Meditation and Social Change

By Salzberg, Sharon | Tikkun, January/February 1999 | Go to article overview

Meditation and Social Change


Salzberg, Sharon, Tikkun


Often when people use the term "social change" they think of joining a movement, seeking to affect legislation, or other ways of making realistic and systematic change in a direction they consider positive. When someone gets engaged on a system-wide level of social action, it's usually a function of having been educated about something: they visit a cousin in prison and get involved in prison reform; a friend is diagnosed with AIDS and they take a look at anti-discrimination laws; their rent skyrockets and they begin to look at homeless people with a new eye and decide to challenge the city to provide low-cost housing.

There is another level of social action, however, that is simply the expression of good-heartedness in a day to day, concrete way. On this level, I've seen huge transformations in many or most of the people who practice meditation. Their impulse to reach out, to help, dramatically increases because of the shift in how they're perceiving the world.

The Buddha said, "Just as the dawn is the forerunner and the first indication of the rising sun, so is right view the forerunner and the first indication of wholesome states." "Right view" is a quality of perception that understands the world as interconnected, and understands that what we do is consequential, that actions ripple out through this web of interconnection. "Right view" is what is realized in meditation.

Our view of things molds our intentions, which in turn mold our actions. How we look at our lives becomes the basis for how we act and how we live. According to Buddhist teachings, when we understand the interconnection of all of life, then we can act with the ease of uncontrived altruism. We act with simple goodness. Whether they are personal and direct or take place in the larger arena of social change, our actions arise out of a wholesome state of mind rather than out of fear and anxiety.

With clear vision, we see that we are all a part of each other's life and journey toward liberation. This knowledge forms the spirit with which we do meditation practice, and the way in which we bring that practice into our daily lives. With greater awareness, often formed and refined in meditation, we begin to see that we are essentially no different from each other, no matter who we are. We all share the urge toward happiness, and not one of us leaves this earth never having suffered. …

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