Joan Halifax Dharma Talk: Buddhist Peace Work

For Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace

Review by Joan Jiko Halifax

Edited by David ChappellMany people have observed that where there is the deep shadow of suffering in the life of the world, then there is also penetrating light. Such are the lives, communities and work of the compassionate people in this important and wise book. This book explores the lives and actions, insights and guidelines of some of the world’s most beloved Buddhist practitioners, teachers, and social activists who are currently working to end suffering in the life of the world. These friends from different cultures and schools of Buddhism are all actively engaged in the singular activity of peacemaking. They express their work of compassion in profoundly diverse, wise and brave ways. And they have used the philosophy, practice, ethics, community building, and beauty of Buddhism to help with this endless work of compassion in action.

Buddhism has since its inception inspired its practitioners to discover the most radical form of inclusivity. This is the realization that all beings in all realms, no matter how miserable, violent, depraved and deluded, have a mind ground that is not only free of suffering and delusion but also not separate from the mind ground of any other being. Our individual suffering also unites us in a community of suffering as well. We may be a suffering buddha, a wounded buddha, a deluded buddha, but our basic nature, our basic mind ground is free from any defilements and not separate from others. Our wounds are commonly shared as well.

It is not necessarily so easy to realize this. Most of us have not allowed ourselves to look deeper than our personality and culture to see and touch who we really are. Yet, Buddhists and contemplatives of many traditions are encouraged to go within in order to discover not only the so-called oneness of all things but also the peace that surpasses understanding, knowing, ideas and conceptions, the peace that is basic to all beings when they have come home to a deep and abiding state of non alienation.

This peace, however, is not complacent. Out of this wise peace arises compassionate, non dual action. If we see that we are not separate from others, then we not only share their enlightenment, we also share their suffering. The right hand then naturally takes care of the left hand, with no expectation of thanks or credit. In peacemaking, there is no self, no other; no peacemaker, no victim; no outcome, no gaining idea. Just making and being peace.

Our authors feel that peacemaking is about realizing and living non alienation from all beings and living this realization as the Bodhisattva does, riding on the waves of change. Making peace is based in the experience of radical intimacy with the world. It is about the most basic realization that enlightenment is not an individual experience, rather it is the liberation of intimacy in our relatedness with all beings. Enlightenment then is ultimately social, and Buddhism, Buddhists, and buddhas serve and awaken with and through relationships that are based in the functional experience of a deeply shared life, a life that is about non harming and doing good, kindness, compassion, wisdom and skillful means.

Thus we as humans, as spiritual beings, beings who love and feel compassion, cannot hide from the truth of the pervasiveness of the particular suffering and alienation in the world in which we live today. We cannot turn our backs on the tendency to turn the world and its beings into objects which we call “other.” We are called more than ever to realize the obvious, that we not, nor were we ever, living in a world of isolation. We are completely and inescapably interconnected and interdependent.

Like the Buddha 2500 years ago, Buddhists today work for the liberation of all beings from the illusion of separation. When there is an “other,” there is an Auschwitz, a Kosovo, a caste of people we will not touch, a ravaged and raped woman, a clear-cut forest, an abused and abandoned child, a young boy with fear and hate in his eyes and a gun in his hand, a man behind bars medicated or numbed out of his mind and heart, a run down village of old women whose men have all died in war.

The basic vows that we take as Buddhists remind us that there is no “other.” The most basic practices that all of the schools of Buddhism engaged in point to the fact that there is no “other.” The fundamental teachings of the Buddha tell us that there is no “other.” Yet we live in a world peopled by those who are subject to the deepest forms of alienation from their own natural wisdom, a world where whole communities see “others” who should be done away with, liquidated, eliminated.

Today, more than any other time in human history, we are living in a kind of intimacy that can destroy or liberate. Our weapons can find their targets within minutes, our diseases can spread like a wildfire in a dry forest, and our delusions can contaminate the minds of millions instantaneously through the media.

At the same time, in the same instant, we can reach through to endless communities and individuals with acts of compassion and sanity, making peace by strengthening values and behaviors based in compassion and wisdom. We can nurture cultures of peace by transforming our own lives through kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We can work actively for economic justice, racial equality, protection of the environment, protection of human rights and the rights of all beings, wise and humane education, the voluntary control of the growth of the world’s population, freedom from weapons, freedom from domination, exploitation and colonialism of all forms, and deep and true dialogue with respect for and appreciation of differences and plurality.

We have a responsibility today to work directly with our own suffering and the suffering in our communities, the world, and the environment. We all live under each other’s skin, and it is now more than ever functionally intolerable to turn away from injustice, corruption, violence, hatred, greed, and delusion.

The contributors to this volume, and many more individuals and groups around the world, are peacemakers whose lives and work are based in the realization that we are not separate from each other and that we must and can live sane, beneficial and meaningful lives. Peace, however, is a process not a goal. It is in the very details of our daily lives as well as in the broad brush strokes of the big picture. This marvelous and inspiring book is like the strong timber found in old bridge spans. May each of us, like the friends in this book, be an old and joyful bridge that helps numberless beings and communities find their way to peace.