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All Necessary Measures: Responding to Syria with Our Imagination

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The Nonviolent Peace Force at Work in Sudan

The Nonviolent Peace Force at Work in Sudan

Dear friends,

I am breaking out of vacation mode from this blog because a really terrible thing may be on the verge of happening.

Please know this is not hyperbole. Yes, many terrible things have happened this year – the unjust decision in the Trayvon Martin case, the shooting of little children in Newtown, the continued plundering of our economy, to name just a few.

But this is the kind of terrible thing that will likely set off a global chain of destructive, violent consequences that may not have an end, or at least a merciful end.

As you’ve probably seen in the news by now, the use of chemical weapons in Syria has resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people in that country. There are conflicting viewpoints about who is responsible for the use of these weapons, many saying the Syrian government is to blame, the government  blaming rebel forces. Either way, it is a terrible situation there, in a country that has been torn apart by civil war, and where more than 100,000 have been killed and nearly 2 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries since 2011.

What might happen if the U.K., the U.S., and other nations go ahead with military action, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has  hinted at? Well, again from the NYT, Iran has warned that it will launch a retaliatory attack on Israel. Russia has warned of “catastrophic consequences.”

Actions have consequences. This is how karma works. We can argue until we are blue in the face about how the consequences are wrong or not justified, but they will still happen. Many, many people stand to be injured or killed by this chain of reactions. Some are saying this has the potential to turn into World War III.

According to today’s New York Times,

Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would push the United Nations to hold Syria responsible for last week’s chemical attack and authorize “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.

We can guess what Cameron means by this.

But what if instead of guessing we imagined something different?

What if “all necessary measures” meant something else? What if it could include:

  • Sending a massive peace army to Syria not with arms but with presence and skillful means to de-escalate the situation. There is such an entity, by the way: the Nonviolent Peace Force.
  • Economic sanctions.
  • Meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and engaging in dialogue.
  • Arresting President al-Assad and using the International Criminal Court system to investigate what’s going on.
  • Dropping love bombs on Syria… they might include food, clean water, medicine, and atropine, the antidote for gas attacks.
  • Sending medical aid.

What else? I know there is more. Leave your idea in the comments below.

Sure, some of these ideas may be naïve, some may not work or be counterproductive. I don’t know.

But the point is – can we break out of our binary mind that thinks of “response” only in terms of attacking or defending with military arms?

Right now, the most powerful peacemaking tool you have is your own imagination and your ability to communicate and share those ideas with others.

If one of those others you want to share with is President Obama, you can reach him in these ways:

Phone numbers:

  • Comments: 202-456-1111
  • Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Email:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

Postal Mail:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

ADDENDUM:

Please also see this excellent page from the Friends Committee on National Legislation to find out how to directly contact your congressional representative in multiple ways…. the message is “Slow Down”!

Mindfulness for Military Vets

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Maxine Hong Kingston, author of “The Woman Warrior”

On a day when the New York Times headline story is  “Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops,” I wanted to call your attention to some good work going on with returning combat veterans.

To be clear — I want to see the day when military action becomes entirely replaced by skillful and persistent diplomatic efforts, and when the U.S. as a whole (government and citizens) is able to look deeply at the root causes and conditions of war and understand our place in that karma. Until that day comes, we have vets coming home who are wounded physically and emotionally.

Here are a few contemplative and mindfulness-based initiatives that I’m aware of that are serving this community (one of which is time-sensitive, with a retreat coming up this July). If you know of more, please share them in the comments below.

  • “The Coming Home Project” is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Joseph Bobrow, Roshi, a Zen teacher. The project, begun in 2006, is devoted to providing expert, compassionate care, support, education, and stress management tools for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, service members, their families, and their service providers. Visit their website to find out more about their services.
  • The Buddhist Military Sangha is a nonpolitical and nonsectarian forum for Buddhists serving in the US Armed Forces. This website includes quite an extensive collection of links on pastoral care, mental health, and re-entry/readjustment websites.

If You Want Peace, Stop Paying For War

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Last week, I became a war tax resister. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and finally this spring my actions aligned with my intentions and I sent the following letter to the Internal Revenue Service:

Read the rest of this entry

The Window

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There is this moment, often just a split second, between the time something happens and our reaction to it.

Anything can happen in this moment. Whatever does happen turns the wheel of karma.

In the moments and days after September 11, 2001, there was an open window for those of us here in the U.S., a time when we were stunned by what happened and we hadn’t yet reacted, as a nation. And then the window closed, in the form of a formal declaration of war on Afghanistan (and subsequently Iraq).

But before that, can you remember?

Read the rest of this entry

The International View: “Ordinary American People are the Only Genuine Force to End Terrorism”

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I received the following essay in an email from my friend Ouyporn Khuankaew of Thailand.

This essay comes from the Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute, which was founded in 1986 by Sulak Sivaraksa. The institute’s name is derived from three principles on which it bases its work: Santi = peace, Pracha = people’s rule or democracy, Dhamma = righteousness or justice.

You may not like or agree with all of what this essay is communicating, but I decided to publish it (without editing) because I feel it’s important for those of us who live in the U.S. to be aware of how people from other countries perceive us, and to consider the counsel they offer in support of us.

__________________

The Ordinary American People are the only Genuine Force to End Terrorism

The 2 May 2011 Shame for a Nobel Peace Laureate

The date 2 May 2011 is as though an ending of a Hollywood action movie that the (believed to be) villain, played by Osama bin Laden, was killed and the “justice has been done” as said by the hero, played by Barack Obama. Perhaps this is the reason why Obama is suddenly very much admired and his popularity bounce back so high, like other action movie stars. This is the view of many American people who only see wars and fights in the movies. It is an unfortunate and short eye sighted view.

From the hero’s own words, the evidence to confirm the death of bin Laden is not a trophy to show around. Of course it is not a trophy, it is a stigma. The whole operation is a shame, as Obama admitted that the possibility of success is only 55%, and yet he decided to execute it. To cover the shameful operation, i.e. invading a sovereign country without warning for US’s own interest, attacking a house that the force is not certain if bin Laden stayed, killing an unarmed person in front of his family, not giving bin Laded a chance to speak, not taking him to a court of justice, not giving him a proper funeral, and so on, the US leadership even blames that sovereignty country of not reporting the Bin Laden’s whereabouts to the US.

Killing bin Laden, a man responsible for the 9/11, is not a real solution to the terrorism. It is a shame that Obama, a person who is in such a high position and receives the high recognition like Nobel Peace Prize is stupid enough to satisfy (or hypnotize) himself and try to satisfy (or hypnotize) American people and the world with easy solution to terrorism. To accept the reality that US has caused disaster in many countries through its rogue and violent foreign policies to soothe its delusion of self-claimed leadership of the world, seems to be too painful for the US authority. When the shameful mistake or consequence revealed, the only way that the US can think of is to commit even more violence to counter the disaster caused by the previous violence.

At most, it is as brief as a wink of an eye moment of victory of the US force. But as long as the truth remains, it is the loss. It is the loss of US leadership that will never be forgotten in the history of mankind like the disaster it did in Vietnam and other countries. The looser from such thoughtless operation is the American nation, and the victims are the whole American people. It is sad that Obama chose to be remembered as the Nobel peace laureate who triggers deep hatred in the heart of many Muslim people, rather than something more honourable.

Root cause of terrorism is right there in the US
If American people are really interested in ending terrorism, the self-criticism and the thorough contemplation on the whole history of American military and foreign policies is highly recommended. American people need to see the whole “movie”, instead of the disconnected “scene by scene”. The contemporary history could have still remained in the memory of many American people, such as the disaster the US has done to the nation and people of Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, to name just a few. The recent action is another disaster.

In order to truly end terrorism (not to end a terrorist) the root causes has to be examined. Unfortunately the terrorism and people like Osama bin Laden is the products of the US military and foreign policies. If American people ignore the content and impacts of such policies, and allow their government to continue, there is no hope to end terrorism. In the pursuit of the root causes, American people may come across questions like whether such policies really serve the interest of the ordinary American people or to serve the arrogance, ignorance, and interest of some powers that be in politic and economic sphere.

By the definition of the term “terrorism” people from other regions can rightly call the US the genuine and master terrorist. Bin Laden, his people and many ordinary people in the Middle East has never been content with the presence and the influence of the western countries, especially the US in their region. And possibly the hatred feeling is shared by many people in other regions where foreign military bases locate. The US’s constant and possibly ungrounded fear of loosing the hegemonic power propelled its numerous terror actions that have been carried out around the world since the time of anti-communism and the cold war.

The US military presence and political intervention in all regions is only to protect the US delusion of a global hegemony, and has never ever been for the sake of the native people, and perhaps even for the sake of ordinary American people. Good young men from ordinary American families are turned to be cold-blood murderers, and are traumatized for the rest of their live for the legal slaughter they committed.

The US, like other government, claims that their actions are for the benefit of their people. The presence and intervention in the Middle East is also for this purpose. The US needs to ensure the supply of natural resources, in this case oil, which feeds the extremely industrialized American society and the affluent lifestyle of American people. The consumption of natural resources by the American society is always among the highest ranking. In order that natural resources to be consumed by the handful American population, the much larger majority of people in other parts of the world have to give up their share. Not only the consumption, but the whole unjust capitalist economic activities of the American are supported directly or indirectly by the rogue foreign and military policies, too.

If these kind of military and foreign policies of the US continue, they will only cause suffering and hatred among more and more people, and more bin Ladens are made out of those people.

The true root cause of terrorism that haunted American people is therefore, located right in their own country.  Fear, delusion and greed that poison the mind of US leadership manifest themselves in the actions that cause terrors and disaster to the world and then receive much more terrors and disaster in re turn. Without this awareness, hunting around the world for the terrorists is like chasing after shadow. You can’t catch it because it is you.

The genuine solution lies on the American people’s awakening mind
Alright, if the American prefer the strategy of “Hunting them down”, what is going to happen? The strategy would only fulfil bin Laden’s wish for the collapse of the US. How many resources, how much time and how many lives have been spent so far and get fear, hatred, distrust, terror and destruction in return? It is difficult to call this an effective investment. Of course it might be a lucrative market for weapons industry which brings about even more downward spiral destruction to the American.

From the May Day 2011 on, American people will not be able to live peacefully any more. The retaliation was already announced. By now they should realize the saying that “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased”.

The peaceful life is definitely affordable for American people. But the price is quite high. That is the genuine sincerity for self-criticism of the mistakes in the past and the effort to take correct actions toward future. Of course it is hopeless to call to the powers that be. They are too distant from all kind of sufferings created by their destructive policies. But the hope lies on the ordinary American people.

America should be aware that in order to live peacefully, what needed is the awakening mind of American citizens. With such a sophisticate communication system, American people should wake up and see how their leadership’s propaganda makes them remain in the constant delusion and fear. In fact the American history is not that old, it is easy for the people to study it carefully about the oppression, domination and destruction the US leadership caused to the world and to the people.

American people with the freedom of expression should speak the truth and speak for those under the oppression and human right violation caused by the US foreign and military policies.

To educate themselves about the truth, to give the voice of consciousness to the leadership, to take actions to reverse the destruction, and to stop all forms of violence caused by them is a only long lasting solution to terrorism , provided that the freedom and rights are still enjoyed by the ordinary American citizens.

Our appeals
We call on American people the following:

  • We encourage you to learn more about negative impacts caused by the US military and foreign policies to different nations, people, and even environment. You should remember the Orange Agent that was poured down in Indochina regions by the US that killed trees, animals, water resources and of course people.
  • We encourage you to take a deep look at how your affluent lifestyle creates suffering for the people in other parts of the world, and become excuses for your powers that be to continue their domination.
  • We encourage you to investigate how your leadership are expert in rhetoric of and pay only lip service to justice, democracy and human rights protection.
  • We encourage you to withdraw your support to the leadership who are responsible for the rouge and violent policies that are the origin and the induction of terrorism.
  • We encourage you to take actions. You can participate in one of the many groups or people’s movements in your own area that are active in issues such as anti-war or anti-violence campaign, human rights protection, democratization and good governance.
  • We encourage you to reach out to ordinary people in the regions that are negatively impacted by the US policies. You can learn to feel their anxiety, hatred, fear, and sorrow. It is a true human experience, not the thrill from the action movies. If possible, you are also encouraged to share the physical suffering by making some donation. The non profit organizations or charity organizations in your area may be able to give you more advice in this action.

A Few Last Thoughts on Bin Laden and Karma

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George W Bush Monument_5

Photo by Broc Blegen/Flickr Creative Commons

In the past two weeks since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death has come out, the blogosphere has been out full speed with writing on this topic. In the Buddhist world, here are some of the posts that I’ve noted:

And I wrote about it here on the Jizo Chronicles and touched on it in my Liberated Life Project site, though from a different angle.

A number of us are referencing the Buddha’s teachings on nonviolence and karma. The reactions that are arising in response to these articles are quite vociferous, and Susan’s article seemed to get the brunt of it.

Some of us writers are being accused of a holier-than-thou attitude if we express that we are taken aback by the celebrations that happened on the night the news came out. It seems that some people are feeling judged because they feel a sense of relief that bin Laden has been killed. And many wonder if not killing bin Laden would have been tantamount to allowing a madman to continue killing innocent people…so what else could we do?

Here’s the thing — when I note the teachings from the Buddha and Jesus in regards to violence and retribution, I’m not being judgmental or moralizing (and I would presume this is true for others).

This is really about karma. And the law of karma is like the law of gravity… it’s something you are welcome to question, but it is simply the way things work. It just ‘is.’ (I wonder – does this make me a fundamentalist Buddhist? Because I really believe this…)

If you buy into the basic Buddhist truth of interconnection, you must also accept the fact that no action can be taken without it in turn creating a series of other actions and having some effect on the whole.

I like what Barbara O’Brien has written:

Karma is essential to Buddhist understanding of morality, but not because it is some kind of rewards-or-punishments system. It isn’t. Karma makes no judgments, nor is it directed by some cosmic intelligence who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. The Buddha also taught that karma is not fate. It does not bind you to a pre-determined future because of something you’ve done in the past…

With every choice we make, we create our lives. Our choices also impact countless other lives. The more you appreciate this, the more mindful you become of the choices you make. For this reason, karma is essential to Buddhist understanding of morality.

The teaching from the Buddha is quite simple:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.  (Dhammapada)

Teachers from other spiritual traditions say the same thing in different words, but that’s the essence of it.

I’m not saying this is easy, not at all. It’s one thing to say it; it’s a whole lifetime and beyond to learn how to practice it. There are remarkable examples of people who have actually lived from this truth (Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatma Gandhi) and transformed hatred into love, but it doesn’t happen often.

As the Buddha would say – hey, don’t take my word for it. Keep trying out it to see what is true for you. Do we really think that bin Laden’s death will make the world a safer place? Well, let’s see how that goes.

The Power of Words to Harm and to Heal: In the Wake of Tragedy in Arizona

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Hundreds gather for a vigil at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Jan 8, 2011. (AP / Ross D. Franklin)

Cross-posted from The Liberated Life Project

Since yesterday’s terrible and tragic shootings in Arizona, I have found myself searching for some way to understand what happened and to ascertain what, if any, action might be skillful at this time.

Words are very powerful. It is words (and the thoughts and feelings behind them) that have created an environment of fear and hatred which permeates many levels of the United States, from politics to the media we ingest to the way we move through our daily lives. Words in some way contributed to yesterday’s event and to poisoning the mind of an already disturbed young man.

Like many of you, perhaps, I’ve been seeking some healing words over the past day. This morning I came across some writing from Marianne Williamson and it’s the first time since yesterday I’ve felt myself settle into a place deeper than my own fear and anger. I feel that Marianne’s words are so important that I want to share them in full with you here today:

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1/8/11: A NIGHT OF TRAGEDY AND TRANSFORMATION

by Marianne Williamson

“Bullets can’t stop love,” said Arizona official Steve Farley today, claiming that Arizona will be better for having gone through the trauma and tragedy of this day.

America is looking deeply at itself right now, and we have desperately needed to do that. Vigils are being held all over the state of Arizona, and on invisible planes we know that miracles are happening because of it. Hearts are softening; sanity is returning. People are remembering that all of us are human, and all of us are infinitely valuable. A deranged young man merely reflected the insanity of our current political discourse, and as the saying goes, “every problem comes bearing its own solution.” It has taken a tragedy like this to make us all take a deep breath.

All of us are praying for Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were shot today. But let’s put feet to our prayers, as well. Wherever we are and whoever we are, we can participate in de-escalating the violence of our society by de-escalating the violence in our hearts. Whoever we haven’t forgiven, tonight let’s simply do it. Whoever we’re thinking about with anger, tonight is the night to let it go. And to whatever extent we haven’t been a powerful voice for love in our own lives, let’s commit tonight to stepping up our game. Life is a serious business, and to whatever extent we haven’t been playing it seriously, let tonight be the night when we awaken from our stupor and decide to be a player in the healing of our world.

Among other things, let’s look deeply at how easy it is for deranged people to get guns not only in Arizona, but in other places in our country as well. If you feel this isn’t right — that it isn’t safe for us or for our children — then know the only way we will override the resistance of the National Rifle Association is if we ourselves get involved in the effort. The NRA is right that guns don’t kill people — that people do. But with so many unstable people out there, there is no rational reason for us to make it so easy for them.

May those who died in today’s massacre rest in peace. They have done what they came to do this lifetime, and it is time for them to sleep.

But for the rest of us, it is time to wake up. To pray yes, but also to act. To think deeply, but also to speak powerfully. To feel concern, but also to act with courage. God’s blessing doesn’t just mean that He does something for us; it also means that He does something through us. And now is the time to let Him. God bless Arizona, God bless America and God bless us all.

What Does The Progressive Movement Need?

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First off, a disclosure which probably comes as no surprise — I am indeed one of those socially engaged Buddhists who falls into the “progressive” political camp. But as you’ll know if you’ve read some of the past posts on The Jizo Chronicle, such as this one, I am supportive of pluralism among engaged Buddhist voices.

So — on to the matter at hand. Recently, Ethan Vesely-Flad, editor of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s magazine, invited me to write a short piece to fit in with the theme “Renewing the Movement.” Here’s the background that he gave me:

Many justice activists have been deeply discouraged by the Obama administration’s first 18 months in office.  Conservatives are mobilizing to take back seats in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and throughout state and local elections this November.  Islamophobia is on the rise through right-wing talk radio and fundamentalist Christian communities, building on New York City’s Park51 development effort by the Cordoba House.  The continuing framework of institutional racism is being hotly debated in the wake of such recent incidents as Shirley Sherrod’s forced resignation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  And no discernible progress has been made on such issues as climate change, immigration reform, and cutting the U.S. military budget.  It’s a very challenging political moment for progressives.

Yet some 15,000 justice activists gathered this June at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit to work to build together a new world.  Tens of thousands will rally in DC on October 2nd for the One Nation: Working Together mobilization for jobs, immigrant rights, and financial reform.  And more than a thousand rallies and actions for addressing the climate crisis will take place in over 135 countries on October 10th.  Action for social change is happening across the world.

The essay I wrote for FOR was intended to respond to these questions (again, from Ethan):

* What do you see as the top priority (or priorities) for the global peace and justice movement today?
* What strategies should the movement use as it campaigns on those issues?
* What examples of creative action and hope do you see that can inspire us?
* What is a moral framework we can provide to our political and community leaders to inspire them to action?
* And should our activism be spiritually centered?  Is there a particular role that faith communities can play in this movement?

So this was my contribution to that issue:

Dialogue Across Differences: Mobilizing a Wider Base

We live in a society that, by all appearances, is characterized by polarization and divisiveness – Tea Party candidates whose platforms are based on fear of the other seem to be gaining ground across the country; subtle and not-so-subtle racism aimed at President Obama, coming from both conservatives and progressives; and the proliferation of biased news outlets like Fox. We are a nation in the throes of toxic hatred.

Or so it seems. As Steve Chapman writes on Reason.com in an article titled “America Only Seems Polarized”: “Stop watching cable TV news channels and listening to politicians. Using them as a gauge of how divided we are is like using the National Hockey League to estimate the level of violence in America.”

In fact, a 2008 survey from the National Opinion Research Center found that the largest ideological group is moderates, even though extremist voices get the most coverage.

And yet there is some truth in all this. It’s common for many of us to interact only with people who think like us, which stretches the perceived divide further.

I believe that no matter how hard progressives work on issues that are important to us, until we can find ways to build bridges rather than walls and learn how to communicate effectively with the majority of Americans who yearn for more civility in public discourse, we won’t gain much traction.

One of the most important things that the global peace and justice movement can do is to reclaim what it means to be a decent and engaged citizen. One of the ways we can do this is by creating opportunities for dialogue across differences and building relationships with those who may not, at least initially, be on the same political page as us.

For example, I envision a cadre of people trained in mediation and dialogue skills working in places like Arizona to facilitate constructive conversation around issues like immigration. This would take a brave group of people, who themselves are able to hold multiple truths and find ways to bring people together rather than divide them. Some organizations that do this include the Public Conversations Project and the Zen Peacemaker Community with its “Bearing Witness” vigils in places like Rwanda and Auschwitz.

Grounding these dialogues in the wisdom that comes from our faith traditions, guided by principles of love and non-duality, can only help in this effort. More than ever, the faith-based approaches that Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., forged are needed for a sustainable path to social transformation that mobilizes a wider base of people. But they need to be combined with more savvy about organizing methods and new media realities.

Organizations like stone circles and The Movement Strategy Center, and foundations such as the Seasons Fund for Social Transformation, are right in the middle of this equation, dedicated to bringing together effective organizing strategies with the deep well of spiritually-based action and transformative practices. I believe this is the future of activism.

How about you? How would you answer those questions? What does the U.S. progressive movement need now?

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