White House Buddhist Leaders Conference May 14 2015

On May 14, 2015 over 100 Buddhists representing all different aspects and traditions of Buddhism came together to explore the role that Buddhists are playing in areas such as climate change and social justice. The conference was organized by Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Director for Soka Gakkai International.

In the morning we met at George Washington University where Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi gave an interesting talk titled “The Four Noble Truths of the Climate Crisis” in which he identified the underlying roots of climate change as well as the steps that might be necessary to put an end to it.

Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams (Center for Transformative Change) asserted that climate change is the manifestation of our ideologies, and evidence that the root of climate change is ignorance. Our willingness to degrade those whom we share the planet is related to a willingness to degrade the planet. She spoke of how structural racism is being exported globally via corporatism and the need to be on the alert to ensure that racism is not perpetuated within the Buddhist sangha.

Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams (University of Southern California) provided a fascinating historical context for understanding the rise of Buddhism in America. He focused on the role that Buddhism played in the public arena beginning at the turn of the century with the arrival of Buddhism via the strong faith of Japanese immigrants who worked in sugar plantations in Hawaii on through the destruction of Buddhist temples during World War 2 and the internment of Japanese Americans who built them.

The presentations were followed by introductions to Buddhist communities in action:

  • Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
  • Soka Gakkai International-USA
  • Buddhist Peace Fellowship
  • One Earth Sangha
  • Los Angeles Buddhist Union
  • Buddhist Global Relief

It was wonderful to learn about these organizations’ activities around the world. The scope and diversity of their programs illustrates how many ways we can help others.

Two important outcomes of the morning session were the presentation of a Buddhist Climate Change Statement and a Statement on Racial Justice. Attendees were offered an opportunity to sign the statements.

After lunch, we went to the White House. A group of monks and nuns performed a short Vesak Ceremony honoring Buddha’s birth and Awakening, the first ever performed inside the White House. We listened to lively presentations by representatives from the Office of Public Engagement, Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. There’s a lot of good work going on in these offices being done by sincere, dedicated people, and I came away convinced that it would be worth putting the time and effort into building relationships with them. They need us as much as we need them.

Finally, Jack Kornfield (Spirit Rock Meditation Center) did an amazing wrap-up of the day’s events. He sensed the sadness among the participants that arose from our discussion of climate change, racism and poverty. The issues are so huge, the problems seem insurmountable. He encouraged us to bring this into our mindfulness practice – not to run away from the issues, not to be overwhelmed by them, but to sit with them. To acknowledge them. And then to skillfully determine the best course of action, how to engage with global changes first at a personal level to change our own mind and actions. Once we’ve started down this path then we are ready to join hands with the growing community of like-minded practitioners – Buddhist or non-Buddhist –  to affect change at the local, national and then global level.

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this includes the statements about Climate Change and Social Justice






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