Compassionate Action in the Community

Virtually all religions emphasize the practice of compassion and loving action toward others in our lives and community. Buddhism is no exception. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he realized that not only was he enlightened, but that all beings were enlightened. It was only because of their self-centered, deluded views that people were unable to see it. He saw that people were actually seeking happiness, contentment and peace in fruitless and even destructive ways: through the endless pursuit of accumulation -- wealth, material goods, fame and fortune, even knowledge, and through a focus on self preservation and holding on to one’s own, seeking to satisfy one’s own desires and without regard to the needs, wishes and well being of others. This, he observed, was only creating more unhappiness. It was these observations about the deluded efforts of people that moved him to devote his life, from that moment on, to helping others to realize what he had realized so that they, too, could relieve their suffering and confusion. Buddha spent the rest of his life giving whatever “medicine” was necessary for each person to help them awaken to the truth of their own nature.

In this spirit, Buddhism encourages its practitioners to carry their practice beyond the meditation hall to the larger world, sharing what is appropriate for each person and situation. The compassionate actions which grow from our practice are sometimes referred to as Engaged Buddhism. We also refer to this embodiment of compassion as Kanzeon Bodhisattva, the “One Who Hears the Sounds (Cries)of the World.” The regular practice of sitting meditation (zazen) is central to our practice, as is opening our eyes to our own nature. But we also have to embody our practice in our thoughts, words and actions day in and day out. With an open mind, we carefully regard the world around us and respond in an appropriate way to the struggles, hardships, needs and suffering we see all around us, at the same time recognizing that these are none other than the faces of compassion looking back at us, guiding us toward liberation as well.

At Great Plains Zen Center, we encourage all practitioners to engage in their communities, finding opportunities to share their talents and resources with those who need them. On this page, you are invited to share and find information about volunteer opportunities in your community. We hope this will provide a way for our members, who live in various locations throughout metro Chicago, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and the Midwest in general, to participate in activities with other members and friends of GPZC.

Volunteer Opportunities Near Myoshinji

In an effort to fulfill the precept of “Doing good for others”, and practicing dana paramita – generosity and giving of ourselves – we are beginning to find opportunities for small groups of sangha members to do volunteer work. Projects in the Monroe and the Palatine/Chicago areas will be identified, and interested members and friends can join in. Please check back here for upcoming opportunities.

CROP Hunger Walk
On October 18, a group of GPZC members participated in a Crop Hunger Walk to raise funds to fight hunger locally and globally. The event, initiated by St. John's United Church of Christ, was organized and carried out by a number of local churches in Monroe, including Great Plains Zen Center. The walkers, almost 100 in number, raised over $4,000, Zen Center members raising over $700 of that total. Roshi, along with area ministers, participated in a brief prayer ceremony and the GPZC group sang “Calling out to Hungry Hearts” (the song at the beginning of the Gate of Sweet Nectar). Walkers began their 2.5 or 1 mile walks to the sound of bagpipes. The event also included a contest in which youth groups made sculptures out of non-perishable food items. The Stateline Homeschoolers (who participated in the first Ripples class), took second place for their sculpture entitled “The Bison.” Many thanks to the walkers and everyone who donated to this good cause. Click here to take the quiz on our website to see how much you know about hunger-related issues.

For more information about the Crop Walk (including an entry form, information for youth groups, and statistics on world hunger), please download this PDF document: Click to download

Other Organizations

Please contact us if you are interested in volunteering with any of the programs below.

Green County Family Promise (Monroe, Wisconsin)

Green County Family Promise, Monroe, Wisconsin is part of a national program that responds to the growing need to provide shelter, meals and comprehensive support services to families without homes. Thirteen congregations host three to five families (up to 14 individuals) about four times a year – for one week at a time. Overnight lodging is provided from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am the next morning. Host congregations provide overnight lodging, breakfast, brown-bag lunch, dinner, and hospitality.

The program has many volunteer opportunities. Volunteers help with cooking and serving meals, playing with children, helping with homework, staying overnight, staffing the day program, and driving guests back and forth in the program’s van to name a few. Beyond providing lodging and meals, volunteers interact with the guests, treating them with respect and responding with compassion. Volunteers also have the opportunity to get to know and work with each other.

Volunteers can choose shifts that match their availability – weekdays, evenings, or weekends. Shifts can be on a regular basis or on an as needed basis. Volunteers can work at one of the thirteen host churches throughout Green County or the Day Program which is located in downtown Monroe across from the library. All volunteers must first attend a training program which is offered periodically. This is a wonderfully successful program with a track record of helping families who are homeless achieve sustainable independence. It is also a great chance to meet and work with caring people from different churches in the community. Learn more about Green County Family Promise at their website.

Second Harvest Foodbank (Madison, Wisconsin)

Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger relief organization, is a non-profit organization that is committed to ending hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through community partnerships. It serves nearly 141,000 people struggling with hunger each year; 43% of whom are children. From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, Second Harvest together with its more than 225 partner agencies and programs, provided 12.6 million meals to those facing hunger.

Participants in GPZC’s Summer 2012 Practice Intensive spent every Tuesday morning volunteering at the Second Harvest Foodbank’s large facility in Madison, Wisconsin. We primarily sorted vegetables and labeled and assembled canned goods on pallets. The facility’s volunteer program was extremely well-organized and efficient. Working as a group was fun and we were impressed with the statistics on the amount of food processed and distributed in this facility to food pantries in the 16 served counties of Wisconsin.

For information about volunteer opportunites, please visit Second Harvest’s website.

Northern Illinois Food Bank

On Saturday, September 6, 2014, volunteers from the Great Plains Zen Center worked at the Northern Illinois Food bank warehouse in Geneva, Illinois sorting food and non-food items, and boxing them for distribution to area food pantries. Please check this page and our calendar for upcoming volunteer opportunities with this organization and others like it.

From the Northern Illinois Food Bank website:

Northern Illinois Food Bank leads the northern Illinois community in solving hunger by providing nutritious meals to those in need through innovative programs and partnerships. Since 1983, food manufacturers, local groceries, corporations, foundations, and individuals have come together to donate food and funds, and evaluate and repack food for distribution to 800 network partners serving more than 60,000 hungry neighbors each week across 13 counties. That commitment provided 42 million meals last year to those in need. The food bank has centers in Geneva (West Suburban Center), Lake County (North Suburban Center) and Loves Park (Northwest Center) and has an office in Joliet. Northern Illinois Food Bank serves the following counties: Boone, DuPage, DeKalb, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will and Winnebago. Our vision is for no one to be hungry in northern Illinois. Our mission is to lead the northern Illinois community in solving hunger by providing nutritious meals to those in need through innovative programs and partnerships.

Zen Peacemakers

The Great Plains Zen Center is happy to announce that we are now a Zen Peacemaker Order Member Group. This means that in addition to all of our current activities, we will offer Zen Peacemaker Order related events and trainings.

The Zen Peacemaker Order is an organization supporting the vision and inspiration for Socially Engaged Buddhism throughout the world with 83 affiliates in 12 countries on five continents. To learn more, please visit this page.

Other Community Events:

Edward M. Goldberg Multifaith Meditation Room Dedication Ceremony

On July 18, 2013, Myoyu Roshi, along with clergy of the Christian, Jain, Hindu, Jewish, Islam and Sikh faiths gave a blessing, a reading of the Metta Sutta, in the dedication ceremony of the Edward M. Goldberg Multifaith Meditation Room at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. It was a very moving and memorable event. This wonderful space remains open 24 hours a day for use by patients, staff and visitors at the hospital for quiet prayer and meditation and features a representation of each faith as well as appropriate prayer mats, rugs, and books.