Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

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.

“Concert to Feed the Hungry” Graphics Wins Award

BGR Staff

The promotional campaign for Buddhist Global Relief’s “Concert to Feed the Hungry” has been recognized with a 2015 American Design Award. Designer Rob Barth of Barth and Company received a Certificate of Excellence from competition sponsor Graphic Design USA. According to the sponsor, the annual event attracted “more than 10,000 entries from around the country, with a highly selective 15% recognized for excellence.”

Rob's Certificate

In response to the award, Rob said: “For me, better than the award is the fact that the campaign successfully promoted the concert and helped raise awareness of world hunger and fund BGR’s efforts to feed hungry people around the world.” It was Rob Barth who also designed BGR’s award-winning logo (see the masthead above), which over the years has been applied masterfully to our promotional materials by our team of talented professional communications designers.

Graphic designers play a major role in shaping cultural attitudes, political advocacy, and consumer spending, and in these capacities their work can be used for both harm and for good. Ethicists in the graphic arts community, well aware that design is a double-edged sword, have been urging graphic artists to use their gifts responsibly. An article titled “Ethics and Social Responsibility” on the website of the Professional Association for Design reminds designers that they work within “a much broader system of moral values and obligations—not just how we do our work, but what it is that we are doing in the first place and the impact it will have on the world.” The article urges graphic designers “to contribute to the betterment of all and to ensure abundance, diversity and health to future generations.”

Through his work for Buddhist Global Relief, Rob Barth has certainly been living up to this commitment. We all congratulate Rob and thank him for his valued contribution.

BGR Responds to Syrian Refugee Crisis

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The refugee crisis as of February 2015 (Focus on Syria)

Syria’s civil war is said to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. The brutal war has raged for four years, and any resolution of the conflict still seems as remote as when the fighting first erupted. The war has resulted in the deaths of 220,000 people, half of whom are believed to be civilians. Bombings have destroyed crowded cities and horrific human rights violations are widespread. Basic necessities like food and medical care are sparse. According to reports from Syrian refugees, children are becoming increasingly hungry due to cuts in the amount of food being provided to them.

More than 11 million people have been displaced thus far. The UN estimates that 7.6 million people are displaced internally. The others, approximatey 4 million, have fled across the borders. The majority of Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and Lebanon. These are countries with weak infrastructure whose limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain. In August 2013, more Syrians escaped into northern Iraq at a newly opened border crossing. Now they are trapped by that country’s own insurgent conflict, and Iraq is struggling to meet the needs of Syrian refugees on top of more than one million internally displaced Iraqis.

Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Syria (Associated Press)

While the conflict within the country is complex, with a multitude of groups fighting the Syrian government and each other, one fact is simple: millions of Syrians are suffering and in urgent need of help.*

In recognition of the urgency of the situation, BGR recently donated $12,000 to provide emergency relief to Syrian refugees, both those displaced within the country and those living in neighboring countries. This contribution has been divided evenly between six relief organizations working with Syrian refugees, as follows:

(1) Global Giving

This fund will support life-saving assistance and relief efforts for Syrians displaced by the conflict, both within Syria and in neighboring countries. The fund will help survivors and victims get necessary immediate relief supplies like food and hygiene kits, as well as provide long-term support through activities such as building water systems and providing educational supplies and job training.

(2) International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee is providing relief to millions of uprooted people inside Syria; in neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan; in Afghanistan; on the shores of Greece; and in 25 resettlement offices in the United States.

(3) Medical Teams International

Medical Teams International’s primary goal in Lebanon [where Syrian refugees are settled] is health outreach. Basic health and dental care prevents and reduces the impact of disease on children, women, and men in the settlement. Additionally, they train community volunteers to provide household outreach and education complements ongoing health services at mobile medical units.

(4) Mercy Corps

They are delivering food and clean water, improving shelters and providing families with clothes, mattresses, and other household essentials. They are helping children cope with trauma and leading constructive activities to nurture their healthy development. And they are helping host communities and refugees work together to mitigate tensions and find solutions to limited resources.

(5) Oxfam America

In partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Water Resources, UNICEF, and other aid providers, Oxfam is now providing clean water to Syrians inside their country. They have been helping to repair water systems, including wells, and truck in water. So far, 45 projects have been completed and 14 others are being implemented.

(6) United States Fund for UNICEF

UNICEF has been on the ground since the conflict began, helping to mobilize the largest humanitarian operation in history and working closely with partners to provide education, physical protection, psychological support and clothing to Syrian refugee children in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries; immunize children against disease; and provide millions of people with access to safe drinking water.

* The above information has been gathered from the websites of Mercy Corps and Oxfam America.

We Are La Via Campesina

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

We are La Via Campesina,” a short 15-minute video about the international peasants organization, offers a range of insights from the movement’s representatives as they speak about their struggles for food sovereignty and for social, economic, and climate justice.

A movement of small farmers around the world is probably far from the everyday concerns of Western Buddhists, whose interests are usually focused on meditation, Buddhist doctrine, and the application of mindfulness to their daily lives. But if the Buddhist principle that all things are connected is indeed correct, then our own fate and the destiny of the world may be intimately bound up with the fate of peasants working the land in Subsaharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. The Buddha says that all beings subsist by nutriment, and for a billion people, the system of food production we adopt determines whether they will eat or go hungry. Even more critical, our choice may determine whether we manage to put a lid on climate change or push the earth’s biosphere beyond its viable limits.

The weight of the world, it might be said, rests upon agriculture, and here is where we face the need to decide our future, to choose between industrial models of food production and humbler, more environmentally benign approaches. The industrial model of agriculture was supposed to solve the problem of global hunger, yet despite an impressive beginning, its results have been a mixed bag. While it has led to increased productivity, over the long term it has had harmful consequences for both people and the planet. For the planet, it has been a prolific source of carbon emissions; some estimates are that it contributes up to 32% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. For small-scale farmers and peasants toiling on their small plots of land, it has brought waves of landgrabs, massive debts, and the uprooting of their traditional cultures.

But the peasants are fighting back, and the umbrella under which they have gathered is the international movement called La Via Campesina. La Via Campesina is an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural alliance, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation. It comprises about 164 local and national organizations in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, representing about 200 million farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world.
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Building a Dream in Haiti

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Since 2010, BGR has been a regular partner and supporter of the What If? Foundation, a US-based organization working in Haiti. Our partnership began with BGR support for the Lamanjay free lunch program, funded by WIF. This program, which continues to this day, provides thousands of free meals to hungry children in the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince—a substantial daily meal of vegetables, rice, and protein. For many of these children, the meal offered by Lamanjay is their only meal of the day.


WIF scholarship recipients cracking their books.

Aware that education is the most effective ladder up from poverty, in 2012 WIF started a scholarship program to enable poor children to attend school. They thereby opened doors of opportunity that in the past were tightly shut against children from poor families, who must pay exorbitant fees to enroll their kids in school. Almost from its inception, BGR has partnered on this program, too, and we have supported it consistently over the past three years. Now WIF is in the process of constructing a building to serve as a permanent home for the food and education programs. The building will bring a desperately needed school into this desperate neighborhood.

Yesterday we received a message from Suzanne Alberga, WIF Executive Director, reporting on the progress of the project. Her message is just below. I hope this encourages you, our donors, and gives you some insight into how your donations to BGR, whether large or small, are having a positive and uplifting impact on the lives of these children. Remember that without such help, these curious, capable kids, so eager to learn, would not be able to attend school, and would thus face insurmountable obstacles to a life of dignity and decency. 

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Conscientious Compassion—Bhikkhu Bodhi on Climate Change, Social Justice, and Saving the World

Raymond Lam, from Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-08-14

The Buddhist website Buddhistdoor Global recently conducted an interview with me via email. Based on the interview, the editor Raymond Lam wrote an article highlighting my work both on climate change and the mission of Buddhist Global Relief. Here is the article.–BB

VBB at Universalist Church

At the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York.

American scholar and Theravada monk Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi might not receive the same high-profile press coverage as the Roman Catholic Church’s charismatic standard-bearer Pope Francis, but it is becoming evident to Buddhism watchers and commentators that his message is every bit as bold, eloquent, and sophisticated as the Pope’s. The recent focus on Bhikkhu Bodhi and other courageous Buddhist leaders who are highlighting imminent threats such as climate change or global hunger might well be influenced by a popular resonance with the urgency with which Pope Francis speaks about ecological catastrophe and poverty. Whatever the reasons, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s actions speak loudly for themselves. As the founder and chair of humanitarian organization Buddhist Global Relief (BGR), his activist work centers specifically on the issues of climate change (he is a spiritual ambassador for the interfaith climate change movement Our Voices) and hunger relief.

“When we started BGR, we initially set our mission to help those afflicted with poverty, disaster, and societal neglect. But after a short time we realized that this was too vague and not practical. Even large, well-established humanitarian organizations like CARE and Oxfam have more precisely defined missions. As a tiny Buddhist organization, we could not tackle the whole range of human challenges on this planet without dissipating our energies,” he says.
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Helping Rural Orphans Attend School in Qinghai Province, China

BGR Staff

Shambala Foundation is an independent, non-governmental, non-religiously affiliated humanitarian organization alleviating poverty in Asia (unrelated to the network of Shambhala meditation centers in the US). The organization is registered in Hong Kong and focuses primarily on China. Shambala’s projects and programs promote education for disadvantaged communities, which makes it an excellent partner with BGR.

Shambala Foundation’s main project is called Orphanage Without Walls, which it took over in 2012 and officially registered in 2013. Shambala supports 650 orphans and their foster families by providing educational opportunities, social support, and basic needs.

In the spring of 2014, BGR entered into a partnership with the Shambala Foundation to provide books, clothes, shoes, and school supplies for rural orphans in Qinghai Province, China. Most of the children are of Tibetan ethnicity. Through this collaboration, Shambala Foundation has been able to provide important materials to students in Qinghai Province to support their education and motivate them to continue schooling.

Shambala worked closely with each child and their guardian or relative to discuss solutions to keep them in school. The project had a strong impact in fulfilling basic needs for winter clothing and shoes, materials to support the children’s studies, and books beyond their school textbooks to promote literacy at home. In total, Shambala provided 100 students with these materials while also giving advice, support, and training in basic literacy skills.

Providing these materials had other impact on parents, relatives, guardians, and neighbors in showing that the child has value, and that education should be taken seriously and supported both materially and emotionally by the family and community.
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