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War and Peace


At Issue: Wars continue to rage in the Middle East. What do you think could be done to bring peace to that region? Do you think the United States is doing more to help or harm?

Response: “Drinking a cup of tea, I end the war.” It seems simplistic and sugary, yet invites each of us to take responsibility for bringing peace to our lives and the world, moment by moment. In Zen, each person tries to find his or her way in family life, the work place, political involvements and all forms of community life, whether local or global. We deepen our appreciation that each moment and every act participates in the whole. We do not have to be Secretary of State to make a difference: all of our activities are influencing everyone everywhere. How might that awareness guide our choices?

Looking within ourselves with a gently inquiring awareness, we discover the very roots of war — our anger, fear, hurt, feelings of inadequacy, neediness, judgments, and our inept attempts to cope with our suffering. Gradually we learn that practicing skillfully with these difficult emotions is the basis for cultivating compassion. We experience the quiet joy and satisfaction of living fully in each moment, and this naturally draws us to concern for the welfare of all.

As we listen more carefully to ourselves and to one other, boundaries dissolve. Globalism compels us to see inter-connectedness or interbeing as reality, not an idealistic theory. Labeling others as “enemies,” “terrorists,” “barbarians” or “torturers” will not create conditions for solving problems, ending violence and creating peace between international neighbors.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, a prominent Catholic theologian, proposes that the “war against terrorism” may be viewed as a form of Americanist messianic nationalism. This ideology uses religious language in order to justify its contention that the United States is an elect nation chosen by God to impose its way of life on the rest of the world, by force if necessary. We are told that “evil” is located in the “enemy” and that this evil can and should be conquered by military might. Ruether urges Christian churches, in partnership with other religious groups, to vigorously counteract this abuse of religion and moral charade. The 13th Century poet, Saadi of Shiraz, teaches, “The children of Adam are limbs of one another–when the world gives pain to one, the other members find no rest.”

Zen emphasizes right action flowing naturally from awareness. Engaged Buddhism encourages individual practitioners as well as Zen and Buddhist Centers to work together on issues such as prison reform, international human rights and world peace.

– Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Published: May 15, 2004