Dharma Topic: Mindfulness, Compassion, and Iraqi Brutalities

Dharma Topic: Mindfulness, Compassion, and Iraqi Brutalities

Discussion date: Thu, May 13, 2004 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Mindfulness,Compassion, and Iraqi brutalities


DearStill Water Friends,


This Thursday evening, after our 7:30 sitting, we will focus our discussion on the Iraqi brutalities – the behaviorof US guards and interrogators in Iraqi prisons, and now the beheading of anAmericans civilian in Iraq by an al Qaeda-linked group.


Originally,our topic was to be “Planning for Mindfulness,” about arranging our days sothey are mindful and happy, for us and for those around us. But as I wrote upthe description, today my heart wasn’t fully in it. I’m deeply distressed bythe events in Iraqi and want to talk with others in our community about it.


We’llbegin our discussion by sharing from our hearts what we are feeling now aboutthese brutalities: our fears, confusion, sadness, helplessness, estrangement,denial, and other emotions.


Thenwe’ll turn to the question of how we can mindfully embrace both thebrutalities and our own feelings. How we can we acknowledge them and not beoverwhelmed by them? How we can regain a sense of peace and hope? How can we actwith integrity and compassion?


Inlooking around for a reading, I found a wonderfully clear discussion, writtenalmost a year ago, about an engaged Buddhist response to the Iraqi War. Itwas written by Alan Senauke, a Zen teacher and former head of the BuddhistPeace Fellowship. The article, “The Empire Strikes Back” is available on theweb at http://bpf.org/html/current_projects/peace_pages/Empire_strikes.pdf.Two sections are below.


Youare invited to join us this Thursday evening.


Maywe all walk in peace,




****Excerpts from “The Empire Strikes Back” by Alan Senauke*****


Americanstoday are compelled to lend our consent to empire; to inhabit a swirling,addictive culture of blind social privilege, sexualization, consumption, fear,and delusion. We are intoxicated by force and power, so drunk with it that wecannot see ourselves, though the rest of the world sees us so clearly. We livein a postmodern stew in which American citizens are more products thanprotagonists. We are professional consumers to be cultivated, an audience to bedelivered to multinational corporations by way of great spectacles-wars, movies,television, and sports.


America is founded and rooted in principles of individual liberation that can stillpoint us toward freedom. But there has always been a tension in America between individualism and social justice. Businessmen and self-servingpoliticians turn principles on their head.


Tobe an engaged Buddhist, to be any kind of religious activist, means to believethat natural ethical principles will prevail. It also means removing one’sconsent from an empire based on suffering and exploitation. Stepping aside fromprivilege and opposing empire is a difficult practice. Society is the ocean in whichwe swim, the air we breathe. No one exists outside of society. But the dharma or”law” that describes the workings of our individual self, also appliesto the structures and systems of society. Just as each of us manifests a no-selfthat is co-created from various elements and conditions, our cultural and socialself is likewise co-created.


ShakyamuniBuddha said “I come to teach about dukkha, and the end of dukkha.”Dukkha implies something more than “suffering,” as it is oftentranslated. Dukkha is the gnawing sense that something about ourselves islacking, incomplete, unsatisfactory, or painful. The end of dukkha is not thatthere is no more pain or discomfort in our lives. We end dukkha by actuallyaccepting that things are impermanent and incomplete. No human or godly effortcan make it otherwise, and that is okay. The 14th century Zen master Eihei Dogenwrote “When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that somethingis missing.” When we heed the Buddha’s words, we realize too thatliberation has a social dimension. A vow naturally arises not to live at theexpense of other beings.




Asfollowers of the Buddha Way, we vow to save all sentient beings from suffering. Therefore we must withdrawout consent from the “coalition of the willing.” Our power resides in theprecept of not harming life and in the heart of compassion. As Americans wevalue the principles raised in our nations founding, the same principles raisedin the active witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. As citizens of the world westand with the most oppressed and vow not to further their oppression. In doingso we honor the young Germans of the White Rose. And we bring to mind thenonviolent power of Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Aung San Suu Kyi, Vaclav Havel, KenSaro-Wiwa, and countless women and men whose names we have yet to learn. We vowto live like them. We invoke the bodhisattva as described in the VimalakirtiSutra: During the short aeons of swords, They meditate on love, Introducing tononviolence Hundreds of millions of living beings.17 This the work ofbodhisattvas…our work. If we do our work well, the empire will strike outgracefully, walking back to the bench with dignity. The game of life willcontinue. May we be worthy and determined to accomplish peace and liberation forall.

Discussion Date: Thu, May 13, 2004


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