Friday, April 11, 2003

War is Zen

Look, some of the things they tell you about war are true. The colors are brighter, the mind races ahead of itself, you are awake, aware in a way that you have never been before. War is Zen. And that's true. It is an incredibly, at once, horrifying and exhilarating experience.

The only antidote is love. It's the only force that can overpower you to such an extent that you can no longer go to war. Of those people who I have seen who were most able to resist the intoxification of war, most were couples who had good, powerful, loving relationships. They didn't fall for the nationalist rhetoric or the drumbeat of war.

AlterNet: The Roots of War "Addiction" provides only a pallid and imprecise analogy for the human relationship to war; parasitism – or even predation – is more to the point. However and whenever war began, it has persisted and propagated itself with the terrifying tenacity of a beast attached to the neck of living prey, feeding on human effort and blood.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Zen and war The freedom Zen offers is to realize that moment to moment you have to make a decision, so moment to moment you have to decide whether you’re going to march against, say, your government’s policies, or whether you’re going to support them in whatever way you can. But you can’t make a rule, lay down a principle, and say, "This is what Buddhism says about war," "This is what Buddhism says about this issue or that," because immediately what arises before you is the other side. This is a very difficult idea to accept: although we all want a path, a right way, we can’t have the kind of certainty we crave. There’s always the other side.
Tibetan Buddhism has a reputation for being 'pacifist'. My original point referred to our desire to find some 'liberated zone' where peace prevails and which is not tainted by war. If Buddhism in general is not strictly that 'liberated zone' than perhaps one strand of it is. Actually, no. Even Tibetan Buddhism has known a lot of violence and war. Tibet has a colourful history, not much of which has been marked by peace. This history of Tibet has some references to notable Tibetan Buddhist leaders and their not-very-pacifist armies (but don't bother reading it if you already disagree with me). I think Tibetan Buddhism is as pacifist as the present Dalai Lama has made it. Likewise, by way of comparison, American Protestant Christianity is as non-violent as Martin Luther King has made it. I have the utmost respect for their efforts and methods.

As far as I can see, the Buddha seems to have taught what today might be called pacifism. It's sad, but perhaps not surprising, that others have interpreted him diferently (OK I'm skipping over the thorny question of whether the Buddha actually said any of what he supposedly said, and indeed whether he actually existed). But isn't this what happens with many great teachers of peace? I think Jesus is the best example of this. Anyone who can run a war on the basis of following Jesus has to be an expert at doublethink, but plenty have managed it, including staunch Methodists George Bush Jnr and Donald Rumsfeld (I think Tariq Aziz is also a Christian). If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, he'd be spinning in his grave (that was a weak attempt at a joke, by the way, and I hope no-one has been offended).

If we can't find the 'pure expression' in the religious tradition, we try to go back to the founder, who must surely have taught the real thing. Religions like Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism have a long history of doing just this. The result? Umpteen varieties of the same thing, all competing to be the 'truest'.

It's true that Zen and other offshoots of the Buddha's teaching are quite different, but they all trace themselves back to the Buddha, who, arguably, was the one who taught pacifism. Tibetan Buddhism is no more 'pure' than any of the other versions of Buddhism (although, presumably, the adherents of every version of Buddhism have reasons to belive their version is, well, better.

It pains me to think that Buddhism is not historically as purely pacifist as I would like it to be. Happily the Buddha taught that everything that marked him out (enlightenment etc) was available to all people, and that by taking seriously the four noble truths, the basis for peace and happiness is within all. This is why I believe that the seeds of peace are present in everyone. They just need watering.

Would there be less war if everyone was a Buddhist? Maybe. Would thre be less war if everyone was into deep ecology? Maybe. But maybe these aren't the right kind of questions. A very worthwhile book on building 'cultures of peace' is Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (Syracuse University Press, 2000) by Elise Boulding. (Read a review.)

Christian theologian Walter Wink calls the present (perennial) set up of the oppressed being forced to support the oppressors in their plans for war 'the domination system', and claims that its religion is not Christianity or Islam (and certainly not Buddhism!), but 'the myth of redemptive violence'.

"May we exist like the lotus - at home in a muddy pond.
Thus we bow to life as it is."

It would be nice to romanticise certain religions, as though there's a 'liberated zone' somewhere in the world that is free of war and the ideologies of war. Unfortunately there isn't. Although Buddhism is generally speaking a peace loving religion (or philosophy or whatever), there are some notable exceptions.

People who think Buddhism has a great pacifist record should read Brian Victoria's book, Zen at War, which indicts some well known Japanese Zen teachers with actively promoting Japanese militarism in the pre-war period, and supporting massacres in China.

Also worth reading on this subject is In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka by Tessa J. Bartholomeusz. She shows how certain Buddhist texts and stories have been used to defend war against Tamils in Buddhist terms.

Unfortunately, war is everywhere and the seeds of war are in each one of us. Happily, though, peace is everywhere and the seeds of non-violence are in each one of us. With each word and thought and action we have to choose which seeds we will water.

To help us on the way there are sereral well-known Buddhist exemplars of non-violence, such as

the Dalai Lama,

Thich Nhat Hanh,

Aung San Suu Kyi,

AT Ariyaratne,

Sulak Sivaraksa,

Joanna Macy,

a whole generation of leaders who have consistently chosen to embody the way of peace. And to them, much respect.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Nope, not a peep. Well I'm posting this via Blogbuddy. If you can read this I can confidently say that BlogBuddy works.
Well it nearly works. A gentle shove just here and a tap with the hammer and before you know it, it'll...

Bells and Whistles

Adding various bits and pieces to this site. Counter, comments, trying out WebBuddy etc. Will it work? Of course it won't.

Swimming with awareness

Back to swimming meditation. Not much time in my life for actual good old meditation meditation. Mostly clearing up the toys meditation, or fixing up the house meditation. Anyway, I've noticed I can maintain awareness better while swimming in the longet 50 metre pool, rather than the indoor 25 m pool. Reaching the end breaks the rhythm, and I find I have to start focussing again.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Diet for a Mindful Planet

A commentary on the Fifth Precept as interpreted by Thich Nhat Hanh
Fifth Mindfulness Training of Thich Nhat Hanh Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.


Gees, is it really that long sice I last logged anything? Did I go to sleep for two weeks? Someone wake me up! Oh, I'm awake already.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

"I wish to live my life deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and not when I come to die, discover that I had not lived."
- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

What's new?

Computer down for a couple of days.
Am reading through Thich Naht Hanh's version of the five precepts, some of which have been posted here.
On Thursday last at the sangha we did a guided meditation on them, then there is a discussion this coming Thursday.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Listening and Talking in the Present Moment

The Fourth mindfulness training of Thich Nhat Hanh Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
Thich Nhat Hanh has a commentary on the 4th Precept.