By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
You cannot successfully pray for world peace, chant for world peace, or meditate world peace into being.
There never was, and there never will be world peace. But that’s no excuse not to work for world peace.
You may be thinking, “Oh, but what can I do? I’m only little old me.”
There is plenty that people can do to further world peace. More Buddhists should give some of these things a try.
To be a Buddhist means to take an active role in making world peace. We start by understanding suffering so that we can reduce our own suffering, and we make our minds strong by meditating—we learn to have quiet minds. Then, you can really get shit done.
How can we (as Buddhists) encourage world peace?
World peace begins with attentive mothers and fathers who provide good role models and work hard to keep family discord to a minimum. Negotiation skills, conflict management, compromise and empathy are learned in the home before kids ever make it to school. Their sense of justice needs to be tempered by the reality of life not being fair. Sanghas—do you have Sunday school for kids? My temple does.
Interfaith dialogues and councils almost never have Buddhists on them, except for the occasional Tibetan monk who doesn’t know a word of English. Sanghas and even individuals can find out what is happening in their community by contacting the local Catholic church. They’re always into everything.
Literacy and Education:
Schools are always looking for volunteers to help the little ones learn to read. Community centers that have after-school programs always need tutors. You can help minority kids learn that white people don’t bite.
Volunteer at hospice:
No other community service is as heavily dependent on volunteers as hospice. If you’re a Buddhist, you really have no excuse to fear death. Not every hospice volunteer sits and holds the hands of old ladies about to breathe their last. They need clerical volunteers, event volunteers, beauticians, barbers and companion respite volunteers that allow primary caregivers the chance to go to church, or to the store, or just to get away for awhile. 235 volunteers work for my local Hosparus. I am saddened to say that out of all those people, there is only one Buddhist.
You can do something very compassionate to help reduce gun violence, which is, befriend people with mental illness. Invite them to your parties, and make sure they get there. People with dysfunctional minds are isolated and aren’t around the kind of people who can provide proper models of social behavior. Suicide is gun violence, too. It’s hard to sink under the surface of depression when you’re at a dance club.
Take a gap year:
If you’re young and about to graduate, take a gap year and find some really cool service to perform. It’ll look great on your resume. If you work through a Buddhist organization in, say, Thailand or Cambodia or Sri Lanka, they’ll find you a place to sleep and feed you two meals a day (breakfast and lunch—the monks’ leftovers) in exchange for English lessons. Teach English to the local orphans and play with them, and you get to sit with the monks and learn about Buddhism through an immersion experience. Pooping in a squat toilet and using a bucket of water for toilet paper gets routine, and in south and southeast Asia you’ll be around the most wonderful people on the planet! And you can go to the beach every weekend.
Take a compassion vacation or volunteer overseas:
Take the whole family to Belize and work on eco-friendly projects. And you can go to the beach every weekend. My wife’s church goes on mission trips to South America to fix up and paint schools. A mission trip organized by a sangha would be cool, but you have to learn how, so, check out what the churches are doing, and send a few sangha members to piggy-back on a Christian mission trip. Generate some good will and good press.
Sponsor a refugee family:
That is something my wife’s church did in the 90s during the Bosnian crisis. It was a conservative Christian church sponsoring a Muslim family, and such an awesome learning experience. Check in with Catholic Charities to see how you can help.
Make your voice heard:
Participate in community hunger walks, vigils and protest marches. Represent Buddhism. Wear a Buddhist T-shirt. Hand out business cards with your sangha’s information on them.
Rush the shooter:
Think about it. The Orlando massacre. If just three or four guys rushed the shooter, they could have saved 30 or 40 lives. One of them would probably get shot, but the other two will take him out and disarm him. Seven or eight guys would be better. I am afraid to find myself in such a situation, and everybody’s too chicken to help me. Well, at least I would set a good example as my body is riddled with bullets.
All these things are manifestations of compassion. We can do little things, like reminding your significant other that you love her or him, or big things, like Bill and Melinda Gates’ working to eradicate malaria.
Is it such a radical idea for Buddhists and Buddhist sanghas to fulfill their Buddha potential by doing something to actually help relieve suffering? It’s exactly what they should be doing, but hardly ever do.
My yoga teacher got me into being a hospice volunteer. She has an amazingly high pressure job supervising air traffic controllers for UPS’s big hub in Louisville. She handles it well (“It’s not stress if you love what you’re doing”), but then again, she’s a yoga teacher, and her peace of mind comes from that practice.
Before I took the volunteer training, she told me this: she can be beaten down by work sometimes, but if she stops and visits with one of her hospice patients on the way home from work, she leaves that encounter feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
That’s the secret of Buddhism: the happiness you derive from doing something helpful, or nice, or even courageous.
Editor: Dana Gornall