December 2001 – February 2002
Diana Winston, an involved activist, tried to give it all up so she could develop her Buddhist practice. It didn’t work. It felt like the piece of herself that was deeply concerned with justice was cut off. Then she discovered a path towards freedom: social engagement in a Dharma context.
I wanted to liberate my mind, and I wanted all beings to find freedom. I felt these two desires didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. [At first] I thought about tIle Catholic workers’ movements and other religious volunteer service programs. Christians mixed together service and religion quite easily; Western Buddhists didn’t seem to do it much. Of course Buddhism was so new in America. I imagined a kind of training program where people could bring gether service and social change work with their Buddhist practice.
So I wrote to Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) with my idea a a proposal of how to make it happen. As it turns out, Robert Aitken Roshi was advocating the same thing, so a few months later I was hired to research and develop the program.
It now called BASE, the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement, where small communities are formed for at least six months at a time to practice and serve in the world. Members work in hospices and soup kitchens, in prisons and in human rights groups. They meditate together and go on retreat, and study and train and support each other it this difficult ongoing work. There have been BASE programs in the last six years for people working with the homeless, in prisons, as educators, and for youth. The BASE program met my need to pull my interests together, to avoid fragmentation, and to see social engagement as a path of Buddhist practice….socially engaged buddhism