poverty

Help new Buddhists in India go on retreat

2456436261_befc012827_oBorn as an “untouchable” in India (literally considered so polluted that a caste Hindu would have to purify him or herself after making physical contact) Bhimrao Ambedkar publicly converted to Buddhism on 14 October 1956, in Nagpur, India.

The significance of this is that, despite having been banned from sitting in a schoolroom with other (caste Hindu) children, Ambedkar had managed to gain an education, study abroad, and had become India’s first law minister—and the architect of the newly independent country’s constitution.

Ambedkar realized that most ex-untouchables were chained to the idea that they are inferior and that it was by changing themselves—through the practice of the Buddha Dhamma changing those deep-seated ideas—that they could become truly free.

Ambedkar’s conversion was a symbolic rejection of Hinduism and its brutal caste-based apartheid system. He proceeded to convert half a million of his supporters who were gathered around him. Unfortunately he died soon afterward, leaving his conversion movement adrift.

A number of Buddhists stepped into the breech and continued to provide support and inspiration for these new Buddhists. Among those was Urgyen Sangharakshita, who was later to found the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order).

These “Dalits” (meaning “the oppressed ones), are largely the poorest in a country in which poverty is endemic. Members of the Triratna Buddhist community have continued working with these new Buddhists, providing much-needed healthcare, educational resources, and opportunities to practice Buddhism.

This November a major retreat is being held at the Urgyen Sangharakshita Meditation Centre, in Maharashtra, India, over the Diwali vacation. I’ve contributed money to supporting this event, and I invite you to do the same.

Of the millions of Dalits who have converted to Buddhism since 14th October 1956, only a small proportion have been able to ‘hear’ the Dhamma. They have much devotion but little knowledge.

These retreats have been held over the last 4 years with between 500 and 600 people attending from some of India’s poorest communities.

These retreats take advantage of the Diwali holiday, when people are more free to attend, to give Dalits the opportunity to hear the Dharma they thirst for. Most are very poor, and to allow them to come, these retreats are offered free. It is a great opportunity for them to not only hear the Dharma, but to experience Sangha. Triratna is undertaking to raise the money for approximately 550 people to go on retreat.

Hearing the Dharma in the context of a retreat can, in India, have remarkable results. Triratna Order member Vipulakirti, who co-leads these events, said, “I met a woman on one retreat who told me that her husband had been on the retreat the previous year and had been completely transformed. Previously he had been a drinker, beaten her regularly and taken no responsibility for the children. Now he didn’t drink, treated her with kindness and helped with childcare. He had discovered what being a Buddhist meant in practice, to the benefit of himself and his family.”

If you want to help these desperately poor new Buddhists to deepen their practice, turn their lives around, and continue with the work of transforming and humanizing Indian religious culture, donate via ‘MyDonate‘. MyDonate take no commission. Your entire donation goes towards spreading the Dharma in India and transforming the lives of hundreds of people.

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Buddhists speak on Occupy Wall Street

Thanks to Maia Duerr and the follow-up comments on a post on her blog, the Jizo Chronicles, here’s a quick round-up of some of the recent posts that Buddhists have made on the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.

  • There’s a post by Maia herself, along with Roshi Joan Halifax: “This is What Compassion Looks Like.”
  • Nathan Thompson has post on “Occupy Minnesota: Zen Style” on his blog, Dangerous Harvests where he describes “coming out” as a Zen Buddhist at a peaceful protest.
  • Chris Wilson, president of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship board of directors, compares OWS to the Arab Spring and asks why engaged Buddhists should get involves. Chris states that BPF endorses OWS, “based on our agreement that the influence of money in politics is blocking many of the social justice and environmental goals that BPF promotes.”
  • In “We Are the 100%,” Ari Pliskin of the Zen Peacemakers offers a “mindful response” to OWS: “We Are the 100%.” Drawing on the precepts and particularly this one: “When peacemakers vow to be oneness, there is no Other,” Ari’s piece makes the case for a non-dualistic view of the current situation.
  • Madrone Phoenix is a dharma practitioner based in Providence, RI. In “Waking Up From the American Dream” she shares her experience visiting OWS in New York last week, and she reflects on her earlier experiences as an “angry activist” and how her Buddhist practice over the past few years has impacted her way of being involved in this movement.
  • Michael Stone, a yoga and meditation teacher based in Toronto, also visited NYC last week. He offers his perspective in an article titled, “Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street.”
  • Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Manuel is past executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Zen priest based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In “Un-Occupy the Land” she notes the troublesome connotations of the word, “occupy.” She writes, “The word brought up visions of invasion, people marching in to take over. I also saw a consciousness of us holding down specific territories (turfing) that seems to persist as the way to conquer.”
  • The Rev. James Ford, who is both a Unitarian Universalist minister and a Zen priest, begins his piece by echoing the words of Harvey Milk: “I’m here to recruit you.” In his piece, “An American Autumn: A Yom Kippur Meditation,” he says, “Sometimes you have to be outside. Sometimes you have to stand up. And sometimes you have to shout. You have to make demands that may be uncomfortable to the status quo. The Vietnam war ended for many reasons, but one principal among them were the people willing to mass together, take some tear gas, and bear witness to another way.”
  • Meredith Arena on the Interdependence Project site, has written “Politics and Practice: How we Face Social Injustice. Occupy Wall Street.” She writes, “Regardless of my ambivalence about how-why-when-where-who, sometimes you just have to SHOW UP.”
  • And on this site we have already brought you “The Buddha and Occupy Wall Street” and “Robert Thurman talks at Occupy Wall Street.”

Please let us know in the comments of any other posts you come across.

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Buddhist mobile clinic serves East San Jose

Fewer patients than expected turned out, but that just meant the waiting lines were short for the doctors, dentists, acupuncturists and chiropractors who filled teeth and adjusted backs Sunday at a free clinic in East San Jose.

The Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist organization with roots in Taiwan, offered its health clinic in keeping with its goals to help the poor, educate the rich and inspire love and humanity in both.

The foundation, with 10 million followers globally, has a strong presence in the South Bay. The 58 patients who showed up at Slonaker Elementary School on Sunday were matched in number by Tzu Chi’s volunteers, including medical professionals and others. The group, which has a partnership with Slonaker and two other schools in the Alum Rock Union School District, chose the school because of its high poverty index.

The group, which also runs clinics in the Central Valley, targets the areas of greatest need.

But while the medical need in the neighborhood near Lake Cunningham is clearly high, a recent increase in immigration raids may have dampened the turnout, said Brenda Hernandez, a Slonaker teacher volunteering Sunday. After fliers about the clinic were distributed, several families said they were afraid that attending might draw attention from the authorities.

Those who did visit the clinic, which also included a fully equipped…

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dental van, made good use of the services, Tzu Chi representative Eric Chen said.

Among them was Juan Martínez, who got a tooth capped, while his wife, Alejandra Leyva, also received care.

“It’s pretty difficult to get an appointment at the hospital,” said Martínez, of San Jose. Disabled last year in an auto crash, the uninsured man said the typical wait is three to five hours in emergency rooms and up to 12 hours for nonemergency care at Valley Medical Center.

At the Tzu Chi clinic, he said, paperwork was minimal, compared with the multiple applications required at most clinics and hospitals.

From a doctor’s viewpoint, clinics present at least one challenge — ongoing treatment of patients with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. “When you write a prescription, you feel they should get follow-up care,” said Richard Chiang, a cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center, who has volunteered with Tzu Chi for about six years.
On Sunday Chiang mostly did consultations, emphasizing lifestyle. “I’ve been reinforcing the importance of people taking care of themselves with diet, watching their weight and getting regular physical activity,” he said.

But while the doctors themselves couldn’t follow up on their walk-through patients, they handed out information on community clinics for low-income residents and low-cost prescriptions available at drugstores. And the Health Trust of Santa Clara County distributed information about medical insurance available to children.

The accomplishment is hard to measure, but on Sunday, Tzu Chi — which means “compassion and relief” — made a bit of progress in its mission, Chen said, to help the most needy and less fortunate in society.

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