Being Peacemakers
Photo by Disha Sheta

Being Peacemakers

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 22, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Last Thursday evening our program began with a guided meditation to bring awareness to what was arising in our body, feelings, emotions, and mental states. Then we brought to mind the violence and suffering currently happening in the Middle East and repeated the guided meditation. Later, in our Dharma sharing, we talked about how our body, feelings, emotions, and mental states changed when we envisioned the situation in the Middle East. Most of those who shared immediately went to the sadness, despair, shame, fear, rage, and hopelessness they experienced. Many said they felt overwhelmed and disconnected and that they didn’t see anything they could do to reduce the pain they were feeling or to change the situation in the Middle East.

That seems like a good place to pick up the conversation for this week.

Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy), like the Buddha and the early Mahayana teachers, had a deep understanding of the prevailing spiritual illnesses of his time and combined that understanding with a plan for treatment. Thầy often used the term “Engaged Buddhism” to distinguish his perspective. In a 2008 talk in Hanoi, he explained:

When we speak about engaged Buddhism, we speak first of a kind of Buddhism that is present in our daily life at every moment. When [people] hear about engaged Buddhism, they think of fighting for social justice, fighting for human rights, organizing demonstrations, and so on. But that is not true. That is part of the practice, but not the basic part. The basic part is to have the practice alive in every moment of your daily life. You should be there in order to attend to what is happening in the here and now, in the realm of the body, the realm of the mind, the realm of environment.

Thầy teaches that we can change the world by changing ourselves. We can learn to calm ourselves in all situations. We can learn to respond more and react less. We can notice when our daily actions create ill will rather than goodwill, separation rather than connection. We can become willing to lean into the inevitable conflicts that enter our lives and work toward reducing or dissolving them, even while recognizing that we will not always be successful. Are we willing to try?

And when we become aware of great suffering close to us or far away, rather than ignoring the suffering, or turning away, can we find ways to reduce or relieve the suffering? Thầy writes in Peace is Every Step:

Mindfulness Must Be Engaged 

When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help the people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection, we decided to do both—to go out and help people and to do so in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?

We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things. Are you massaging our Mother Earth every time your foot touches her? Are you planting seeds of joy and peace? I try to do exactly that with every step, and I know that our Mother Earth is most appreciative. Peace is every step. Shall we continue our journey?

This Thursday evening, after our meditation time, we will continue our heart-to-heart sharing in relation to the conflicts in the Middle East. What are we doing, or could be doing, as peacemakers to nourish peace, love, and compassion and to relieve suffering? When I ask myself this question, four types of actions come to mind.

I can learn more and look more deeply into both the roots of the conflicts and ways of reducing or resolving the conflicts. I am finding that many of the things I thought were true or simple are not so true or simple. Over the past few months I have benefited greatly from

  • engaging with and listening to people within the Still Water community and the larger Plum Village community who wanted to talk about the Middle East conflicts;
  • engaging with people on the ground in Israel and Palestine, or with people who have relatives there. Especially helpful was a Buddhist Peace Fellowship video with Sami Awad, Kazu Haga, and Miki Kashtan;
  • reading books and articles that help me deepen my understanding. Over the past few months I have found these readings to be particularly helpful:
    • The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Long Shadow of 1948,” a New York Times Magazine online article that features Palestinian and Jewish historians sharing their understanding of the decisions that led to the founding of Israel
    • Apeirogon: A Novel, a kaleidoscopic account by the Irish author Collum McCann of the lives and struggles of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, and Rami Elhanan, a Jewish-Israeli. Both are former combatants and bereaved parents, and they find a way to work together for peace and understanding in the Middle East.
    • How to Cure a Fanatic, three essays by Amos Oz, a Jewish-Israeli novelist and peace activist, based on talks given in 2002

I can learn about and support the on-the-ground peacemakers in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. There are many. Here are a few that I know about:

I can financially support humanitarian relief groups that are now active in Gaza. Three that I have contributed to are:

I can advocate for peace in other ways. Recently I received an email from the Fellowship of Reconciliation that encouraged members to join a “Pilgrimage for Peace: Philadelphia to Washington, DC.” I was moved by the compassion and clarity of their statement of purpose:

Moved by our conscience, firm in the knowledge that responding to violence with more violence will not result in peace, and mourning the 1,200 Israelis killed on October 7 and 30,000 Palestinians killed since, we will use our prayers and bodies to urge President Biden and Congress to stem the bloodshed in the Holy Land.

We will march and plead for:

    • Ceasefire
    • A halt of weapons funding to Israel
    • Unfettered humanitarian aid to Gaza
    • A peaceful resolution that upholds the principles of justice and compassion.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation was formed in 1914 in Europe and 1915 in the U.S. in the conviction that war is an abomination in the eyes of G-d. Over 100 years later, we cry out again with this truth. We will either sow seeds of nonviolence today or reap nonexistence tomorrow.

I’m planning to join the Pilgrimage for Peace marchers on February 21 as they walk the eleven miles from Greenbelt, Maryland, to the White House. (If you are interested in joining, the group departs from Greenbelt Park at 8 am and there will be a rally around 1 pm in Lafayette Square Park, in front of the White House.)

Looking forward to being with you on Thursday evening.

The peacemaking poem “Taking Sides” by Irwin Keller is below.

Warm wishes and many blessings,
Mitchell Ratner


A Poem by Irwin Keller, written on October 17, 2023

Taking Sides

Today I am taking sides.

I am taking the side of Peace.

Peace, which I will not abandon
even when its voice is drowned out
by hurt and hatred,
bitterness of loss,
cries of right and wrong.

I am taking the side of Peace
whose name has barely been spoken
in this winnerless war.

I will hold Peace in my arms,
and share my body’s breath,
lest Peace be added
to the body count.

I will call for de-escalation
even when I want nothing more
than to get even.
I will do it
in the service of Peace.

I will make a clearing
in the overgrown
thicket of cause and effect
so Peace can breathe
for a minute
and reach for the sky.

I will do what I must
to save the life of Peace.
I will breathe through tears.
I will swallow pride.
I will bite my tongue.
I will offer love
without testing for deservingness.

So don’t ask me to wave a flag today
unless it is the flag of Peace.
Don’t ask me to sing an anthem
unless it is a song of Peace.
Don’t ask me to take sides
unless it is the side of Peace.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 22, 2024


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