What do we do with our fear and anger and frustration? We do absolutely nothing with it. To do something with it would run the risk of adding to the fear and rage that are already in the world. Terror, fear, anxiety, worry, desire for retaliation—the “full catastrophe” of internal turmoil has to be treated as a completely false, distorted, and absolutely unhelpful mind state, an unhealthy and useless way of relating to life. We’ve got to reflect on that again and again so that the simple truth of it enters the place inside where all the reactivity is coming from. From a dharma viewpoint, there is absolutely no justification for sustaining fear and hate.
Essentially, the Buddha points to the utter emptiness of fear and hate as ways of perceiving true reality. When we begin to grasp the futility of maintaining those troublesome mind states, there is the possibility of another way of seeing. This requires great vigilance with regard not only to our thoughts and our mind states but also to what comes out of our mouths and what goes into our emails and letters, so that we can unmask anything that condones or reifies fear and hate.
In both the dharma scene and the peace activist scene, I get concerned when we end up swimming around in cyberspace, deceiving ourselves that all those emails make a difference to what’s happening on the ground. If we devote our time to practical steps on the ground, we’ll be more effective.
I’m not in the tradition of sitting on one’s butt and sending out lovingkindness. I have more confidence in life on the street as a useful vehicle, so I’m very keen on yatras—silent walks—as a nonviolent way to encourage peace and reconciliation. Yatra, in Pali, literally means “journey.” In that sense, life is a yatra. In its classical Buddhist form, a yatra is a pilgrimage—the sangha engaged in walking. For centuries, monks and nuns have followed this practice: silent walking in the day, dharma teachings and discussion in the evening. The Dharma Network in Europe adopted that basic model.
We started with a two-hundred-mile walk in France in the summer of 2001. Then the sangha in Israel, led by dharma teacher Dr. Stephen Fulder, organized a walk from Jaffa—an Arab town—to Jerusalem during Passover/Easter Week in 2002. That led to yatras through the Arab villages of western Galilee and the West Bank. We’ve had rural yatras, and city yatras in Washington, DC; Nuremberg, Germany; Tel Aviv, Jerusalem. There’s one in London on the first Sunday of every month.
A yatra is not a demonstration in the traditional sense of waving banners and shouting. It’s silent. Anywhere from a dozen to a few hundred people walking single file, slowly and intentionally, in a Buddhist meditative way, has a spiritual strength to it. We do six hours of silent walking, then at night we hold forums on reconciliation and conflict resolution that anyone can attend. It’s not easy; in Israel some people come just to argue with the walkers. The general slogan for the yatras there is “Peace is Possible.” Implicit in that is the awareness that for peace to come about, all three communities—the Israelis, the Arabs living in Israel, and the Palestinians—have to change their perception of fear and hate, and realize that they have much more in common than what’s separating them. Some of our brothers and sisters in the Arab community are now developing yatras, too. Doing these walks shows a willingness to point one’s feet in the direction of what needs to happen: meeting and reconciliation.
The peace movement in general is caught in the dualism of resistance and being against. Though I’m certainly against the policies coming out of Washington and London, as Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” We’re all well informed, but we need to use more imagination and find better ways to resolve conflict. We’ve got to realize what interconnectedness is all about and learn to live together, rather than exist as some kind of dysfunctional family.
When we feel anxious about the world situation, there’s a kind of fragmentation that occurs, leading to feelings of “us” and “them.” Killing is then justified as a means to an end: when the enemy is defeated, there will be peace and we can start again. But in the Buddha’s teachings, the end and the means must share a similar voice; there has to be constructive engagement from the beginning. Finding ways to engage in direct communication and bring people together is both the process and the resolution. Means and end meet in the same way they do in the Four Noble Truths: one who has realized the Third Noble Truth—that there is an end to suffering—is already living the means. In developing the means you realize the end. So I keep absolute faith in the Four Noble Truths in all circumstances.
In our conflict resolution groups, we stress that to meet each other clearly and openly, we have to hold our labels—our identities—lightly. When we go beyond labels and connect with each other as human beings, everything’s possible. In the Middle East, I don’t refer to Buddhism per se. But the teachings on emptiness of ego, nonclinging, non-self, the power ofmetta and compassion, the wisdom of interconnectedness, being here now and not projecting into the future, inform every meeting we have. The dharma teachings of liberation and freedom enable us to have a much bigger worldview because we learn what it is not to cling to a position or opinion or religion. Finding skillful ways and means within different religious and political structures is something we as Buddhists can offer. The separations that arise from different beliefs are defense mechanisms, conditioned states of minds; we can point to something deeper that unifies us. In that respect, the dharma serves as a profound tool for change. We frequently forget the power of the dharma to engage in revolutionary acts.
The meditation cushion becomes an escape from life, instead of a place for grounding ourselves in the here and now so we can engage passionately with it. For those who serve the dharma, death is the only retirement.
People’s Peace Treaty
As individuals, what can we do to combat oppression both at a national and at a personal level? The following points may serve to bolster our thoughts and actions in a positive way against oppression or its threat.
1. I vow to dissociate myself completely from any destruction of life, including all acts of war, acts of terror, and executions. I will not support any declarations of war initiated by my country or any other that I support.
2. I vow not to attack or abuse other groups of people (nations, majorities, minorities, or individuals).
3. I vow to give support to organizations and groups working for peace, justice, political, economic, and environmental rights.
4. I vow to work to end suffering perpetuated through violence, fear, corruption, phobias, or greed.
5. I will endeavor to persuade the military, arms manufacturers, and arms dealers to lay down their weapons and kill the hate inside themselves.
6. I vow to see people rather than the labels attached to people, and to be aware of our common humanity.
7. I vow to work to end anger, aggression, or fear within myself as an expression of duty to humanity.
From Transforming Our Terror: A Spiritual Approach to Making Sense of Senseless Tragedy, © 2002 by Christopher Titmuss. Reprinted with permission of Barron’s Educational Series.
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