One evening this week, I visited a loft in downtown Manhattan for an event called “Turning Back the Tide: the Sacred Dimension of Compassionate Action.” It was the inaugural event of Buddhist Global Relief, an organization founded by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It was beautiful hearing Ven. Bodhi express what he has called “a distinctly Buddhist sense of conscience in relation to the unspeakable tragedy of global hunger and poverty.” While “conscience” doesn’t have a precise counterpart in the Pali language or in classical Buddhism, according to the scholar monk it is one of the driving forces in the Buddha’s own life and teaching. “Emerging from the deep intuition of human unity and the wider unity of all sentient life, it impels us to make a conscious commitment to actively work to alleviate the suffering of others.” Conscience is that sacred kind of intelligence that allows us to go beyond the narrow sphere of ego and habit, to experience of suffering of others as our own, to experience our interconnection with the whole of life, and be moved to action.
Copies of Parabola were donated to the event. It was extraordinary watching this particular crowd, including Chinese Zen nuns, Burmese and Sri Lankan monks, aid workers from CARE and other organizations, Buddhists, Christians and undeclared, patrons and guests file out with this particular issue, including not just Ven. Bodhi’s insights but excerpts from the long awaited book drawn from the notebooks of Jeanne de Salzmann, in itself an expression of conscience. Out went this wisdom and these images. As I watched, I thought of lines Venerable Bodhi wrote about conscience moving in two directions at once, uplifting us and drawing us down into the world, to look closely at ourselves. I glimpsed for a moment how we need one another, and how life is a glorious, moving interconnect One.