Reflections on the Beginnings of the Zen Peacemaker Order
by Rami Efal
from Bearing Witness by Bernie Glassman
When we sew our zen peacemaker robes, we start from scratch. In the beginning, when all we have in front of us are just a few rags, we can’t imagine what this robe will eventually look like. Some of us complain that we’re not sewing it correctly, that the panels will come out crooked and the robe all wrong. Mostly we put aside our mental chatter and just sew the robe together, one piece at a time, one panel at a time.
Starting from scratch means starting from unknowing. You get a piece from here and you get a piece from there and you put them together. We have no idea how the end will look. We may have a vision of how we’d like it to look, but we don’t really know. This is a very hard practice, but if we can start with unknowing, with no right and no wrong, then there’s no problem. Nothing can come out wrong.
When Jishu and I started the Zen Peacemaker Order we put it together in the same way that peacemakers sew their robes. We started from scratch. One piece came in, then another, and we stitched them together. Then a third piece came in and we attached that to the first two. Like novice priests, we are also curious about what the whole thing will look like in the end.
The Peacemaker Order will never be complete, but several panels have already come together out of the people that we’ve sewn into the order. …The order that emerges will be nothing other than the energies of these people, their lives, and their work.
In looking back, the first piece of this new robe, the first ingredient, was the vow I’d made in early 1994 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. This was the only piece for a long time. During the next couple of years other responsibilities took my time and energy. By early summer of 1996 we were ready to continue. At that time both Jishu and I were being paid by the Greyston Network. We decided to get off Greyston’s payroll, though it was practically our only source of funds, because it was important for both of us to start from scratch. With no certain source of funds, no expectation of a bimonthly check, we were now free to look everywhere for help. I’d learned about the generosity of life from our time on the streets and was sure that as soon as we opened our hands and let go of what we had, we’d begin to receive. And in fact, upon hearing what we were doing, a few old friends and supporters immediately pledged some money to keep us going for the first few months.
The next question was where we would work. We both had kept our offices at Greyston for many years, but this no longer made any sense. So Jishu and I converted our house into office space for the new Peacemaker Order. It is a one-family home across the street from a Pentecostal church, with a small basement and attic. With the help of very minor renovations we created desk and computer space for six people. By the time we moved the Order’s offices to another site more than a year later, a dozen people were working out of our house every day. They’d come from around the world. Each person who worked with us, including social workers, artists, writers, Catholic and Zen priests as well as business people, was another piece of the fabric, another fragment to be sewn into a panel of the Peacemaker Order.
Another early ingredient was the order’s mission to serve as a home for peacemakers around the world. I began to talk with the different peacemakers I knew, and almost immediately people wanted to join. Claude Thomas, in Massachusetts, wanted to be part of the order. So did Joan Halifax in New Mexico. So did Fleet Maull, in the Springfield penitentiary.Â So did Pat O’Hara, a Buddhist teacher who works with people with AIDS. So did Paco Lugovina, who’d spent years building low-cost housing in the South Bronx. A network of social service organizations in Italy wanted to join, as did a group of Polish activists in Warsaw. No matter who I talked to, many wished to be part of our new order in some way. It didn’t matter to them that it had just been founded, it didn’t matter to them that we were still sewing the pieces together. They all wished to link their energies, stories, and training capabilities in order to become more effective peacemakers.
Many of these activists already had their own organizations, sometimes very big ones. They raised the question of how they could involve their groups with the order. The answer quickly turned up. Each such organization, each such group, would become a Peacemaker Village, led by a Village Leader. The Peacemaker Order would serve as a hub linking this network of Peacemaker Villages and their respective members.
Originally Jishu and I hadn’t conceived of Peacemaker Villages. But in putting together the robe that we called the order and putting out a call for pieces, activists from all walks of life, from around the world, both individually and in groups, came forward. In talking with them to see how they fit together, we soon realized that these activists made up a panel of Peacemaker Villages, with each peacemaker, each organization, another piece in the panel.
Other peacemakers, hearing about this opportunity, also wanted to link up with us, but not as members of a Zen Peacemaker Order. They didn’t have a Zen practice, or else they were already ordained or practicing in a different religious tradition which prevented them from joining our order. The Interreligious Peacemaker Union, a Swiss-based interfaith organization carrying out social projects around the world, expressed interest in linking up with the Order in mutually beneficial ways. So did Jon Kabat-Zinn, who does mindfulness-based stress management training at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Ministers, lawyers, and academics wanted to join and find a way of incorporating peacemaking into their work. Soon we realized that they, too, were forming a panel. Only this wasn’t a panel of a robe called the Zen Peacemaker Order. This panel, which we eventually called the Interfaith Assembly of Peacemaker Villages, belonged to a new robe called the Peacemaker Community. The Assembly became the hub of all Peacemaker Villages, linking peacemakers and their organizations throughout the world who subscribed to the Three Tenets of unknowing, bearing witness, and healing. The Peacemaker Community included not only the order and the assembly, but also a training facility called the Peacemaker Institute and a House of One People for interfaith events and celebrations.
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