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Toronto's Buddhist community: Individualistic practice is the basis for social action

Clive Russell — September 1984

In the West Buddhism is often regarded as a reclusive or selfindulgent fad, and thus far, Buddhists here have very little to show beyond their own communities.

But Buddhism in North America is relatively young, dating in a meaningful way from the widespread interest in Zen in the 196Os. Since then, teachers have emphasized the need for solid grounding in meditation practice, and for thorough familiarity with the patterns of one’s own neurosis and one’s basic goodness and capacity for clarity. TIlls individual practice, according to Buddhism, is the basis for compassion and for social action which cuts through rather than recreates in another form, the cycle of suffering.

Several recent events in Toromo’s Buddhist community illustrate the nature of Buddhist social action as it relates to peace and the development of peace in the world.

Wesak, the annual celebration of birth, enlightenment and passing into nirvana of the Buddha, was recently held at OISE, with all of the Buddhist centres and ethnic groups participating. The keynote speaker was the Rev. Karl G. Springer, North American representative on the United Nations Committee to restore Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.

Lumbini is in Nepal, which has been declared by its government a zone of peace. The Lumbini project was conceived by former Sc:cretary General U Thant, himself a Buddhist. It is supported by donations from Buddhists throughout the world, from governments and from the U.N. The project involves construction of an international peace conference centre as well as the historical restorations and pilgrimage facilities.

While he was in Toronto, the Rev. Springer also gave a talk at the Dharmadhatu meditation centre, in which he outlined Buddha’s teachings on peace. In particular he described the structure of ego — the process by which we create and attempt to maintain territory. Buddhism teaches that this process is the basis of all conflict and suffering, that it is an habitual process, subtle and complex, manifested not only in personal psychology but in political! economic systems as well.

Buddhism, which describes the path traced through these complexities by the Buddha (Awakened One), Gautama Shakyamuni, and by innumerable others, is a specific methodology for letting go of personal territory. Buddhism is not a philosophy and not really a religion (it is non-theistic), but rather a practice, a discipline and an aa:ord with the world.

Buddhism could be described as “deep ecology” – appreciation and respect on a deeply experiential level for this sacred world and its interrelatedness of living! non-living things. Several articles in the recent newsletter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) explore this ecologic of Buddhism.

BPF was formed originally in California by poet Gary Snyder and others as a forum and vehicle for Buddhists to work together for peace. There are chapters throughout North America and overseas and recently a chapter has been formed in Toronto.

The Spring edition of the Zen Lotus Society publication Spring Wind was devoted to the subject “Buddhism and Peace.” It includes articles by members of the Society on their personal journeys through the peace movements of the last twenty years, and articles on how traditional Buddhist societies of Korea dealt with war and invasion.

In May a Buddhist-Christian dialogue on social action was held at York University. A paper presented by Dr. Reginald Ray of Naropa Institute pointed out that Buddhism has always taken on a particular form and character from the cultures in which it has flourished, but its strength has always been in the root system of strong individual meditation practice. In the west this root system has been developed and small shoots of external activity are beginning to appear. The peace movement can look forward to growth of a fruitful relationship with the Buddhist community.

A transcript of the talk by Rev. Karl Springer is available from Clive Russell, xxx-xxxx.

The “Buddhism and Peace” issue of Spring Wind is available from Zen Buddhist Temple, 46 Gwynne Ave., Toronto, M6K 2C3, xxx-xxxx, and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship Newsletter is available from BPF, Box 4650, Ihkdey, CA 947Ot, USA (For information on the Toronto chapter of BPF, call Karen Harrison, xxx-xxxx.)

A list of Buddhist Meditation Centres in Toronto is available from. the Buddhist Council of Canada, c!o Dharmadhatu, 555 Bloor St. W., M5S lY6, xxx-xxxx.