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December 2002-February 2003
Kloie Picot first went to Israel in 1990, thinking to stay six months. She stayed three years. She experienced the first intifada (Palestinian uprising 1987-1993) and the Gulf war. The longer she stayed the more confused she became: Why couldn’t these biblical cousins get along? Why do they willingly cause themselves and each other to suffer so horrendously? She left Israel with no answer. She became a Buddhist and returned again in 1999, 2000 and in May this year. How do she and other Buddhists make sense of the suffering, war, and conflict that they experience?
When I told my friends and family I was going to film the conflict in Israel, they thought I was crazy. Why do you want to put yourself in the middle of a war? Why do you want to be around all that suffering? Isn’t life stressful enough? These questions forced me to take a deeper look. Why was I going? Why do I feel it is my duty to document the suffering in Israel? What did I hope to accomplish?
I had been drawn to this region time and again because, like a habit, it felt familiar – a habit to want suffering, a habit passed on through many life times. Before meeting the Dharma I had always felt more comfortable in unstable, chaotic environments.
I reflected on my Buddhist practice. Through the teachings I had become kinder, and I applied the antidotes to my afflicted emotions whenever I caught myself slipping. But then I was in an environment where it was easy: I lived in a Buddhist country (Taiwan), enjoyed my job, earned enough money for my needs, had supportive, like-minded friends, etc. Could I maintain this state of mind under more demanding circumstances? Perhaps I was like someone who, after years of retreat, comes out and still gets angry? I wanted to know how I would react coming out of my cave. Would I get angry, depressed, addicted to the suffering, comfortable in another war? And if it is my habit to be in war, to be in suffering, could I, in this lifetime, be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem?
I was completely unprepared for what I saw and experienced in Israel and Palestine. In the six weeks I spent filming my documentary, I was shot at twice (rubber bullets and tanks) by Israeli soldiers, lived in curfew for days at a time, and feared that I would be arrested and deported, and my material confiscated. In Palestine I interviewed a family whose daughter was ‘accidentally’ killed in a ‘targeted assassination.’ I asked the parents how they would feel if their surviving son became a suicide bomber. ‘Proud,’ they said. In the West Bank settlement I interviewed a father whose 14-year-old son was so severely beaten by Palestinians that his young face was unrecognizable. In Jenin refugee camp I filmed a street that had been leveled by tanks and bulldozers. In Jerusalem I filmed the severed limbs of 17 people blown apart by a suicide bomber. …
… The official excuse for every war is always the same: self-defense. It’s okay to kill other people and destroy their society because that’s what they want to do to us. As Hermann Goering said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders … Just tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” They haven’t attacked us yet? Then we need a “preventive war.” That suggests the problem with all “just war” theories. Once there’s such a thing as a just war, every war becomes marketed as a just war.
But that’s not why we like war. That’s just how the propaganda works, how leaders get us to line up behind them. What makes us so gullible? Why are we so willing to sacrifice ourselves, even our children? Why doesn’t exposing the lies of the last war inoculate us against the deceptions that will be used to promote the next one?
From a Buddhist perspective, the various conflicts in the Middle East look like a family quarrel. That’s because the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – share much the same understanding of the world. It’s a feud among brothers who have fallen out, which is, of course, sometimes the most vicious sort. Having been raised by the same father, they have a similar worldview: this world is a battleground where the good must fight against those who are evil. The most important issue is where each of us stands in this cosmic struggle. Our salvation depends upon it. It’s necessary to choose sides.
It is not surprising, then, that the al-Qaeda understanding of good and evil – the need for a holy war against evil –is also shared by the administration of George W. Bush. Bin Laden would no doubt agree with what Bush has emphasized: ”If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Since there is no room in this grand cosmic struggle for neutrality, neither of them is much concerned about the fate of innocent bystanders. Bystanders are not innocent. Once something has been labeled as evil, the focus must be on fighting it. The most important thing is to do whatever is necessary to destroy it. This implies a preoccupation with power and victory at any cost. Whether one supports small-group terrorism or state terrorism, the issue is the same. Which will be more powerful, the forces of good or the forces of evil?
Buddhism offers a different perspective. In place of this battleground of wills where good contends against evil, the most important struggle is a spiritual one between ignorance and delusion, on the one side, and liberating wisdom on the other. And seeing the world primarily as a war between good and evil is one of our more dangerous delusions. …
By Boaz Amichay
Are things in Israel really as bad as they appear on CNN? I started writing a letter some weeks ago in response to questions from my Dharma friends and teachers worldwide. But then came September 11. Within a second the whole world became a battle zone, and I felt there was not that much I could tell those friends who used to think they were protected and secure.
But maybe things are still a little bit different here. After all, how many of you get the chance to meditate on love and compassion with the background “music” of gunfire and combat helicopters?
If you have been to FPMT centers like Tushita or Kopan in Asia, chances are you have met many young Israelis attending the courses. They tend to ask many questions, argue and have a hard time keeping quiet. Sometimes it seems as if they came to convert the lamas to Judaism!
Many of those young people come to Tushita straight from army service, after years of living in a violent land, having to deal with very difficult emotional situations. In seven years of living in and near Tushita, I have witnessed how difficult it is for many of them to digest and accept the teaching on compassion, on bodhichitta. Where the concept of bodhichitta might sound fantastic to any newcomer to Buddhism, to an Israeli it translates immediately to very practical questions: “So what do I have to do next time I’m facing a terrorist?” “So what am I supposed to feel for those who try to kick me out of my country?” The Tibetan example of giving up your homeland with almost no resistance does not encourage most Israelis, who feel they are facing a similar situation …
By Alexander Berzin
Often, when people think of the Muslim concept of jihad or holy war, they associate with it the negative connotation of a self-righteous campaign of vengeful destruction in the name of God to convert others by force. They may acknowledge that Christianity had an equivalent with the Crusades, but do not usually view Buddhism as having anything similar. After all, they say, Buddhism is a religion of peace and does not have the technical term holy war. A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, however, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” An unbiased study of Islam reveals the same. In both religions, leaders may exploit the external dimensions of holy war for political, economic, or personal gain, by using it to rouse their troops to battle. Historical examples regarding Islam are well known; but one must not be rosy-eyed about Buddhism and think that it has been immune to this phenomenon.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born into the Indian warrior caste and often used military imagery to describe the spiritual journey. He was the Triumphant One, who defeated the demonic forces (mara) of unawareness, distorted views, disturbing emotions, and impulsive karmic behavior. The eighth century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva employs the metaphor of war repeatedly throughout Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior: the real enemies to defeat are the disturbing emotions and attitudes that lie hidden in the mind. The Tibetans translate the Sanskrit term arhat, a liberated being, as foe destroyer, someone who has destroyed the inner foes. From these examples, it would appear that in Buddhism, the call for a “holy war” is purely an internal spiritual matter. The Kalachalcra Tantra, however, reveals an additional external dimension …
After the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001 and the beginning of war in the Middle East, Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote an open letter to former U.S. President George W. Bush about the effectiveness of spiritual solutions for the crisis the world was facing.
“War is what ordinary people in the world regard as the solution,” Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote. “The problem is that war, even if it is won, is like a medicine that has side effects. It may temporarily help the situation but afterwards there will be continual complications. Why? Because the people you defeat generate hatred towards you and in future generations they harm you back. In the natural law of actions, called karma in Sanskrit, the action of harming leaves an imprint on the mental continuum and that imprint is like a seed. When it ripens later, the person experiences the result of receiving harm from others.”
From Mandala March-May 2002.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama shared this with Buddhist devotees and others, on the first day of the Great Prayer Festival, in Dharamsala, India, in March 2003, just prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq.
War, or the kind of organized fighting, is something that came with the development of human civilization. It seems to have become part and parcel of human history or human temperament. At the same time, the world is changing dramatically. We have seen that we cannot solve human problems by fighting. Problems resulting from differences in opinion must be resolved through the gradual process of dialogue …
By Glenn H. Mullin
Contrary to popular opinion, the world’s oldest profession most probably is not prostitution. It is war. Since time immemorial, humans have relied upon violence and the straight-on attack as the quickest solution to a prickly problem.
All world religions speak of world peace as an ideal, and sometimes even as an achievable quality in certain periods of human history. However, like most spiritual traditions emanating from India, Buddhism does not think that the present era qualifies for that luxury. We live in the kaliyuga, or Dark Age, when violence and conflict are norms of human society rather than exceptions to the general rule.
For that reason Buddhism has always placed its emphasis upon an attainable individual peace, or nirvana, rather than an unattainable pie-in-the-sky world peace. As the eighth century Indian master Shantideva put it, “One can never remove all thorns from the world, nor cover the entire world with leather to make it seem less thorny. However, by covering one’s own foot with a leather sandal it is as though all the world has been covered with soft leather, and all thorns removed.” He goes on to say that this “leather sandal of the mind” is nothing other than the inner peace established through cultivating a mindset deeply founded upon gentleness and non-violence.
It may seem that Shantideva’s approach is somewhat egocentric, and that it ignores the seemingly bigger problem of social responsibility. However, the present Dalai Lama suggests that concentrating on one’s own inner peace is also an effective method of contributing to world peace.
As he put it in Kindness, Clarity and Insight, “World peace depends upon individual peace. We cannot have world peace without the individuals who live in the world first becoming peaceful. Therefore the best way to help establish world peace is to cultivate a peaceful mind within oneself. This will then extend outward, and will positively impact family and friends. This in turn increases the peace of the community, and that contributes to the peace of human society in general.”
Does this mean that Buddhism has nothing to say about social institutions and their impact upon the emergence of a peaceful society?
Not at all. There is also plenty of Buddhist literature with advice on how the powers that be can establish those kinds of infrastructures that would encourage peaceful living. However, these remain secondary, and can only work effectively when the individual takes responsibility for his or her own peaceful nature.
The problem is that, when an individual lacks the foundations of inner peace, the presence of outer peace merely leads to boredom; then in turn the bored and idle mind naturally becomes frustrated and irritable, and ends up creating conflict with others as a form of distraction …
December 2002-February 2003
During the public talk he gave in San Jose, California, last year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama reflected on world peace and universal responsibility. This is an edited excerpt.
We are all human beings, and we all share this planet. We are members of one big human family. And we also have the same sort of experiences — when you smile at me, I feel happy, and when someone smiles at you, you feel happy. We have the same basic human nature.
Our future as human beings is very much interlinked. Because of our neglect of the environment, for example, changes in weather patterns are experienced all over the world. No matter how powerful one individual nation is, it cannot solve these problems unless humanity worldwide gets involved to take care of the planet and the environment.
So under these circumstances, it becomes quite clear that we need some kind of sense of global responsibility, not only taking care of one’s own family, or one’s own community, or one’s own nation, but having a sense of caring for humanity in its entirety. Because the interests of oneself and the interests of the other are always interconnected, I therefore sometimes feel the very concept of “we” and “they” are no longer there. So in order to have a happier life, or a happier future oneself, you have to take care of others’ interests.
As a human being therefore everyone has the right to be happy and to have a happy family and a happy society. So we have to have some responsibility for the happiness of humanity, and for a peaceful world.
One arrives at peace mainly through inner peace. First the individual mind should develop peace, and this will eventually extend into family and society. In this way the public can influence the leadership. While anger and hatred destroy our inner peace, compassion, forgiveness, a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood, contentment, and self-discipline are its basis. Peace can develop through practice in strengthening these good inner qualities. We should then propagate this ‘inner disarmament’ in family life and educational institutions.
External disarmament is equally important. If we look at the human capacity for destruction purely from the point of view of the ability of the human body then it is rather limited. But because of our sophisticated intelligence, we have this tremendous capacity for destruction, especially now in the nuclear age.
War means to kill deliberately. Death is not usually celebrated, and it is an unwanted thing. But in war it is deliberately created. War is like mobilized violence, and in some cases, legalized violence. We call someone a “murderer” if they kill one individual, yet in a war where maybe millions are killed, we call its perpetrators “heroes” or “victors.” …
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has a message for U.S. President George Bush about the effectiveness of spiritual solutions to terrorism and the looming threat of a war in Afghanistan. He offers a range of prayers and practices for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
Since war was declared, some people have been protesting against it and clamoring for peace. But if what those people really want is peace, then they should first come up with a clear practical idea how to stop the terrorist attacks in the United States and other countries. Otherwise, you shout for peace and let the United States be completely destroyed by terrorists? This is like the saying in the Tibetan Buddhist texts: “A blind yak eating grass.” Or the Western saying: “To throw out the baby with the bath water.”
So many people are suffering now due to lack of awareness of what will come in the future. The problem is that common ordinary people are limited in what they can see, because of the lack of development of the mind. They do not have the power to see beyond, to read the minds of the terrorists and those in training. If Government Intelligence had the power to see beyond, then they could foresee future dangers. They see the harm in the minds of all those harmful people and terrorists. They could see what damage they could do to the United States and the whole world.
War is what ordinary people in the world regard as the solution. The problem is that war, even if it is won, is like a medicine that has side effects. It may temporarily help the situation but afterwards there will be continual complications. Why? Because the people you defeat generate hatred towards you and in future generations they harm you back. In the natural law of actions, called karma in Sanskrit, the action of harming leaves an imprint on the mental continuum and that imprint is like a seed. When it ripens later, the person experiences the result of receiving harm from others.
I understand that the situation is very difficult and that the American public is very angry but there are ways to solve the problem other than by going to war. It is possible that these terrorists can be overcome by spiritual power rather than by using military power. War costs so many lives and so much money. Even one missile can be so expensive, costing millions of dollars. When spiritual power is used to solve the problem, it saves all this expense and costs hardly anything.
Buddhism, and especially Tibetan Buddhism, has so many methods to help bring peace and happiness to sentient beings. If the Government were interested in the possibility of using spiritual methods to solve the current problems, they would need to consult with the spiritual head of each of the different traditions. Then practices could be done for a few months or a year in order for them to be effective. This way is not like military war, which makes some people happy and some people upset. These practices are unseen, so they do not irritate or upset anybody; that means also nobody gets angry and plans to retaliate back …
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You can see that some people’s relationships are reasonable. Therefore, they last a long time. If people’s relationships start off extreme, how can they last? You know from the beginning they cannot last. Balance is so important.
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