It was a Life

Sami Awad is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust (HLT), a Palestinian non-profit organization which he founded in 1998 in Bethlehem. HLT works with the Palestinian community at both the grassroots and leadership levels in developing nonviolent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence. He has been to many Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats and is a close friend of Bernie Glassman and Eve Marko.

Sami Awad, on Auschwitz, fear, and the meaning of nonviolence

Sami Awad’s article “It was a Life.”

woman-crying Every killing of every human is a story and a life that was, that is and was to be. It was a heartbeat that stopped before its time. Itwas a dream that disappeared abruptly like a television set that suddenly lost its power.

It was a young woman who ate her last meal; it was not her favorite dish, but she did not want to upset her mother for cooking it. “Next time make pizza mom,”
she yelled… then she yelled her last cry. It was a wife who did not know that her husband’s last look into her eyes would be imprinted as her eternal memory of him.

It was a child who was learning to ride a bicycle. He fell, scratched his knee and cried. It was the father who gently put his hand on the wound, kissed his son’s forehead, wiped the tears, and told him “I am here for you.” A second later they were both not there. It was a young teenager who finally found the courage to send a Facebook message to a girl he admired. It was the young girl who received the message and blushed and wondered what she should do.

It was the mother who just finished praying for her son to find a job. It was the son who was running home excited to have found his first job in 5 years; now he was going to take care of his family, buy new clothes for his kids, and take his wife out to dinner… something he never did. It was the businessman who called his wife and told her that he had found the right person for the job, “thank God”. It was also the man who was fired from that job and was thinking death would be more merciful than to break the news to his wife. He did not really mean it but it happened.

It was the grandmother who was telling old-time stories to her grandchildren. It was her four grandchildren who were not paying attention, looking out the window eagerly wanting to play football at the beach because they were bored, the weather was just right, and it felt safe.

It was a doctor who was still trying to figure out how to pay his student loans with the little money he was making. It was the garbage collector who was saving every bit of money to send his only daughter to medical school. It was the student who was flipping through internet sites, Harvard Medical, UNC, Stanford… day dreaming, smiling, knowing she will never have a chance to get in any of them.

It was the father who just caught his son and friends smoking cigarettes behind the house and started yelling at them. It was the kid who ran away to the wrong direction of the neighborhood, the father followed him, they both did not return. It was the mother who called her sister joyfully telling her that her baby has grown up and no longer needs diapers. It was the baby.

It was a young man who felt there is no choice but to carry a weapon and shoot it into nothingness. It was the young man who felt there is no choice but to carry a weapon and shoot it into someone’s existence. It was both of them who ended up shooting the emptiness and the humanity out of each other.

It was a life… It was a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. It was a smell, a touch and a look. It was putting on makeup, brushing teeth, hanging with friends, and arguing which team was going to win the next soccer game.

It was a smile, a cry, a kiss and a hug. It was learning to say “please”, “thank you”, “hello” and “goodbye”.

These lives have now been lost, living as painful memories in the heart of their beloved who now carry stories of deep pain, hurt, fear and disbelief. These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughter who will never again smell, touch and see their beloved again. These are humans like me and you whose lives have been altered forever but hopefully never becoming members of the “it was a life”.

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Victim Consciousness is a Consciousness of War


The woman leaning to the wall behind this 15 years old guy (that was brutaly beaten by Israeli police) is the one who told me to go back to Morocco…

“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:

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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 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 

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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 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.

As for the Palestinian Authority, so-called, it is weak, and the Palestinian national movement still riven with division beneath a “unity government” that cannot even pay salaries in Gaza.
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Serving the One: Training in Spiritually-Based Social Action

The Zen Peacemakers is sponsoring a new training program in spiritually-based social action, led by its Founder, Roshi Bernie Glassman. For many years Bernie has modeled his practice on the words of the 8th century Founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo-daishi: You can tell the depths of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others.  Bernie founded the Greyston Mandala in Yonkers, NY and the Zen Peacemakers to provide structures and examples of a path of service to others that is, in and of itself, a powerful tool to awaken to the oneness of life. This program will clarify the spiritual foundations of such a path and how they can be applied to one’s life and work.

It will take place at Greyston, in Yonkers, NY, and Bernie will use the Greyston Mandala as his main case study. Bernie will discuss the practical and visible applications of the Greyston model and participants will be given the opportunity for hands-on internships at the Greyston Bakery.

The program begins with a four-day workshop led by Bernie Glassman, from September 25-28, 2014. This workshop will include teachings and discussion on the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers, the Five Energies used to structure the Greyston Mandala (including most importantly their practical applications), and Greyston’s own Pathmaking Program, a philosophy and path providing individuals with a foundation on which to build their own life path.

From Oct 2014 thru July 2015, participants will be divided into teams of 4 and each team will serve an internship at the Greyston Bakery for 3 weeks. These internships will be under the supervision of Greyston Bakery President and CEO, Mike Brady, Wharton business graduate and long time meditator. The purpose of the internships is to provide a hands on experience of working in a profitable company based on a spiritual practice.

The program will conclude with another four-day workshop led by Bernie Glassman, from July 29-August 2, 2015. Participants will be asked to evaluate their internship experience, including the following reflections:

  • To what extent did the Three Tenets manifest in Greyston’s structure and operations?
  • To what extent did the Five Energies manifest?
  • What worked and what didn’t?
  • Suggestions for change.

[Greyston staff will be on hand to listen to and address issues.]

Interested participants will be able to present their ideas for spiritually-based projects.

A final overview of spiritually-based action and social entrepreneurship will end the workshop.

read more

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Eve Marko Shares Thoughts on Peter Matthiessen

I want to share some thoughts and feelings I have about Peter Matthiessen, who passed away last Saturday.

Peter was in the hospital till Friday, and I was told that he talked very little to none at all in the last few days of his life. But Michel Engu Dobbs, his successor, said that on Wednesday evening, when he visited, he asked him if he wished to chant the Heart Sutra in Japanese, or the Shingyo, as they did in his Ocean Zendo. Peter said yes, and the sick, mostly silent man and Engu chanted the entire thing in Japanese without missing a beat.

The next night Engu visited him again, and this time Peter was silent. But as Engu was leaving he noticed that Fox News was on the TV screen, so he asked Peter: “Do you want Fox News on the TV?” and Peter barked out in that low voice of his: “No!” “Do you want me to change the channel?” “Yes!” I think those were the last words he spoke to Engu.

These two vignettes say so much about the man. On the one hand he was deeply, almost vehemently devoted to a practice of realizing the oneness of life, and especially the practice of zazen. He delved deeply into the Heart Sutra’s Form is no other than emptiness; in fact, many of us still use the translation he did of it along with Bernie. And at the same time he had a passion for justice and decency in this world. Even in his later, older years he didn’t lose his anger over what we were doing to plants and animals who share this planet with us and continued to speak loudly and clearly on behalf of people he felt were wronged. He refused to find solace in transcendence.

In my experience, he was unlike many practitioners who seem to feel that since justice and injustice, right and wrong, are just more pairs of dualities, what’s there to get excited about? It’s easy to get turned off by a religious and political climate that is often highly fundamentalist and partisan, find refuge in concepts such as emptiness and oneness, and not act. Or else, not knowing what to do and feeling paralyzed, try to accept things as they are and leave it at that.

That was not Peter Muryo. He was conflicted and unsure of many things, liked to say he was the world’s worst Zen student, but he couldn’t stand neutrally aside in the face of injustice. I remember when we were on safari in Tanzania with him some years ago. Among us was a man with a high position in the Pentagon and one of Donald Rumsfeld’s advisers. Peter was always deeply courteous and gracious, never once said a word that betrayed his passionate differences with the Bush administration, especially over their treatment of the environment. But one evening after dinner someone asked him a question, and this man who preferred to never give a talk without copious notes at his side launched spontaneously into a deeply moving portrayal of what we, who’d been out in the savannah every day, couldn’t see: the world-wide depredation, the scramble by flora and fauna to adapt to this two-legged predator, and especially the responsibility to the planet that we, as Americans, had betrayed. It was a cry from the heart: scholarly, eloquent, low-key—and a cry nevertheless.

I recently came across this quote by Hannah Arendt: Moral conduct depends on the intercourse of man with himself. It comes out of bearing witness and reflection on what one has seen. It doesn’t come out of books, dogmas, or the media, but is a deeply personal matter.

Peter took the world personally; he spoke and wrote for it. He never equated the practice of letting go with apathy. He was as deeply engaged off the cushion as he was on it. I feel his aliveness deeply, even now.

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