Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat 2017

OSWIECIM, POLAND. Bernie Glassman and The Zen Peacemakers are returning for the 22nd year to the old site of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland, for a Bearing Witness Retreat. Bernie Glassman began the annual Bearing Witness Retreats in 1996, with help from Eve Marko and Andrzej Krajewski. They have taken place annually every year since then. Much has been written about these annual retreats; at least half a dozen films have been made about them in various languages. They are multi-faith and multinational in character, with a strong focus on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action.

Learn More

The Face I See Everywhere: Why Barbara Wegmüller Returns to Auschwitz

“There is the face of a woman, looking at me, ever since I met her eyes for the first time. She is looking at me on one of the pictures in one of the memorial halls in Auschwitz I, the original camp. The photo shows her as she is waiting with a group of women and her children at the selection site. Her face shows disgust, fear, distress, and she seems to know what will happen to her and her children as she looks into the camera.”

Barbara Wegmüller, a Zen Peacemaker Roshi and Bearing Witness retreat Spiritholder (facilitator), responds to the question of why she’s been coming back to bear witness at Auschwitz for nearly 20 years.

Learn More

For the Sake of Children: Pilgrimage to Manzanar, Bearing Witness to Fear, Bonds, and Love

MANZANAR, CALIFORNIA, USA. “Bearing witness and experiencing the Three Tenets at Manzanar helped me, and gave me the courage, to touch deeper parts of myself. Whatever I saw at Manzanar: family love, family bonding, silence, community, and fear, was about me. It reflected me.” Last month on April 29, 2017, Zen Peacemaker Order member Nem Bajra joined 2,000 others and traveled to Manzanar, one of ten concentration camps that interned Japanese Americans during WWII, to participate in the 48th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. The following piece details his personal experience of the pilgrimage.

Learn More

We Are Sumud, or If You Imagine It, It Will Be

“Sumud, like so many other acts of heartful resistance, begins as an act of the imagination. Someone dares imagine that force, occupation, discrimination, poverty, and violence can end.” Eve Marko reflects on her recent trip to Israel, and acts of imagination and revolution.

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Roland

At the site of gruesome human medical experiments, Sensei Dr. Roland Yakushi Wegmüller has been serving and ministering the participants of the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat for the past 14 years. In this personal essay, Roland reflects on his role as the retreat’s doctor, the healing and kindness in the old camp, and the rich experiences and connections he’s had with his patients there. Deutsch nach Englisch.

Learn More

بَحِبِّك This Says I Love You: U.S. Couple Addresses Islamophobia with Dialogue and Artivism

Married U.S. couple and co-founders of the Bahebak Project, Azzam, a Muslim Palestinian, and Anna, a Jewish American, speak about their work transforming fear to love. Through the Bahebak Project, they create grassroots community support networks to provide emergency assistance to Syrian refugees, respond to Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Prejudice with dialogue and artivism, and engage in peace-building across difference in the United States and Middle East.

Learn More

The Path of Solidarity

NATIONAL CITY, CALIFORNIA, USA. “By letting go of who we imagine ourselves to be and cultivating a non-clinging heart, we can learn to accompany each other in an embodied way and live in community—and in dignity—with those with whom we suffer.” In the Path of Solidarity, Doshin Nathan Woods considers what it means to stand arm in arm as part of our Buddhist practice.

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Russell

This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996. In this post, Russell Delman writes a letter called “What Remains” about his experience during the 2016 Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.

Learn More

The One Body Had a Stroke

“Each one of us who lives here is part of that one body called the United States, though we often don’t realize it. One arm feels superior to the other arm, one leg would like the other to stumble, oblivious of the fact that that would cause the entire body to stumble.”

Learn More

Retracing the Path of Bullets

    Retracing the Path of Bullets   A Report from a Seventeen-day Pilgrimage in Sweden, Bearing Witness to the Effects of the Arms Industry on Communities, Veterans, Refugees and Caregivers. By Pake Hall, ZPO Member, Sweden (Top photo by Lennart Kjörling. All other photos by Pake Hall) During the summer of 2015, forty individuals undertook a pilgrimage from Gothenburg harbor to the industrial district of Bofors in Karlskoga, to bear witness to how war and arms exports are present right here in the midst of the idyllic Swedish summer. It was an interfaith group and people joined and left at different points along the way. So why did we do it? How can walking along open Swedish roads, listening to stories and meditating have importance in connection with this subject? In spring of 2014, I became ensnared in the net of endless discussions around refugees and Swedish arms exports on Facebook. That spring, the rise of the extreme right wing Sweden Democrats party and a new arms deal between Sweden and Saudi Arabia were the reason that these issues were being so hotly debated. The discussions soon became more like polarized monologs and in my opinion led lead nowhere. One thing that struck me was that many of those who were very critical of allowing refugees to come in to Sweden often wrote things like:” They are not real war refugees” and ”Those who really need to flee are not coming here. Those who come are just luxury refugees.” For my part, I was just as convinced that they were truly refugees and that they were fleeing from inhumane conditions and terrible suffering. The discussions became very strongly polarized, with people just talking past one another and separation grew with each exchange. When I looked at what others wrote and at my replies, it struck me that I had very little direct experience of war and of refugees in Sweden. In many ways, I live in an insulated world where I mostly just heard stories that reinforced my worldview. How would it be to actually listen to a Swedish soldier who had been in combat? Or to people that actually work in the Swedish arms trade? To refugees? To people working in the refugee camps…...

Learn More

Zen Peacemakers Response to the US Elections

Zen Peacemakers Response to the US Elections The recent election in the United States has had a deep impact, not just on Americans but on many around the world. It has stoked shock, fear, upset, and anger in many, and relief, hope, and gladness in others. The big differences in how we feel reflect the diversity of people, their karmas, values and vision. That difference is no problem; honoring those differences while seeking common ground and taking action is the challenge facing us now. This is the best time to invoke the Three Tenets and bring forth the mind of not-knowing, bearing witness, and a response grounded in these Tenets. Rather than knowing what to fear and expect, which sows fires of confusion, outrage and victimhood, let’s cultivate not-knowing, letting go of preconceptions and certainties. Please use whatever practice grounds you in this space, be it meditation, mindfulness, ceremony, or prayer. Bear witness to what arises, both outside and inside, and then honor the response that naturally comes forth from this present moment. This is the best of times to practice these Three Tenets, grounding our perceptions and actions in our experience of the wholeness of life rather than in fear and bias. May we serve this Whole with strength, patience, humor, and determination. Roshi Bernie Glassman, Spiritual Director Roshi Eve Marko Sensei Grant Couch, Chairman Sensei Chris Panos, President Rami Efal, Executive Director...

Learn More

Coming Back to Ourselves: Council Training in the Balkans

The following report on the ongoing Zen Peacemakers peace-building efforts in Bosnia/Herzegovina is a glimpse into the ongoing development of our Bearing Witness program that includes Auschwitz/Birkanu, Poland, The Black Hills in Turtle Island/South Dakota, USA and Bosnia/Herzegovina. These are funded by donations and income from previous retreats (learn more here). They are planned, staffed and participated by many of our Zen Peacemaker Order members, who are actively pursuing social action causes around the world in ecology, human rights, refugee relief, hunger, homelessness, hospice, veteran support and prison outreach and others. To join the Zen Peacemaker Order and participate in world-wide community of spiritual practitioners and social activists, follow this link.   “Coming Back to Ourselves: Notes on a Council Training Workshop in the Balkans” By Jared Seide, Center for Council, ZPO Three participants in last year’s Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreat to Auschwitz had come from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). They arrived in Poland with some trepidation about just what the plunge would be like. They left shaken and pretty raw. When Jozo and I met them this month in Sarajevo, they were eager and energized. “I’ve missed you guys so much,” Boris said, “and, seeing you here, I’m starting to realize what the trip to Auschwitz was really about and why I’ve been feeling so unsettled these past months.” Turning toward suffering can take many forms. As a practice, it can seem counterintuitive and, to be wholesome, it demands skillful means, deep fortitude and compassion. The suffering of the Bosnian people is deep and profound and the events of twenty years ago are still tender and uncomfortable. Even now, excruciating memories are triggered by certain sites, uncorked stories, even turns of phrase. Despite the notorious “Bosnian humor,” an off-color and surprising proclivity for diffusing tension with dark jokes, there seems to be a longing for a real encounter with our common experience of suffering. So much there has gone unaddressed, unrestored, unmet… and a deep and embodied experience of coming together to grieve, release, celebrate feels emergent. Or so we imagined, as we designed a 4-day Council Training with an assortment of peaceworkers engaged in the complex and challenging work of rebuilding. The Zen Peacemakers Order is deeply committed to building relationships and bearing...

Learn More

Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati

My wife, Roshi Eve Marko and I just returned from our annual teaching at the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island where, on the last day, we discussed Swami Vishnudevananda with Swami Swaroopananda. Below is a brief history of the wonderful Yoga Teacher and Peace Activist Swami Vishnudevananda. Swami Vishnudevananda A number of Zen Peacemakers will be gathering there in March. Also, Sivananda Peace Ambassadors will be joining all our Bearing Witness Retreats Vishnudevananda Saraswati (December 31, 1927 – November 9, 1993) was a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati, and founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams. He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, one of the first yoga teacher training programs in the West. His books The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (1959) and Meditation and Mantras (1978) established him as an authority onHatha and Raja yoga. Vishnudevananda was a tireless peace activist who rode in several “peace flights” over places of conflict, including the Berlin Wall prior to German reunification. In reaction to a vision of a world engulfed by flames and people running hither and thither, oblivious of borders, Vishnudevananda began his peace mission, calling it the True World Order, aimed at promoting world peace and understanding. The first act was to create the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1969, as he felt the need to train future leaders and responsible citizens of the world in the yogic disciplines. Later he conducted peace flights over the world’s trouble spots, earning himself the name “The Flying Swami”. On August 30, 1971, Vishnudevananda flew from Boston to Northern Ireland in his Peace Plane, a twin-engine Piper Apache plane painted by artist Peter Max. His Vedantic message, “Man is free as a bird”, challenged all man-made borders and mentally constructed boundaries. Upon landing, he was joined by actorPeter Sellers and they walked through the streets of Belfast chanting a song called “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Later that same year, on October 6, he took off with his co-pilot over the war-ridden Suez Canal and was buzzed by Israeli jets. The same thing happened with the Egyptian Air Force on the other side of the Canal. He continued eastward, “bombing” Pakistan and India with flowers and peace leaflets. On September 15, 1983 Vishnudevananda flew over the Berlin Wall, from West to East Berlin, in a highly publicized and particularly dangerous mission to promote peace. In a press interview given several weeks beforehand, he said, “Symbolically we want to...

Learn More

Victim Consciousness is a Consciousness of War

“So you are a Moroccan” told me the young Arabic woman in the mourners shade “go back to Morocco! You are not from here!”. We were a group of six people, Jewish, most of us Rabbis, all of us students of our late Rebbe Rabbi Zalman Schakter Shalomi who passed just some days ago. We met in the mourning Shiv’a ritual in Jerusalem that was held by Rabbi Ruth and Michael Kagan for all the students of Reb Zalman. Gabriel Meyer came with the idea to go visit the Abu Hadir family, that their son, Mohamad, was kidnaped last week by Jews from the street in his town Sho’afat, and was burned alive as a revenge for the kidnaping and murdering of the three Jewish kids two weeks before by Palestinians from Hebron. Lisa Naomi Beth Talesnick, who was playing a wedding melody on the harp for Reb Zalman’s Sacred Union with the Divine Light, arranged it through some connections she had with the family through her work place as a teacher in the Arabic high-school. Some of us decided to go. It felt like the right thing to do as a direct line from Reb Zalman’s Shiv’a: doing something we know he would have done if he could. We were escorted in by family members who met us in entrance to Sho’afat. They brought us to the big shade of mourners. A line of mourners was standing there and we went and shook the hand of each of them, expressing our sadness and condolences. The father of the boy stood in the middle. Tall, present man, red eyes, just came back from meeting with Abas in Rammalla. Then we were taken to the women mourners hut. The mother set there, surrounded by other women, family and friends. The noble woman in purple is the mother of Mohamad. “Why did they have to burn him alive?…” We were invited to sit. One of the women started to talk strongly to us in English: “who will protect us now? I am afraid for my own son now!” the fear was real. Just like the fear of parents in the Jewish side of town, yet here it was mixed with the fear from the Israeli police...

Learn More

The Peace Activist’s Demons – Israeli Engaged Dharma Report, Summer 2014

A few years ago a group of us came to the Palestinian village of Jaloud. We came to support local farmers planting olive trees in one of their fields, which they couldn’t access due to attacks by Israeli settlers. Indeed, during the day, a pickup truck came in our direction from one of the settler outposts. An armed settler came out and demanded that the work stops. His manner was abusive but as there were dozens of us, we disregarded him. As he was waiting for the soldiers that he called in order to kick us out, he said threateningly to the Israeli participants: “Why are you meddling here? These farmers will pay the price for that”. It all ended well and we had all reason to be satisfied with the accomplishment of the day. But we were very worried by the armed settler’s threat. We took him to be serious and we knew that the village was subject to raids and violent attacks by settlers previously. What should we do? What could we do? Actually it was very clear to us what was called for. We should turn to the Jewish settlers in the area and find the ones who would share our concern and help us to prevent an attack. To many people, this idea could seem very naïve or very stupid: Settlers and Peace activists do not work together. “Fanatical right wing nationalists” and “extreme Left self hating Jews” as members of these two groups often tend to call each other, have nothing in common. Also, from a political perspective, turning to settlers for assistance would be recognizing the legitimacy of their presence in the Occupied Territories. Other options – such as turning to the police or army – were not practical: We knew that they would not do anything. Our conviction that turning to settlers was the right thing to do was three-fold: 1) We could not tackle this issue alone, we needed help. An ally who belonged to the same community as the potential attackers would be the most helpful. 2) We had the obligation to do all that we could to prevent the farmers from being attacked. No matter what we thought of settlers living in the Occupied...

Learn More

Lawless Holy Land Cycles of Revenge in Israel and Palestine by Roger Cohen

from New York Times, July 4, 2014: PARIS — “Israel is a state of law and everyone is obligated to act in accordance with the law,” the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said after the abduction and murder of a Palestinian teenager shot in an apparent revenge attack for the killing last month of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. He called the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in East Jerusalem “abominable.” President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has denounced the murder of the three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, in the strongest terms. What to make of this latest flare-up in the blood feud of Arab and Jew in the Holy Land, beyond revulsion at the senseless loss of four teenagers’ lives? What to make of the hand-wringing of the very leaders who have just chosen to toss nine months of American attempts at diplomatic mediation into the garbage and now reap the fruits of their fecklessness? Sometimes words, any words, appear unseemly because the perpetuators of the conflict relish the attention they receive — all the verbal contortions of would-be peacemakers who insist, in their quaint doggedness, that reason can win out over revenge and biblical revelation. Still, it must be said that Israel, a state of laws within the pre-1967 lines, is not a state of law beyond them in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli dominion over millions of Palestinians, now almost a half-century old, involves routine coercion, humiliation and abuse to which most Israelis have grown increasingly oblivious. What goes on beyond a long-forgotten Green Line tends only to impinge on Israeli consciousness when violence flares. Otherwise it is over the wall or barrier (choose the word that suits your politics) in places best not dwelled upon. But those places come back to haunt Israelis, as the vile killings of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar demonstrate. Netanyahu, without producing evidence, has blamed Hamas for the murders. The sweeping Israeli response in the West Bank has already seen at least six Palestinians killed, about 400 Palestinians arrested, and much of the territory placed in lockdown. Reprisals have extended to Gaza. Palestinian militants there have fired rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel in...

Learn More

The 1st Bethlehem Walk

Quiet Walking Listening Circles  Women Leading Change  5 October 2012 Manger Square, Bethlehem People of all nationalities and faiths are invited to join us in an event of solidarity for peace in the Holy Land. We are calling for a shift in consciousness, based on a deep commitment to nonviolence, a firm resolve to overcome barriers of separation, and faith that peace is possible. We plan to converge on Manger Square, in the center of Bethlehem, walking mindfully in columns and circles. Mindful walking is quiet, slow, and dignified. It expresses with our being, rather than with slogans and flags, our intention to live in harmony together. The experience helps us to develop calm, steadiness and confidence in the face of challenge. This event is for everybody. As a symbol of the possibility of change women will be at the forefront as facilitators of listening circles in which we will share our visions for the change we wish to see. We share a love of the land that we live in side by side. We all suffer from the continued occupation and injustice and lack of security. We all want to live in peace and harmony. We recognize that we all have the same basic needs for equal rights and deserve the same respect and dignity. We take responsibility for sowing the seeds of change, moving forward one step at a time.   Organized by a group of heartful Palestinians and Israelis For more information, please contact Iris Dotan...

Learn More

Engaged Buddhism at Upaya Zen Center This Summer

Please join us at Upaya Zen Center in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, to study and practice with three of the leaders of socially engaged Buddhism in the United States: Roshi Bernie Glassman, Roshi Joan Halifax, and Acharya Fleet Maull. August 12 – 14, 2011 Charnel Ground Practice and the Five Buddha Families with Acharya Fleet Maull, M.A and Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD The essential nature of a bodhisattva or a Buddha is that he or she embraces the enlightened qualities of the five Buddha families, which pervade every living being without exception, including ourselves. These enlightened qualities include discriminating awareness wisdom, mirror-like wisdom, all encompassing space, wisdom of equanimity, and all accomplishing wisdom. To achieve the realization of these five Buddha families or the five dhyana buddhas, it is necessary to meet and transform the five distributing emotions of great attachment, anger or agression, ignorance or bewilderment, pride and envy. We will not only explore the practice of transforming these disturbing emotions on our own path, but also explore the five Buddha families as tools for social organizing principles for engaged work. CEUs for counselors, therapists and social workers are available for this program. For more info and to register: http://www.upaya.org/programs/event.php?id=639 ______________ August 19 – 21, 2011 Bearing Witness to the Oneness of Life with Roshi Bernie Glassman and Roshi Joan Halifax The founder of the Zen Peacemakers, Zen Master Bernie Glassman, evolved from a traditional Zen Buddhist monastery-model practice to become a leading proponent of social engagement as spiritual practice. He is internationally recognized as a pioneer of Buddhism in the West and as a founder of Socially Engaged Buddhism and spiritually based Social Enterprise. He has proven to be one of the most creative forces in Western Buddhism, creating new paths, practices, liturgy and organizations to serve the people who fall between the cracks of society. In this workshop Bernie will trace his evolution from the dharma hall to blighted urban streets. He will share the practices and principles he has developed to teach service as spiritual practice and to create sustainable, major service projects, such as the Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, NY. He will share the insights, revelations, personalities and personal experiences that have influenced his life and development. He...

Learn More

10 Asian + Asian American Buddhists Who Make a Difference

This post originally appeared on The Jizo Chronicles ____________ I’m taking this cue from Arun over on the blog Angry Asian Buddhist, which explores issues of race, culture, and privilege in American Buddhism. As Arun notes in his May 23rd post, May was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. He suggests: “…it would be great if the Buddhist blogging community took advantage of the eight remaining days in May to spend a little time—maybe just one post—recognizing the voices of Asian American Buddhists.” I want to take Arun up on that invitation and highlight a few of the contributions of Buddhists of Asian and Asian American descent to the field of socially engaged Buddhism. Please note that the list includes people born in the U.S. as well as born in other countries… I couldn’t imagine a list about engaged Buddhism that left off folks like Kaz Tanahashi and Thich Nhat Hanh, so that’s why I expanded on Arun’s original suggestion. This list is by no means exhaustive… I’m only touching on a few of the engaged Asian and Asian American Buddhists that I have known, worked with, and deeply appreciate. (By the way, the list is organized alphabetically by first name.) Anchalee Kurutach was born and raised in Thailand but has lived in the U.S. since 1988.  She has been involved with refugee and immigrant work for over twenty years in both Asia and the U.S. Anchalee is very active in both the Buddhist Peace Fellowship as well as the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. Anushka Fernandopulle, a dharma teacher in the Theravada tradition, is on the leadership sangha of the East Bay Meditation Center, in Oakland, CA. In addition to her past service as a board member for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and her support for many other progressive organizations, Anushka brings a dharmic perspective to politics: she serves as a mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Citizen’s Committee on Community Development, a commission that advises the city on community development policy. Canyon Sam is a third generation Chinese American activist, author, and playright. She is the author of Sky Train: Tibetan Women On the Edge of History. After spending a year backpacking through China and Tibet when she was in her twenties, Canyon...

Learn More

Prayer to Avert War by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo

Last night, I finished translating the Prayer to Avert War by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo (gang shar dbang po, 1925-1959). Khenpo Gangshar resided at Shechen (zhe chen) and, later, Surman (zur mang) Monastaries, both in eastern Tibet. He was also one of the primary teachers of both Thrangu Rinpoche (khra ‘gu) and the controversial Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (chos rgyam drung pa), who founded Shambhala International . . . Continue reading at JoshuaEaton.net . ....

Learn More

Challenging Questions for Engaged Buddhism

This post originally appeared on The Jizo Chronicles on September 30, 2010, written by Maia Duerr ———————- Okay, we’re going to mix it up a bit today. Lest you think that I am a birkenstock/patchouli-wearing socially engaged Buddhist, it’s important to know that one of my original intentions for The Jizo Chronicles was to give voice to many kinds of engaged dharma, and to demonstrate that it doesn’t all fall into the liberal/progressive camp. And that’s a good thing. One of the hats I wear is directing the Upaya Zen Center‘s two-year Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program. I’ve been doing this with Roshi Joan Halifax since the inception of the program in 2008, and it’s one of the most deeply satisfying experiences in my life. One of the students from our first cohort (which graduated this past March) was Dr. Christopher Ford. Chris is a dedicated Buddhist practitioner as well as a brilliant man. A graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, he served as the U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation during the Bush Administration and he’s currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Chris is the author of The Mind of Empire: China’s History and Modern Foreign Relations, and he has a website, New Paradigms Forum. Chris and I have a lot of affection and respect for each other, even while our perspectives on a number of political issues are often quite different. But I have to say, one paper that Chris wrote while in our program — called “Nukes and the Vow: Security Strategy as Peacework” — really caused me to question a number of my own assumptions, both about nuclear disarmament as well as engaged Buddhism. Because I know Chris well, because we have practiced alongside of one another, and because I have tremendous regard for both his meditation practice as well as his extensive experience working in the world of government policy and diplomacy, I really sat with challenging questions he posed in this paper. One of Chris’ points is that even as peaceworkers, we should be very wary of being absolutists and “theologizing” the idea of total nuclear disarmament.  He goes on to explore why abolition of nuclear weapons may not be the “skillful means” that advocates of nonviolence...

Learn More

Auschwitz II — Zen Peacemakers' retreat, June 2010, from Jiko

I did not go to Auschwitz to find out what happened there, nor to understand the worst that the human mind can do. Nor did I go in sympathy with the suffering of the Jews and others killed and tortured there. The only reason to go was to discover to what my own heart and mind could open from staying with such a dire, unbearable, and unfathomable event. I asked how the potential or actuality of what produced Auschwitz, is present and manifesting in my life? Can this experience help me learn and connect with my own humanness, help me in choosing love/identity as the only motivation for action in my life? We are taught in many religions that there is a “peace that surpasseth all understanding,” the stillness at the center of the storm, the great wisdom in which the small discomforts that can absorb our days and our energies are as nothing in the grand functioning of the cosmos, in the mightiness of God, or the cosmic void. What we experience is never personal — only our self-protective responses make it seem so. For the first three days at Auschwitz I was uncomfortable at hearing, seeing all the horror, viewing reconstructed, imagined lives of Jewish communities before the holocaust, and imagining the dislocation and cruelty of their precipitous deaths without dignity, the removal of their freedoms in the grossest of ways. I tried to imagine the mind that could be unmoved while doing such terrible actions. I was wondering if my being relatively unperturbed in the midst of all this came out of such a mind, unable to connect, distant and cold. Or was it acceptance of the human condition? My thoughts considered that I have studied old age, sickness and death intimately and deeply over quite a few years. We will all die, and death does not look too bad — my own near death experiences have felt like release and enfolding rather than fearful deprivations. Many of us die prematurely. Many of us suffer sickness and pain. Many of us, our lives and our passionate, loving dedication of sustained effort, are abused and misused. We lose hope, we lose our loved ones, our children, our countries, homes, possessions, and our...

Learn More

Building the Buddha of the Future: Community

Panelists at Symposium Discuss Socially Engaged Sanghas “The Buddha of the future,” said moderator Alan Senauke, speaking at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism and paraphrasing Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, “will be sangha” — that is, community. But what makes a socially engaged community? Senauke, a Soto Zen priest and vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center and founder of the Clear View Project, asked this question of his panelists on August 10. “What makes your community work?” he added. ‘What are the challenges?” In war-torn Colombia, building a socially engaged community can mean helping to support villagers in their work to heal strife and create productive lives, said Sarah Weintraub, executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF). She explained that the BPF’s Dharma in Action Project works with the Reconciliation Accompaniment Project in Colombia, allowing participants to be “present with those people and bearing witness” so that the Colombian villagers involved in the project “can live their peace work and grow their crops.” It also trains socially engaged leaders through “hands-on, on-the-ground experience.” Another example of community social engagement, Weintraub said, is the BPF’s Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE), focusing on “practice, study,and action. It’s awareness training, in relation to each other and social change, taking who we are as a starting point for action.” Yet a third example of socially engaged community-building, according to Weintraub, are efforts such as the “BPF 2.0” project, connecting people through Facebook and through other sites online. Socially engaged community also can mean a monastic group that ventures into the world to confront injustices. Clare Carter, a member of the Nipponzan Myojoji Japanese Buddhist Order, has walked on lengthy international pilgrimages to raise awareness of the legacies of slavery and racial oppression, and to demonstrate for peace. Yet living in community can itself be a powerful practice, she emphasized.  “In sangha we run into things and keep working on it minute by minute — it’s constant practice, with no getting away from it.” Young people often live in desperate need of community, and Ken Byalin and John Bell spoke of their own inspiring work in developing opportunities for youth. “The educational system was worse than I thought,” said Byalin, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest,...

Learn More

Beyond — Zen Peacemaker retreat at Auschwitz June 2 to June 12, 2010

The setting is beautiful, walking to Birkenau in the early morning. The sun is already bright and very hot. In the flat narrow fields striped with different greens, heads of grain grow and glisten, stirring in the sweet earth-scented breeze along with blue cornflowers and red poppies. Hay has been scythed and is being tossed by the pitchforks of bare-chested farmers, or swept into loose beehive shaped stacks. Morning doves call, and cuckoos repeat — just like the wooden bird popping out of its little carved clock house over the antipodean dinner table of my 1940s childhood. Icy shivers chill my spine and freeze my stride even before my mind registers the watchtowers and barbed wire enclosures – the endless ordered ranks of barracks and chimneys that appear over the fields. Too vast, too determined, they speak of an intent that is intolerable in its horror – the calculated efficiency of terrorizing, torturing, humiliating, degrading, murdering and annihilating 1.1 million children, women, and men of many kinds, nations, and faiths. Along with them were destroyed the humanity of the SS guards – the humanity that is the one quality giving value to our human life. Yet, over a few short days, Birkenhau was to become a place of such tender love, joy, and affirmation of spirit that it was incredibly hard to leave. It seemed at first that I felt only shallowly my own and others’ pain here, and yet I cried out in agony of spirit — with, and as, both victim and perpetrator. From that cry was released a love for each particular person encountered here, now, and for those from the past. For a brief moment I glimpsed how deep is our oneness in this glorious endeavor of apparent embodiment we call life, with all its capacity for joy, and its suffering from separation. This retreat at Auschwitz with Zen Peacemakers offered profound affirmation that when we continue to listen to ourselves and others with an open mind and heart, death and pain of body and spirit, however terrible, can never offer a final answer. And this truth exists even while such horrendous events seem beyond the realm of forgiveness and far beyond any possibility of consolation. So what is the...

Learn More

Burma's Saffron Revolution Comes To Symposium

Socially Engaged Buddhism at the Edge: Burmese Monks Speak of Torture, Imprisonment Two veterans of the “Saffron Revolution” — the peaceful revolt in August and September, 2007 of saffron-robed Buddhist monks in Burma, who led thousands of people in street marches to protest the brutal military dictatorship in that nation — spoke on Wednesday, August 11 at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. The monks shared a harrowing account of repression and cruelty. “We marched for freedom of speech, of writing, freedom of the press,” said one of the monks (whose names and photos are being withheld in this report to protect their families in Burma from possible government reprisals). “We marched for human rights.” The monks, who have received political asylum in the United States after their dangerous escape from Burma, are members of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance. One of the monks explained that in the street marches of 2007 they protested with “loving compassion. Just breath and chant. We chanted, ‘May all human beings be free from killing one another. May all human beings be free from torturing one another. May all human beings be well and happy.’ We didn’t break any law. We were met with brutality and arrests. Monasteries were raided at midnight and shut down.” These events, well documented in Western news media at the time, resulted in harsh treatment of monks detained by the Burmese police. One of the monks at the Symposium spoke of being repeatedly tortured while imprisoned. Other monks were killed. Three years later, an estimated 450 Buddhist monks remain locked up in Burma, under terrible conditions. “We’re supporting the monks in prison,” one of the speakers said. Many other monks live in hiding, disguised as laypeople. According to an All Burma Monks’ Alliance flyer distributed at the Symposium, the Alliance members work to achieve a fourfold mission: 1. “To support the many monks currently being held as political prisoners in Burmese jails. Prisoners in Burma are not given food, medicine, or any other sustenance. Their families must provide them with everything, and their families are desperately struggling to do this. We are helping them.” 2. “To support refugee monks who have escaped from incarceration and torture in Burma. Some live...

Learn More

Dalai Lama: Monks and soldiers have more in common than meets the eye

His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a statement supporting armed forces featured in a post last Monday on the  of the Buddhist Military Sangha blog.  His Holiness said that actions that appear “harsh or tough” on the surface may actually be “non-violent” if they are based on good motivation.    What makes both a good monk and a good solider is the drive to serve others:  “Inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.”  How do these comments make you...

Learn More

My Murmurs Over the Marmara by Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi

Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi has represented the Jewish tradition at Auschwitz Bearing witness retreats for many years. He studies Zen with Bernie Glassman and is a peace activist. He wrote the following article on recent events: English tr., Yair Ohr As a peace activist, I am hurt and frustrated to see supposed “peace activists” attacking other human beings with violent rage: that is NOT the way to bring peace. As an international peace activist, I want to say to those who were involved in the violence on board the Marmara flotilla: You are not peace activists. You came as confrontationists looking for a fight, and you are personally responsible for the bloodshed that took place. I would have expected other peace activists from around the world to come out loudly and say this unambiguously, but it seems that their voices have suddenly gone silent. And as an Israeli, it frustrates me to see the Israeli Army so foolishly falling into this trap. Could the Israeli army with all its advanced intelligence gathering systems not have obtained more accurate information about what was planned for them on board the ship? Couldn’t they have just neutralized the ship’s engine by some simple commando action in order to stop the ship dead at sea, without direct confrontation, thus avoiding any bloodshed? The State of Israel has become a very clumsy bully that strikes out heavily against anyone who irritates it, then justifies by crying, “But he started! He spit on me! He insulted me! He hit me with an iron rod!” The modern Israeli Army resembles the Golem of Prague, which was sent to protect the Jews, but was an inept and dangerous creature. But unlike the original Golem, it seems that the modern Israeli version lacks any sage guidance to control it, and no one knows to erase the Divine Name from its forehead and return it to dust at the right time, as did the Maharal of Prague in the famous story. Many of us right now want only to hide our faces in the ground out of shame: ashamed of “our” state that conducts itself with such inane stupidity; ashamed of the “peace activists” who tried to murder soldiers with clubs and knives; ashamed of...

Learn More

Second Life Activism by Kate Crisp

Virtual Second Life Free Tibet meditation vigil (video) Virtual Second Life chain in support of Burmese monks (video) Using the avatar Vivienne, Peacemaker Institute and Prison Dharma Network director Kate Crisp organized hourly meditations to promote Tibetan peace and organized a day-long vigil and a chain of avatars that stretched 500 people in support of Burmese monks. View Tibetan Peace video.View Burmese Support...

Learn More

Multi-Faith Prayer for Peace Group Celebrates 60 Years in June

From the Orlando Sentinal Gustav Niebuhr, Sister Joan Chittister, and Zen Master Bernie Glassman will be among those participating in a conference celebrating the 60th anniversary of Fellowship in Prayer, a multi-faith nonprofit forced on “prayer for peace,” on the campus of Princeton University. The June 24-27 conference will also feature a gala performance by Salman Ahmad, lead singer of the band Junoon which has been described as ”the U2 of Pakistan.” The conference, PRAYER: An Answer for the 21st Century, offers a unique opportunity to join others in identifying and claiming the values and practices within and across faith traditions that are foundational for peace, justice and global sustainability. “Our world is deeply in need of interfaith cooperation,” says Janet Haag, Fellowship in Prayer’s Executive Director, “and we can think of no better way to mark our 60th anniversary than to invite people to join us in committing themselves to social change based on a broad, inclusive spiritual and social consciousness.” For more information, to register for the conference or the gala, visit www.fellowshipinprayer.org or call...

Learn More

Iran, Burma and Global Cybersanga by Laura Busch

From the last issue of our Bearing Witness Newsletter on Socially Engaged Buddhism: by Laura Busch Socially engaged Buddhism has gone online. Or rather, we have gone online as socially engaged Buddhists. Yet, there are those who may cringe at the idea. One can easily find on the Internet rampant materialism, and new methods of communicating human anger and ignorance such as cyberbullying, flaming and spamming. So is the Internet truly a beneficial technology for promoting social justice and activism? And if so, how do we use this technology to benefit sentient beings? Iran: Internet democracy or repression? Scholars studying social activism and the Internet have offered many answers to these types of questions. While the Internet can be effectively used for social justice, it can equally be a tool of surveillance and censorship. This duality was apparent during the 2009 election in Iran, where angry citizen used Twitter to organize protests against the government. Protester cell phones captured and posted videos of these events, which eventually made their way to news agencies like BBC and CNN. At the same time, the Iranian government used the very same technology to seek out, arrest, and torture protesters. As we can see, the Internet can be as much of a liberating technology as a technology of control. The Digital Divide Furthermore, other factors can inhibit the Internet’s effectiveness as a tool for alleviating suffering. One of these factors is the “digital divide”: a disparity of internet access within and between countries. These disparities are generally based upon differences in geography, income, age and education, often resulting in a lack of internet access amongst impoverished populations. This lack of access can also result in perpetuating social inequality. Yet, despite these important issues, the Internet does appear to have greater potential as an effective tool for activism than previous communication technologies like television. The Internet is a unique in that it allows people to instantly connect to other like-minded individuals, find information, and make their voices heard. It can be a platform where local marginalized voices, that have previously been silenced, can reach the global public and express their needs. Constructing Global Cybersanga So how can we effectively use this technology to educate and promote social justice in...

Learn More

Email Your Senator for Burma!

This from the U.S. Campaign for...

Learn More

Tikkun Interview: Sami Awad Palestinian Activist for Nonviolence

Tikkun Interview: THIS IS A CONVERSATION WHICH TOOK PLACE IN TIKKUN’S office in California in May 2008. Sami Awad(SA) is the chair of Holy Land Trust, a not-for-profit Palestinian organization established in 1998 in the holy city of Bethlehem. Michael Lerner (ML) is editor of Tikkun magazine. Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been working with Holy Land Trust to support their campaign for nonviolence. SA: The Palestinian community in the last three or four years has become more and more aware that engaging in armed resistance has not achieved anything on the strategic level as a pragmatic approach to ending the occupation. More and more Palestinians are seeing that engaging in armed resistance is not doing anything. ML: I am going to ask a few of the questions that will pop into the minds of people who don’t share Tikkun’s perspective, thus “playing devil’s advocate” in this interview. Here goes: “What do you mean, more people? Didn’t they just vote Hamas into power, and Hamas says that the armed struggle is the way to go forward.” read...

Learn More

Zen Peacemaker Sensei Eve Marko introduces Palestinian Peace Activist

Sami Awad is a Christian Palestinian, not a Buddhist, yet colorful divans lining a large room in the offices of Holy Land Trust, the nonprofit he founded and heads, serve as meditation mats and cushions for staff and associates. Each Friday morning he participates in a nonviolent action around the Separation Wall that often turns violent (“I have to call my wife and parents as soon as it’s over to tell them I’m okay.”). But he has attended a few of the Zen Peacemakers’ bearing witness retreats at Auschwitz and plans to send several of his activists to participate in the multifaith, multinational retreat for youth that will take place there in November 2010… read...

Learn More

Take Action! Buddhist Peace March

We continue of our month of focus on Buddhist activism with a call to action.  This April, Symposium presenter Sister Claire Carter and the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Nichiren Buddhism are joining peace activists organizing walks across the country converging in a national rally in New York City on May 2, 2010 when the United Nations begins its review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Get involved walking, hosting or sponsoring...

Learn More