Social Engagement at CTTB

A talk given by Amy Chang-Chien on April 23, 2010

Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, Friends of Dharma, Amitofo! My name is Amy Chang-Chien. The topic of my talk tonight is "Social Engagement at CTTB". I attended a workshop this past weekend at the DRBY conference in Berkeley titled "Social Engagement". The speaker was Gwo Rong, Dr. Ron Epstein. What is social engagement? It refers to our involvement in issues relating to our work, relationships, and crises near us and around the globe. It often times refers to our responsibilities and service as an individual, as a community, as a country, as citizens of Earth to the world on problems such as poverty, starvation, pollution, natural disasters, violence, wars, resource depletion etc. This topic is sometimes referred to as Socially Engaged Buddhism or Engaged Buddhism and has been widely written about. Dr. Epstein spoke from a practical point of view. Tonight I would like to share with you some of the things I learned at the conference and investigate with you our responsibilities as Buddhists living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

We know from studying Buddhadharma how important our minds are. Our mind is the basis of our existence. We often heard that the VM said problems of the world start with the human mind. "To prevent a nuclear holocaust, people must change their minds."

The minds of all sentient beings are all interconnected. They are like radio and TV stations always broadcasting. We are always broadcasting the state of our minds to all sentient beings in the planet. Some broadcast more strongly than others. We are also consciously or unconsciously receiving each other's broadcasts. Each individual has the potential to influence the mind of another. We know from Buddhism that the power of our minds is something that can be developed. It is inherent in us.

In 1962, shortly after the Venerable Master arrived from Hong Kong, the US was undergoing the Cuban Missile Crisis. In response to that, the Venerable Master held a 35-day fast for world peace in SF Chinatown.

In the last two weeks, the Venerable Master didn't even drink any liquid. It was a total fast. At the end of the fast, the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone away. The Venerable Master took on the responsibility to do something for the country that he was staying in.

Next I would to tell THE STORY OF THE WATER WAR. Four years after the Buddha's attainment of enlightenment, a war took place between the city-state of Kapilavastu and that of Kilivastu over the use of water. Being told of this, [the Buddha] Sakyamuni hastened back to Kapilavastu and stood between the two great armies about to start fighting. At the sight of Sakyamuni, there was a great commotion among the warriors, who said, "Now that we see the World-Honored One, we cannot shoot the arrows at our enemies," and they threw down their weapons. Summoning the chiefs of the two armies, he asked them, "Why are you gathered here like this?" "To fight," was their reply. "For what cause do you fight?" he queried. "To get water for irrigation." Then, asked Sakyamuni again, "How much value do you think water has in comparison with the lives of men?" "The value of water is very slight" was the reply. "Why do you destroy lives which are valuable for valueless water?" he asked. Then, giving some allegories, Sakyamuni taught them as follows: "Since people cause war through misunderstanding, thereby harming and killing each other, they should try to understand each other in the right manner." In other words, misunderstanding will lead all people to a tragic end, and Sakyamuni exhorted them to pay attention to this. Thus the armies of the two city-states were dissuaded from fighting each other. Even the Buddha directly inserted himself in the middle of a conflict.

Dr. Epstein told another example of when the Venerable Master directed his disciples, like Guo Lei (Doug Powers), to go to Sacramento to convince the governor at that time, Pete Wilson, not to cut education in the state budget. There were other times when the Venerable Master instructed his disciples to invite political candidates who are running for offices to come and give talks at the monastery. These are examples where our teachers, from Shaykamuni Buddha to our Venerable Master, demonstrated the teachings through direct involvement with politics, society, and even warfare.

Now I would like to talk about CTTB a little bit. There are many ways that we can involve ourselves and contribute positively towards the world, without leaving CTTB. We are all interconnected, in both the materialistic sense that we all consume the same resources of the planet and in the spiritual sense that our minds touch. On the spiritual front, I think those of us at CTTB are fairly aware of what we are doing towards that. For example we hold the Shurangama mantra recitation every Saturday to eradicate disasters and to transfer the merit for world peace. Another example, we educate the next generation on how to be good people. Another example, we conduct dharma sessions for people to cultivate their minds to be good and transform their bad habits. But can those of us living at CTTB also be directly involved, which is just as necessary in the world today?

Of course we can. How? First, we can reduce our consumption of resources required to grow food and transport them by being more self-reliant. How? By growing and eating food from our organic farm.

It is my hope that our organic farm continues to thrive. As cost for food and fuel for transport continue to rise, growing our own food will become more paramount. Second, being vegetarians also reduces the stress on our environment because it takes less resource to grow crops for humans than to grow food for livestock. Since we at CTTB are already vegetarians, we can do more by promoting vegetarianism through education or by providing others the opportunity to eat vegetarian food. We can support vegetarian restaurants or hold cooking classes to teach people how to cook vegetarian food. Third, we can reduce the energy, both electric and gas, that we use by being mindful of our daily routines. (DM Yi talked about this yesterday) Fourth, we can reduce our carbon footprint by driving less, walking more and generating electricity from solar!

Speaking of solar, I have some update on the solar project. I know CTTB have talked about solar for a long time but it's finally becoming reality this year. The payback period for a solar system is about 6-8 years right now. The payback period used to be 14-15 years. The BOD has approved a pilot project at CTTB to be installed on the southern facing big dining hall roof, the side that the men sit. This is because we live in the northern hemisphere and the sun hits the south side, from east to west all year long. The solar panels will cover all the area above the small dining hall roof on the men side. It will generate about 50kw, one seventh of our current usage. Hopefully in the future, we will have funding to install 2nd, 3rd, 4th, up to 7 phases. Before the panels go up, there will some work done on the roof. The solar panels will cover the skylight on the men-side so the skylights will be replaced with metal roofing panels for longevity. The loss of lighting due to the replacement should be minimal because most of the light will still come through the front of the dining hall's glass panels. Our roof is over 20 years old and needs some maintenance, the factory paint has become powder and our metal roof will rust if we don't repaint. The roof will be repainted first. So in the next few months, expect to see some activity on the dining hall roof. Also in future summers, you can expect the dining hall to be cooler in the summer because the panels will also shade the roof from the south.

Do you know what the first step is when sizing a solar system? It is energy audit, i.e. to know how much energy we are consuming. Fortunately we get an electric bill from PG&E that tells us that, but unfortunately we have to pay the bill! And the bill we get is one big number because we have about 300 people living here. Can you guess what the second step to designing a solar system is? It is to reduce the energy usage the best you can. Why? Because solar system is very expensive. For example changing an old refrigerator with a newer and more efficient one may be more cost effective than installing enough solar panel to cover the difference in energy between the old refrigerator and the new. Even though CTTB is getting ready to install our first system, we haven't finished our homework of reducing energy use yet. In the coming years, we have to monitor our use better. This could involve a combination of changing our usage habit and replacing equipment where it makes sense. Just as we learn from the Shurangama sutra that our six senses are thieves that rob us of our treasures and the first step is mindfulness so that we can guard our senses and not follow, with energy, it's of no use if we don't watch where our leaks are. No matter how much solar panels we install, up all 7 phases of solar project, if we keep leaking, CTTB will never be lit on our own.

It is up to each individual to decide which areas to get involved in. Certain people, like Dr. Epstein, were individually instructed by the Venerable Master to get socially engaged on work such as local campaign reforms, preventing slaughterhouse to be built near CTTB in Ukiah Valley, animal welfare, danger of GMO etc. It is not the same for everyone. Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind the following guidelines. The end does not always justify the means. No matter how righteous the cause, do not violate precepts. Never forsake principles for expedience. Do not take on that which causes negative emotions and attachments that you cannot overcome. Because once you give rise to those negative emotions, then you have become part of the problem instead of the solution. How so? If in order to do some good in the world you become angry or greedy, then you've just gone opposite. You've added more negative energy to the world.

We have a responsibility in our every thought, our every state of mind towards all sentient lives, not just towards ourselves. We can be in the most isolated spot on earth but we are still totally interconnected with all sentient life. We are influencing ourselves and influencing them whether we are aware of it or not. Because the CTTB does not belong to only us, it belongs to all beings of the ten directions, it is each of our responsibility to be vigorous in whatever we choose to do here.

In the end, I vow along with all living beings, that while working on worldly issues in order to transcend the mundane, that we all have

The courage to face all fears
The wisdom to dispel prejudice
The compassion to end suffering
The humility to work with others
The strength to aid all who have affinities with us,
And the patience to endure through it all.


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