In 1997 I went to Yonkers, N.Y., to interview one of the most senior Zen Buddhist teachers in the United States about Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Browne ice cream. Pretty sweet assignment, right? (Is that a collective groan I hear?)
The teacher was Brooklyn-born Bernard Glassman, also known by his Zen name Tetsugen, who started a community there designed to provide job training, employment, child care, housing, medical care, and other assistance to ex-drug addicts, ex-felons, single parents, the homeless, HIV and AIDS sufferers, and others facing hard times. He named his endeavor Greyston and one of its creations was a bakery that produced brownies for Ben & Jerry's ice cream products.
I was reminded of Greyston and Glassman -- both still going strong, by the way -- by a story that ran recently in The Washington Post about a White House-sponsored conference on Buddhism and public life. It contained the following paragraph:
"The daylong conference represents, some experts say, the start of a civic awakening not only among U.S. Buddhists, but even Buddhists overseas, where spiritual and religious life can sometimes be separated from things like politics and policy. U.S. Buddhists have high rates of political attentiveness and voting, but until recent years haven’t considered or focused specifically on how their Buddhism translates into public action."
Start of a civic awakening?