In Saturday’s post I complained that we meditators put more effort (and money) into buying practice centres than addressing social issues — such as hunger, poverty, injustice, end-of-life care. In response, several people sent links to ‘social action’ projects. Two of them caught my attention: both modest in scope, budget, and publicity; both based on direct action by individuals who may not be Buddhists by name, but certainly by their conduct.
Food not Bombs “shares free vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment.” Locally, a group of men and women in their twenties serve food under a big tree near our largest homeless shelter each Sunday afternoon. When I arrived there, two bicycle trailers were just being rigged as a serving table for large roasting pans of stews and soup. I’d brought a large loaf of sourdough bread, cutting board, and serrated knife in my backpack. As street guests began to line up, I quickly cut thick slices, put them in plastic tub serving dish, and left before anyone could speak to me. I intend to go again and to see how else I might be of service. The simple act of baking and slicing a loaf of bread and giving it to strangers filled me with happiness.
The other link took me to Brahmavihara, a small Buddhist chaplaincy program working with AIDS patients in Cambodia. Guided by Beth Goldring — an American nun in the Rinzai Zen tradition, former ballet dancer and university teacher — it provides food and a little money for over 100 prisoners with AIDS as well as patients with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. The core of their work is “helping people realize that the Buddha’s compassion is already fully present, even and especially in the midst of deterioration and suffering.” Beth and her local team visit the sick, pray for and give precepts to the dead, the dying, and newly dead. And do it all on barely a shoestring, in a political climate that has prompted such international aid agencies as MSF to leave the country. Beth and I have already exchanged emails, a cheque’s in the mail, and I sense that our connection will blossom.