“The very belief that violence is unavoidable is a root cause of violence,” Samdong Rinpoche, the newly elected leader of Tibet’s Government-in-Exile, commented in a recent conversation with Tricycle. Far from advocating violence as a means of freeing Tibet of Chinese domination, the head of the Tibetan Cabinet-in-Exile—the Kalon Tripa, as he is known—argues that to build a legacy of violent resistance would only lay the groundwork for still more violence once the desired goal is achieved. Although he acknowledges that Tibet itself was never free of violent conflict during centuries of Buddhist rule, the Kalon Tripa remains optimistic. Turning for inspiration to Gandhi’s practice of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, he carries with him in one hand the Dhammapada—the seminal Buddhist text—and in the other, the Hind swaraj, Gandhi’s writings on Indian home rule. The Hind swaraj, he says, helps him “to understand day-to-day functioning in politics.”
I hear many of my colleagues and friends-Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike—dismiss any talk of peace as nothing more than a pipe dream, and a potentially dangerous one at that. In a country gripped by fear—of terrorism, economic uncertainty, enemies seen and unseen, and the weapons of our own neighbors—an anxious and highly reactive public prepares itself for a war our leaders tell us is inevitable. And yet, as a few of our braver lawmakers have pointedly asked, “Why now? Why the rush to war?”
If filmmaker Michael Moore’s chilling new documentary Bowling for Columbine is even close to an accurate description of the nation’s psyche, a sniper has nothing on a fear-mongering media when it comes to pushing an overwrought populace to sanity’s edge. From the director’s point of view, we Americans allow ourselves little if any time at all to reflect on our fears, on their source or validity. It wasn’t long ago in these pages, in the wake of September 11, that several teachers contributed to a special section on fear (Spring 2002). How often, and how dangerously, they asked, do we act upon feelings of fear before considering their root cause, so often illusory? How might our experience be otherwise if, before acting on our fears, we sat with them first?
During the past several weeks, I called members of Congress—as myriad e-mails had instructed me to do—voicing my dissent and urging lawmakers to stage a filibuster that never materialized. I engaged in plenty of heated debates—some real and some imagined—and carried on to anyone who would listen, and even to some who tried not to. Then one evening, watching a popular television news program, I listened to one caller suggest that the president send his economic team into Iraq; that way, the caller argued, we’d make a wreck of the enemy “in a week or two.” I hadn’t been expecting humor, and in spite of my newly overwrought and serious self, I burst out laughing. In one short moment, my perspective shifted; I enjoyed a levity I hadn’t felt in weeks. It then occurred to me that I was also laughing at myself. Stuck in my view, I was as gripped by fear and anger as anyone else.
In a recent conversation with Gil Fronsdal, the teacher of Vipassana and Zen took pains to point out that “insight is not a view,” rather it is the direct experience of how things actually are. The trick, according to Fronsdal, is to forever pull the rug out from under the views that block this direct experience. Not an easy thing to do, but I’ve found that in those rare moments when our views are laid bare, a whole new field of possibility opens up. Freed from the confines of a single perspective and without anger or fear, we may, like the Kalon Tripa, find ourselves entertaining the possibility of a peace we hadn’t imagined.
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