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 show we cannot cross borders with guns, only with flowers. If they shoot me over the Berlin Wall what difference is it? Many people have died for war; I shall die for peace.” He safely landed his ultralight glider in an East Berlin field and, after several hours of questioning by East German authorities, was released to West Berlin, where he immediately held the Global Village Peace Festival alongside the Wall. The festival featured a walk across hot coals to demonstrate that the mind is stronger than matter, and figuratively that the human spirit can overcome “fire” of all kinds. Vishnudevananda returned to Berlin when the Wall fell in 1989, staging a peace festival and a brief meeting with then-East German leader Egon Krenz to thank him for allowing the events to unfold peacefully.
In 1984, Vishnudevananda and his students toured India in a double-decker bus, conducting programs aimed at awakening the Indian people to their ancient tradition of yoga. In February he tried to mediate between the Hindu and Sikh factions in Amritsar, entering the Golden Temple to speak to the Sikh leaders who had sought refuge there.
Over the years, Vishnudevananda met regularly with other spiritual and religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. He organized yearly symposia on such topics as yoga and science, the possibilities of the mind, sustainable living and nuclear disarmament.
Vishnudevananda died on November 9, 1993. His body was then placed into the Ganges at the Sivananda Kutir, and the rite named jalasamadhi was performed, merging the abandoned body with the water.Learn More
“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 and Israeli authorities. Then she got political: “they took our land and built the local train passing here in the middle of Sho’afat. We do not want it here! They didn’t build it for us, they built it for the settlers, for those who killed our son! If we go on this train the Jews give us bad looks. We do not need they transportation. We have our own… ” many of the other women there were nodding.
We told them that we hear the pain, and that we are here because we and many many others are so ashamed that this thing could even happen. We told them we are Rabbis, and that we come from the mourning ritual of our Rabbi who just died, who was himself a man of peace. We told them we will pass their massage to our communities. They noded and thanked us.
We received many thanks from women and man from the family, telling us how important it is for them that we came to visit. They even invited us to stay and dine with them the “Iftar” – the breaking of the fast of Ramadan after sunset. It was so touching. The mother of the murdered kid (dressed in purple in the picture) was very noble all the time. Heart broken and opened she felt to me. We looked at each other many times and I saw how she takes it in with sad respect. It was heart braking to even think what she must feel. “why did they have to burn him alive”? she asked…
“Those who did it, they are not human beings” said another woman there. And I, who heard it so many times said by Jews regarding the Arabs (“they are not humans.. they are animals”) and regarding the Nazis, I knew that we ARE ALL just humans. And that IS what humans are capable of doing to eachother. Humans can love and humans can be so afraid that they can think that by murdering the “other” they do something good. Those humans can be Germans, Polish, Arabs, Africans or Jews. We are all just very human. 13 years of retreats in Auschwitz with Roshi Berney Glasman and the Zen Peacemakers helped me realize it. The Nazis were human as of any other human being. Dehumanizing the perpetrator helps the victim justify any act of violence, later on, towards those who are “not humans” in their eyes.
When we were about to leave, a young woman, leaning on the wall asked me who we are. She could not accept that we are for peace and we live in Israel. Not in the west bank, in Israel! “where did you come from?” she asked me. I told her that my own family came 200 years ago from Morocco, thinking that it will surprise her, but it didn’t. “you should go back to where you came from” she said. “so we cannot live here in peace, you and i?” I asked. “yes we can” she answered “under a Palestinian state”. When I asked her when did her family immigrate to this land she said “never. We were always here. We are Canaaniets”. I heard it before, the distortion of history that happens amongst the Palestinians to justify themselves is sad and frightening. But I knew that it is not the time for argue. I came to share with them the brokenness of the heart over the murders, and not to have a political discussion. I told her how sad I am for all that had happened. She nodded.
For me it was another lesson in how being a victim actually serves the ego in gaining “points” for its causes. I see it over and over again, with Jews and with Arabs. I see it with men and with women in my work of relationships and love issues. We all try to convince ourselves how right we are because “the other” is so “wrong”, and by that justify ourselves and gain some points.
The war is over only when we dare to not be a victim anymore. And then – it is over in a second.Victim consciousness is a consciousness of war. It justify war as a “defense” and creates more and more war. That is why the ministry of war in Israel is called the ministry of Defense….
People tend to think that in peace there is no perpetrator. I think that in peace there is actually no victim. All the rest just unfolds from there.
I felt that from the parents of Mohamed Z”l. By allowing Israelis to come and visit them they elevated themselves a bit from the victim-defensive-aggressive loop. i thank them for that, and pray we all find the way to take full responsibility for our own life experience and stop the victim story, that is, truly, a boring one already.
The group was: Lisa, Dawn Cherie Ezrahi, Rabbi Menachem Kalus, Rabbi David Ingber, Gabriel Meyer and myself:Learn More
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 Territories and no matter what recognition our turning to them would grant them, preventing the attack was the top priority. 3) There is much more to “settlers” than the limited and stereotypical images that we “activists” may project on them.
These convictions, which were spontaneous and not a result of lengthy deliberation, were a direct fruit of our Dharma practice: Awareness that we are not self-reliant, an obligation to prevent harm and a turning away from the tendency to demonize.
We managed to get in touch with a Rabbi living in Shilo, the main settlement near Jaloud. He heard us on the phone and came to meet us in Jerusalem the next day. His response was not something to take for granted – he did not share our political viewpoint and many in his community would call us trouble makers and shut themselves off to anything we had to say. But for him, the potential of violence and the possibility to prevent it came before political views and contorted perceptions. The
encounter was very warm. In spite of the ideological divide, we discovered that we had shared values, shared concerns and that we could trust each other.
To make a long story short – practically speaking the endeavor was unsuccessful. The political gaps and straight forward animosity did not enable the Rabbi to find partners for this task in the settlement and we too were limited in our ability to engage Jaloud residents with the grievances he had towards the village. A few days after we understood that this endeavor will not bear fruit, a Jaloud teenager working on his family’s fields was shot in the stomach by settlers. He was hospitalized and recovered in a few weeks. The attackers were never caught.
We stayed in touch with the Rabbi. We visited him in the settlement once. A few times he sent us emails with his views on political issues and a few times we did the same. We can sum it up by saying that politically our meeting and correspondences with the Rabbi did not achieve much but that a mutual respect developed. Or, we can say that a mutual respect developed but politically not much was achieved. Which of these phrasings would be the right to use?
As mentioned above, the polarization between Israelis of opposing political views is great. There are several large hate groups against “leftists” on Facebook. On various occasions left wing activists have been physically attacked. Among left wingers you can find those who demonize against religious Jews and settlers. As activists who learn firsthand of the discriminatory policies of our government and the violence of both soldiers and settlers against Palestinians, we need to be careful of the negative mental and emotional patterns that we may develop towards those groups. Mindfulness of inner processes, as well as reflection on our experiences and cultivating the qualities of the heart, are essential for this task. The story above, as well as the ones that will follow, give a taste of how we contend with this specific aspect of our Dharma inspired activism.
A couple of years ago, our friends from the Palestinian village Deir Istiya told us that sewage from Revava, a near-by settlement has been spilling into their olive groves. We went to see the area and found the beautiful olive groves flooded by disgusting sewage. The scenario is a typical one: The settlers are totally indifferent to the damage they are causing and the automatic response in us is to be furious, and to fall into an “us” vs. “them” approach: No use in talking to them, we need to make them accountable1. Instead, we tried to approach it differently and give Revava the chance to take responsibility. Ask any experienced anti-occupation activist and they will tell you: “No use trying to do such a thing”.
One of us called the council of Revava and asked to speak to its director. After hearing the word ‘sewage’, the director immediately snapped: “Who the hell are you?” When he heard the answer “I
have friends in Deir Istiya”, he burst into a torrent of abuse and slammed the phone. How would you feel if this happened to you? Perhaps, “We gave them a chance but they are assholes and now we can go public with the story”. But a minute later our guy picked up the phone, dialed the same number and asked for the director again. Somehow, this time a conversation ensued. The director, still aggressive, refused to take any responsibility. Instead he demanded: “Why are you helping them? Do you know how much trouble I have?! Why are you not helping me?”. A ludicrous comparison: Revava enjoys the financial and military backing of a strong regime and its residents are well able to demand that their needs be met. Deir Istiya has no such backing and the little it does have, is under threat by that same – occupying – regime. Still, our guy responded “What kind of help would you want?” and the conversation ended with the director inviting our guy to pay a visit. It took them a few more phone calls to coordinate a time and in the process the director started to call our guy on his own initiative.
When our guy arrived at the Revava council offices, he saw that they are located right above the settlement’s sewage facility which broke down and was pouring its filth to the nearby olive groves. The meeting was a frustrating and depressing one. The director felt comfortable enough to express openly his arrogance and racism: “We” (Jews) are good, intelligent, blessed… “I know Palestinians much better than you do”. “A Jewish soul is not like that of a Gentile. I have special powers. I can recognize a Jewish soul”. A while later our guy said that be that as it may he would like to know how the director intends to fix the broken sewage facility. To this the director gave the astonishing answer: “I have so many assignments on my list. This is not in our priorities”.
We informed the director that we intend to issue a complaint against the settlement. We published a petition and hundreds of people sent complaints to the Ministry of environment. This ministry intervened and new infrastructure was put in place – the contamination has stopped (but no compensation to the farmers was given). So was it a waste of time to try and communicate with Revava? And what will happen the next time we run into a similar situation – will we then think “no use approaching ‘them’, we already tried that before”?
Well, recently we met the same situation. Sewage from another settlement has been flowing for several weeks into a Deir Istiya farmer’s olive groves. We walked through the beautiful olive terraces and again witnessed the magnificent trees immersed in filthy, smelly sewage. We reached the security fence surrounding the settlement. Right on its other side was the flood of sewage gushing out of the sewage pipe. And next to it stood a resident of the settlement who noticed us approaching and came to… why did he come?
It didn’t start off so well. As we were speaking to the man and asking him questions about the leak, one of us started filming. The settler got into a rage: “Stop filming at once”, he demanded. Our guy stopped the filming but the man did not calm down. “Come here”, he yelled, “give me your camera”. The settlement’s fence was separating him from us so he couldn’t do much, but he continued to
surprised when the man phoned us and declared: “We must make the authorities fix the sewage. I want you to phone X and I will phone Y and together we will make them do it”. The next morning he phoned again and informed us: “I made them fix it. I screamed at them and told them what I think of them. And they came and fixed it. I love you, you are my (Jewish) brothers and I don’t care about your politics”.
We were happy but also perplexed. For weeks this man –and others in the settlement – knew about the problem but did not fix it. What was it in meeting us that made him turn his powerful energies to get it finally fixed? Usually, Dharma stories focus on qualities of compassion, listening and kind speech, and give accounts of how expressions of these qualities transform both the conflict and the harmful mindsets of the people involved in it. So now we have a new kind of Dharma story: We stood up to this man’s aggression. We didn’t speak in a soft voice but instead raised our voice and expressed our dislike with his manner. That transformed his behavior. Confrontation can also be transformative.
These are three examples of our attempts to communicate and arrive to mutual understanding with people living in settlements in the Occupied Territories. There are plenty more such stories we could tell. Is there a moral to these stories? There are certainly some clear patterns:
1) Communication is possible. Sometimes it will reveal to us the racism and aggressiveness of our political foes. But even then patience, steadiness and friendliness can bring down some of the barriers of hostility between “us” and “them”. And at many other times the will to communicate will allow us to meet kind and wise people and allow them to meet us and see our kindness and wisdom. This is extremely valuable when the norm is for Israeli right-wingers and peace activists to be extremely hostile towards each other.
2) When communicating with people in a position of power and privilege one should not shy away from confrontation. True communication may not be possible without a will to challenge power and privilege that have been abused. As much as we would like these qualities to work wonders, listening, acceptance and compassion may not always be enough. Sometimes confrontation is also called for.
3) Our commitment to communicate and reach out has limited practical results in terms of stopping violence or achieving justice. Time and again we have reached this sort of dead end.
This gap gives rise to several dilemmas. Communication is very tempting. The pain of animosity is something many in the Dharma community and general Israeli society wish to be able to heal. But we
must not let our ability to offer a sense of healing to blind us to the fact that it is of a very partial nature. Yes, we must take responsibility for our demons and devote energy so that our projections and prejudices don’t close our hearts and minds. When meeting with people of different views we want to be open, friendly and free of aversion. But we should not feel content in this achievement: Our main responsibility is to change the reality of injustice and systematic violence that is the occupation.
Engaged Dharma Israel is a group of Israeli Dharma practitioners. As part of our Dharma practice we engage in Israeli-Palestinian solidarity and aim to raise awareness in the Dharma community to the reality of Palestinian life under occupation.
You can contact us at [email protected]
Our (Hebrew language) blog is www.engagedharma.wordpress.comLearn More
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 response.
This is not what happens in a state of laws. Beyond the Green Line lies a lawless Israeli enterprise profoundly corrosive, over time, to the noble Zionist dream of a democracy governed by laws.
All four killings took place in territory occupied or annexed by Israel since 1967. Here the law has taken second place to the Messianic claims of religious nationalists who believe Jews have a God-given right to all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Their view has held sway, even if it is not the view of a majority of Israelis.
No democracy can be immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory under its control. To have citizens on one side of an invisible line and subjects without rights on the other side of that line does not work. A democracy needs borders; Israel’s slither into military rule for Palestinians in occupied areas where there is no consent of the governed.
5 October 2012
Manger Square, Bethlehem
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 Katz.Learn More
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.
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
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 will present some of his innovations, such as Bearing Witness Retreats, living on urban streets and gathering for a week at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He will talk about the future of socially engaged spiritual practice.
10 CEUs for counselors, therapists and social workers available through the New Mexico Counseling and Therapy Practice Board at a cost of $30.00 per retreat.
For more info and to register: http://www.upaya.org/programs/event.php?id=629Learn More