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Tag Archives: War and Peace

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?

Buddhist Chaplains in the Military?

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There’s been a lively conversation going on the past few weeks in the Upaya Zen Center’s enewsletter, centering around the question of Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. military, and more generally Buddhist involvement in the military. The stream of dialogue is a great example of how I see a “socially engaged Buddhism beyond labels” taking shape.

It started with the Oct 19 posting of a piece by Hozan Alan Senauke (of The Clear View Project). Alan works with a group, including Lt. Jeanette Shin, to create materials for the more than 5,000 Buddhists who currently serve in the U.S. armed forces. He summarized some of the questions/challenges that the group is faced with:

Is it truly possible to keep the first precept, not taking life? I was asked whether I thought all military and police were “immoral.” What about the military of “Buddhist” nations like Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka? Were conscientious objectors using Buddhism as a pretext for escaping the military, or whether these were serious practitioners. And then, am I substituting my personal sense of morality for another, and is this itself transgressing the Buddha’s precepts?

There’s much more to ponder in his excellent post, and I encourage you to read the entire article. One of the conclusions Alan comes to is around “not knowing:”

I confess to not knowing about the absolute application of nonviolence. I come to nonviolence because I am aware of the violence within me and find that its use has never worked out well for me or those affected by it. But in the face of a totalitarian regime, Burma for example, nonviolence has been crushed again and again. I believe it will triumph in time. But meanwhile, I have never counseled Burmese activists or ethnic groups simply to throw away their weapons. I do not judge them, nor would I or have I hesitated to offer them spiritual words. But the disproportionality of resources and guns in the hands of the Burmese military doesn’t make a good argument for armed insurrection.

Nor do I pretend to know the “best policy” for our country in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Total withdrawal? What will come of that? More troops, what will come of that? Sometimes one has implacable enemies, who control their own people with fear. (One could argue that is how the U.S. government has tried to control its own people these last eight years.) How does one stand up against this implacable wish to do harm? So now we have a tangled mess.

The next week, Gerald Virtbauer, a Buddhist scholar and psychologist from Austria, began his response with this:

I have been following the implementation of the first Buddhist chaplain in the US forces in the media the last weeks, as well with mixed feelings. I think it is, indeed, an unholy alliance and there would be the chance for Western Zen Buddhists to clearly state that this kind of history of aligning Buddhism with military needs should not be continued to be written in the Western context.

Gerald’s full response can be found here.

And then the week after, Shari Naismith, a former police office who will be starting Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program next year, responded as well. An excerpt:

As I understand it, (and forgive me as I am new to Buddhism), the main thread to Buddhist thought is “compassion in entirety”. Leaving nothing out. Then, as I understand it, (again, forgive me if I am wrong), the main thread in being a Buddhist Chaplain is using this found state of being, lets call it “living compassion”, and taking that inner state to those in suffering. Am I off base here?

Then I ask, why would a Buddhist Chaplain, (maybe even any Buddhist for that matter), want to separate oneself from ANY organization that is clearly producing large amounts of suffering?

Shari’s full response is here.

I think the important thing here is how each of them are turning over this question in a spirit of wholehearted inquiry. It brings up the even bigger question of compassion, and how each of us defines it. There is no one answer, nor should there be.

What do you think?

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