In the book Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, Angel Kyodo Williams explores spiritually grounded and grounding ways to live in a world where all is not well. Chapter 3 includes an analysis of the Three Pure Precepts: “to not create evil, to practice good, and to practice good for others.” These values imply, require, and inspire a generous approach to life, one that acknowledges our and others’ inherent dignity and worth.
I’m struck by the practical implications, especially today when many of my American friends are monitoring key state and local races or thinking about the work that lies “beyond the ballot.” There are, again, so many ways to participate in that work.
Generosity doesn’t only mean gifts and is not necessarily related to money or anything tangible. You can be generous with your time by making space to babysit for your brother’s kids. You can share the extra workload with a co-worker who is swamped instead of punching out at 5:00 on the nose. Give a stranger directions. Hold the door. Pick up a fallen jacket. Spend more time with your family and less with your TV or telephone. Help out at your church. Volunteer your time. Become a mentor. And, because it does still make the world go round, it is important that you support the work and ideals you believe in with money, too. Not just when it is ‘easy,’ because we can always find ways not to give. We can always decide that buying a new outfit is more necessary than giving our financial support to issues we care about, but if you want there to be a cure for the many black women living with AIDS, you have to support AIDS research. If you want the mayor that has been responsible for the unnecessary loss of black men’s lives to disappear into history, make a contribution to a more responsive candidate, then vote. If you want to have peace in your own life, support the effort toward peace in the whole world in any way you can.” —Angel Kyodo Williams
Investing in the entire world and not just my own micro-world of experience is one way for me to honor the fact that I will only flourish as the world flourishes: mine is an ecological existence! We can’t fully manifest our own well-being in a dysfunctional world. Williams continues:
There are many, many ways to serve others, and you will find a way that is most appropriate for you. You may be a firefighter that runs into burning buildings to save lives. Or, equally important, you may be a mother of four or five that tries to raise well-balanced children for the world to experience. The point is not what you do, but what your intention is in what you do. No one wants you to starve or deprive your loved ones of access to you so that you can stand on a soup-kitchen line. No matter what effort you put forth in the world toward enlightened being, it is only enlightened if it is balanced with care and regard for yourself. We have no use for a nation of martyrs. What we are creating [instead] is an endless army of energetic, compassionate warriors [who] understand how to use their gifts and skills to actualize and maintain a better world for themselves and for others. Awakening warriors understand that there are no enemies. Everyone belongs and has a right to happiness and living a life free of oppression and unnecessary suffering. We leave no one behind. Each of us goes forth in our own lives of enlightened being with the full and complete intention of bringing every single soul with us.” —Angel Kyodo Williams, emphasis added
We leave no one behind. We don’t even leave our nemeses and antagonists behind. I’ve noted before how Christian leaders and denominations opposed to the 20th Century movement’s purpose, timing, or persistence have still benefited from the 1964 Civil Rights Act that protected all religions’ rights to free expression and nondiscrimination. These leaders and denominations (including my own Adventist denomination) resisted the Civil Rights Movement but have spent the last 50 years taking refuge in the Civil Right Act’s Titles II and VII!
And that’s exactly what the activists these churches resisted were working for: that all would benefit. Some people may never help to bake the bread, but we bake more than enough anyway so that one day, should they wish to eat from the loaf, they will find food and a common table to eat at. When we do good for the world, we leave no one behind.
We don’t leave ourselves behind either. There are now thousands of resources on sustainable activism—change-making that doesn’t depend on the suffering of the activist. But the question of how to sustain oneself persists because our culture seems to take someone’s suffering for granted.
I love that Williams addresses this directly in her book, because, well, a new heaven and a new earth will be no good if we’re all too exhausted to enjoy it.