PEACE GATHERING IN THE DESERT
Iris Dotan Katz: Willing to share with you my experience attending a Palestinian Israeli peace conference in the desert, south of Israel. We had 500 participants, half Israelis half Palestinians, being together three days. There were panels of interfaith representatives, bringing their perspectives about peace, and interfaith activities, rituals, art and dance. Following my invitation to talk about the way of peace, I tried to bring the Buddhist way of peace as an ongoing path. This path demands inner practicing and spiritual training of the consciousness, towards perceiving the other as he/she is, and developing compassion to the other as a reflection of ourselves. In a panel that I led we talked about the inevitable need of social action as a way of practicing inner peace and advancing outer peace, as peace is beginning with grassroots, like us in the conference. Among a variety of workshops, I facilitated one, based on our perspective of Buddhist psychology. The process was based on expressing and meeting the suffering of both sides: anger, fear, guilt, frustration. Then staying with those, without looking for solutions, and discovering what is deep there, finding out in a kind of an emptiness some compassion and love. So thank you, my dear friends for being a loving container which brings me up to spread the Buddhist way of love and reconciliation out of suffering in our wounded societies in the Middle East.
WAR IN UKRAINE
David Brazier: War is always a disaster, but wars are brought about by causes and conditions and generally such conditions have already been operating for an extended period of time. Wars generally follow long periods of growing tension during which the different parties were unwilling or unable to perceive the perspective or needs of the other side. As Buddhists, our first concern should be to investigate the causes and conditions. There are the conditions that have led to the war and there are the conditions that will come into being as a result of the war.
It is not difficult to see that Russia has invaded Ukraine in order to prevent it becoming part of an alliance hostile to Russia. Some will say that Russia should have invaded long ago or not allowed Ukraine to become independent in the first place. Others will say that Ukraine should have a right to become part of NATO if it wants to (though they would probably deny that right to Russia itself). Neither of these points of view is much help in the present situation. While Europe is divided into pro- and anti- Russian factions armed to the teeth, maintaining peace is always going to be a challenge.
What I really want to map out here is the difference between a Hinayana (moralist) point of view and a Mahayana (skilful means) perspective.
A general view that Russia is the bad country and Mr Putin is a bad man while America is the good country and Mr Biden (and his predecessors) is the good man has been built up by the Western media for several decades. A mirror image on the other side. This can never be a recipe for peace, security and stability. I dare say that if Mr Putin and Mr Biden were to swop jobs, the situation would be exactly the same as it is now. Simply dealing in caricatures and holding to black-white, good-bad judgements is worse then useless, it is dangerous and fuels the fire.
America has invaded and interfered in just as many countries as Russia - probably more - so there really is very little moral high ground left. But the point we need to grasp is that Mahayana Buddhism is concerned with skilful means (upaya) rather than the striking of moral poses. Skilful means often involves compromise and while one holds onto moral principles in an absolutist fashion, compromise is impossible. Cheering on the Ukrainians or the Russians only makes compromise more difficult and the war more likely to intensify. There will be much destruction and those who believe the other side to be all bad will then feel vindicated, but will probably not see how their own black and white views have contributed to the slaughter.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but in international affairs it is rarely helpful to cling tenaciously to what seem like moral principles. One needs to look into the conditions that are operating and find a way toward some course of action that allows safety and dignity to all parties. This is true at all levels of social affairs. For many years I was a social worker working for a government agency. During my time there, there were a number of conflmicts between workers and employers. Often it was about money. The employers made an offer, the union asked for more, the workers went on strike, there were more discussions and pretty soon a compromise was reached. Then, one day, the social workers went on strike over something that they regarded as a point of principle. The strike went on for months and was a disaster for everybody concerned. Why? Because when you strike a moral pose, you cannot compromise.
This is the major differences between the Mahayana and Hinayana approaches to the spiritual path. In Hinayana the practitioner is primarily concerned with own moral purity and this is his nirvana. In Mahayana the aim is skilful means within the conditions of samsara. The bodhisattva is not trying to be right, he is trying to be helpful by understanding all sides and avoiding self-righteousness.
Of course, it is very difficult to unravel a situation when it has got to the stage of warfare. Immediately before the war there was a period of negotiations in which the NATO side made no effort to appreciate the sense of danger that Russia felt. Indeed, it seemed determined to put Russia into an even weaker position. Before those negotiations there had been a period of several decades of Western encroachment into lands that Russia could formerly rely upon. This war is not something that sprung up out of nowhere yesterday. There has been a long period of slowly escalating pressure. If you keep stretching the elastic band, eventually it snaps.
These are the conditions before. What about the sequel? The future is always hard to predict, but one likely outcome is that Western Europe will rearm and will develop its own armaments industry. This will put the Franco-German alliance in an even more dominant position within the EU; It will also, in the medium term, reduce EU dependence upon the USA. Eventually this process will probably reach a tipping point and NATO will break up. There will then be a realignment in the world the detail of which is not predictable at this distance. Whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing is not the point. The aim of Buddhism is compassion based on wisdom, not self-righteousness, and wisdom begins with an assessment of the conditions as they emerge and evolve.
If Russia fails in its objectives in Ukraine and NATO stations nuclear weapons on the Russian border there, then Russia as we know it today will probably collapse since it will be unable to defend itself. Perhaps that is what some people want. Americanisation of the world will intensify and divisions within American society will also grow as it bites off more than it can chew. On the other hand, if Russia succeeds in its objectives then hostility between East and West will likely generate a new cold war that will have bad effects for everybody for a generation. Neither of these outcomes is desirable. Peace requires compromise, but right now I am not very hopeful.
Refuge Group Meeting at 14:00
SUNDAY MEETINGS EVERY WEEKEND
Both meetings are informal meetings for friendly discussion among Dharma practitioners on topical or personal matters.Sunday
10:30 Interest Group
An informal meeting for all.https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88974912642?pwd=N2VyQnc0MUM4WUU0YTFTdCt0QWVmQT09
Meeting ID: 889 7491 2642 -:- Passcode: 537296Sunday
20:00, GS Friendship Group
An informal meeting for allhttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/87394084532?pwd=eEY3eUhHcjN0b0xLanZXcTNqVmVzdz09
Meeting ID: 873 9408 4532 -:- Passcode: 519784
WEEKEND 12-13 MARCHSaturday
: "Buddhist Psychology, Listening & Facilitating"
seminars for students on the Buddhist Psychology programme
at 10:00 & 20:00 (Rome) Sunday
: Golden Chain Meeting at 12:30
Codes separately notified
WEEKEND 19-20 MARCHSaturday
: Dharma Ocean (History) Lecture at 12:00, followed by Upavastha from 14:30