Editor's note: This letter was co-authored by Ethan Nichtern and Michael Stone.
As teachers and leaders of communities that promote the development of compassion and mindfulness, we are writing to express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now active in more than 1,900 cities worldwide.
We are particularly inspired by the nonviolent tactics of this movement, its methods of self-governance and its emergent communities founded in open communication (general assemblies, the human microphone, the inclusion of diverse voices, etc). These encampments are fertile ground for seeing our inherent wisdom and our capacity for awakening. We encourage all teachers, leaders, sanghas and communities that pursue awakening to join with these inspiring activists, if they have not already done so, in working to end the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that cause so much suffering and devastation for human society and for the ecosystems of Earth.
This movement has given voice to a near-universal frustration with the economic and political disenfranchisement of so many. It offers a needed counterbalance to a system that saps the life energy of the overwhelming majority -- the so-called 99 percent -- generating vast profits for a tiny handful, without maximizing the true potential for widespread wealth creation in our society. While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100 percent of human beings without villifying an "enemy," our practice also calls on us to confront a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.
We share in the thoughtful calls to address massive unemployment, climate change, the erosion of social safety nets, decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers' wages, rights and benefits.
Moreover, the current legal structure of large corporations compels individuals to act with shortsighted greed, acts for which they are not held personally accountable. If we aren't encouraged to act with awareness of our connection to the 7 billion humans who share our global community, the social fabric of our society is torn apart by legalized acts of selfishness and fear. These acts are performed in human society, by nonhuman entities, oddly granted the legal and political status of people, which have no ability to adequately perceive or react to the negative repercussions of their choices. The whole planet pays the price.
Most importantly, we believe that individual awakening and collective transformation are inseparable. For members of spiritual communities, mindfulness of the situation before us demands that we engage fully in the culture and society we inhabit. We do not view our own path as merely an individualistic pursuit of sanity and health, and we believe it would be irresponsible of us to teach students of mind/body disciplines that they can develop their practice in isolation from the society in which they live. We are inspired by the creative and intellectual work of the Occupy movement as an essential voice in facilitating a more compassionate and ecologically grounded basis for practice.
The Occupy movement has re-ignited our belief that it's truly possible to build a culture of non-harm, honesty and respect for all creatures. We recognize our human failings and know that we'll fail 10,000 times in our efforts to awaken. We now vow to bring our practices and methods of teaching more into alignment with our deepest values.
The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity and compassion. We call on teachers and practitioners from all traditions of mind/body awakening to join in actively transforming these structures.
Ethan Nichtern, Shastri, New York
Shôken Michael Stone, Toronto
Initial Supporters (at time of publication): By signing this letter we believe we can unite in our commitment to align our practice and values and work together to help our society.
Roshi Joan Halifax
Testu'un David Loy
Dr. Robert Thurman
Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Dr. Gaylon Ferguson, Acharya
Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara
Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Acharya
Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Adam Lobel, Acharya
Eihei Peter Levitt
Fleet Maull, Acharya
Rev. Danny Fisher
Gayle Van Gils, Shastri
Koshin Paley Ellison
Robert Chodo Campbell
Author's note: If you are a Buddhist or Yoga teacher or community leader anywhere in the world and would like to add your name to the growing list of supporters of this letter, please visit OccupySamsara.org.