Is Peace Enough?
The birds are busy
Round the yard
I listen lulled
Sorting strands of song
The birds don’t think
They are peaceful
They are just busy
Is Peace Enough?
The birds are busy
Round the yard
I listen lulled
Sorting strands of song
The birds don’t think
They are peaceful
They are just busy
How could you say to me,
“Off to the hills like a bird!
For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,
they fix to the string their arrow
to shoot from the gloom at the upright.
The foundations destroyed,
what can a righteous man do?”
Psalms 11:1-2 (Robert Alter translation)
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
Matthew 1:13-14 (NRSV)
The wicked bend back the bow. The innocent flee. Give this Christmas to the UNHCR.
1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.
2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.
3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.
Celebrated poet Gary Snyder has been a master swimmer in the cultural and spiritual currents of our times. His biography from the Poetry Foundation notes:
Gary Snyder began his career in the 1950s as a noted member of the “Beat Generation,” though he has since explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose. Snyder’s work blends physical reality and precise observations of nature with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism. While Snyder has gained attention as a spokesman for the preservation of the natural world and its earth-conscious cultures, he is not simply a “back-to-nature” poet with a facile message….
Snyder’s emphasis on metaphysics and his celebration of the natural order remove his work from the general tenor of Beat writing—and in fact Snyder is also identified as a poet of the San Francisco Renaissance along with Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser. Snyder has looked to the Orient and to the beliefs of American Indians for positive responses to the world, and he has tempered his studies with stints of hard physical labor as a logger and trail builder. Altieri believed that Snyder’s “articulation of a possible religious faith” independent of Western culture has greatly enhanced his popularity. In his study of the poet, Bob Steuding described how Snyder’s accessible style, drawn from the examples of Japanese haiku and Chinese verse, “has created a new kind of poetry that is direct, concrete, non-Romantic, and ecological. . . . Snyder’s work will be remembered in its own right as the example of a new direction taken in American literature.” Nation contributor Richard Tillinghast wrote: “In Snyder the stuff of the world ‘content’—has always shone with a wonderful sense of earthiness and health. He has always had things to tell us, experiences to relate, a set of values to expound. . . . He has influenced a generation.”
In 1961, Snyder published an essay entitled Buddhist Anarchism. Anarchism is a slippery term, though a call to turn things upside down, or an observation of our heading there, probably qualifies. The Buddhist part is definite here. Yes, it is radical, and pragmatic history may seem to demonstrate that the vision is idealistic, impractical and impossible. Even quaint in the face of the 21st century real world and real life. But without the idealistic, impractical and impossible, where is the fun and the future?
Buddhism holds that the universe and all creatures in it are intrinsically in a state of complete wisdom, love and compassion; acting in natural response and mutual interdependence. The personal realization of this from-the-beginning state cannot be had for and by one-“self” — because it is not fully realized unless one has given the self up; and away.
In the Buddhist view, that which obstructs the effortless manifestation of this is Ignorance, which projects into fear and needless craving. Historically, Buddhist philosophers have failed to analyze out the degree to which ignorance and suffering are caused or encouraged by social factors, considering fear-and-desire to be given facts of the human condition. Consequently the major concern of Buddhist philosophy is epistemology and “psychology” with no attention paid to historical or sociological problems. Although Mahayana Buddhism has a grand vision of universal salvation, the actual achievement of Buddhism has been the development of practical systems of meditation toward the end of liberating a few dedicated individuals from psychological hangups and cultural conditionings. Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.
No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.
There is nothing in human nature or the requirements of human social organization which intrinsically requires that a culture be contradictory, repressive and productive of violent and frustrated personalities. Recent findings in anthropology and psychology make this more and more evident. One can prove it for himself by taking a good look at his own nature through meditation. Once a person has this much faith and insight, he must be led to a deep concern with the need for radical social change through a variety of hopefully non-violent means.
The joyous and voluntary poverty of Buddhism becomes a positive force. The traditional harmlessness and refusal to take life in any form has nation-shaking implications. The practice of meditation, for which one needs only “the ground beneath one’s feet,” wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires destroys ideologies which blind, maim and repress — and points the way to a kind of community which would amaze “moralists” and transform armies of men who are fighters because they cannot be lovers.
Avatamsaka (Kegon) Buddhist philosophy sees the world as a vast interrelated network in which all objects and creatures are necessary and illuminated. From one standpoint, governments, wars, or all that we consider “evil” are uncompromisingly contained in this totalistic realm. The hawk, the swoop and the hare are one. From the “human” standpoint we cannot live in those terms unless all beings see with the same enlightened eye. The Bodhisattva lives by the sufferer’s standard, and he must be effective in aiding those who suffer.
The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”
This last aspect means, for me, supporting any cultural and economic revolution that moves clearly toward a free, international, classless world. It means using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence if it comes to a matter of restraining some impetuous redneck. It means affirming the widest possible spectrum of non-harmful individual behavior — defending the right of individuals to smoke hemp, eat peyote, be polygynous, polyandrous or homosexual. Worlds of behavior and custom long banned by the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West. It means respecting intelligence and learning, but not as greed or means to personal power. Working on one’s own responsibility, but willing to work with a group. “Forming the new society within the shell of the old” — the IWW slogan of fifty years ago.
The traditional cultures are in any case doomed, and rather than cling to their good aspects hopelessly it should be remembered that whatever is or ever was in any other culture can be reconstructed from the unconscious, through meditation. In fact, it is my own view that the coming revolution will close the circle and link us in many ways with the most creative aspects of our archaic past. If we are lucky we may eventually arrive at a totally integrated world culture with matrilineal descent, free-form marriage, natural-credit communist economy, less industry, far less population and lots more national parks.
Some think the United Nations is naive and childish at best, and at worst a way for small nations and idealistic dreamers to get in the way of superpowers doing the dirty and necessary grown up business of the world.
That is the context of the vote (122 of 193 nations) to declare nuclear weapons illegal, a vote that was boycotted, derided and ignored by those superpowers.
The UN is not naive and the vote is not ridiculous. From the start, the UN was meant to stand in the way of tragedy, or help fix it when it couldn’t be avoided. The UN is in part the collective conscience of the world, and like conscience, is set aside for the sake of pragmatism and convenience.
The first and only time atomic bombs were used in war was 72 years ago. Since then, the power and quantity of those weapons has grown exponentially, as has the number of nations owning them. What is naive and childish is to think that the power and numbers won’t continue to grow. Thinking that keeping nations such as Iran and North Korea out of the club is a solution, while existing members continue to stockpile, is delusional. There will always be another nation, always more and more powerful weapons.
Also delusional is the thought that having avoided the use of nuclear weapons for 72 years demonstrates a likelihood that it will never happen again. Looking back at millenia of brutal geopolitics, we would laugh if that thought isn’t so painfully ignorant.
It’s true that the UN declaration, even with a majority of nations behind it, has no practical effect. But it should leave every citizen and every nation thinking about this all the time, from practical and philosophical perspectives. It seems that the concept of normal is eluding us more and more, but if every house in your town was filled with lots of highly dangerous explosives, how normal is that? How would you sleep? Do you trust your neighbors, all of them, any of them, that much?
6 Long has my whole being dwelt
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war.
Psalm 120, translated by Robert Alter
Terror in Manchester is one more shattering note in a cacophony of mindless aggression. News of the nation and the world attests to it, from nasty tweets by so-called leaders to torturers and mass murderers. We dwell among those who hate peace.
In Psalm 120, Robert Alter translates the Hebrew ani shalom in verse 7 as “I am for peace”:
The Hebrew appears to say “I am peace,” but, without emending the text, the most plausible way to understand these two words, ani shalom, is that they function as though there were an elided “for” (in the Hebrew not a word but the particle l’).
I dare not take issue with Alter, the great modern translator of the Hebrew Bible, but merely want to extend a thought. If the Hebrew appears to say “I am peace”, maybe that is precisely what it means to say.
Being for peace is a start and an essential part. Being peace is one step beyond this, where there is no space between us and the peace we seek. One step toward that elusive peaceful world, in spite of those who hate peace.
The Virginia Indian peace medal was produced by order of Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1780. The obverse side reads: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. The reverse side reads: Happy While United
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation says:
This extremely rare Virginia Indian peace medal was produced by order of Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1780. Matchless in the history of relations between the independent Commonwealth of Virginia and the region’s native tribes, the “Happy While United” peace medal was cast in bronze by Robert Scot—later chief engraver at the U.S. Mint— in Williamsburg or Richmond while Jefferson was governor.
Commemorating an unidentified Revolutionary-era alliance between native tribes and the Commonwealth, silver medals were presented to important tribal members, while bronze versions were cast for non-native recipients. None of the twelve silver medals originally produced survive as they were likely traded in for later Presidential Indian peace medals or buried with the native recipients upon their deaths.
At nearly three inches in diameter and more than 2.5 ounces in weight, the medal is based on designs by noted artist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere and New York silversmith Daniel Christian Feuter. A bronze medal, identical to the one acquired by Colonial Williamsburg, was recorded as a gift from Isaac Zane of the Marlboro Iron Works—a patriot munitions factory in Frederick County during the American Revolution—to du Simitiere prior to May 1781.
The medal uses one the earliest versions of the fledgling Commonwealth’s official seal depicting the goddess Virtue standing triumphant over a fallen tyrant—most certainly meant to represent King George III—surrounded by the inscription “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
The reverse side of the medal incorporates a scene from an earlier medal made in New York during the 1760s and depicts a European-American and a Native American seated on a bench sharing a “peace pipe.” To the right is a tree, shading the two figures, and behind them is a waterfront scene with three vessels under sail. The over-arching inscription reads “Happy While United” with “1780” below the scene.
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, has long been the loudest, most articulate, and most respected voice on behalf of social justice from a genuinely Evangelical Christian perspective. Not “Evangelical Christian” in the sense of those who have made that identical with a right-wing political agenda. “Evangelical Christian” in the sense of what Jesus would have those who claim to follow him do.
His post-election essay, Time for Healing. And Resistance. is so coherent and inspirational that it doesn’t bear quoting from in pieces. Please read it, whatever your religious or spiritual leanings, if any.
Jim Wallis writes, “I just want you to know that I AM IN for whatever this will require of us.” He is speaking to and about Christians, but he is really challenging those of all faiths or of no faith at all to speak out and stand up.
Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, which this year arrives during the same week as Election Day (you remember that day, don’t you?)
Veterans Day 2016 is just 3 days after Election Day. Join IAVA’s campaign to do the impossible: bring together all Americans.
After a long, brutal and disgusting election season, everyone’s had it. It hasn’t been a good look for America. Everyone is exhausted–many are outright embarrassed. But Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other…we’re ALL sick of the bickering, the commercials, the debates, the politics, the fighting.
Here is your mission (if you choose to accept it!), JOIN US:
Tag your Veterans Day activities on social media with #veteransday
Donate $11 to IAVA to help us support veterans
Attend a #veteransday #VetTogether
In the wake of Election Day, it is happy news to report that Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois won a seat in the U.S. Senate. She is an Iraq War veteran, awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs. She joins a number of women warriors in Congress, which needs more women and more experienced warriors who know how to choose our wars carefully. And who will take good care of other warriors when they come home.
Here are readings for the Day of National Healing from Ocean of Dharma: The Everyday Wisdom of Chogyam Trungpa, a recommended collection of very brief excerpts from his talks and texts. The image above is of the Medicine Buddha.
THE FUTURE IS IN OUR HANDS
We hold the threshold of the future of the world in our hands, on our path. When we say this, we are not dreaming. We are not exaggerating. We hold a tremendous hope, maybe the only hope for the future dark age.
We have a lot of responsibilities, and those responsibilities are not easy to fulfill. They won’t come along easily, like an ordinary success story. They have to be stitched, painted, carved, step by step, inch by inch, minute by minute. It will be manual work. There will be no automatic big sweep, or solution.
When something good is done in the world, it is usually difficult. It is manual, rather than automatic. When something bad is done, usually that is automatic. Evil things are easy to catch, but good ones are difficult to catch. They go against the grain of ordinary habitual tendencies.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Humans are the only animals that try to dwell in the future. You don’t have to purely live in the present situation without a plan, but the future plans you make can only be based on the aspects of the future that manifest within the present situation. You can’t plan a future if you don’t know what the present situation is. You have to start from now to know how to plan.
CONVERSING WITH OUR NEGATIVITY
You can always count on the fact that our aspect of viciousness or apelike quality will reflect back to us. Then we can either project it onto somebody else or we can reflect and realize the situation within ourselves. Quite precisely, when you are in that particular state of mind, there is a kind of conversation going on. You may try to tell yourself to calm down and not worry. But then the undercurrent of the force of the projection tries to pierce through again and again. There is always this conversation going on with one’s own negativity. The neurotic aspect of mind is always willing to fall into either the extreme of left or right. The right extreme is anger, the masculine extreme. The left is passion, the feminine extreme. This symbolism is true and universal—a cosmic symbol, which happens with all of life. These symbols are not based on Indian, Buddhist, or Tibetan stories at all. These are utterly cosmic principles, as far as the symbolism is concerned.
WORK WITH THE PRESENT SITUATION
The buddhist tradition teaches the truth of impermanence, or the transitory nature of things. The past is gone and the future has not yet happened, so we work with what is here—the present situation. This actually helps us not to categorize or theorize. A fresh, living situation is taking place all the time, on the spot. This noncategorical approach comes from being fully here, rather than trying to reconnect with past events. We don’t have to look back to the past in order to see what people are made out of. Human beings speak for themselves, on the spot.