Being Peace in a Time of War

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Dear Still Water Friends,

The tradition of engaged mindfulness practice teaches us that ourinsights and our actions must go together. We are encouraged tocultivate peace in our own hearts and to work with others tonourish peace in the world. The twelfth mindfulness training of the

Aware that much suffering iscaused by war and conflict, I am determined to cultivate non-violence,understanding and compassion in my daily life, to promote peaceeducation, mindful mediation and reconciliation, within families,communities, nations and in the world. I am determined not to kill andnot to let others kill. I will diligently practice deep looking with mySangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war. 

It has never been easy to cultivate peace in a time of war. Byits nature, war creates animosities and partisanship, not only betweenthe warring parties, but within each side, among those who differ intheir understandings and visions. 

An important question we will consider this Thursday is: How can wework for peace in a way that opens our hearts and opens the hearts ofthose we wish to influence?

Joining us for this discussion will be three of the organizers of theBuddhist Peace Delegation events planned for this weekend inWashington: 

  • Maia Duerr, Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship,
  • Margaret Howe, Past Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and
  • Bhante Suhita Dharma, the Prison Program Coordinator for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship

You are invited to join with us.

An excerpt on peaceful protest by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

By Thich Nhat Hanh from For a Future to Be Possible

When we protest against a war, for example, we may assume that we are apeaceful person, a representative of peace, but this might not be true.If we look deeply, we will observe that the roots of war are in theunmindful ways we have been living. We have not sown enough seeds ofpeace and understanding in ourselves and others, therefore we areco-responsible: “Because I have been like this, they are likethat.” A more holistic approach is the way of“interbeing”: “This is like this, because that islike that.” This is the way of understanding and love. With thisinsight, we can see clearly and help our government see clearly. Thenwe can go to a demonstration and say, “This war is unjust,destructive, and not worthy of our great nation.” This is farmore effective than angrily condemning others. Anger always acceleratesthe damage.

All of us, even pacifists, have pain inside. We feel angry andfrustrated, and we need to find someone willing to listen to us who iscapable of understanding our suffering. In Buddhist iconography, thereis a bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara who has one thousand arms and onethousand hands, and has an eye in the palm of each hand. One thousandhands represent action, and the eye in each hand representsunderstanding. When you understand a situation or a person, any actionyou do will help and will not cause more suffering. When you have aneye in your hand, you will know how to practice true nonviolence.

To practice nonviolence, first of all we have to practice it withinourselves. In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and acertain amount of nonviolence. Depending on our state of being, ourresponse to things will be more or less nonviolent. Even if we takepride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that thewater in which we boil our vegetables contains many tinymicroorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by beingvegetarian, we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want tohead north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossibleto arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in thatdirection.
Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even army generals. They may, forexample, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocentpeople. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have tobe in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps — theviolent and the nonviolent — and stand in one camp while attacking theother, the world will never have peace. We will always blame andcondemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice,without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must workon ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have areal impact.

It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, eventhose who act violently. We have to approach them with love in ourhearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence.If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is notan end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.

Most important is to become nonviolence, so that when a situationpresents itself, we will not create more suffering. To practicenonviolence, we need gentleness, loving kindness, compassion, joy, andequanimity directed to our bodies, our feelings, and other people. Withmindfulness — the practice of peace — we can begin by working totransform the wars in ourselves. There are techniques for doing this.Conscious breathing is one. Every time we feel upset, we can stop whatwe are doing, refrain from saying anything, and breathe in and outseveral times, aware of each in-breath and each out-breath. If we arestill upset, we can go for walking meditation, mindful of each slowstep and each breath we take. By cultivating peace within, we bringabout peace in society. It depends on us. To practice peace inourselves is to minimize the numbers of wars between this and thatfeeling, or this and that perception, and we can then have real peacewith others as well, including the members of our own family.