Rebecca Li addressed a gathering of 200 Buddhists in New York area discussing how Buddhists can be more engaged

Here is the full text of Rebecca Li’s address:

In a blog post on the Lions Roar website, Bhikkhu Bodhi has stated eloquently that it is no longer enough for us to apply the Dharma merely as “regimen of resilience, a means of maintaining inner balance against the shock waves rippling across the social landscape.”

That’s why we are here. Although transformative in many ways, we know it is no longer enough to practice our meditation and apply the Dharma in our interactions with our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors anymore.

I think the debate of whether Buddhists should be socially engaged is over. As Bhikkhu Bodhi argued, “Politics today is not merely a battleground over power and position; it is also an arena where great ethical contests are being fought, contests that have a crucial impact on everyone in this country and on this planet.”

We, as human beings, who have benefited so much from our ancestors who fought these ethical contests and created this world that gave us our ethical values, cannot stay on the sideline as these values are being eroded.

Having benefited so much from the Buddhist practice and teachings and from the work of people who came before us, how can we not want to give back by making an effort to promote ethical values that have benefited humanity so much for future generations?

Yet, we dabble, perhaps hesitate to get more politically engaged for various reasons.  I heard about a study that found that politically conscious young adults do not get politically engaged because they thought politics is too divisive and too judgmental.  They are afraid of conflict and the discomfort resulting from strained relationships due to disagreement, and they are afraid of being attacked for their position.

Here we are, joining this gathering to find ways to be more engaged.  We are putting our moral conviction into action.  We may find that we are also putting our practice and faith in the Dharma to the test.

I find myself wondering: how do we engage politically without being sucked into the culture of divisive speech, the mental habit of demonizing those with whom we disagree, and developing rigid views that stops us listening to each other—practices that are pervasive in the realm of politics nowadays?

Also, how do we get into the fray of supporting one policy position over another while still being able to empathize with and appreciate the humanity of those of us who may hold different positions?

What do we do when, upon a closer look, we find disagreement between the Buddhist teachings and our existing political position?  Are we going to compartmentalize the two, telling ourselves that is where the Dharma no longer applies?

I wonder if it is fear that our current beliefs about ourselves and the Dharma will be challenged if we get more involved that is keeping us from being more engaged.

I have no answer to any of these questions.

We can talk about and analyze them using Dharma concepts, but still we have no idea how any of this is going to unfold in practice.  We will just have to find out for ourselves, and the only way to find out is by rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty as we dig into the mess.

If you have been wanting to do more but have been hesitant and wondering about some of these questions, you are not alone.  I am with you.  Working on this talk has helped me articulate these thoughts.

The question is: do I trust the Dharma practice to get me through the mistakes I will make and find the way to resolve these questions?  Absolutely.  I have no doubt about that.

That is the only answer I need at this point.  I have no idea what we will talk about and what we will end up doing.  It’s okay.  I am ready for the adventure.

So, I guess, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get started!

What we have here is this amazing opportunity today to begin the process of figuring what we can do together and how we can go about it using our Dharma practice, with the support and encouragement of our fellow Dharma friends.

We may disagree at times, and perhaps act or speak unskillfully in the process, but we can all practice holding each other in tenderness, knowing that we are all trying to accomplish something together for the benefit of all.

I am so thankful that we have each other in this moment.  What a great blessing!

I am looking forward to seeing our hearts touched and our mind changed by each other as we listen to and learn from each other with sincerity.

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