Engaged Buddhism: Practice in Action

Engaged Buddhism: Election Retreat

by Susan O’Leary

I have phone banked, door knocked, contributed to campaigns, and held fundraisers for candidates. In 2008 and 2016, I managed the Democratic Party campaign offices in downtown Madison so that the organizers could focus on their work, and I saw firsthand what happens when people come together around political action. It was truly inspiring to check in hundreds of volunteers in the last days of the electoral campaigns – people who didn’t know each other but over days created community, working together for a common purpose and the common good.

These experiences and the importance of my practice to me are reasons I volunteer with Engaged Buddhist Election Retreats and why I helped lead their letter-writing sessions in 2020 and 2022.  It brings my practice to engaging politically and feeling a part of national sangha in doing so.  It is deeply moving to write to voters about the election, knowing that at that very same moment practitioners in Maine, Pennsylvania, Alabama, New Mexico, California, and many other states are following their breath and writing along with me. I am looking forward to working with Engaged Buddhists in their online and in-person days this year in Wisconsin.

Since 2020, 14 SnowFlowers have volunteered with Engaged Buddhist Election Retreat as a way of combining our commitment to democracy with our Buddhist practice.  13 friends from Madison sister sanghas have also joined us in this.  

Engaged Buddhist Election Retreat is a national organization that recognizes the importance of Wisconsin in elections and is focusing on Wisconsin in 2024.  

Volunteering with them is an inspiring and simple way to feel part of community and know you are making a difference.

Here are Engaged Buddhists Election Retreat’s plans for this year as described on their website:

Fundraising for the Movement Voter Project.  On Sunday afternoon May 19, we’ll hold a hybrid Sit for Democracy event in Oakland (and on zoom) to raise funds for the Movement Voter Project.  In 2020 and 2022 we raised $45,000 to support grassroots Get Out the Vote organizers in swing states.  This year we’ll broaden our network of support by asking each participant to seek sponsors from among their family and friends. 

Postcard Writing.  We will be holding half-day retreats online throughout the summer and fall to encourage voters in swing states to vote.  We’ll be using the same retreat format we used in 2020 and 2022, with periods of meditation, a dharma talk, and writing to voters.

Meditation action at the Republican National Convention, Milwaukee, July 15-18.  We’ll bear witness by sitting together in meditation outside the Republican National Convention in support of peace, choice, climate, and democracy.

Voter Registration Retreats.  In California and Wisconsin, we will hold one-day voter registration retreats in the months leading up to the election, especially in key Congressional districts.

In-Person Election GOTV Retreats.  In Nevada and Wisconsin, we will be organizing residential retreats during the two weeks leading up to the election:  these will follow a traditional retreat format, with mornings sitting in meditation, service, dharma talks and shared meals — and afternoons walking precincts to Get Out the Vote.

Please join us this year in practice. For more information, email info@electionretreat.org.

Exploring Engaged Buddhism

by Danielle Thai, Susan Schwaab, and Zach Smith

Thich Nhat Hanh believed strongly in taking our meditation and mindfulness practice off the cushion in order to address social and political issues and to alleviate the suffering caused by violence and injustice. Thay created the term ‘Engaged Buddhism’ during the Vietnam War. Monks, nuns, and laypeople were keenly aware of the suffering all around them through the sounds of bombs falling and the cries of the wounded. They were motivated to do something to relieve this suffering, and their practice of sitting and walking meditation gave them the stability and peace they needed to go out of the temple and help.

In Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society, Thay writes, “Engaged Buddhism is Buddhism that penetrates into life. If Buddhism is not engaged, it’s not real Buddhism. This is the attitude of the bodhisattvas, beings whose whole intention and actions are to relieve suffering. We practice meditation and mindfulness not only for ourselves; we practice to relieve the suffering of all beings and of the Earth itself. With the insight of interbeing – that we are inherently interconnected with all other beings – we know that when other people suffer less, we suffer less. And when we suffer less, other people suffer less.”

Many of us in SnowFlower Sangha are engaged in social justice work as an embodiment of our Buddhist practice and beliefs. To explore Engaged Buddhism in action, the SnowFlower Sun will dedicate a section of future newsletters to highlight how SnowFlower members embody their practice of mindfulness in an engaged manner to reduce suffering in their community and in the world. In this way, we will have an opportunity to get to know our fellow Sangha members and open the possibility of joining with others in this noble work.