Social Change: Return to the Foundations of Practice

Ajahn Pasanno

Social Change: Return to the Foundations of Practice

How can we work together to do this?

With our project along the Mekong, we began by drawing in people affiliated with the monastery who were interested in helping. In a Buddhist society, the monastery is a foundation we could build on, a field for social action. Because the monastery is dependent on lay people to support it, there is a day-to- day connection with the neighbouring society. It is a web of support and interaction, so that when there is a problem in the community, we can easily recognize who is interested in helping.

At first there were a few volunteers. When there was too much work for volunteers to do, we hired some people. Again, the money for their salaries came from offerings to the monastery from people in the community.

The forest project continued to grow. We even drew in people like the police. They had power, especially when it came to controlling who was taking logs out. Rather than getting into a confrontation with them, we asked how we could work with them. That was very easy at the time because one of the supporters of the monastery was the Deputy Superintendent of Police. He was a great resource for drawing in other honest police officers, who then had a few words with even more police officers and got them on our side.

This takes time. It takes patience. It takes clarity. If you work in a confrontational way, it’s difficult to achieve this. By having a strong focus on one’s personal practice and integrity, by becoming more clear, centered and pure-hearted in one’s intention for doing good, the more one starts to connect with other people. In terms of social action, this seems to be a magnet, drawing other good people. It gets its own momentum going.

So far, the forest project is working. And besides being successful in its own right, it has been adopted as a model for trial projects in other national parks in Thailand.

During one of the recent elections in Thailand, I saw a handwritten sign on the side of a building. It said something like, ‘The forces of corruption are given more power when good people retreat.’ The ‘system’ gains more momentum when we decide we don’t want to deal with it, that things are hopeless. With social action work, we have to be patient, discerning, equanimous. We have to be willing to try and to fail. We have to recognize that sometimes things will work and sometimes they won’t. And that they always work out in ways we may never have conceived.

This is the same as returning to the foundation of one’s own practice: keeping the precepts; developing clarity, tranquillity and peace of mind; establishing wisdom through reflective investigation; cultivating the qualities of kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

These form the foundation that allows us to move out into the realm of social action.

This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, The Dhamma and the Real World 2016, (pdf) pp. 23-25.