Vowing Peace in an Age of War

A Zen priest explains that only through giving--in the deepest sense of the word--can we hope to cultivate peace

BY: Hozan Alan Senauke

 

Continued from page 2

Such proposals are usually dismissed as naive. They fail to reckon with the power of arms dealers, the greed of corporations, and the fears of politicians that are sold as truth to ordinary people. But shouldn't we dare to be naive? What is there to lose in speaking obvious truths? Can we skillfully speak the truth of

dana

to those in power?

Fearlessness

The practice of peace is fearless. Again this comes back to

dana

--giving and giving up. To give anything to an enemy or opponent, one must be fearless. There is a story in the [Zen classic] "The Tiger's Cave" that has stayed with me for years:

When the rebel army swept into a town in Korea, all the monks of the Zen temple fled except for the Abbot. The general came into the temple and was affronted when the Abbot did not pay him due ceremony and respect. "Don't you know, he shouted, you are looking at a man who can run you through without blinking?" "And you," replied the Abbot strongly, "are looking at a man who can be run through without blinking!" The general stared at him, then bowed deeply and retired.

The practice of peace is fearless. In meditation, we become intimate with all kinds of fear. We come to see that fearing death or great loss is no different from fearing more humble events, like meeting one's teacher face to face or performing a new ceremony.

Peace is not just quiet words and gentle demeanor. There is strength and sinew in it. I often think about Maha Gosananda of Cambodia simply deciding to walk across his country in the midst of a violent civil war. His saffron robes were both refuge and target. I also think about Thich Naht Hanh, whom [Zen teacher] Richard Baker described as "a cross between a cloud and a piece of heavy equipment." I have met these inspiring teachers and felt the steel of intention at the heart of their actions.

In meditation, we become intimate with all kinds of fear. We come to see that fearing death or great loss is no different from fearing more humble events, like meeting one's teacher face to face or performing a new ceremony. Fear itself provides an opening into the unknown. If we continue to make peace in awareness of our own fear, there is room for everyone's fear to fall away. Mutual respect arises.

Renunciation

A third element is renunciation, or relinquishment. Of course this is also inseparable from giving. Dogen writes, "If you study giving closely, you see that to accept a body and to give up the body are both giving."

Renunciation is a difficult principle for today's Western Buddhists. The Buddhist path, as it exists in our material world, gives mere lip service to renunciation. After mind and body drop away, the work has just begun.

The second bodhisattva precept is "not stealing," or "not taking that which is not given." For people in the so-called developed world--America, Europe, Japan--this is almost impossible. Many of us, even priests, lead privileged lives in rich countries whose economies are built on stealing the limited resources of the earth and the labors of poor people around the world. The injustice of poverty and wealth is itself a kind of violence. Really, we can't step outside of this system. But if each of us cultivates awareness of the links between consumption and violence, we can begin to make choices about what is of true value in our lives and how much we value the lives of others. Just at that point of relinquishment, renunciation is possible.

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