Tag Archives: White House

Buddhists at the White House

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  110Last week, on May 14th, I was privileged to be part of a group of Buddhist monastics, teachers, and leaders who converged on Washington DC for a conference on the role of Buddhism in the public square. The idea to convene such a conference originated with Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Officer for Soka Gakkai International–USA, who began to lay plans for the gathering as far back as December 2014. He established a steering committee, which eventually came to consist of Danny Hall (also of SGI), Professor Duncan Williams, Professor Sallie King, Matt Regan, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, and myself. The list of invitees, originally set at 80, increased incrementally until it amounted to approximately 125, the maximum that could comfortably fit into the facilities provided. Representatives included monks, nuns, ministers, academics, yogis, lay Dharma teachers, and Buddhist activists from all traditions, with a balanced blend of Asian immigrant Buddhists and convert American Buddhists.

The original goal of the event, as Bill Aiken conceived it, was to “to utilize the convening power of the White House to bring together a wide range of Buddhist community leaders to affirm our shared commitment to preventing climate change, sharing community best practices, and hearing from Obama administration representatives on issues of concern to us.” As preparations unfolded, two main points of focus emerged. One was climate change, which poses an ever-escalating threat to the security of human life on earth. The other, highlighted by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed people of color, has been the need for this country to finally implement full racial justice in all spheres of our communal life. Continue reading

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An Invitation to Action

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Climate change has major implications for the future of the world’s food supply, and for this reason its an issue of prime relevance to the mission of Buddhist Global Relief. Along with population growth, climate change may soon become the most potent factor behind world hunger. As the planet heats up, the freak weather events that we’ve been witnessing so often—the long droughts, fierce heat waves, violent storms, and torrential floods—are doing more than encroaching on our comfort zone. They are ravaging farmland and devastating crops, resulting in poor harvests, food shortages, rising food prices, and more hunger.

But the destructive impact of a changing climate is not limited to bizarre alterations in the weather. The impact of slow, incremental, and imperceptible climate change may be even more ominous. It’s certainly more pernicious, simply because the slow and gradual nature of the change can lull us into thinking that there is no need for concern, that our future will be just like our past. This, however, would be bad faith, a misplaced sense of security. For as the planet grows warmer, below the threshold of immediate perception our vital support systems will gradually be undermined. Forests will dry up, species go extinct, topsoil lose its fecundity, rainfall patterns change, ocean currents shift, and sea levels rise, inundating cities and swallowing up coastal land. And all these transformations, working together, will result in a diminished food supply, triggering social unrest, mass migration, and starvation for millions.
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A Pray-In for the Climate

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

"It's Time to Break the Silence" - MLKThis past Tuesday, January 15th, I was privileged to participate in a “Pray-In for the Climate” held in Washington D.C. The gathering was organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a coalition of people from different faiths united in the recognition that we need to act—and act promptly—to stop the warming of our planet. The pray-in was deliberately scheduled for the actual birthday—rather than the official birth celebration—of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. During his life Rev. King had been an outspoken critic of the “triple scourge” of racism, poverty , and militarism, and we all concurred that if he were alive today, he would have added climate change to this set.

The slow heating of the earth’s ecosystem not only threatens to unleash planetary disasters of unprecedented scale but also presents us with the most weighty ethical challenge we face today. The moral dimension of climate change emerges from the unbalanced distribution of its consequences between agents and victims. While the advanced industrial nations of the north, most notably the U.S. (and now China), bear primary responsibility for overloading the air and oceans with carbon emissions, the poor countries of the south pay the heaviest price. It’s East Africa and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean islands and Central America, that bear the brunt of the floods and droughts, the failed harvests and water shortages, that are driving their populations over the cliff of poverty and hunger. It’s the small island-nations of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific that must face rising seas, which are likely to swallow them whole and leave them no place to go. Though our sense of human solidarity should compel us to share their plight and take effective action, we normally just go about in the dull daze of complacency, absorbed in our personal affairs and pursuing “business as usual.”
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First-Ever White House Conference of Dharmic Faiths

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Until recently conferences on interfaith cooperation in the U.S. have almost always centered on the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet over the past forty years America has become a much more diversified and pluralistic society. The relaxing of restrictions on immigration, followed by the post-war upheavals in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, has dramatically transformed our population. Large numbers of Americans now have  religious roots that go back, not to the deserts of Judea and Arabia, but to the plains, mountains, and villages of ancient India. For convenience, these are  grouped together under the designation “the Dharmic faiths.” They include Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, and their national origins range from Pakistan to Japan, from Burma to Vietnam, and from Mongolia to Sri Lanka. Not all are immigrants. At least one whole generation of people of Asian descent has been born and raised in America, and think of themselves principally as Americans following a Dharmic religion.

L to R: Sikh, Jaina, Hindu, & Buddhist delegates offer prayers

Eager to translate their faith into programs of social justice and humanitarian service, followers of these Dharmic religions have sought dialogue with the U.S. government in order to find pathways along which they can contribute more effectively to their  communities, their nation, and the world.

On April 20, 2012, these efforts were rewarded by a historic conference convened at the White House, Community Building in the 21st Century with Strengthened Dharmic Faith-Based Institutions. Buddhist Global Relief was honored to be one of the Dharmic faith organizations invited to attend. Many Hindu, Jain, and Sikh organizations, as well as other Buddhist organizations, also participated. I went as the representative of Buddhist Global Relief. I was delighted to meet a number of old Buddhist friends and to make a few new ones. Among these was the popular Buddhist blogger Danny Fisher, who had interviewed me a few times by email over the years but whom I had never met in person.
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