Attachment to Peace
Thank you for the concise interviews in “Peace: How Realistic Is It?” [Summer 2003]. Unfortunately, like most interviews about peace in the Buddhist press, they were steeped in shopworn antiwar rhetoric. However hard you and the interviewees tried, you failed to find a Middle Way.
I will focus on the interview with Zarko Andricevic because it is typical of what so many Buddhists today argue. You described him as a Croatian Buddhist who has applied “the Buddha’s teachings to a legacy of war.” Sadly, his remarks are based on a faulty assumption. Although he says that “clear seeing, with the application of moral guidelines, makes it possible to resist the call to war,” he does not say where those moral guidelines come from. Practicing Zen meditation alone will not automatically make you a “moral” person—a quick look at Brian Victoria’s Zen at War will tell you that. Mr. Andricevic sidesteps the issue by invoking his Ch’an Buddhist practice of “nonreactivity to external events,” although he preempts any charge of callous disengagement by saying “this is not to be mistaken for a retreat into inactivity and apathy.” On the contrary, he writes, “not to take either side ideologically is to be on both sides compassionately.” This is nothing more than clever, if endearing, semantics.
A more carefully conceived moral philosophy is required, but the author does not provide one. He skirts such pressing issues as self-defense: When one is under attack, what does one do? Wait, in our case, for still more terrorist attacks?
The issues are far more complex than the contributors to this section have allowed for, and it is naïve to ascribe all terrorist violence, as contextualists like Mr. Andricevic do, to “poverty, political repression, and economic injustice.” Indeed, we need look no further than Al Qaeda to see that purveyors of the worst sort of violence can be motivated by none of these.
The search for external causality as an epistemological ground of morality can make us unwitting apologists for evil. What if no amount of aid or understanding can stem the desire of a terrorist—whether in the Balkans, the Middle East, or here in America—to wage war “by any means necessary”? Are we to sit back in our enlightened Buddhist “nonreactivity to external events,” feel compassion for the terrorist, do nothing, and die? No, thank you. Attachment to peace at any cost, in the mixed-up world in which we live, is tantamount to collective suicide. War should always be the last option in resisting aggression, but just because it is the last option does not mean it should never be an option.
—James Marshall Crotty, New York, New York
Many, many thanks for the blessing of your Spring 2003 issue. I now hope you won’t be offended by a letter that is politically (and Tricyclically!) incorrect, and that differs from the “standard opinion.”
Robert Thurman made several interesting points in his article “Cool Heroism,” and he eloquently expressed his anger and his frustration with American warmongering. He demonstrated realism and courage in addressing the complex issues of justice and violence in an imperfect, dukkha-ridden world. Four implied ideas seem commendable: that an unwanted option like force may not always be the worst available option; that force should be considered only if no reasonable alternative exists (but when used, used decisively); that any force must be managed with mindfulness and humaneness; and that a positive goal must be intended.
Nevertheless, the article showed astonishing unfamiliarity with post-World War II American military doctrine and training, and with the limitations of military power. Furthermore, the article appeared to grossly misrepresent the people in the American military. The assertion that postwar American military power relies primarily on “carpet bombing” of civilians, “blanket annihilative violence,” and “civilian bombing” is wrong, at best. The American military has tried to apply the classical principle of concentrated and massed force, but this is hardly synonymous (or compatible) with carpet bombing or killing babies.
On the contrary, the American military has made remarkable efforts to avoid civilian casualties (even when the adversary takes advantage of this sensitivity); it has made unprecedented attempts to develop and deploy highly accurate weaponry (which has greatly reduced civilian damage); it has shown commendable flexibility and progress in correcting institutional errors; and it has integrated items like the Law of Armed Conflict into training and planning. (Experts familiar with the Law of Armed Conflict are veto-wielding members of the strategic targeting team, and adherence to this law is a graded part of nearly every field exercise.) We should recognize these efforts, although a single death is a death too many. Sure, in conflict things do not always proceed as planned (I also doubt if a surgeon invented the phrase “surgical precision,” and perfection is elusive even in the relatively abstract world of academia), but saying the American military advocates and practices a wholesale, wanton killing of innocent civilians (or even combatants) is just plain wrong and effectively slanders the motives and integrity of those who make the sacrifice of wearing a military uniform.
The Tricycle editorial staff might also want to research American military doctrine, practice, and training so they will perform as well as they normally do when editing future articles. Perhaps it is not out of place for the staff to request some directed metta for those whose duties include our protection—including our armed forces, our police, our firefighters, our parents, and all who have put their lives at significant risk to help us.
—Dr. Victor P. Bradford, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Thought for Food
Having worked for thirty years with people who suffer with issues of food, eating, weight, and body image, I was delighted to read “Eating and the Wheel of Life” [Summer 2003]. In private psychotherapy practice, in teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction as it relates to these matters, and in group therapy and classroom settings I have used many of the tenets set out in this article. I am grateful, too, to have learned more. This is not a simple issue, and it does not have an easy resolution. With a deep bow of respect and gratitude to Sandra Weinberg for opening the discussion, I would like to add what I have found helpful in my many years of working in this field.
I am in strong agreement that embodiment is at the core of this struggle, and, in fact, I pose the very same question: “How do you know when you have had enough?” In terms of learning to be in the body, I also ask, “Where do you go to find that answer?” Many people suffering with disordered eating end their binges when the food is gone, when the phone rings, or someone walks into the room. Since, as Sandra Weinberg notes, we are “a nation obsessed with food,” and obsession plays out in the head, it is imperative to cultivate a kinder relationship of trust to the body. Indeed, the whole process of accepting the body’s reality is a significant part of mindfulness training. Because food obsession and addiction are ingrained in our culture, this “living a little distance from our bodies” is not our fault. It is, however, our path, or our dharma perhaps, to heal this disconnection.
One way we maintain the illusion of a mind-body split is in the repeated use of the terms “compulsive eaters,” “overeaters,” and “food addicts.” Labels tend to draw people toward judgments and away from the present-moment truth in the body. As soon as we say, “I am a compulsive overeater,” that limited self-description seduces us into ceasing our investigation. We have defined ourselves; we stop paying attention.
Therefore, can we observe what’s happening in our overeating without calling ourselves “overeaters”? My personal and clinical experience has taught me that habits are more likely to change when seen as behaviors rather than character traits in the “self.”
Weinberg’s sidebar “How to Say No” offers an important way of acting on our discernment and of stopping unskillful patterns. Can we also become aware of that to which we want to say yes? Experience has shown that thinking of willpower as only saying no brings up bodily tension, a pushing away, aversion. Can we stop and say yes to our full potential first? When we know our path, when we know who we really are, then extra food is a diversion, and saying no is simpler.
—Susan L. Young, Portland, Maine
Of Like Mind
As a senior member of the Lotus Flower Sangha, I’ve heard many interpretations of uncontrollable mind chatter. After reading Wes Nisker’s “A Mind with a Mind of Its Own” [Summer 2003], I was compelled to share it with my fellow sangha members, especially the new students. Very well done, Mr. Nisker. Your story is one that we’ve all experienced, in one way or another. And I’m sure that your words will help to create a level of understanding for many who read them.
I close in haiku:
Once more I have vowed
to quiet this busy mind
again and again
—Juan Ando Rogers, Stormville, New York
I admire Joe Franke’s courage in trying to unravel a perceived imbalance in nature [“The Appetite of Birds: The Challenge of Nonkilling,” Summer 2003]. He writes, “I will freely admit to assigning greater value to the native, the rare, and the endemic when there is a competing claim to existence with an introduced organism.” His note that the Buddha was perfectly clear about nonkilling being applied to human beings leads me to smell speciesism on the part of Mr. Franke in favor of his own kind.
His article suggests that the introduction of nonnative species is bound to lead to imbalance. Trying to restore balance through destructive means—killing—is a symptom of the mind’s loss of equilibrium, of no longer accepting what is present.
Presented with the dharma, with nature as it is, the way of things is to arise and pass away. Human beings interfere enough already with the planet, to ill effect. We have a great deal to learn by being in nature, by letting go the reins of control to observe the dharma as it is. Joe Franke’s practice is an interesting but devastating interference.
—Anthony Stapleton, London, United Kingdom
Joe Franke Responds
Mr. Stapleton points to one of the great dynamic tensions within Buddhism: the appropriateness of engagement. It may be the case that he is confusing engagement with causing “devastating interference.”
It’s clear that the Buddha made distinctions between humans and other species, with regard to our evolutionary status (in a dharmic sense). We are capable of understanding and practicing the dharma, with the achievable goal of eventual cessation of the suffering associated with a samsaric existence. We therefore have the ability to choose how we conduct ourselves, and are at this point the ultimate arbiters of the survival of most of the life forms presently existing on this planet. My point is that how we make our choices in the context of the present ecological crisis presents a major challenge within Buddhism, particularly if we are to think of Buddhism as being fundamentally “green” in orientation.
I must strongly disagree with Mr. Stapleton’s contention that the piece somehow reflects my “speciesist” worldview. On the contrary, my primary concerns lie not with single species, but with metaorganismic entities such as biological communities, viewed in their wholeness. True, in this context, we make choices about the fates of individuals of certain species that make up a part of that whole, but with an eye toward ecological integrity, and changes that maintain that integrity. This is a goal that simply can’t be accomplished without ensuring the survival of each individual species.
As far as choosing whether or not to “interfere with the planet,” we’re clearly way beyond the point where such a discussion is relevant. Plainly, we have interfered to the point where we must expand our involvement in order for the earth to heal and to continue to sustain its ecological integrity. It is incumbent upon us to come to grips with the ecological havoc presently arising. To choose not to act under such circumstances would be vastly more symptomatic of disequilibrium of mind, and not—as Mr. Stapleton contends—of passively accepting things as they are.
A Positive Psychology
I found Daniel Goleman’s article “Taming Destructive Emotions” [Spring 2003] interesting, but I am left with some questions and comments. I do not think that the line can always be so neatly drawn between “destructive” and “positive” emotions. The judgment is quite subjective and dependent on the specifics of a situation. Miriam Greenspan’s recent book Healing Through the Dark Emotions explores the purposes of these emotions and shows that there are ways of relating to them that can produce great wisdom, as is recognized in some Buddhist teachings.
It seems to me that Mr. Goleman jumps to the conclusion that the ability to detect microexpressions will lead to compassion. The Secret Servce agents who he says are best at this skill are not, to my knowledge, renowned for being compassionate or even empathetic. Perhaps it’s worth exploring why some people observe accurately and then feel compassion, while others don’t.
Mr. Goleman states that only in the past five years have people started to think about a positive psychology. While I fully appreciate the novelty of the work Mr. Goleman discusses in his article, those of us in psychology are impoverished if we ignore our dependency on our heritage and the efforts of others.
—Kate Wylie, Somerville, Massachusetts
Daniel Goleman Responds
Kate Wylie’s points are well taken. As is more clear in my book Destructive Emotions, no emotion is in itself “destructive”—rather, it is the actions we are led to that might make it so. Compassion—feeling with another person, and so feeling for them—requires empathy, but empathy alone does not guarantee compassion. And while pioneers have explored “positive psychology” for years, it has reached the mainstream only recently.
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