With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
Since this morning is a Zen in the Park day, I would like to address a reader’s question regarding our use of the phrase, “bear witness” as, for her, it has a strong “missionary” connotation.
First, let me say that often words and phrases, while initially having one meaning, can be co-opted by a group and be made to have a wholly different meaning. Sin is such a word, having one initial meaning used by Jews, only to be framed quite differently by a later group, the Christians.
Bearing witness is to offer evidence for, testify to, prove or show something. According to an on-line dictionary, it can also mean to attest, certify, manifest, or demonstrate something. In the Order of Clear Mind Zen, and I believe this is consonant with Roshi Glassman’s use as well, we use it to mean “manifest” and “demonstrate.” While sitting in a park or in some other public space, we are manifesting serene reflection and peace through our practice. We are also demonstrating the practice so that others might see how it is done.
We have a “mission” but are not “missionary” in the same sense as some Christian sects use the word. Our mission is to manifest the Three Pure Precepts through our practice, but we do not aim to attract adherents. We would like others to see that it is possible to be non-violent; it is possible to float like a duck, yet engage the world around us for the sake of an awakened existence,
Whenever we hear someone blaming a victim, we might call attention to that fact, provide a balance or counterpoint, additional information, etc. so that victims are fairly treated and perpetrators helped. If I say, for instance, that all Muslims are terrorists in their heart of hearts, you might bear witness to the fact that such a statement is prejudicial, incorrect, and even inflammatory. When I sat at the Federal Building with a small sign that simply read PEACE, I did so with my severely scared and dented skull in full view, bearing witness as to my price to pay for war.
I do not believe we who take the Bodhisattva vows can simply be Zen Center Buddhists. We have an obligation to engage the world round us, to practice what Jews call tikkun olam, repair the world, and one way to do this is through bearing witness.
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