Sages of the past used to say, "When a person is firm, he can conquer the Heavens." They also used to say, "Neither timing nor place is as important as the people involved."
All organizations are the same in that all of them are formed out of the conditions of the day and the karma among their members. The success of an organization depends wholly on the talents and enthusiasm of its members. The BLIA is no exception to this rule. If our members are positive and helpful, the BLIA will do well. How then should the BLIA develop? What is it that all of us should do to see that our organization flourishes and succeeds in its goals? In the following sections I will discuss these questions in some detail.
Be a good member
There are many simple things that go into making one a good member of any organization. These things are quite obvious, but they are no less important for that. A good member should pay his dues on time. He should show up for as many meetings as possible. He should be willing to take on some of the many small tasks required to make BLIA events proceed smoothly. Our ultimate goal is to spread the Dharma to all corners of the world, but don't forget that we will never succeed in doing that if we are unable to practice the Dharma in our own corners of the world.
Ultimate goals have particular needs. Someone must open the doors, move the chairs, go to the printer, call other members on the phone; and all of us must constantly look for ways to reach out to other people. The BLIA will fulfill its full potential only if all of us willingly and imaginatively seek to fulfill our own potentials within our local chapters.
Once we have learned to participate fully in BLIA meetings, it is important that we take some of that energy into our lives. All of us are representatives of the BLIA wherever we go. We should exhibit Buddhist virtues at all times. We should be respectful of people who are older than us and kind to people who are younger. We should treat our families with unfailing and intelligent compassion. We should do our jobs responsibly, and we should strive to be open-minded at all times. We can not learn the lessons of life if we approach them with closed minds. And we can not heighten our emotional responses to the world if we approach it with closed hearts.
Morality, emotion and thought are bound so tightly together, they are almost the same. We can learn through reading and thinking, but we must also learn through living and learning to respond to life in the gentle and compassionate ways that characterized the life of Sakyamuni Buddha himself. Our own examples will do more to attract others to Buddhism than all the words we say, and all the books we ask them to read.
We must contribute
In a very deep sense the Buddhist religion is nothing more than a contribution made to the world by Sakyamuni Buddha. Sakyamuni Buddha did not have to preach the Dharma. Nothing forced him to spend forty-five years walking across India, preaching to all who would listen. He did all of that only because he wanted to contribute to the world. All Buddhists should be fully aware of that fact. Our appreciation of his compassion is based on that fact, and the practice we choose to follow for ourselves should also be based on that fact.
How can anyone call himself a Buddhist if he is unwilling to contribute to others?
Members of the BLIA can contribute to society in innumerable ways. Some people are drawn to teaching, others to writing and still others are drawn to visiting people in prisons and hospitals. We have members who are involved with the environmental movement, with disaster relief and with drug rehabilitation programs. In the end, it does not matter what kind of contribution you make to the world, and strangely enough, it does not even matter if you succeed. It only matters that you try. The result of your contribution may never be clear to you, but if you acted out of compassion and generosity, whatever you did will bring light into this world somewhere.
We must write and share our ideas
This is the age of information. The BLIA, just like every other organization in the world, needs to get its message out. We can all be compassionate and patient and kind, and we can all be highly accomplished at meditating and reading the sutras, but our influence will never be great if we do not also produce books, tapes, films, magazines and newsletters. And we can produce all of that only if our members contribute actively to the effort. Not everyone in the world is cut out to be a writer, but all of us can support the efforts made to produce our newsletters and magazines. A newsletter is made up of much more than just the articles which go into it. The same holds true for our tapes and films. There are many jobs which need to be done before a film can be finished or a Dharma talk recorded.
If you come across a good story in your daily life, try to write it down for submission to one of our publications. If you can not write it yourself, tell someone else about it. We should constantly be trying to make our newsletters and magazines stimulating, and they should be filled with fresh information. Every day thousands of interesting things happen to BLIA members. We ensure that our organization is innovative and up-to-date when we constantly produce new information which reflects the world today, as it is.
Be willing to take on higher responsibilities
After a year or two of being a participating member of the BLIA, the time may come when it is your turn to take on more responsibility. It is surprising how often people are willing to serve as members but unwilling to serve as leaders. The BLIA needs chapter presidents, vice-presidents, secretaries, treasurers, and the BLIA needs people who are willing to serve in regional organizations. If you find yourself thinking that you don't want to be a leader, please think again. If all of us were to spend our lives avoiding the complications that go with leadership, there would be no successful organizations anywhere.
If you believe you are not fit to be a leader, ask yourself why. It may very well be that you are living within a self-deluding limitation that has a long history, but very little truth in fact. Humanistic Buddhism asks a lot from us. It asks us to join the world and make the best contribution we can. Humanistic Buddhism asks of us, but it also returns what we have given tenfold.
If you do decide to accept a leadership position within the BLIA, what should you do to fulfill your responsibilities?
As soon as you become a leader, other people begin to look to you for direction. What you say is very important, but what you do is even more important. A leader is most effective when he leads by example. You must perform the duties of your office to the best of your abilities. Beyond this, you must encourage the other members of your chapter. One of the most important things a leader does is help others maximize their potential. Help others do what they can do, and look for ways to draw out the talents of your members. Use your own experience and your own best wisdom to aid you in doing this. Try to think of what is best for other people. If you assess others from the point of view of what is best for them, you will find that your decisions benefit everyone. Every person has talents, and every chapter of the BLIA contains people of varied experience. It is the job of the leaders of an organization to employ those talents so that everyone receives maximum benefit from them.