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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”!

Update: Compassionate Earth Walk Crosses the Border

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Rev. Shodo Spring

Rev. Shodo Spring

I am just back from my journey to Thailand to teach a course for the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation Project… will write more about that soon.

For now, I want to share with you the following news that I received from Shodo Spring, who initiated the Compassionate Earth Walk earlier this year to address climate change from a dharma perspective and specifically to raise awareness about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Deep bow to you, Shodo, for your practice and wholehearted commitment to liberation for all beings.

Compassionate Earth Walkers enter United States after 23-day walk through Canada

July 31, 2013

Five walkers from the Compassionate Earth Walk have completed a 380-mile journey from Hardisty, Alberta to Monchy, Saskatchewan and returned to the United States to continue their three-month pilgrimage along the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Support the Compassionate Earth Walk

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Hi everyone,

I am traveling through Thailand this month, on my way to Mae Rim to help out with the first-ever Buddhist Education for Social Transformation training. I am excited to be here, and grateful for the support I received from a number of you to make this trip! I’ll post some missives here during July to let you know how it’s going.

And a quick announcement while I’m on the road… just wanted to highlight this good cause that the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is currently fundraising for. There’s only one more week to donate, if this inspires you (the campaign closes on July 17). I’m going to contribute something… I hope you’ll join me!

For full information and to make a donation, see:  http://www.razoo.com/story/Bpf-Joins-Compassionate-Earth-Walk

Here’s an excerpt from that page:

The Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) has been called “game over for climate change.”

Already the massive corporate extraction of tar sands and crude bitumen from Alberta, Canada (slated to be glugged through KXL to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, for predominantly foreign export), is poisoning First Nations territories.

As Buddhists, we seek to join the ongoing resistance and stand up against this carbon monster, even as we acknowledge the real economic concerns that may cause disagreement in affected communities — some favoring pipelines, some opposing them.

Would you like to see more Buddhists bring compassionate confrontation to this movement? Please support and share!

  • 90% of funding supports Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) organizing in Alberta.
  • 10% supports the Compassionate Earth Walk.

Enacting BPF’s first step on the path to a KXL-free world, photographer and Buddhist aneeta mitha is joining the two-day Tar Sands Healing Walk, followed by the Compassionate Earth Walk for its first three days in Alberta, Canada.

Organized by Cree and Dene First Nations and Metis, including people of the ACFN, the Healing Walk bears witness to the ongoing destruction wreaked by tar sands, and calls for healing of the land. Led by Zen priest Shodo Spring, the full Compassionate Earth Walk is a 3-month pilgrimage tracing the proposed route of the pipeline into the U.S. and through the Great Plains.

Action Alert: Join with Other Buddhists to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

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There’s a lot brewing around resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline. In the last post here on TJC, Zen priest Shodo Spring wrote about her vision and plan to organize a “Compassionate Earth Walk” along the route of the proposed pipeline.

The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has organized an awesome phone conference tomorrow (Sunday), April 28, at 5 pm PST to give dharma activists a chance to learn about ways to engage with this issue at a direct level. BPF directors Katie Loncke and Dawn Haney ask:

What will be the role of Buddhists in this struggle?  What can we do to take direct action in defense of the earth, and in deep solidarity with those most impacted by the threat of the pipeline?  As Diné native organizer Firewolf Bizahaloni-Wong puts it, what’s needed are not only allies, but “accomplices.”

 

Shodo Spring will be on the call, as well as Diana Pei Wu and Jack Downey of The Ruckus Society (an organization of trainers in nonviolent direct action). Find out more about the call and watch a video with Katie and Dawn here.

HOW TO JOIN THE CALL

If you’re already a BPF member, you should have received an email message with call details. If you’re not a member but want to join so that you can access this call, visit this page. Members who can’t make the live call will receive a recording, and through BPF there will be opportunities to network with people in your area to continue the conversation and make plans.

 

 

On Finding an Appropriate Response to Climate Change

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This article was contributed by Shodo Spring, a Soto Zen priest who has organized the Compassionate Earth Walk, which will take place from July to September of this year. The walk will trace the Keystone XL route through the Great Plains. 

______________

A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”

For as long as I’ve been aware of climate change, I’ve been asking the question about an appropriate response. As far as I can tell, our culture is in the process of destroying itself, taking everyone else with it. When I learned permaculture, I realized that the problem was not technical – we already have the methods to sequester carbon, grow foods without fossil fuels, and generally live well by acting like the part of the planet that we are. The problem was spiritual. I am a Zen priest: that problem is my business. Still I did not know what to do. I signed petitions, learned to grow food, was active in my local Transition group, and got involved in local politics. When time allowed, I went to Washington and got arrested in front of the White House with 350.org – over the Keystone pipeline. Nothing was enough.

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Buddhist Education for Social Transformation in Thailand

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ouyporn1

Ouyporn Khuankaew, co-founder of IWP

Ouyporn Khuankaew and Ginger Norwood are two Buddhist feminist activists based in Thailand who co-founded the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP) in 2002. Through IWP, Ouyporn and Ginger and a wonderful team of other activists offer workshops on anti-oppression feminism, collective leadership, gender and diversity, nonviolent direct action, and peacebuilding.

In the winter of 2011, I was honored to spend some time at IWP (located north of Chiang Mai), and have a deep appreciation for the work that Ouyporn and Ginger are doing to support activists from all over Asia. Just a few weeks ago, Ginger graduated from Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program here in Santa Fe, so our connections with each other literally span the globe.

This summer, IWP is launching a new training program called BEST — the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation Project. BEST is an innovative yearlong certificated course focused on transformation of individuals, communities, the environment, and the world. The program is open to anyone seeking a Buddhist perspective in his or her approach to personal development, social justice and social change work.

I’m very excited to share this news with you for two reasons.

> First — If you are an activist based in Asia or if you know someone who is, the BEST training is now open for applications. The course is open to people of all identities, welcoming of all genders and sexual identities, spiritual/faith traditions and beliefs, ages, ethnicities, education levels, professions, etc. First priority will be given to activists living and working in the Asian region. The deadline for applying is May 1, and you can find the application material on this page. 

Second — I’m very excited that Ouyporn and Ginger have invited me to teach at BEST during the opening session this July. BEST has limited funding which is prioritized for supporting program participants. I don’t have enough resources to make this trip on my own, so I am asking for help to cover transportation to Thailand so that I may support this great program and teach a workshop on “The Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism.”

You can find out more on my fundraising page here: http://igg.me/p/221329/x/510470

I would be deeply grateful for any support you can offer, and my biggest thanks to those of you who have already made a contribution to this travel fund! And thank you also for helping to spread the word about BEST to others who may be interested.

palms together,

Maia

Robert Aitken Roshi on Gay Marriage: A Zen Buddhist Perspective

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equL

The big headline of the past couple of days has been the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the issue of same-sex marriage. There have been some excellent commentaries from Buddhist bloggers on the matter as well, including this one from Justin Whitaker at American Buddhist Perspective and this one from Kenji Liu on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship website.

But one piece of writing on this topic from a Buddhist teacher that isn’t so easy to find comes from the late Robert Aitken Roshi. Way back in 1995, he offered a Zen Buddhist perspective on the matter and came down clearly on the side of equality and justice.

One of the few places I’ve seen the document online is on the Queer Resources Directory: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/religion/zen.buddhist.perspective.on.same.sex.marriage

I’m re-posting the document here. As I read it, I am reminded once again of Aitken Roshi’s fiercely compassionate intelligence.

______________

A ZEN BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON SAME-GENDER MARRIAGE             

On October 11, 1995, some religious leaders gave testimony to the Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law in support of same- gender marriage.  It was one of the most moving meetings of the Commission. Of the approximately 9 speakers, three submitted written testimony (two Buddhist and one Lutheran).  I have retrieved their testimony from the archives and will post each on to the internet.  The first is appended below.

Robert Aitken served much of World War II as a prisoner of war of the Japanese; one of his captors introduced Robert Aitken to Zen Buddhism. Today Robert Aitken heads the western region of the United States.

Aloha!

Tom Ramsey

Co-Coordinator, HERMP

Robert Aitken’s Written Testimony to the
Commission on Sexual Orientation 
and the Law

October 11, 1995         

I am Robert Aitken, co-founder and teacher of the Honolulu  Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society established in 1959, with centers in Manoa and Palolo [macrons are over first a's in each word]. Our organization has evolved into a network of Diamond Sangha groups on Neighbor Islands and in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand.  I am also co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and a member of its International Board of Advisors.  This is an association whose members are concerned about social issues from a Buddhist perspective.  It has it headquarters in Berkeley, California, and has chapters across the country, including one here on O’ahu, as well as chapters overseas.  I am also a member of the Hawai’i Association of International Buddhists.

I speak to you today as an individual in response to the Chair’s request to present Buddhist views, particularly Zen Buddhist views, on the subject of of marriage between people of the same sex.

The religion we now call Zen Buddhism arose in China in the sixth century as a part of the Mahayana, which is the tradition of Buddhism found in China, Korea, Japan and to some extent in Vietnam.  Pure Land schools, including the Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji, as well as Shingon and Nichiren, are other sects within the Mahayana.

The word Zen means “exacting meditation,” which describes the central practice of the Zen Buddhist and from which emerge certain quite profound realizations that can be applied in daily life. Most practitioners come to a deep understanding that all life is connected and that we are each a boundless container that includes all other beings.

The application of this kind of intimacy can be framed in the classic Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Abodes: loving kindness, compassion, joy in the attainment of others, and equanimity.

Applying these Four Noble Abodes to the issue of same-sex marriage, I find it clear that encouragement is my recommendation. Over my long career of teaching, I have had students who were gay, lesbian, trans-sexual and bisexual, as well as heterosexual. These orientations have seemed to me to be quite specific, much akin to the innate proclivities which lead people to varied careers or take paths in life that are uniquely their own.

We are all human, and within my own container, I find compassion—not just for—but with the gay or lesbian couple who wish to confirm their love in a legal marriage.

Although historically Zen has been a monastic tradition, there have always been prominent lay adherents. Those who enter the state of marriage vow to live their lives according to the same sixteen precepts that ground the Buddhist monk’s and nun’s life in the world. This way of living opens our path into life. Like life itself, marriage is absolutely non-discriminatory and open to all.

Buddhist teaching regarding sexuality is expressed in the precept of “taking up the way of not misusing sex.” I understand this precept to mean that any self-centered sexual conduct is exploitative, non-consensual—sex that harms others. In the context of young men or young women confined within monastery walls for periods of years, one might expect rules and teachings relating to homosexuality, but they don’t appear.

Homosexuality seems to be overlooked in Zen teachings, and indeed in classical Buddhist texts. However, my own monastic experience leads me to believe that homosexuality was not taken as an aberration, and so did not receive comment.

All societies have from earliest times across the world formalized sexual love in marriage ceremonies that give the new couple standing and rights in the community. Currently both rights and standing are denied to gays and lesbians who wish to marry in all but three of the United Sates. If every State acknowledged the basic married rights of gay and lesbian couples, young men and women just beginning their lives together, as well as those who have shared their lives for decades, a long-standing injustice would be corrected, and these fellow citizens would feel accepted in the way they deserve to be.

This would stabilize a significant segment of our society, and we would all of us be better able to acknowledge our diversity. I urge the voters of California to keep gay and lesbian marriages legal. This is the most humane course of action and in keeping with perennial principles of decency and mutual encouragement.

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