On Saturday, March 24th, Compassion NYC partnered with Buddhist Action Coalition to mobilize an inter-sangha contingent for the March for our Lives. This was BAC’s inaugural event. Over 75 New York City area Buddhists joined together to protest gun violence in our schools, churches, theaters–in our society as a whole. With the Buddhist emphasis on ahimsa, or non-harm, the March for our Lives was an obvious action in which to participate. In addition to ahimsa, Buddhists following the Noble Eightfold Path understand that guns, and weaponry in general, are antithetical to Right Livelihood, and therefore, moral virtue, or sila.
Part of sila, or moral virtue, is refraining from causing harm. Engaged Buddhists believe that it goes further, and includes causing good, or engaging in activities that are helpful and beneficial to other beings. This sila expressed as doing good is a belief shared by many Buddhists and Buddhist organizations, including Compassion NYC and Buddhist Action Coalition.
Roshi Enkyo O ‘Hara, Abbot of Village Zendo, asks, “Why would Buddhists go to the March for our Lives? Guns really have only one use: to harm other beings. The Buddhist teaching is to turn away from causing harm, and to heal and support all beings. That’s why we support strict regulations and an end to the monetization of lethal weapons.” There are those who argue that Americans have a right to own and use guns. Buddhists would rather speak on behalf of living beings who have a right to live, and those who were denied that right through the use of guns.
Elijah Coles Brown, a student activist from Richmond, VA, attended the march in Washington, D.C., to speak on these human rights, and to speak for those who are no longer able to do so. Says Brown, “I am also here to represent those who didn’t get justice. Those like Trayvon Martin, those like Eric Garner, those like Michael Brown. Those that have already been through the shootings that have already been experienced every day in this nation.”
Emphasizing the importance of Buddhists standing up for non-harm, Jon Aaron, a teacher from New York Insight, said that “It was wonderful to see such a strong contingent of the sanghas that are making up the Buddhist Action Coalition at today’s March. Taking a stand on any issue related to the Buddhist ethical precepts is essential for those in the Buddhist community and of course gun violence strikes at the core of non-harming. Many members of the NYI community are playing a leading role in the development of the Buddhist Action Coalition which I hope inspires others in the sangha to become actively engaged.” His sentiment also recalls the emphasis the Buddha placed on sangha.
Participating sanghas included New York Insight, Brooklyn Zen Center, Zen Center for Contemplative Care, Fire Lotus Temple, Village Zendo, Zen Mountain Monastery, and Won Buddhism of Manhattan. James Lynch, president of the Buddhist Council of New York also attended the March for our Lives.
Sanghas from many different traditions participated in the march, including New York Insight, from the Theravada tradition, and Brooklyn Zen Center, Zen Center for Contemplative Care, Fire Lotus Temple and Village Zendo, from the Zen traditions.