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Commentary: Which River Will You Cross?

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

Whether buying products on the Internet or Skyping with our students and teachers, we instantly recognize our interdependence, and yet how about when we walk outside our door?

It feels as if the ways of teaching and studying the dharma are changing at an accelerated rate. Today, with apps, blogs, tweets, and podcasts, there are numerous possibilities for connecting with people who are geographically dispersed—so many that it can seem a bit overwhelming. Many of us may feel compelled to use these technologies as tools for sustaining and supporting each other’s practice and the dharma itself. Yet we connect for so little time, and our interaction is so constrained.

It gets even more complicated when we ask ourselves, what dharma are we offering? We see the many streams of Buddhism flowing together, along with tributaries of other contemplative traditions and the critical scrutiny of cherished texts that floods us each day with new interpretations of former “truths.” Then there is the amazing popularity of mindfulness, often à la carte—that is, shorn of sangha and dharma.

I try to remind myself that this isn’t happening outside of me, that I am inexorably part of this and pastorally responsible for some of it, given that I am living here now. We are all part of the flowing of dharma to this place and time, and we need to ask ourselves, what is missing? For me, what is missing is attention to core issues of social justice—namely, inequality in our communities and our world and the ravaging of our earth.

When we talk about diversity, it is usually about our sanghas. Somehow we complacently ignore the incarceration of minority youth, illegal immigrants, and the poor. We talk about generosity, but usually in terms of fortifying dharma assets rather than addressing the inequality of wages and opportunity that we see around us. We are worried that the distractions of Internet media are distorting the focus of the intellectual class, but we may also be ignoring the chasm growing between those who have access to these distractions and those who do not. Of course, none of us can address all of these issues, but in our teaching and study of the dharma, we need to recognize the structural suffering that exists in this moment and in this place where the buddhadharma is flowing.

Excerpted from the Fall 2014 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, available on newsstands and by subscription.

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’hara is abbot of the Village Zendo in New York and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family.

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