Dear Still Water Friends,
In 2002 Israeli novelist and peace activist Amos Oz wrote an essay in which he called the discord between Israelis Jews and Palestinian Arabs “a painful conflict between right and right, between two very powerful, very convincing claims over the same small country.” He compared the situation to a divorced couple with no other housing options having to work out a way to continue to live together in their small apartment. Giving each one of them a separate bedroom might be an easy decision, more complicated would be how to share the bathroom and the kitchen. How could they live together in peace so both could flourish?
To continue Oz’s simile, after many decades of sharing the apartment without acceptance, understanding, and compassion, the divorced couple are now striking out at each other with great violence, and the violence has spread to their extended families.
With images of violence and destruction in Gaza and Israel prominent in our media and our minds, we will focus our attention this Thursday evening on the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
Reflecting on the training this past week, I kept coming back to the phrase: “Do not let others kill.”
How do we do that?
In the final sentence of the training, Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) points to where we can begin. If we practice whole-heartedly and “cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views” we can reduce our own and the world’s “violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism.” But sometimes, it seems, even that is not enough.
I find Thay’s consul on nonviolence to be subtle, open-hearted, and non-dogmatic. During a In 2011, during a question and answer session, a practitioner asked him: “In the face of extreme violence such as genocide is it ever acceptable to respond to violence with action, including even violent action? Thay began by explaining that it is our inner intention that determines whether a response is nonviolent or violent, not what we do or don’t do:
Nonviolent action is not a technique. It is a way, not a technique. The foundation of nonviolent action is understanding and compassion. When you have understanding and compassion in your heart everything you do will be nonviolent.
Suppose someone is killing, someone is breaking the law and you arrest him and put him in jail. Arresting that person and putting him in jail, is that violent or nonviolent? It depends on the situation. If you arrest that person, if you lock him up and yet you do it because of understanding and compassion, that is nonviolent action.
Even if you don’t do anything, you allow the people to kill and to destroy, although you don’t do anything, that is also violence. Violence can be action or non-action. The outer appearance might be violent, but if you do it with a mind of understanding and compassion, it is not truly violent. …
Nonviolent action should be conceived as a long-term action. When you teach your child, when you tell your child how to act, you are having nonviolent action. You don’t wait until the child grows up and begins to destroy or to kill before you teach them. You have to use preventative measures. …
I think nonviolence can never be completely absolute. We can say that we should be as nonviolent as we can. When we think of the military, we think that the things that the military do are only violent. But to conduct an army, to protect a town, to stop an invasion of a foreign army, there are many ways to do it. And there are more violent ways, and there are less violent ways. You can always choose.
Maybe it is not possible to do it 100% nonviolent, but 80% nonviolent is better than 10% nonviolent! See? So don’t ask for an absolute. That is the way we practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. You cannot be perfect in the practice. Do not worry that you will not be perfect. … what is important is that you are determined to go that way. You do your best, that is what we need. … So the Five Trainings are like that. You should go in the direction of understanding and compassion. You don’t have to be perfect. If you know that you are doing your best, that is good enough for the Sangha. That is, good enough for the Buddha. So nonviolence is the same. We have to do our best.
I am horrified, scared, and deeply saddened by the violence and destruction that has occurred over the past month in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Using a phrase from the Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, I don’t want to be a “guilty bystander.” When I ask myself “What is it that I can do today?” four sorts of actions come to mind.I can pray for a ceasefire, for an increase in compassion and understanding among all parties, and for a process that leads to a lasting and just peace. I can let my elected officials and others know of my desire for peace. The world-wide Plum Village community recently posted about the conflict and included a guided meditation, and a letter to President Biden.
I can send Metta (loving-kindness) to all who live in Israel and Palestine. I can picture individuals and groups in my mind and sincerely say, “May you be well in body and mind,” May you be safe from inner and outer dangers,” “May you be truly happy and free.” When I do this practice, I include the leaders of Israel and Hamas. I believe if they felt a bit more safe and happy, their hearts would be more open and their actions would be less violent.
I can give spiritual and financial support to organizations working to nourish compassion and understanding in Israel and Palestine, such as:
And I can offer moral and financial support to the organizations already responding to the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, such as:
This Thursday evening, after our sitting and walking meditation, we will begin our Dharma sharing exploring these questions:
- Is there a phrase or idea in the First Mindfulness Training that is especially alive for you tonight?
- How do you practice “not to let others kill”?
- In what ways do Thay’s teachings, including the First Mindfulness Training, guide your response to the ongoing conflict Israelis Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
This week is the first of our five preparatory classes for those interested in receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings on Saturday, January 6th, 2024.
You are warmly invited to join us this Thursday.