Participating in Politics

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Responses to suffering (continued)

The challenges and struggles on the path of political engagement are acute. As awareness of the far-reaching repercussions of behavior deepens, perennial questions acquire new urgency:

  • What is our responsibility?

  • What is effective action?

  • When do we fight (nonviolently), and when do we make peace?

Reflect on these challenges for yourself.

  • What is your responsibility?

  • Do you act effectively?

  • How do you decide when to fight and when to make peace?

For over a decade, Cathy Hoffman, director of the Cambridge Peace Commission, has been building community in a diverse city. Yet sometimes her social activism and her meditation practice seem to prescribe different courses: "I feel a tension between creating programs that take the side of 'social justice' on the one hand, and taking a peacemaking role of trying to reconcile people with different points of view, on the other."

Is it possible to live justly in an unjust world?


The question is like a Zen koan: one must struggle existentially rather than settle for an intellectual answer. Alan Senauke, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's first director, has said:

Often I feel discouraged by the overwhelming tide of violence, nationalism, racism, and all painful divisions we create between and among us. But the work of kind words, nonviolence, mindful breaths, and quiet sitting has its own core of steel.

Even in the bleakest inner-city ghetto or the most wretched refugee camp, the flower of awareness can blossom. Even with thousands of nuclear warheads still on alert, the dove of peace is eager to fly.

Identify an activity in your life in which you participate in a large-scale social-political system. Do you believe that this system, in its current form, advances the common good? If not, how could you change the system, your participation, or both?