and mindful speech.

The Still Water community will not as an organization support political parties, candidates, or platforms. However, we will as a community and as individuals speak out against injustice and oppression and offer beneficial services and spiritual support to those who have been harmed. We will strive to change such situations by joining others in nonviolent movements and direct actions that genuinely have as their aim justice, reconciliation, peace, and freedom for all.


Social Change or Spiritual Growth

From an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh by John Malkin, Lion’s Roar, July 1, 2003.

John Malkin: People often feel that they need to choose between being engaged in social change or working on personal and spiritual growth. What would you say to those people?

Thich Nhat Hanh: I think that view is rather dualistic. The practice should address suffering: the suffering within yourself and the suffering around you. They are linked to each other. When you go to the mountain and practice alone, you don’t have the chance to recognize the anger, jealousy and despair that’s in you. That’s why it’s good that you encounter people—so you know these emotions. So that you can recognize them and try to look into their nature. If you don’t know the roots of these afflictions, you cannot see the path leading to their cessation. That’s why suffering is very important for our practice.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 27, 2017


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