Zen And The Art Of Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protests have spawned nationwide rallies, marches, demonstrations — and meditation.

Yes, you read that right: meditation.

Friends from the Baltimore Shambhala Center, with which I’m affiliated, have begun regularly heading downtown to Occupy Baltimore — cushions in hand — to engage in sitting meditation.

As a Buddhist adage says, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

Meditation helps to generate calm abiding and what we call bodhicitta, or the enlightened mind, a mind capable of boundless compassion.

The meditators from Shambhala are meditating at Occupy Baltimore to lay a ground for a demonstration filled with basic goodness, which as the Buddha taught, is the essential nature of all living beings.

It’s appropriate and wonderful to see that, of all Buddhists, that Shambhala has taken this on.

That’s because a key teaching of Chogyam Trungpa, the late Tibetan Buddhist master who founded Shambhala, was to create “enlightened society.” Indeed, the name Shambhala itself comes from the name of a mythical enlightened kingdom.

Once you start thinking about just what an enlightened society could look like, it would seem to share at least much of what the Occupy protesters talk about.

Ronald Coleman, a representative of the worldwide Shambhala organization, described what an enlightened society could look like at a conference in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.

The Shambhala and Buddhist teachings recognize not only that all people want to be happy and free from suffering, but that they are inherently decent and good by nature, he notes. 

“All human beings — whatever their culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, or age — have the complete ability to lead dignified lives, to realize their innate wisdom, and to create a brilliant, vibrant society based on kindness and compassion. This is not a theory or mere wishful thinking. It is the profound understanding that comes from the careful study and contemplation of the human mind and the nature of existence,” he says.

That begins, Coleman says, with a focus on the respect and care of all living beings.

This includes care for the environment in which we live, but it also extends to the human realm, Coleman explains.

“The Buddhist and Shambhala teachings tell us that all beings without exception are blessed with basic goodness and bodhicitta, and that a poverty-stricken mind can be transformed into the wisdom of equanimity that enriches the world,” he says. “An enlightened society therefore respects all cultures, peoples, languages, and communities; treats them with equal dignity and complete tolerance; and finds it own strength in openness and diversity.”

An enlightened society doesn’t embrace materialism, but does accept that everyone needs a decent standard of living.

“In the face of excessive materialism, people yearn for the true wealth that comes from contentment, simplicity, and community,” Coleman says. “An enlightened society will encourage the cultivation of many forms of richness, including healthy family lives, strong and safe communities, an equitable distribution of resources, and support and care for those in need. It will invest in improving the health of the population and in ensuring that everyone has access to a standard of living that sustains their health and wellbeing as well as that of their families and dependants. That security is not an end in itself, but creates a supportive environment that encourages all citizens to realize their full potential.”

It’s important to note that one need not be Buddhist, or even religious at all, to embrace these concepts.

Chogyam Trungpa was always very clear that Shambhala and its teachings not be sectarian in any way, but rather even secular such that they could be accessible to all, and that all could benefit.




Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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