What is your ambition for the refuge you are creating in Le Plessis?
She's a little over the top! Create an oasis of goodness and beauty in a collapsing world? More seriously, I am convinced that the old-fashioned Buddhist center – I say this without any contempt – is no longer suitable. Today, the challenge is no longer so much to initiate oneself or to meditate as to act, even on a small scale. For fifteen years, I have dreamed of building a space that is both a refuge and a platform for a engaged buddhism. When I discovered this house in Le Plessis, 1h30 by train from Paris, I decided to embark on this somewhat crazy adventure. All my savings went into it, while the work to be planned is considerable; there is no running water or toilets for example. But it's 350 m2 of living space, 700 eventually, in the middle of three hectares of land and forest. And as it is in a protected natural area, the town hall obliges us to take care of this nature – it obliges us to be Buddhists in fact! It's beautiful, it's quiet, just wonderful. In the immediate future, I am appealing to goodwill and crowdfunding to carry out essential work. If we want to make it a real Buddhist temple one day, it will be necessary in particular to comply with the standards for establishments welcoming the public. Everything will remain free, of course, and anyone can already join me in this adventure on a private basis.
How does your approach follow on from Zen scholars Bernie Glassman and David Loy?
The Plessis refuge will be built as an “ecodharma place”. This concept, which I borrow from David Loy, was born from a still open reflection on the ecological implications of Buddhism - in particular the idea that there is no radical separation between humanity and nature, and that the fate of one also applies to the other.
“Today, the challenge is no longer so much to initiate oneself or to meditate as to act, even on a small scale. For fifteen years, I have dreamed of building an “ecodharma place”, a space that is both a refuge and a platform for committed Buddhism. »
Very concretely, we are going to do everything to do without concrete and plastic, to recycle all of our waste or even to set up energy and food autonomy. I don't know if we'll get there completely, but that's also the engaged buddhism : we act, we try, we do as much as possible and for the best… Bernie Glassman is today one of the most emblematic Zen scholars of this approach. For example, he asked his disciples to live seven days without money in the streets of New York, to better become aware of the misery. At the same time, he created a bakery dedicated to homeless people. I followed him on two retreats in the Auschwitz camps, without knowing what to expect, and there, I understood that it was important to update the teaching we had received. Not to question it, but to experience what suffering could be in its most contemporary forms in order to adapt our practice accordingly. David Loy is in the same vein and helped me design a version of committed Buddhism for France.
This inspired you in particular to « BASIC program » – very American as a name, by the way! What are the main lines?
It is an acronym for “Buddhism Social Action and Commitment”. We took five years to develop it before its launch in 2013. Our initial observation is twofold: many people lose the desire to act in a world in crisis, they feel that nothing can be done. And, on the other hand, more and more lay Buddhists, more or less erudite, are looking for ways to bring the dharma and spirituality to life, without being able to find them on their own. The BASE program simply consists of forming small groups of practitioners for a limited period of time – six to twelve people for six months most often. There is of course an element of dialogue, exchanges and even rituals, always with the perspective of updating the teachings that everyone has received. But also a series of commitments: taking care of others, giving your time to a charity association for example, learning to listen and confide, and above all to work in community to improve things. Each collective remains fairly free in its operation, the organization is totally decentralized. We just insist on the need to structure the meetings and the actions carried out. The challenge is that everyone comes out of it with the feeling of having changed things and of being themselves a little transformed by this experience.
As far as you are concerned, justice is a theme that was particularly close to your heart…
The more I documented the state of the world, the more I became politicized. Justice is one of those canonical themes that allow us to put all the others into perspective. But, more concretely, the Union Bouddhiste de France asked me to work on the creation of chaplaincies in prisons, in the early 2010s. This wonderful experience plunged me into the heart of the questions and difficulties raised by the jails. We cannot be satisfied with a system that is content to set aside or exclude, many civil servants working in this field are the first to plead in this direction – prison guards as well as magistrates. This led me to work with the Fédération Protestante de France and to discover, thanks to them, the concept of “restorative justice” developed by the American academic Howard Zehr. The idea is to get out of a punitive logic. For a Buddhist like me, inflicting suffering in proportion to a misdeed or a crime can only be counterproductive. The challenge is therefore to define what a new paradigm would be: a justice that can punish without violating, and which, above all, gives everyone the possibility of starting off on the right foot rather than finding themselves trapped in an excluded status. I work there in groups.
You value innovation and commitment under a vision "non-Western » Buddhism: what exactly do you mean?
In France, my multi-card side surprises many Buddhist practitioners, when I say that sharing vegan cooking recipes and campaigning for a food transition is also a way of living my spirituality, for example. I attribute this astonishment to a predominant rationalist tradition in the West. We are the children of Plato and Aristotle, seekers of truth who drew a sharp line between the real and the illusory. It is in this spirit that we imagine Buddhism as having to cover an absolute and intangible dogma. And yet the notion of "truth" does not really exist in this framework, it is rather a question of efficiency: do my beliefs and my values offer me the possibility of transforming myself and improving things, independently of the whether they are true or false? Buddhism basically proceeds by "speech act": if I say or think something and get the desired effect, then it is justified - a bit like when you make a promise without knowing if you can make it. hold on and get there. This is also why I am so interested in American initiatives: although it is a Western country, we find strong kinship with Buddhism in the pragmatic philosophy that is so popular there – that defended by William James, Emerson or again Thoreau. It is the idea that what we see or perceive is like a tense movement between the real and the imaginary. Being a Buddhist is fundamentally about embracing this momentum, not trying to fix it.