It’s nearing the end of week three and, amidst all the feelings that we are experiencing, a deep and broad sense of community seems to be emerging.
The Magnificent Seven - our own Green Tara Appeal community - continues to blossom and our friendship with each other is growing strongly. It is still almost unbelievable to me that seven strangers can come together and live in harmony together, especially with all the added pressures of an appeal like this. This is precious.
And this week, for me at least, the disavantaged and degraded, 250 million strong, Dalit community of India seems to have taken a significant place in my sense of being. I am becoming even more aware of the core reason why these appeals were originally started. I am beginning, I think, to feel the suffering of our fellow beings in the villages and slums of India. Their degradation is becoming my degradation and it is beginning to feel that it is no longer enough to accept the casual brush-off on the doorstep. ‘I already give to charity’ or ‘I don’t give on the doorstep’ don’t seem acceptable any more as reasons for turning away from the suffering of the millions of men, women and children in India who are experiencing a living hell. Somehow I need to get that over to the people I am appealing to. Somehow I need to communicate that deep sense of responsibility to them.
The community and facilities at the London Buddhist Centre are also a big plus to us in this appeal. Usually we might be operating from some rented house in a city outside London, so to be here, supported and encouraged by the warm and friendly LBC sangha is a great benefit and we are grateful for their great generosity in allowing us to use their facilities. It often feels as if we are being showered with love as we pass back and forth during each day.
Then, finally, there are the communities out on our territories - human beings who experience both joy and suffering just like us. And on each doorstep we encounter one or the other, or something in between. I think we are learning that our job is to be open to however they are and, with awareness and kindness, offer them the opportunity to allow their natural generosity shine through.
Knocking on doors and asking for money is never going to be easy, this side of Enlightenment anyway. It exposes us to the world and to our own sense of inadequacy and fear. Out on the streets there is no place to hide and we have no option but to come face-to-face, not just with the people behind the doors, but also with our own self-view. Which is why the practice is so valuable. Which is why a Karuna Appeal can be so transformative to each of us as individuals. And within that, I think, lies a very particular kind of joy.
So, given that it is so tough, how is it that we all, willingly, take a deep breath and step out into the unknown for three hours every evening? Well, I think that some of the important reasons include the sense of community which I talked about above, and of course there are other more personal motivations. But there are other conditions, equally important, that are also supporting the Green Tara Team in this great endeavour.
The first is meditation. Our day begins at 8 o’clock with a sit in one of the London Buddhist Centre shrine rooms. For me, at any rate, morning meditation is really important. It prepares me for the long and intense day. It grounds me, and helps me to remember my interconnectedness with the world: that the people I will be meeting in the evening will each be a part of the conditions in my life at that moment - and that I will be part of theirs. Whatever happens on the doorstep - pleasant or unpleasant - will be affected by these conditions. So it’s important, that I act in a kind and authentic way.
Breakfast is eaten in a nourishing silence which is followed by a busy hour when those of us on the dinner schedule that day prepare the main meal which we eat each weekday at half-past one. Around ten-thirty we join Amalavajra or someone else for our daily training session. This is an incredibly important part of the appeal. Most charities employ agencies to do their door-to-door asking and, sometimes, it seems, they are not well-trained, don’t call back on people and often lack the interpersonal skills needed for a positive interacton. As a Buddhist charity, Karuna approaches door-knocking very differently, so our traing concentrates on helping us to connect with people in a very genuine and authentic way. This includes work on body language, tone of voice, matching energy levels, speech ethics, awareness of circumstances and more, The aim is to ‘meet’ the householder wherever they may, to help them feel ‘seen’ and through doing that, establish genuine communication.
Training is followed by the big meal of the day after which we have two precious hours of free time when we can rest and recharge in whatever way is appropriate. Then at four o’clock we meet in the shrine room again, chant the Tara mantra, and sit for a short metta bhavana meditation when we offer a sense of loving-kindness to ourselves, a team member, someone in India who will benefit from our work, and someone who we will be revisiting that evening. Midweek and on Sunday evenings, we do a puja to help us establish a more emotional connection with our practice and our appeal work.
Our afternoon ends with a snack and a short video about some aspect of door-knocking Buddhist practice. All of these activities are extremely useful in setting up good conditions before, just after five, we head off to the tube and make our way to different areas of West London, some of which are more than an hour away.
Heading out each evening is, for me, a tense time, even though this is now an established routine, even though I know that I will be okay on the doors, even though I am getting direct debits and meeting wonderful people who inspire me with their friendliness and generosity. Yet each evening, it is still a trip into uncertainty. I cannot know what tests and challenges lay ahead. But, really, that’s no different to life itself. We never know what the next minute holds and, for me, door-knocking helps me let go of always wanting to fix things so that I feel safe and secure. It is helping me to let go of my need to control the future and instead rest more easily with whatever happens.
Getting home again, around 10.30 is a beautiful, sometimes exciting affair, when we compare experiences, support those who have had a tough night, celebrate with those who have returned with cash donations or direct debits and offer our hard work, learning and money to the Buddha, for the benefit of all beings. So, once again, at the end of the day, it is community that shores us up and inspires us to keep on doing this. It is community that holds us and cares for us after a hard night. It is even, I would say, community which is with us, walking behind us, giving us added strength out there on the streets. I am not alone out there. In a very real sense, each of us is with the others.
We get to bed sometime close to midnight, ready for a good sleep, ready to do it all again the following day.
This week we got our individual and team targets. So far, at the half way point, we’ve achieved around 25% of the overall target of £1791 in monthly direct debits. This achievement may not seem particularly good but, apparently, this is quite normal. The greater part of the money is always raised in the last few weeks.
So will the Magnifcent Seven of the Green Tara Appeal, smash their target over the final crucial weeks? If we can, then we will have raised the truly magnificent sum of £107,500 over the next five years - the average life of a charitable monthly donation. Enough money to have a big impact on the lives of hundreds of women, men and children. Enough money to bring dignity, respect and joy into their world.
So just how magnificent are the Magnificent Seven? Nothing is certain, but you can be sure that we will do our very best. Meanwhile, keep following this blog and I’ll let you know how the future unfolds.
FOOTNOTE: Karuna doorknocking appeals raise money to help some of the millions of ex-‘untouchable’ people of India who live in extreme degradation and squalor. I believe that it is my moral responsibility to do whatever I can to help them escape the prison of the caste system. To help them achieve dignity, respect and basic human rights. I believe that this is also your responsibility.
Please support the appeal. Please go to http://www.karuna.org and download, complete and post-off the direct debit form. Just a few pounds each month will help to free a girl, a boy, a woman or a man from a life of that is truly hellish. If you add the reference LON B 2013 at the top, your generosity will count towards our appeal. Thank you.