For many years we’ve heard the same slogan called out again and again, a cry for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine: “Peace in the Middle East!” In October, this call will be heard once again, but this time it will not be shouted out or scrawled on posters. It will be cried out another way: by the silent presence of peace walkers.
Led by the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, the Israeli peace walk organizer Dr. Stephen Fulder, and the Palestinian peace negotiator Professor Sami Al-Kilani, the silent walk around New York’s Central Park will echo a decade of similar walks in Israel and Palestine. In fact, the New York walk will occur simultaneously with one along the Green Line, the border between Israel and Palestine. Without flags, placards, or posters of any kind, the silent walkers hope to embody a spirit of calmness, confidence, and mindful empathy, acknowledging the suffering that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused and hoping for genuine peace in the future.
Although part of the New York Peace Walk’s purpose is to serve as an example of how Palestinians and Israelis can live together in harmony together in the same city, the walk is open to people of all faiths, including Buddhists. But what part exactly can Buddhism play in a dialogue between Abrahamic faiths? What can a Buddhist practitioner offer to expressions of peace? Emma Varvaloucas of Tricycle spoke with Jack Kornfield, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Center, in Woodacre, California, to discuss his own participation as a leader in the peace walk. Kornfield and his colleagues draw inspiration from Buddhism’s longstanding tradition of peace work, which dates from the Buddha’s own (unsuccessful) attempts to stop war between two ancient Indian kingdoms.
Why did you decide to get involved in the New York Peace Walk? In Zen they say there are only two things: you sit, and you sweep the garden. And so my sense of dharma practice, which informs and inspires my life, is to sit and quiet my mind, open my heart, and then get up and sweep the garden of the world.
There are half a million Muslims, two million Jews, and so many others who all live together in harmony in New York. We want to show the world that this is possible. Not with big signs and banners and protesting against something, but to demonstrate that we as human beings can live together in a harmonious way. Because of the great suffering that’s happened in the Middle East, at this time it feels very important to tend to this garden.
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