Looking at Engaged Buddhism – a Shambhala Perspective

engagedbuddhism-4I’m someone who has actively followed politics all my life. I read about it every morning and discuss it regularly. Since I’m a photographer who lives and works in Hollywood, it should come as no surprise that I’m strongly progressive. But part of my job is relating to whomever I’m shooting, so I’ve gotten pretty adept at chatting with people with whom I (seemingly) have nothing in common.

It’s been great training, and these days I happily engage in political conversation with people across the political spectrum. One of my favorite times of year is when we head back to North Dakota where my wife is from, and I discuss politics with deeply conservative farmers in my wife’s family. Surprisingly we all have a great time, mostly I think, because they make fun of what a radical stereotype I am to them – Mexican, Buddhist, Hollywood, divorced. (Yeah, her dad was not excited when she first mentioned me…

Early in the morning after the recent election, my wife’s uncle – who has a large poster of Reagan in his office – texted me with, “Like Reagan said, Jason, ‘It’s morning in America.’” That hit me like a punch in the gut. (I texted back, “No, it’s mourning in America!”)

And like many, I felt I had completely misunderstood the dynamics of our nation and not been nearly involved enough. After a couple of months of contemplation I decided it was time to do something. But what?engagedbuddhism-3

Having been a meditator for years, I wondered how my practice, and more specifically, the creation of Enlightened Society might look within the social and political realms. With the Sakyong’s emphasis on creating Enlightened Society now, and a core message of that practice being to be open to whatever arises, I wondered how that might manifest within the context of the dharma.

And so I decided to start a discussion with sangha here in L.A.: What does that mean? Well, I’m not quite sure yet, but I do know that activism based on Enlightened Society principles seems very appealing in these dark times. Is it within the parameters of Shambhala, (the organization), or would it have to be outside? That is unknown though it has been asked of our International leadership where their stance on this might be. Still, I believe it’s good to start the discussion regardless where it goes.

So I sent out the invitation below and encourage any centers or practitioners interested in exploring this, to reach out. Maybe there are areas we could coordinate. I’m sure cross-pollination of ideas would be extremely beneficial. Please let me know if you have any interest. (Email me at [email protected]).

Engaged Buddhism Group:
After discussion and input from leadership and senior Shambhala teachers, I would like to invite you all to the first meeting of an Engaged Buddhism Group. The idea is to form a political and social engagement group based upon Enlightened Society principles.

There will be two initial meetings:
• Saturday Feb 25th, 3-5pm on the Westside
• Sunday Feb 26th, 1-3pm at Eagle Rock
The promise of our meditation practice is to increase resilience and deepen compassion in order to address the challenges at hand. What might the marriage between meditation and activism look like? This is the question we will contemplate, discuss and organize around.

engagedbuddhism-6Though motivated in part by recent political events, this group will not be anti-Trump, nor a “Not-my-President” group. Instead we will focus on taking Enlightened Society principles off the cushion and more directly into society itself. As a starting point for organizing there will be a few central ideas:
1. Becoming actively engaged within the larger political realm supporting what we feel are Enlightened Society principles.
2. Reaching out for more inclusive dialogue and understanding across the political and socio-economic spectrum that has fractured discourse.
3. Deeply exploring what Enlightened Society means within the politics of society building.
During the meetings we will:
1. Offer time to people to speak briefly about an Action to offer the group, OR an issue it is important to them to work on within this context.
2. Identify 1-3 primary issues we feel most are interested in working on, and where we can make a difference.
3. Lay out working groups and identify volunteer leaders for each.
But these are just starting points. I encourage all of you to come and be a part of the discussion. I also encourage you, your partners and friends to participate and share what you are already “engaged” in and passionate about. From these we might discover some useful connections. However it comes into being, we will focus on building it so it is scalable and replicable for the Shambhala Community around the Mandala.

I encourage you to come share your thoughts and raise your voice.


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Jason Elias is an advertising photographer who lives in Venice, Ca with his wife, Jessica, and their little dog Linus. He has been a practitioner with Shambhala for 16+ years and has held a number of Leadership positions within the L.A. Shambhala community.

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