Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Thanksgiving Reflections

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Sunday I attended an interfaith Thanksgiving service at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Peekskill, New York. I spoke extemporaneously. This is a polished version of my talk.

Thanksgiving is a time when we all gather to give thanks for the blessings we have received over the past year. Here, in the US, we have much to be thankful for, but as I reflect on the blessings that I have experienced, I also realize that almost every one of them represents a privilege that I enjoy but which too few people in the world share.

First, I realize that I live in a country that has not been subjected to devastating military assaults, and thus I enjoy relative security in my physical person. When I recognize this, I think of the millions upon millions of people around the world, especially in the Middle East, who do not have this sense of security. I think of the civilian populations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan who have seen their own countries shattered by war, their homes demolished, their livelihoods destroyed; whose loved ones have been killed right before their eyes; who have had to flee their native lands for distant shores, often at great peril, or who stay behind, where they live in the shadow of fear and danger. I realize that I should not take my own security for granted, knowing that it is part of a global system that entails devastation and despair for many millions.

Next, I reflect on the fact that I am a white male. When I consider that this accident of birth guarantees me some degree of social and economic security, I think of the many African Americans and other people of color who are deprived of this privilege merely because of their skin color or place of origin. I think of the many young black men—and women as well—who have to worry what will happen to them whenever they step out on to the street or ride the subway train. I think of the shocking accounts of young men, women, and even children who have had their lives snuffed out merely because their dress or demeanor or gestures provoked an over-volatile police officer. I think of those who live in degrading poverty, unemployed or under-employed, herded into soul-less housing projects, their humanity slighted, their potential blocked.

I think too of the subtle war against the poor: the low wages, the reduction in social services, the cutbacks in food stamps, and maybe most appalling, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by a Supreme Court decision, reversing decades of inspired struggle. And I wonder why, as the wealthiest nation on earth, we can’t recognize the inherent dignity of every human being and give everyone the resources they need to unfold their potential.

Then I reflect that although I am a monk, and thus have renounced material possessions, I live in a beautiful monastery, I have sufficient clothes to keep me warm, and I never have to worry about where my next meal will come from. Each day, the gong will ring twice, and I need only walk to the dining hall to find food awaiting me. I don’t even have to cook for myself.

This leads me to think of the 900 million people around the world who are plagued by chronic hunger and malnutrition, and also of the billion more who subsist on sub-standard diets. I think of the six million people, over half of them children, who die each year from persistent hunger and related illnesses. While I give thanks that I do not share their fate, I wonder what kind of world we have created that allows a few to live in exorbitant luxury while billions must stumble at the edge of survival.

Next I consider that I’m a male, and thus don’t have to face the challenges that women face all around the world. In this country, I think particularly of the recent attempt to undermine Planned Parenthood, which provides essential health services to women. While on ethical grounds I personally don’t approve of abortion except under extenuating circumstances, I believe that women should have the right to make their own choices in such matters, and I recognize how crucial access to these services is especially for poor women.

Yet now I see access to critical health services being blocked off by the meddling hands of politicians, backed by religious zealots. In so far as I can determine, the purpose of these legal maneuvers is not to protect the right to life—if it were, one would expect the advocates to show equal enthusiasm for abolishing the death penalty. The purpose rather, in my opinion, is to punish and humiliate women and ensure that they remain under the thumbs of a patriarchal social order.

Finally, as a Buddhist monk, I realize that I have found a spiritual path that gives my life a deep meaning and purpose, a teaching that aligns my life with a transcendent ground of truth and value and leads to wisdom, contentment, and inner peace. As I give thanks for this, there comes to mind the affluent oligarchs, especially here in the US, who lack any vision of a higher purpose in life than the accumulation of wealth and power. In my mind’s eye I also see the wider population blindly revolving in the merry-go-round of consumerism. I think with sorrow of those whose entire happiness depends on getting and spending, who see no deeper source of meaning in life than the acquisition of material goods and the enjoyment of fleeting pleasures. And, I wonder, perhaps it is for them that I should feel the strongest compassion.

At Thanksgiving I am not at all inclined to revel in the blessings I have enjoyed this past year and in years further back. Instead, I believe the way I can best demonstrate thanks is by creating opportunities for others to enjoy blessings. This means bringing the light of wisdom into regions shrouded too densely in darkness, contributing to the emergence of a more peaceful world, a more just and respectful society, and a more equitable economy based on life values rather than naked market values.

The Walk in Willington

A Participant

I just wanted to drop you a short note regarding last weekend’s “Walk Against Hunger” fundraiser at the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple in Willington, CT in support of Buddhist Global Relief.  This is the fourth year I have attended the Walk in Willington and each year I am more inspired than the last.

It was so nice to see so many smiling faces joining in to support this wonderful cause.  There must have been at least 60 participants this year. I saw many new faces.  I even bumped into a couple of people from my home town who, unbeknownst to me, are supporters of Buddhist Global Relief and were participating in this year’s walk.  What a pleasant surprise!

Like last year, the walk itself was amazing.  “Walking meditation” in the quiet New England countryside is a sublime experience.  The smell of freshly fallen leaves, the warm sun on your neck, a dog barking in the distance, and the muffled sound of leaves gently giving way to a long line of people slowly, very slowly, walking in silence, is glorious.

Then the lunch….again, it was superb.  I am so grateful to the members of Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, who provided this beautiful meal for the walk participants.  They are very generous and compassionate supporters of Buddhist Global Relief and it was a joy to be guests at their temple.

Finally,  my thanks to Bhikkhu Bodhi.  His work to create Buddhist Global Relief and to put into motion his vision of “compassionate action” to help the poor is a blessing, and I feel privileged, in my small way, to support this work.  His description of the various relief projects that BGR supports all around the world (including a couple in New York City) is inspiring.  In particular, I believe the work that BGR does to help ensure the education of girls and women in poor, traditional, societies is exactly the right approach.  This work really does promote the idea of “teaching one to fish rather than just giving one a fish,” and I believe it is transformative.

Some more photos of the Connecticut walk–each step expressing conscientious compassion (all photos by Suzanne Grella):


Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

On November 8th, BGR held its fourth Walk to Feed the Hungry in Willington, Connecticut. This walk differs from other walks in that it is not held in a place with public exposure but on the property of the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, set on a quiet road in the woodlands of rural Connecticut. Our host was the abbot of the temple, Ven. Bounlieng Sychoumphonh. Monks from Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated, as did the nuns from Chuang Yen Monastery. About 50 laypeople from different parts of Connecticut and vicinity turned up for the walk.

Group Photo

This walk is conducted differently from other walks: not as a procession through the streets or park, but as a slow and silent walking meditation, in single file, winding around the extensive property of the temple.

Alongside the Woods

The walk started at the side of the temple, continued alongside the woods, then around the back of the property, onto the road in front of the temple, and then toward the back, in an oblong shape.

File Along the Road

The walk was followed by a sumptuous meal generously offered by the Lao Buddhist community connected with the temple. Monks recited blessings before the meal, and then Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke after the meal. He explained the inspiration behind BGR and described several of the projects supported by donations from the walkers.


Reciting blessings.

As in previous years, the walk in Connecticut was organized by Yuhui Alison Zhou, with assistance from her friends.

Receiving Blessings

Lay devotees, Yuhui Zhou in foreground.

Youngest Walker

The youngest walker.

NYC Walk to Feed the Hungry

Sara McMahon

On our 6th annual NYC Walk to Feed the Hungry we were blessed with excellent weather—a little chilly at first, but the sunshine soon made it perfectly comfortable.​ About 150 people turned up to support this event!

Group Photo

Echo Bonner of the Dharma Drum Retreat Center ​got everyone warmed up with a mindful movement meditation, formally known as the Eight F​orm​ Meditation.

​Participants then gathered as ​Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi ​spoke of the history of the Walk, and read a ​special ​message of support from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Dear Friends:

I am pleased to join Buddhist Global Relief in welcoming everyone to the Walk to Feed the Hungry in New York City.

New York is a profoundly diverse City where residents from all backgrounds and walks of life are united by a shared commitment to lift up their neighbors. Today, Buddhist Global Relief exemplifies that quintessential New York spirit as it gathers friends and families from all faith backgrounds in Riverside Park in a shared commitment to end global hunger. I am delighted to express my appreciation to all of the participants: every step you take this day is a step toward a more equitable world. My administration is using every tool at our disposal to support families and build a brighter and more just City, and we are grateful for the community members and organizations that share our commitment to this cause.

On behalf of the City of New York, I offer my best wishes for a successful event and a productive year ahead.

Bill de Blasio

Following this announcement, we ​then ​began the Walk at the southern tip of Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at the 79th street entrance.

Walkers Head of Line-1

​Many of our friends had come to join us, including the Muslim Women in Research & Development, a recipient of partial proceeds from the Walk. Among the many Buddhist groups that came to the Walk were representatives from Chuang Yen Monastery, the Shantideva Meditation Center, Buddhist Church of New York, the New York Buddhist Vihara, the Burmese Temple of Brooklyn, the Open Mind Zendo, New York Insight, and others.

Sylvie & Muslim Women

The ​Walk ​ended at the Holy Trinity Catholic Churc​h. As in past Walks, the Church generously provided us with a space to feast on the delicious vegetarian food provided by volunteers and donors. The Pastor welcomed us with kind words and expressed his appreciation for the purpose of the Walk.

Roshi Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, from Heart Circle Sangha, emceed a program that was one of the most inspiring parts of the day.

Joan Hoeberichts

Roshi Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts

BGR Secretary Marcie Barth gave an overview of how our programs have grown from just four in 2008 to more than 26 programs in 2015.

Our friends from the Muslim Women’s Institute of Research and Development, Adam Bucko of the Reciprocity Foundation, Harry Mcneary of Urban Rebuilding Initiative, and Liz Gilbert of Helen Keller International also shared with us about how BGR’s support contributed to the growth and fulfillment of their own programs.

Adam Bucko-2

Adam Bucko of Reciprocity Foundation

Harry Mcneary of Urban Rebuilding Initiative

Representing the Sangha, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki spoke as President of the New York Council, and BGR Chair Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi explained the principle of “conscientious compassion” that animates the work of BGR. The day ended with a beautiful chant by the nuns of Chuang Yen Monastery, followed by Sri Lankan monks reciting chants to bless the assembly.​

Nuns Chanting

Youtube videos of walk highlights are available here: .

Click on the Youtube logo on the base line to access all ten videos.


BGR Walk in San Francisco

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Gold Mt Monastery

Group at Gold Mountain Monastery

Last Saturday (Oct. 24) I led the BGR Walk to Feed the Hungry in San Francisco. The walk started out from the Gold Mountain Monastery in Chinatown and proceeded up a very steep hill, with a pause for photos in front of the Grace Cathedral.

Starting Out-2

The Steep Ascent Uphill

We made our first stop at the Buddhist Churches of America on Octavia Street. Here we were treated to refreshments and were brought up to the stupa on the roof to pay homage to the relics of Shakyamuni Buddha and the chief disciples Sariputta and Moggallana. We also learned about the long history of BCA, the Buddhist organization with the longest continuous history in the US.

Buddhist Church of America

The walk then continued on until we reached the Vietnamese Buddhist Association, where again we were given refreshments and had a chance to hear about the history of the temple. Finally we ended at the Mindfulness Care Center, where we did a short meditation of mudita, rejoicing in the goodness of our actions that day, and shared the merits with the devas, nagas, spirits, and other beings.

Sharing Merits

Final Sharing of Merits

Excellent photos of the walk were taken by our Bay Area California photographer Kevin Cheung here:

San Francisco


Solidarity “Walk for the Hungry” in Uganda

BGR Staff

Our friend, BGR adviser Ven. Uganda Buddharakkhita, the first Theravada Buddhist monk from Uganda and founder of the Uganda Buddhist Centre in Entebbe, writes:

To join your noble effort, the Uganda Buddhist Centre sponsored the “Walk for the Hungry” yesterday.  The walk started at the Uganda Buddhist Centre. Led by Ven. Dhammakami (a Buddhist nun, dressed in pink robes), it was our first walk of this nature.  Because the people who participated in the walk are very poor, they did not raise any money. However, by their walk, they raised awareness of the work of Buddhist Global Relief. You will notice that I am not in the picture; this is because I am spending the rain retreat overseas.




BGR Walk in Michigan

Maureen Bodenbach

Some 125 people joined the fifth annual Michigan Walk to Feed the Hungry on Sunday, September 27, held in the Kensington Park in Milford. Participants came from more than a dozen Buddhist groups from across Michigan. These ranged from Sri Lankan and Thai monasteries to a Korean Zen temple, the Chinese Chan and Pure Land traditions, members of several Vietnamese temples and students of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. They also included Westerners from various insight meditation groups in Ann Arbor, Lansing, and the metropolitan Detroit area. And there were lots of kids! Bringing families out was one of the goals of Ven. Haju Sunim of the Ann Arbor Zen Temple, so our youngest “walker” was just learning how to stand up from a crawl!

Walkers with banner

We were blessed to have six monastics join the Walk this year: four venerable monks from the Great Lakes Buddhist Vihara and the Midwest Buddhist Meditation Center, Ven. Haju Sunim from the Zen Temple of Ann Arbor, and the guest of honor, the founder of BGR, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Walkers in file

Venerable Bodhi led the three-mile walk through beautiful Kensington Park, which combines forests, a large lake, and some magnificent wildlife. Our walk ended with a meal devotedly prepared by members of several temples. And since Sept. 27 was also the day of the Chinese Moon Festival (and a supermoon!), members of the Lansing Buddhist Association had lovingly prepared some amazing moon cakes, which were sold as part of the fundraiser and raised over $300 for Buddhist Global Relief. Lunch ended with a poem by Zen storyteller Jill Halpern.

Serving Dana to the Monks

The event continued with an inspiring update on BGR projects by Ven. Bodhi, followed by a most welcome addition to the program, a visit and presentation by Ashley Atkinson, co-director of Keep Growing Detroit, one of BGR’s partners. Ashley described KGD’s efforts to bring food sovereignty to residents of Detroit by engaging people in urban agriculture and turning the many vacant lots in Detroit into beautiful vegetable gardens. It was wonderful to see the direct effects our support of BGR projects is having right in our own backyard, in one of the most food-insecure cities in the US.

Bhante and Maureen walking

The Walk was followed by two Dhamma lectures offered by Ven. Bodhi. The first took place that same evening, at the Ann Arbor Zen Temple, and the second, on Sept. 29, at the Lansing Buddhist Association. In this way Bhante was able to reach many more Michiganders with his message of wisdom and compassion during his brief stay here in Michigan. We are so grateful for the blessings of his visit, for his great scholarship that has been the foundation for our practice, and for his ability to set such an inspiring example of taking our practice out into the world to help those less fortunate.

We were able to raise over $10,000 for BGR projects during the walk and other events, thanks to the great generosity of the people of Michigan and of so many Buddhist groups and temples who support the Michigan Walk each year. Thank you to all who came out and supported this wonderful event, and thank you to Bhikkhu Bodhi for joining us again this year!

Maureen Bodenbach is a coordinator of the Michigan Walk to Feed the Hungry.