Dharma and Social Action by Robert Beatty, December 2002

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“Dharma community is like a rock polisher. Over the course of years
the rough edges of personality get worn off”
-Yvonne Rand

During the last several months there has been controversy and conflict concerning the presence of politics on the listserv and in Dharma talks. Much of the communication concerning this took place on the listserv. I gave one Sunday night talk on the topic. A listserv is an internet message distribution service. By sending a single e-mail to a central address it is automatically delivered to all members of that particular list. At present, by sending one message to the listserv, anyone who has joined can send a message to all 170 members of the list.

I am encouraged by the fact that some conflict has arisen in the community. It is a sign of growing intimacy and the inevitable emergence of our differences. The PIMC board members and I have done our best to respond to the different views and to find a resolution that reflects the learning that has resulted from our differences.

A spectrum of views were expressed ranging from: This is a bottom line issue concerning my participation in the Sangha, to This is not an issue for me.

The views expressed were:

• There should be two online listservs: One for politics and another for other  communications.

• One list is fine, but listing the subject as “Dharma” or “Non-Dharma” is meaningless and confusing.

• Everything, including politics, that occurs is Dharma and fit for a single list.

• Delete the messages you are not interested in.

• The Dharma and politics do not mix and every effort should be made to keep them apart.

• In order to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of PIMC as a place to study Dharma, the focus should be limited to meditation.

• PIMC meetings and the list-serve are places to take refuge from the incessant barrage of politics and should be kept free of all political content.

• There is a presumption made that everyone in the Sangha is of like mind politically, resulting in some people feeling excluded, unwelcome or unsafe.

• Messages related to socially engaged Buddhism should not be isolated on a different list – they are subject for discussions.

After listening carefully to all the views and opinions the board decided we would experiment for six months with the following plan.

• We will maintain one listserv.

• A list of skillful speech guidelines will be offered to help us practice being awake, compassionate and loving while engaging in online communication, regardless of the topic. (Those skillful speech guidelines follow this article.)

• The previous subject line “Dharma/Non-Dharma” will be abandoned in favor of giving a clear description of message contents.

I have heard the concerns about politics in my talks and appreciate the opportunity to  learn from the feedback. For the most part, my reflections will continue to focus on different aspects of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path, particularly meditation. When I do venture into topics that relate more to social engagement I will be more careful to remember that the problem lies in unrecognized lust, hatred and delusion, rather than in particular individuals or regimes. I will be as clear as possible when I am offering a personal opinion.

I believe that speaking about how we can use our Dharma practice to become balanced in our responses to personal, work, social and political challenges is an integral part of my role. As householders and citizens we are not living in the isolation of a monastery, and our contributions to the world will be of many different kinds. Some community members will devote themselves to maintaining their inner practice, bringing peace to the world in that way. Others will be called to be active in various ways in response to the suffering of others caused by social inequality, war, and economic and environmental disasters. I hope that our community can have deep enough roots in equanimity, respect and lovingkindness that we can grant each other the freedom to express our understanding of the Dharma in the ways that are dictated by our hearts.

Our foundation lies in silence, meditation and the Buddhist ethical/behavioral precepts. I am confident that the compassion, wisdom and joy arising from our practice will guide us in skillful action for the benefit of all beings.