Posts by Lokabandhu

Together Under One Roof by Lin JensenLokabandhu, a peace activist, finds Lin Jensen’s new book to be a moving evocation of Buddhism’s ethos of lovingkindness.

Together Under One Roof is Lin Jensen’s third volume, and follows in the footsteps of Bad Dog! and Pavement (already reviewed here). It’s a more slender volume than the others, but still a delightful read and in places very moving.

Like the others, it’s a series of essays in which he takes an ordinary event and reflects upon it, drawing out of it some nugget for reflection, some correspondence with the teachings of Buddha or Zen, some motivation to deepen his practice. In this way he — and we — come to see ourselves as part of the “Buddha’s Household,” all here on this planet, all doing what we can to survive, all presented with innumerable daily opportunities for generosity or transcendence and, often, all making a mess of it, time and again.

Sometimes the correspondences seem a little strained and one wonders whether he felt an obligation to come up with something every day, perhaps — for instance in the essay on “Naming Buddha” (p. 10), where his reflections arise out of reading the dictionary and the images evoked by the “double-disc harrow.”

Sometimes the correspondences are deeply moving, and never more than when Jensen is writing about peace, the need for peace, and the many factors in present-day society that militate against peace. This is where his passion and the book’s power lies. Continuing with the theme of words, and the importance of the meaning of words, he says,

“The vocabulary of ambition, greed, hatred, and force […] is the sort of vocabulary that disguises its intent in euphemisms like “national interest,” one of the cruelest expressions current in the English lexicon. The phrase’s capacity for cruelty lies in the narrowness of its application and in the fact that the phrase is so familiar that it goes unquestioned and unexamined […] the struggle for a peaceful society is as much a struggle over who controls language as it is over who controls wealth and armaments”.

This is contrasted with Jensen’s own love of and passion for peace, beautifully expressed in what is in effect his creed — “The single complete and encompassing value is the brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings – human, animal, plant, and mineral; sentient and insentient” (p. 52–53). And later, “from my viewpoint, Buddhism is not about getting enlightened — it’s about being kind” (p. 185).

“Together Under One Roof,” by Lin Jensen

Together Under One Roof by Lin JensenLokabandhu, a peace activist, finds Lin Jensen’s new book to be a moving evocation of Buddhism’s ethos of lovingkindness.

Together Under One Roof is Lin Jensen’s third volume, and follows in the footsteps of Bad Dog! and Pavement (already reviewed here). It’s a more slender volume than the others, but still a delightful read and in places very moving.

Like the others, it’s a series of essays in which he takes an ordinary event and reflects upon it, drawing out of it some nugget for reflection, some correspondence with the teachings of Buddha or Zen, some motivation to deepen his practice. In this way he — and we — come to see ourselves as part of the “Buddha’s Household,” all here on this planet, all doing what we can to survive, all presented with innumerable daily opportunities for generosity or transcendence and, often, all making a mess of it, time and again.

Title: Together Under One Roof: Making a Home of the Buddha’s Household
Author: Lin Jensen
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
ISBN: 0-86171-554-3
Available from: Wisdom, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

Sometimes the correspondences seem a little strained and one wonders whether he felt an obligation to come up with something every day, perhaps — for instance in the essay on “Naming Buddha” (p. 10), where his reflections arise out of reading the dictionary and the images evoked by the “double-disc harrow.”

Sometimes the correspondences are deeply moving, and never more than when Jensen is writing about peace, the need for peace, and the many factors in present-day society that militate against peace. This is where his passion and the book’s power lies. Continuing with the theme of words, and the importance of the meaning of words, he says,

“The vocabulary of ambition, greed, hatred, and force […] is the sort of vocabulary that disguises its intent in euphemisms like “national interest,” one of the cruelest expressions current in the English lexicon. The phrase’s capacity for cruelty lies in the narrowness of its application and in the fact that the phrase is so familiar that it goes unquestioned and unexamined […] the struggle for a peaceful society is as much a struggle over who controls language as it is over who controls wealth and armaments”.

This is contrasted with Jensen’s own love of and passion for peace, beautifully expressed in what is in effect his creed — “The single complete and encompassing value is the brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings – human, animal, plant, and mineral; sentient and insentient” (p. 52–53). And later, “from my viewpoint, Buddhism is not about getting enlightened — it’s about being kind” (p. 185).

Together Under One Roof is a mature work, the fruit of a lifetime’s practice and reflection. It has an almost deceptive simplicity, with Jensen’s home-spun images softening the reader to be all the more powerfully affected when he makes his points.

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9/11: Meditate to Liberate

On the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, we bring the story of how one Buddhist chose to respond by challenging the consciences of those whose business is to promote the sale of weapons war.

9/11 changed everything. We all knew that — the only question was, how? The US government’s “war on terrorism” was swiftly launched and a deep conviction arose in me that this was not the way to go. In their fervor our leaders, especially America’s, seemed utterly oblivious of the simple truth that violence breeds violence. Their response seemed opportunistic and vindictive, Bush’s rhetoric duplicitous and deeply worrying, our leaders seemed uninterested in peacemaking. To me, and perhaps many others, the words of the poet Godfrey Rust rang true: “The moral high ground is just a pile of smoking rubble.”

Soon after that fateful day I left my office in Birmingham and embarked on an itinerant life, a wandering Buddhist teacher-organizer affiliated to Buddhafield, a collective that holds outdoor retreats and festivals under canvas in the West of England. I wanted to dedicate myself to exploring new approaches to practicing and spreading Dharma and — as the so-called “war on terror” broadened — to deepening my own involvement in social and political issues. This led me to i quest for “acts of power”: public actions demonstrating what I stood for which I could perform wholeheartedly as a Buddhist.

I’ve had many years of doing Buddhist “retreats” and I felt it was now time for some “advances”

It has become increasingly imperative for me to engage with the world as well as with my mind; to take direct action, while continuing to work on myself and being a good citizen in a general way. I’ve had many years of doing Buddhist “retreats” and I felt it was now time for some “advances.” But alongside this came unease about aligning myself with many conventional forms of protest — the noise and negativity of angry demonstrations, the violence implicit in sabotage and occupation, the wildly different agendas of other activists.

How to act directly, as a Buddhist, without compromise, without compromise, without undermining the positive in society? I knew well that greed, hatred and ignorance were rampant in the world — I also knew they were flourishing in my own mind, and I had to change that just is much as anyone else’s. I knew that polarization and demonization helped no one and never led to constructive communication, however satisfying it might feel in the moment. I also realized the issues were complex, that I was relatively ignorant and in no position to state categorically what was right. I only knew that the “war on terror” was not it.

Out of all this, and out of a series of events over a remarkable summer, came the beginnings of a way forward. This way promised to be a new and powerful approach to practice and protest, marrying inner and outer, demonstrating alternatives with minimum polarization, speaking directly to our innermost conscience, cutting through the endless arguments — a way forward that nonetheless takes courage and determination.

We call it “Meditate to Liberate.” It is the brainchild of John Curtin, a veteran animal-rights campaigner who has seen protestors at their most violent, and who has been drawn increasingly to Buddhism, despite his criticisms of many Buddhists for their passivity in the social sphere. 0n the second anniversary of 9/11 there was a large arms fair in London’s Docklands — 15,000 delegates gathering to trade weapons, including cluster bombs and torture equipment. It was time to act.

We boarded the train and swiftly seated ourselves in silent meditation in front of each doorway up and down the carriage

Attending a protesters’ briefing, we learned that many delegates would arrive by local train and that this was the best way to get close to them. We immediately knew what to do. On the day, after some nerve-wracking training in arrest procedures, we dressed in our blue meditation shirts or robes, bought all-day travel passes, boarded the train and, as it pulled out, swiftly seated ourselves in silent meditation in front of each doorway up and down the carriage. The exit was not blocked but anyone leaving had to brush past our silent forms. Pinned to Our chests were large badges reading: I AM A BUDDHIST AND I AM OPPOSED TO THE ARMS TRADE. Others in our group had leaflets to hand to interested passengers, and another, in a loud voice, invited all present to reflect oil the death and suffering that would result from the fair.

As we sat there, hearts pounding, we found our meditations clear and strong, much habitual discursiveness stripped away by the raw immediacy of the situation. Strong feelings arose: fear, anger, elation sadness, all to be calmly, mindfully witnessed and absorbed. Around us we felt people come and go, overheard the occasional comments and, as we stopped at Custom House, venue of the “arms fair,” felt a great swish past us as most passengers alighted to do their deals. We sat on for one more station, arose a little stiffly, and caught the next train back.

We did this again and again throughout the day. in the streets around we could hear crowds of demonstrators held back by lines of police. We broke for lunch and overlapped with many of them in a local Christian café. The arms fair continued — none of us could stop it. But, by the time we went home, we’d had an intense day of meditation practice, and done our level best to prick the delegates’ consciences. I am confident this type of action is both powerful and in harmony with the spirit of Buddhism. And it may just contribute to ending the “war on terror.”

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“Pavement: Reflections on mercy, activism, and doing ‘nothing’ for peace” by Lin Jensen

Pavement, by Lin Jensen Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Lin Jensen’s little book Pavement — Reflections on mercy, activism, and doing “nothing” for peace (Wisdom, March 2007) arrived in the mail a few weeks ago and has been by my bedside since, an almost-daily source of inspiration in the mornings before rising. Its 36 short chapters are an easy read, but squarely address a tough theme — how to respond as a Buddhist when you are a citizen of a country you believe to be violent and to be engaged in violent acts, in this case America and her war in Iraq.

Jensen is a man of deep feeling, a long-standing Zen Buddhist, and possessed of a passionate need to respond — somehow, every which way he can find — to the suffering and violence he hears of daily. It’s clear from hints dropped here and there through the book that he’s a long-standing peace activist — “I’ve written my representatives repeatedly, submitted all the Letters to the Editor I could get printed, written whatever articles on peace I could persuade someone to publish, joined the peace rallies and marches, and given all the talks on nonviolence I could find an audience for.” And yet he hasn’t stopped the violence, and knows it, and is still impelled to respond when he hears of missiles dropped on Iraqi children — “I could run screaming into the streets with such news, I could knock on the doors of houses and force strangers to hear how a little girl in Iraq died.” And so he is forced to engage with a deep koan (though he does not use the word) — “WHAT TO DO?”

This led him, in 2005, to begin his ongoing peace vigils, sitting daily in meditation on the streets of Chico, his home town in California. And these in turn led him to an extraordinary series of discoveries, both about himself, his practice, and his fellow Americans — insights and reflections that make up the bulk of the book.

Jensen is honest (“I would sit an hour’s meditation on a downtown street corner in an outward attitude of calm and peacefulness and feel like a perfect hypocrite because I felt so little peace within”), realistic (“I don’t imagine my sitting here … has prevented even a single bomb dropping into the lives of people a thousand miles away”) and yet confident in his enterprise (“You may acknowledge me or ignore me as you see fit, but I am here, nevertheless, to remind us both that something has gone drastically wrong with our nation, and I’ll be back tomorrow to remind us again.”) He comes to see, first of all, that peace was not something that would ever come from his own “willful devising,” that it was its own agent and he, at best, merely its instrument.

The book’s reflections range over a wide variety of topics, and take all sorts of little incidents as their starting-points, often the people who interacted with him as he sat there. We have to guess, from little hints here and there, what kind of person he is and what his friends, wife and fellow-citizens think of him — we learn for instance that he’s 75, a long-distance runner, and Zen teacher. The book is occasionally whimsical and a little “light,” but most often it’s moving, sometimes deeply so. And we are privileged to share something of Jensen’s journey as he confronts ever more deeply his question.

The book is not primarily a political book, nor was it written specifically in response to America’s war in Iraq. It simply springs from them as a primary meeting-place between the real world and his ideals — with his practice of Buddhist meditation as a sort of crucible in which those poles can be reconciled.

There is ample evidence that meditation has been a powerful, humbling, and transformative practice for Jensen himself. As to whether or not his actions have made any difference to anyone else, I would like to close by saying that I read his book in the UK, on the other side of the Atlantic, and it felt a blessed relief to hear this voice of humility and compassion — even of honest self-doubt — coming from far-away America. I realized it was far too long since I had heard anything from that country save belligerence, self-righteousness, and defiance. I share Jensen’s belief that America occupies a pivotal point in the world today: as he says “It is the United States alone, like Asoka’s kingdom of old, that holds the necessary power to halt the long centuries of killing.” So I would like to say to Jensen, “thank you — you have made a difference to me.”

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk


LokabandhuLokabandhu is a western Buddhist of many years standing, based in the UK. He is a father of two children, now aged 21 and 17, and has, over the years, taken his practice into many different areas, from pilgrimages to the Holy Places in India to peacework in Palestine. Currently he works for the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order as their Development Coordinator.


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