How to Increase Our Membership
BLIA members are all the BLIA has. Members are our resources and our seeds. They are our potential, and it is only through them that we will ever succeed in preaching the Dharma. In the next few sections I will discuss how the BLIA should work to increase its membership.
People will not become Buddhists if they do not know anything about Buddhism, and they will never join the BLIA if they have never heard of it. Sakyamuni Buddha was a preacher. We should never forget that he gave forty-five years of his life to preaching the Dharma. Buddhism is so vast, and its philosophy is so rich, it has happened in the past that Buddhists let themselves ignore this crucial quality of the Buddha.
Sakyamuni Buddha used what are called “skillful means,” or “expedient methods” (upaya), whenever he preached the Dharma. Skillful means is based on nothing except the Buddha’s desire to communicate with others in the most effective way he could. He was a preacher and a communicator, and he used every method he could to make people understand the Dharma.
The Dharma can be hard to understand, and that is why Buddhists sometimes forget this basic truth about the Buddha’s teaching.
Buddhists sometimes close themselves off from the world in the belief that they can only reach enlightenment alone. Other Buddhists have mistakenly tried to “hide their goodness from the eyes of others.” Why be like that? We have nothing to hide. On the contrary, we have everything to share.
If people learn about us, and look to us for help, that is a good thing! We should never allow ourselves to become arrogant or vain about our practice, but at the same time, we should never allow ourselves to feel ashamed of our practice or that it is something that needs to be kept secret. The more people know about us, the more they will be attracted to us, and to Buddhism.
There is no better example of this outgoing attitude than the life of our original master, Sakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha constantly exhorted his followers to memorize verses and repeat them to others. He “spoke in a voice that reached all the realms of existence.”
All of the sutras contain passages in which the Buddha exhorted bodhisattvas to “disseminate this teaching and make it known every- where by your vows.” Those instructions were acted upon, and for that reason, the Dharma has spread to many parts of the world, and indeed, to many parts of the universe.
The BLIA is based on the strength and wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching. Part of that strength and wisdom lies in the full knowledge that we also have a duty to extend his Dharma to as many people as we can. By reaching out to others, we enrich their lives and our own, as we further the original work of Sakyamuni Buddha.
It is good to talk about Buddhism. We all need to read and study, but if we never express our ideas, our growth will be very slow. If we always wait for someone else to explain everything to us, the creative and dynamic aspects of our wisdom will not develop. We need to have dialogues with other Buddhists Once again, the Buddha himself is the best proof of the efficacy of dialogue and discussion. Many Buddhist sutras are records of discussions held by the Buddha with his disciples. They asked him questions. They expressed doubts and fears. They willingly exposed their misunderstandings to him and to other disciples. They learned the Dharma through open-mindedness and conversation. Their attitudes made learning fun as it strengthened their powers of discernment and speech.
Those of us who live in democratic societies are fortunate in this regard, because democracy is founded on open discussion and respect for the opinions of others. Isn’t it foolish to insist that you and only you are right, and that you have no need to listen to anyone else? Tradition- al societies often were run that way. All over the world, dictators with that kind of an attitude are finding themselves standing alone as the masses turn away from them in disgust.
The modern world has little or no place for arrogant close-minded- ness. All of us must make an effort to listen to others respectfully. We must work sometimes to understand each other, but through dialogue and discussion all of us will be enhanced. Never be afraid to speak, and never stop listening. The Dharma always contains a higher synthesis that is capable of encompassing everyone’s view.
And don’t ever worry that you are going to harm Buddhism by any question you ask. Buddhism has flourished in many cultures, and millions of questions have been asked in many different languages. Buddhism is based in truth. Truth is found through trying. There is no question you can ask that ever will succeed in defiling Buddhism. Rest assured of that.
Nothing good ever comes of uncompromising rigidity. Once the two Germans began talking seriously to each other, the Berlin wall soon was torn down. If Israel and the Arab states want peace, they too must talk seriously to each other with attitudes of tolerance and mutual acceptance. Every nation in the world must base its govern- ment on open discussion, or there will be trouble. The same is true for companies and other organizations.
Needless to say, the BLIA is no exception to this rule. In fact, this rule is even more important for us, since Buddhism itself is funda- mentally based on openness and discussion. Our meetings are open to all, and no topic of discussion is ever impermissible. Through discus- sion, we establish lines of communication with all levels and classes of society. All of us need to understand the basic aims of the BLIA, but we also need to remember that those same aims will take different forms in different parts of the world and at different levels of society.
Be like family
In the past, if you wanted to study Buddhism, you had to hike deep into the mountains to find anyone who would teach you. The BLIA was formed partly to correct that situation. It doesn’t have to be so difficult to be a Buddhist.
The BLIA should be like a family to its members. In a family we can accept differences among ourselves while still working for the good of all. We can invite friends who are not members of the BLIA to our meetings. We can invite teachers from other chapters and from other parts of the world to speak at our meetings. When we develop familial emotions within the BLIA, we will feel more relaxed and we will be able to make others feel more relaxed when they seek to join us.
If we ever feel a tendency to want to keep things the way they are and not share them with newcomers, we should reflect on the truth that human warmth is a kind of energy that can only grow. You cannot shrink kindness and keep it to yourself. It must be shared. If we all are clear about this, it will be pleasant and easy to accept new members, and no one will fall into the mistaken belief that compassion is something to be hoarded.
Two thousand six hundred years ago Sakyamuni Buddha took his alms bowl and his disciples to all corners of northern India. Early Buddhism traveled and made contact with all levels of society in order to under- stand the conditions in which people lived. Nearly two millennia ago, Buddhism began to spread to China. Within a few hundred years, it became China’s major religion. Buddhism flourished in China partly because many sutras were translated into Chinese, but it also flourished because Buddhist monks in China were very active and dynamic people. Fotuchen, Dao’an, Huiyuan, Zhiyi and many other great monks worked tirelessly to make Buddhism understandable to the Chinese people. They chose appropriate ways to preach, and they also saw to it that very practical needs were met. Early Buddhists built roads and bridges. They worked on irrigation projects and disaster relief. They made their temples places where people not only could seek refuge in Buddhism, but also where they could seek refuge from the troubles of the world.
They saw that their responsibility toward the society in which they live was greater than simply preaching or simply meditating. For this reason, they were welcome wherever they went, and large numbers of people were converted to Buddhism.
Chan Master Linyu (771-853) said, “If you want to be a Dragon of Buddhism, first be a mule for the masses.”
If we want the BLIA to grow and increase its membership, we must follow the example of Sakyamuni Buddha, as well as the other great sages within the Buddhist tradition. We must take responsibility for others. We must find in ourselves the compassion that will lead us beyond the small concerns of our individual lives to a willing acceptance of the needs of others. When we help others first, they will respond in kind as soon as they are able.
The BLIA has many groups that reach beyond the confines of our membership. These groups help us express our concern for others. At the same time, they show others that we are motivated by more than simply proselytizing ideas. The BLIA has much to be proud of, but I hope none of us ever begins to feel that small successes are enough.
Compassion and loving- kindness need room to grow. They are not static states that are to be reached and then forgotten. The bodhi mind is compassion. It is kindness. And it is active. By actively reaching out to others and willingly including them in our groups, we succeed in expanding that very part of ourselves which already transcends us completely.