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Western Buddhist Teachers for a Free Burma

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The Clear View Project has taken the initiative to write a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, calling their attention to the “election” in Burma later this week. More than 100 Western dharma teachers signed this letter, which is re-printed below.

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1 November 2010
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC  20500

Dear President Obama,

As you know, the upcoming elections in Burma, scheduled for November 7th cannot be legitimate without participation of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD is boycotting this sham process because the Burmese military regime has designed electoral laws that insure that a rigged and non-representative election will transpire precluding the participation of Burma’s 2100 political prisoners and other democracy supporters.  As leaders in the western Buddhist community, we implore you to repudiate the results of this upcoming election.

We appreciate your Administration’s support for a Commission of Inquiry. We urge the U.S. government to exercise all diplomatic means to call the Burmese junta to account for allegations concerning Crimes against Humanity perpetrated against ethnic nationalities.

It is essential that the international community witness your clear and unwavering support for the freedom of the Burmese people at this pivotal time in their history.

We thank you in advance for your care and wisdom in responding to this urgent request and we look forward to your reply.

Respectfully submitted,

Jack Kornfield                                                 Sharon Salzberg

Tara Brach                                                       Tenzin Robert Thurman

Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke                               Lama Surya Das

Bhikkhu Bodhi                                                Jon Kabat-Zinn

Lama Palden

Robert Joshin Althouse
Rev. Susan Myoyu Anderson
Sally Armstrong
Carolyn Atkinson
Pascal Auclair
Martin Aylward
Rev. Zentatsu Richard Baker
Ezra Bayda
Mitra Bishop
Melissa Blacker
Bruce Seiryo Blackman
Joe Bobrow
Dae Bong Sunim
Tilmann Lhundrup Borghardt
Merle Boyd
Irene Bumbacher
Mitchell Cantor
Eugene Cash
Ven. David Chutiko
John Crook
Dhammarati
Gaylon Ferguson
James Ford
Gil Fronsdal
John M. Gage
Michael Grady
Elizabeth Hamilton
Rev. Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Kip Ryodo Hawley
Taigen Henderson
Joan Hoeberichts
Amy Hollowell
Paul Jeffrey Hopkins
Zen Master Soeng Hyang
Mushim Ikeda-Nash
Rev. Keido Les Kaye
Sumi Kim
Liana Kornfield
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton
Stanley Lombardo
Berry Magid
John Makransky
Genjo Marinello
Rev. Nicolee Jikyo McMahon
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakau
Ariya Nani
Ethan Nichtern
Wesley Nisker
Rev. Tonen O’Connor
Rev. Enkyo O’Hara
Peter O’Hearn
Rev. Joen Snyder O’Neal
Michael O’Sullivan
Ji Hyang Padma
Rev. Tony Patchell
Rev. Josho Pat Phelan
Rev. Dosho Port
Rev. Susan Jion Postal
Rev. Taihaku Priest
Dr. Christopher Queen
Jason Quinn
Rev. Densho Quintero
Sylvan Genko Rainwater
Rev. Zuiko Redding
Caitriona Reed
Julie Regan
Alison Reitz
Nicholas Ribush
Joan Rieck
Sharda Rogell
Judith Roitman
Sandra Roscoe
Rev. Daigaku Rumme
Santikaro
Rev. Seisen Saunders
Katharina Schmidt
Gina Sharpe
Tulku Sherdor
Jason Siff
Elihu Genmyo Smith
Tempel Smith
Ralph Steele
Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky
Rev. Heng Sure
Thanissara
Karma Leshe Tsomo
Fred Von Allmen
Alan Wallace
Rev. Jisho Warner
Arinna Weisman
Dr. Jan Willis
Diana Winston
Elizabeth A. Wood
Larry Yang
Shinzen Young

Challenging Questions for Engaged Buddhism

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Okay, we’re going to mix it up a bit today. Lest you think that I am a birkenstock/patchouli-wearing socially engaged Buddhist, it’s important to know that one of my original intentions for the Jizo Chronicles was to give voice to many kinds of engaged dharma, and to demonstrate that it doesn’t all fall into the liberal/progressive camp. And that’s a good thing.

One of the hats I wear is directing the Upaya Zen Center‘s two-year Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program. I’ve been doing this with Roshi Joan Halifax since the inception of the program in 2008, and it’s one of the most deeply satisfying experiences in my life. One of the students from our first cohort (which graduated this past March) was Dr. Christopher Ford. Chris is a dedicated Buddhist practitioner as well as a brilliant man. A graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, he served as the U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation during the Bush Administration and he’s currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Chris is the author of The Mind of Empire: China’s History and Modern Foreign Relations, and he has a website, New Paradigms Forum.

Chris and I have a lot of affection and respect for each other, even while our perspectives on a number of political issues are often quite different. But I have to say, one paper that Chris wrote while in our program — called “Nukes and the Vow: Security Strategy as Peacework” — really caused me to question a number of my own assumptions, both about nuclear disarmament as well as engaged Buddhism.

Because I know Chris well, because we have practiced alongside of one another, and because I have tremendous regard for both his meditation practice as well as his extensive experience working in the world of government policy and diplomacy, I really sat with challenging questions he posed in this paper. One of Chris’ points is that even as peaceworkers, we should be very wary of being absolutists and “theologizing” the idea of total nuclear disarmament.  He goes on to explore why abolition of nuclear weapons may not be the “skillful means” that advocates of nonviolence think it is.

I’m posting two short excerpts from the piece below. It’s a long article, so I’m including a link to the full version as a Word document here: Nukes and the Vow. I hope you take time to read all of it because one piece builds upon another, and it’s important to have the whole context of what Chris is saying.  I’m curious to hear what you think about all this, and I send a big bow to Chris for his great heart/mind.

It is relatively easy to vow to save all sentient beings; it is much harder to figure out how best to do it. Engaged Buddhism – that rich field of action in the world that devotes itself to the alleviation of suffering by trying to address unhealthy patterns and structures in human social life – aims beyond merely the transformation of individual hearts. It aspires also to systemic transformation. This inescapably entangles it, however, with quite conventional issues of public policy….

In Buddhist peacework, our lodestar should be fundamental human security, rather than the talismanic presence or absence of nuclear devices per se. If we cannot be reasonably confident of real security in a nuclear-weapon free world, it might be better to have a world with nuclear weapons but in which we can have more such confidence. Depending upon our assessment of the anticipated conditions, in other words, it might be possible to make a Buddhist argument for the retention of nuclear weapons as one constituent element of the global security system. Make no mistake: I do not make such an argument here. Nevertheless, it may be incumbent upon all Engaged Buddhists to be at least alive to this possibility. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details; we should not let either pro- or anti-nuclear knowing get in the way of our employment of skillful means for the alleviation of suffering in this complicated and messy world of international political samsara.

Practicing Peace at Ground Zero

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There’s a great post by Patrick Groneman over at the Interdependence Project website about the Bearing Witness vigil that took place near Ground Zero in New York City on the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The small group of meditators had to make their way through two very vocal opposing forces — those in support of the proposed mosque/Islamic community center and those against it.

An excerpt from Patrick’s post:

After the first two minutes of sitting and following my breathing I broke into tears –all I could feel and hear was pain, and it was so deep, and so pervasive. My own fear and sadness became indistinguishable from the pain and suffering of those around me. Like a nursery of babies crying for our lost mothers, it seemed like we were all there looking for a way to express our sadness and fear to each other, but instead it came out in anger:

“Faggot” “Racist” “Idiot” “Hippie” “Biggot” “Terrorist” “U-S-A!!”

Like bullets the protesters shot words at each other, considering it a victory if they got shot back at, finding solidarity not in peace, but in perpetuating the energy of argument. No real conversation about sadness, grief, fear or anger could take place in this environment, there was no space for healing.

The longer we sat, the more people became curious abut what we were doing – cameras were clicking, people were asking us what we were trying to accomplish. One passerby yelled:

“This is New York, don’t just sit there…stand up and say what you believe in”

You can read the whole post here. Thank you for your practice, Patrick.

Buddhist Monks Pray for Peace in Thailand

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There is some more news coming out of Thailand. The Buddhist Channel picked up an AFP story about monks in Bangkok praying for peace. You can read the full story here. An excerpt:

At a monument to a conflict that took place decades ago, hundreds of Buddhist monks prayed for an end to the modern urban warfare being waged around them in the Thai capital.

The Buddhist association that invited the monks to Bangkok’s Victory Monument had a message for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – stop the army killing “innocent people”.

An emergency vehicle raced past, siren wailing, as about 400 monks clad in orange and brown robes gathered at the city landmark on the edge of the Ratchaprarop district on Sunday evening.

Int’l Network of Engaged Buddhists Statement on Thailand

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The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) has just issued a statement on the situation in Thailand. Here it is:

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All Lives are Sacred: A plea to put an end to massive killing in Bangkok

International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

Since the beginning of the demonstration by the United front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), aka “Red Shirts”, on 12 March 2010, there have been many hundreds of casualties. In the past five days, attempts to disperse the demonstration in Ratchaprasong have become been violent, with a further effect of provoking violence. The government’s actions have so far failed to deter the demonstrators.

The present clash of political views is one of the great crises in Siam’s modern history. The country was previously acclaimed for settling conflict peacefully and democratically. Now it appears that both sides, the government and the UDD, are clinging to an illusion of victory over another.  The entire nation is hostage to their conflict. Buddhist wisdom is relevant for those absorbed in hatred, greed and delusion. The Dhammapada, Verse 201 says:

Victory breeds hatred, for the conquered is unhappy.
Persons who have given up both victory and defeat, the contented, they are happy.

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), representing a diversity of socially engaged buddhists from around the world, is gravely concerned about this standoff. We wish for all parties address the conflict with reason and tools of peace, to recognize the ancient Buddhist wisdom that neither the so-called winner nor loser will be contented and happy. We encourage those who do not fall into one of the two camps can help this process wherever possible.  Only through peaceful negotiation and dialogue can all parties concerned return the country to its true nature as a flourishing democracy and a peace-loving nation.

Our heartfelt plea is for both parties to stop any act that may cost lives and injuries;  to reclaim the time-tested wisdom of reconciliation and nonviolence.

Whenever INEB can help bridge the gap between the opposed parties we are willing to do all that we can.

We trust that in the light of upcoming international Vesakh celebrations in Thailand, supported by the United Nations 22-26 May 2010 and the subsequent local Vesakh celebrations, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of the Lord Buddha, all parties will unite in taking responsibility for their conduct and for bringing about lasting peace, transformation towards social justice and shared wellbeing for future generations.

To close, in Verse 5 of the Dhammapada the Buddha proclaims:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By love alone is hatred appeased. This is an eternal law.

International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

Patron, Advisory Committee and Executive Committee Name Lists

PATRONS

His Holiness the Dalai Lama                       Tibet

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh                       France/Vietnam

Venerable Phra Rajpanyamedhi                   Siam (Thailand)

Venerable Bhikshuni Chao Hwei                 Taiwan

ADVISORY COMMITTEE (AC)

Name Organisation Country
Sulak Sivaraksa

(Founder Chair)

Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute

www.sulak-sivaraksa.org

Siam
Raja Dharmapala Dharmavedi Institute Sri Lanka
Jill Jameson Buddhist Peace Fellowship Australia Australia
Dharmachari Lokamitra Jambudvipa Trust

www.jambudvipa.org

India
Ven. Tsering Palmo Ladakh Nuns Association Ladakh/India
Phra Maha Boonchuay Mahachulalongkorn University

http://www.mcu.ac.th

Siam
Phra Phaisan Visalo Buddhika Network for Buddhism and Society

http://www.budnet.org

Siam
Bhikkhuni Dhammananda Songdhammakalyani Monastery Siam
Venetia Walkey Dhamma Park Foundation

www.dhammapark.com

Siam
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Jungto Society

www.jungto.org

South Korea
Rev. Alan Senauke Clear View Project

www.clearviewproject.org

USA
Ven. Sumanalankar Parbatya Bouddha Mission

www.pbm-cht.org

Bangladesh
Hisashi Nakamura Ryukoku University

www.ryukoku.ac.jp

Japan
Rev. Masazumi Okano International Buddhist Exchange Center Japan
Swee-hin Toh University for Peace

www.upeace.org

Costa Rica
Frans Goetghebeur European Buddhist Union

www.e-b-u.org

Belgium

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (EC)

Name Organisation Country
Harsha Navaratne (Chairperson) Sewalanka Foundation

www.sewalanka.org

Sri Lanka
Hans van Willenswaard

(Vice Chairperson)

GNH Program

www.schoolforwellbeing.org

Netherlands/

Siam

Somboon Chungprempree (Interim Executive Secretary) Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) www.semsikkha.org Siam
Douangdeuane Bounyavong Buddhists for Development

www.bdp.org.la

Laos
Hsiang-chou Yo Fo Guang University

www.fgu.edu.tw

Taiwan
Jonathan Watts Think Sangha USA/Japan
Anchalee Kurutach Buddhist Peace Fellowship

www.bpf.org

USA
Poolchawee Ruangwichatorn Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) www.semsikkha.org Siam
Pipob Udomittipong Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation (SNF) www.snf.or.th Siam
Ros Sotha Buddhists and Khmer Society Network

www.bksn.wordpress.com

Cambodia
Mangesh Dahiwale Jambudvipa Trust

www.jambudvipa.org

India
Prashant Varma Deer Park Institute

www.deerpark.in

India
Erica Kang Jungto Society

www.jungto.org

South Korea
Minyong Lee South Korea
Eddy Setiawan HIKMAHBUDHI

www.hikmahbudhi.or.id

Indonesia
Matteo Pistono Nekorpa and RIGPA Fellowship USA
Tashi Zangmo Bhutan
Vidyananda (KV Soon) Malaysia
Harn Burma/Myanmar

More News from Thailand: The Nonviolent Network

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An urgent appeal from Thailand’s Nonviolent Network (original website is in Thai; see this page for Google’s translation into English):

The Nonviolence Network urges all sides to stop killing one another and to stop the civil war. Stop sacrificing people’s lives for political gains. Where is Thailand heading?

Right now, the situation of conflict, the violence and the use of arms from both the soldiers and the protesters have resulted in the loss of lives, as many as 17 people have died and more than 150 are injured. The violent confrontations are happening continuously and are likely to escalate.

The Nonviolence Network and the people hereby appeal to all sides to stop the killing and the civil war. Please stop sacrificing people’s lives for political gains and leading the country into disaster, a situation which cannot be healed. As citizens with rights to live in a safe and sound environment, we ask all sides for the following:

1. For the government to withdraw military forces from all areas of conflict and for the UDD leaders to declare the end of the protest immediately, without conditions.

2. For all those disguised behind the scenes to stop hurting people and stop destroying our society for personal gains.

3. For all officials in the justice system to start collecting evidence that will lead to truth finding in all of the incidents. We believe that only truth sharing will lead to the reduction of conflict.

Nonviolence Network
15 May 2010

Thailand: The Listening Project

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photo from The Brisbane Times

As the violence and internal strife increases in Thailand, we can take some heart in knowing that there are people on the ground there who are dedicated to offering a nonviolent, loving presence.

My friend Anchalee Kurutach, a native of Thailand who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves on the board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, took the time to translate the following statements from those involved with the project.

One of the most moving parts comes at the very end… here it is:

No matter what color shirt we wear and no matter what opinion we have, everyone is a human being who has basic needs, suffering, and pain. We all have someone we love and worry about. May all the pain we see here remind us to help each other as best as we can so there will be no more repeated history, such as this, in our society.

And here is the full translation from Anchalee:

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The Listening Project, Thailand (LPT) consists of a group of volunteers whose mission is to listen to the sufferings, stories and feelings of people who are affected by the violent incidents. The volunteers are there to show sympathy and provide encouragement to all sides, while recognizing them as fellow human beings who suffer, who are in pain, and who experience loss from the incidents in ways that are no different from others. We, the Listening Project volunteers, do not point out what is right or what is wrong. We do we give guidance or use any logic to judge or blame any side. Our main duty is to listen as a friend to the sufferings of fellow human beings and then share some of those stories to the society.

On April 25, 2010, some LPT volunteers went to Lerdsin Hospital to visit the people who were injured from the explosions on Silom Road on April 22, 2010. There were nine patients receiving treatments there.

Patient #1

A 35 year-old female. She sustained an injury from the blast, which severed the ligaments on her middle and ring fingers on her right hand. She said that she worked near Silom Road and regularly commuted back and forth on this road. She had joined the demonstration after work with the Silom community contingent since Wednesday (April 21). On the day of the incident, she decided to join the demonstration and turned off her mobile phone so her family could not get a hold of her. She decided to join the protest because she disagreed with the red shirts’ ideas. And, she did not want the red shirts to close off Ratchaprasong intersection with their gathering because it had an impact on the country’s economy. She also wanted to support the government in their effort to solve this problem and did not want the dissolution of the parliament. She said, “I came to the demonstration by myself. I didn’t invite others to come along because I didn’t want to bother them. I saw how troubled the Silom community have been and I disagree with what UDD does. So I decided to join in. I didn’t expect at all that there would be a violent incident. I am just an ordinary citizen who came to the scene with my heart and with no weapon none whatsoever. There was no mob organizing and no mob leaders. There was no stage for us. We each got there on our own.”

When the incident happened, she was standing in front of Sri Ayutthaya Bank near Au Bon Pain. “There were three blasts but I thought they were nearby and didn’t think it was going to happen where I was standing. But the fourth one did explod behind my back. Everyone scattered and I ran away quickly. I didn’t even know that my fingers got hit. I felt numb on my fingers and when I lifted my hand to look at it, I was so frightened because my fingers were dangling. I was afraid my fingers would fall off completely so I used my other hand to hold them and ran for help from people nearby. Someone drove me to the hospital.”

She said she was very lucky that the shrapnel didn’t hit her wrist and abdomen. This is because when she later examined herself, she found some pieces of shrapnel embedded on her bracelet and there were holes in her purse, resulting from the shrapnel that penetrated through. It was fortunate that she had some documents and cosmetics inside so the shrapnel couldn’t get through to her abdomen. She said, “I didn’t think that just because we came out to protest the UDD, there would be people who disliked us enough to throw grenades to hurt people like this.”

Even though she was injured from the explosion, she said that she still would like the red shirts’demonstration to end peacefully. “I myself didn’t want any violent dispersion of the mob. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt. Even though my injury is just this, I still feel so much pain. If the mob is dispersed (with force), there will be more people that will be hurt like me or more than me. When I watched television and saw people getting hit or hurt, I felt pity and sympathized with them. They must have been quite hurt. Although I disagree with the red shirts, I don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

She said that after this incident, she would not go back to the demonstration again. “When it happened, I only thought of my mom at home. I was very worried about her. I was afraid she would feel miserable. I don’t want my mom to suffer from what happened to me.”

Patient #2

This patient just went through a four-hour surgery to remove the shrapnel that went deep into the right side of her throat and almost hit the main artery. She told us that there were many reasons why she went out to the demonstration that day and the day before. She lived in Saladaeng area but she said the people who came to the protest on the day of the incident (April 22) were people who lived in the area, people who worked in the office nearby, and people from other communities. They all wanted to express their opinions along side those who were affected (by the red shirts’ demonstration) on Silom Road. One important reason for her was that she wanted to show her love and devotion to His Majesty the king. Another reason had to do with her concerns for the trouble of many people who were not permanent employees of the department stores in the Ratchaprasong area. These people were very much affected by the red shirts’ demonstration because their income derived from their daily work, which they could not receive at this time. However, she did not go out to protest to fight with the red shirts. She only wanted to express her opinion. “I wanted people to see that there are also plenty of others who have different opinions.”

“I don’t know who fired the grenades. But even if it were the red shirt, I will not generalize all of them. In a family, if one person did something that is not right, it doesn’t mean the other siblings have to be blamed for it. The red shirt group is much bigger than a family. They have a variety of people.” She continued, “But for sure, I didn’t go out to fight with the red shirts and I don’t want the red shirts or any color shirts to have face the violence the way I did. I don’t want any violence at all.” She expressed her view that “in order to have diversity, we have to listen (to each other).”

“In the past, our country never saw people in conflict with one another. There were only people in conflict with the government. But it’s not like that right now. My friends who came to the demonstration are also from another province. They have relatives that are red shirts. We can have different opinions. But, we probably don’t want the other side to die or get hurt.”

She shared that she did not think anyone would throw the grenades at the gathering of “ordinary people who were without weapons and only carried the national flags” like this. On one hand, if there was a need to blame someone, she would blame herself. “However, if I hadn’t stood right there, if I weren’t the one who got hit, if that space were empty, there might have been others standing in that spot and got hurt instead of me.”

****

No matter what color shirt we wear and no matter what opinion we have, everyone is a human being who has basic needs, suffering, and pain. We all have someone we love and worry about. May all the pain we see here remind us to help each other as best as we can so there will be no more repeated history, such as this, in our society.

Listening Project Volunteers (The Listeners)
25 April 2010

Micro Peacework

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This post originally appeared on Danny Fisher’s blog as part of the Buddhist Blog Swap a couple of weeks ago… including it here now for the archives.

We often think about activism and peacework in grand terms, even grandiose terms. We think it means we have to stop an entire war, save the planet from global warming, eliminate racism. Free Tibet, Save the Redwoods, End Poverty. That’s a big agenda. No wonder we’re exhausted.

Lately I’ve been thinking that two of the most common sources of violence are actually much closer to home, rooted in our own psyches. These are: 1) the tendency to hold tightly to fixed ideas, and 2) the compulsion to rush or speed in our lives.

I realize I’m not saying anything dramatically new here… teachers from the Buddha himself to Thich Nhat Hanh and His Holiness the Dalai Lama say this much better than I could. But it’s such a good teaching that it bears remembering, and we will never run out of chances to practice with these obstructions.

The first, holding tightly to fixed ideas, probably comes our way almost every waking moment. The second, the compulsion to rush or speed, causes harm in more ways than we are probably aware of. The movie “Changing Lanes” (2002, with Ben Affleck and Samuel Jackson) was a great parable on the karma generated by unwholesome actions that are so often fueled by speed. And recently, I posted a wonderful quote by Thomas Merton on that very topic on my blog.

What would it be like to consider that every moment, every interaction, is an opportunity for reversing the karma of those tendencies, and for potent peacemaking? And to consider that these apparently small actions can add up to make a significant difference in the world?

In that spirit, I offer this small, handcrafted batch of peacemaking for you to try, specially blended to work with these two obstructions:

  • Observe Shabbat, the Jewish practice of stopping on the seventh day, of being in stillness and rest. You don’t necessarily have to do it on Saturday, but try it for one day each week and see what happens.
  • Walk (or take the bus or the train) rather than drive your car. Notice how the pace of your life changes. What else happens?
  • Consider a long-held grievance you have against someone and, just for today, let it go. Grant emotional amnesty to that person.
  • Allow someone to cut in front of you in line without going into a hissy fit.
  • Watch yourself closely as you note ideas of scarcity of resources arising. Take a deep breath and practice trusting that there is enough for everyone, that all will be well.
  • Meditate. Meditation is the ultimate act of nonviolence. When you are sitting still, you are living in low impact on the world, and you are regulating your own mind and body to operate in a more sustainable way.

What would you add to this list?

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