Acceptance also brings the quality of equanimity, a non- reactive clarity that allows one to stay centered. Equanimity is not indifference. It is the ability to return to a place of stillness, to be non-reactive and to weigh things carefully. This is an important quality especially when considering social action or social responsibility.
Without equanimity, we can get drawn into our own reactiveness – our views and opinions. We can think that we’re always right, that other people are just a bunch of idiots. It’s easy to get turned around and out of balance. Not being drawn into the web of our views and opinions but being able to settle and reflect – to ask, what is the way of balance? – equanimity is essential in undertaking social action.
In the social action projects I have been involved in, the Buddhist perspective has taught me some important things. Take a particular project, like protecting the forests. The monastery in Thailand at which I was abbot was quite well- known, with a large community of monks, novices, lay men and lay women practicing and training there. I thought it would provide a good balance to set up a more remote branch monastery. Our new location was right along the Mekong River. It was in one of the last forests in the province and around that time, the area was made into a national park. But this was just a designation on the map and it caused a lot of problems. The area was full of stumps. It was being logged and many villagers had made their fields there.
The Buddhist perspective was very helpful. We couldn’t simply say, ‘These are awful, nasty people. The planet would be a fine sort of place if they weren’t doing this.’ The reality was that they are doing this and that they are people just like us. They are trying to look after their families and to get ahead in the world. In order to do anything to protect the forest, we had to find ways to include them. How do you involve the people who are cutting down the forest? How do you include the merchants who are paying them? How do you include the civil servants who are taking the bribes to allow the cutting?
The teachings told us that problems come from people not understanding how they are creating suffering for themselves and for others. Problems and suffering come from desires and attachments. You can’t simply wish that away. You’ve got to work on the basic problems of bringing knowledge and education into their lives.
Why were they cutting down the forest? Of course, they wanted to live comfortably, to look after their families. So, we had to find ways to provide for them. Otherwise, it would be like trying to build a wall to stop the tide from coming in. Good luck! It’s going to find a way.
Instead, you have to think clearly and find ways to address peoples’ needs, to include them and bring them in. This takes time.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, The Dhamma and the Real World 2016, (pdf) pp. 21-22.