Bearing Witness at the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus

MEDITATION AT THE EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS

On August 16, at the initiative of Krzysztof Nowiński, who was Jikido, we held an hour long session meditation in front of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus. Some of us meditated through Zoom. Later we all had a Dharma Conversation together, including Getsugen Roshi. A transcript of our statements is provided below.

Gestsugen Roshi:

Thank you to those of you who sat in front of the embassy. Great initiative. This is exactly what the peacemakers do – give testimony. I suggest that you sit in a circle, think of our experience and give a testimony. To whom and why do you give this testimony? To Belarus, to Poland, yourself? What is this giving testimony consist of ? Where does the inspiration come from? What does bearing witness lead to? Where did it lead you to at this point.

Dorota:

I am giving thanks on behalf of my friend Goleb Michalowski who I used to live with in Falenica. He still lives here. His father was granted a political asylum in Poland. As a Buddhist himself Goleb was incredibly moved, and he wished he had been sitting with us. He really appreciated the way we did it–we just sat quietly and this silent sitting had a tremendous power. The police did not interfere with us, they were calm. It was also evident that our practice made an impression on people passing by, we didn’t need words, it was a great thing. Gleb has no other Buddhist friends, only some Poles .… So, Iet me express tremendous gratitude on his behalf.

Getsugen Roshi:

I spoke to Frank who was wondering whether there is anything he could do for Belarus. I advised him to contact the Belarusian House in Warsaw. Also, since you have a Belarusian friend, then it would be easiest for the two of you to talk to each other and think of ways you could get involved.

Dorota:

Great. Today, for me, Belarus has the face of Gleb. I’ll give Frank his phone number and thank you very much for your idea, Roshi.

Franek:

I feel a great need to act in this situation and I must say that what we did was more meaningful than I thought it would be. Sitting there, I saw peoples reaction. I felt that even if I came there and sat there for half a day, it would have been really very meaningful and would have an impact. Someone came over, gave a bottle of water to each of us. Police did not know what was happening but they felt safe. I had a feeling that this silence was very meaningful. Our lips were tied, we didn’t say anything, and that was symbolic. There was no

need to shout or say anything. During kinhinu, we held one hand curled into a fist and the other was resting on it and wrapped around it, which was also very telling. Actually a pretty significant happening occurred by chance.

Why did I do it? . To show solidarity with these people, so that they know that someone is with them, takes interest, to show that others know that they exist. It is very little, but also a lot.

Ania:

It is good to hear reports from people in front of the embassy, to learn that the protest does not always end with pacification by police batons … . I, personally, am afraid of police. I had a violent experiences with the police. I fear it happening again. Today I did not feel strong enough to face my fear, so I am very happy that I stayed in the zendo, but it is was great to hear what others experienced while being in front of the embassy.

Beata:

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this event. It was important to me for a couple of reasons, but the most important thing was for all people to feel compassion, despite the borders, origin, status, and other things that separate us. I also thought that we are all different. One policeman is different from another… . My mother was born in Belarus, but has Polish roots. The case of the Second World War, all these divisions… . Sometimes you don’t really feel at home anywhere … .

Marek:

I felt a connection with Belarus and Belarusians. Yesterday, I watched on FB the shooting scene of a protestant being shot as he was walking with his arms raised up in the air.… . I just realized that Belarusians are protesting just like people did in Portugal (the carnation revolution). Our sitting was an act of unity with them, the people, who we Poles often speak of with contempt, and it turns out that they are working with tour peacemaking-method , by witnessing, just like us. It made an impression on me that this nation was able to respond to violence, repression with love, peace, without aggression, and we did the same. I felt the connection with them, with the wonderful people I saw on FB.

Krzysztof

I was Jikido today. When I walked by the Belarusian embassy, I thought it might be fun to sit in front of the building and meditate. I thought that I would be alone, because there is a holiday today in Poland and there is also a meditation session on Zoom. I did not think anyone would come. I thought I’d sit in front of the embassy. I wanted to do a round, I didn’t even have any great intentions. I called Roshi to ask if I could do it as a Jkido to give it a formal function. Roshi thought it was a great idea and told me to call Franek right away since Franek would like to do something for Belarus. I called Franek, probably woke him up but he arrived.

I didn’t know that so many people would show up, I had no idea. I didn’t plan it. I could feel an incredible strength. We did what we usually do, which is NOTHING. We simply sat down on pillows. It was amazing because for the first time so many people attended the practice. I don’t know if it was an accident. Jacek told me that sometimes nobody comes–you will sit alone, you make some calls and that’s it. And now I’m listening to you–it’s amazing that it was so important. It was our practice, a regular one, only in a different place. We just sat down two streets further. I myself often sit in the garden that is just two streets down. Small difference but the power of it was tremendous. The police were confused, helpless, did not know what was going on. They tried to tell us that it was an assembly and as such it must be registered in advance. I told them that it is not an assembly and that we’ll just sit for a while and move on. They didn’t understand what was happening. To be clear, when I came there before the practice, there were only two young policemen there. I asked them, if it would be fine if I just sit there on a pillow. They did not object, they didn’t know what was going on, what is it all about? Well, I’ll sit down, meditate and then leave. They said: if so, then its OKAY. I told them that I’ll return in an hour. When we got there, there were already two police cars there. The policemen had to let the headquarters know about us. Some commander arrived to evaluate the situation. He tried to stipulate some political context to our action. It was interesting to see how he insisted on categorizing the situation. The reactions of passers-by were also very interesting. Some guy wanted to give us money, support us. Others looked at us, brought us water. If we were to sit there for at least half a day, there would be at least fifteen people joining and sitting down with us. In two days it would have been a hundred. There was power in it. Honestly, I don’t know what has gotten to me.

I think I have Belarusian roots. Part of my family comes from a village near Białystok. I was there just two weeks ago, I traveled to the Orthodox cemeteries where my great-grandparents are buried. My aunt is still Orthodox. I talked to her. She and her family consider themselves to be Poles now. My sister married a Belarusian, they have a child, my little son plays with him . As for me, a Belarusian or a Pole are just names, labels, simply the other man. I feel that if someone is hurting, I need to help. I can’t always help when I’m far away, but our meditation has translated into something … from my personal perspective it was important, I can say that we did something important. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was such a strong experience for me. I hope my testimony expresses my emotions.

Robert:

It was an important experience for me. Brand new. While sitting in front of the embassy I wondered how it will affect the entire universe. I admit that the answer that came to my head was ” I don’t know ” … . I don’t know if it will have any impact, but it felt good to be there to show that such a silent protest is important, perhaps somebody else will be awaken by our action.

Andrzej:

I am very touched by these national liberation actions. I am very moved and this time I was also moved. I was only a child during the martial law in Poland, but I still remember that as a result of my friend’s and my own actions, the Secret Police searched our home. In school, during homeroom hour we would hold hands up in the air. It was supposed to stop us from engaging in any little, rebellious activity. It may seem strange, but obviously I already gained some experience in fighting for a good cause. It touches me a lot, that people are fighting for their freedom and dignity.

Jola:

I am very impressed by your meditation at the embassy. I have Polish roots, but my mother was born and raised near Witebsk. It was a Polish family that had to go into hiding after the revolution. They lived in a manor house but they had to leave everything and run to save their lives, and to became people who had nothing, that’s how it was then … . So I do thank you and I’m very moved.

Agnieszka:

I want to thank you too. A very intense situation. When the police approached you, my blood run cold, my legs started to weigh down… . I felt paralyzed. I was afraid of what might happen. Even now, I’m holding my breath. The innocence of our intention worked, and somehow, in the end I had a feeling that we were all connected in some spiritual dimension. All of ‘US” with “all of THEM”. I could feel the connection. It is hard to believe that they(police), my enemy are also on our side, we are all one. It was a very powerful experience in it’s deepest meaning. I am glad that you were not asked to show your IDs and that nobody was harmed. I have already participated in such a sitting before. There is an action called “Silence for the climate” that is carried out by sangha Kanon at Aleje Ujazdowskie. They were asking permission to assemble. A few policemen watched us. Then I heard this terribly threatening voice from a speaker. A pickup truck with homophobic slogans passed by us four times in a row in our fifty-minute period sitting. The silence within brings something to this greater silence, brings something to our realm. I wanted to thank you again.

Joanna:

I am very, very happy that Krzysztof did not suppress his spontaneity, and that you can now speak about fear with courage. It is very important for me, because in such situations I fear a potential retribution. In general, this whole action reminds me of the sight of these lovely girls in Minsk who were passing flowers to the policemen and gave them hugs. They knocked the weapon out of their hands, stopped he violence that was about to unfold. I feel very attached to the East because both of my parents are from the East. Mom was born in Łuck. During the war she left with her family. Her father lived in Grodno. Grandpa was taken away by the Soviets and murdered. It is not known where it took place and it is not known where he is buried. My father and his family were taken to Siberia. I closely relate to their tragedy. To tell the truth, I haven’t been to any of these places. I fear being there. I never wanted to be there. Maybe, one day I’ll go to visit. I teach college so I get to meet a lot of students from the East–from Ukraine and Belarus. When I look at these young people, I can see the difference between Polish youth and them. They have this something within themselves that we have already lost. I don’t want to dwell here on what it is, but it is a kind of sensitivity and–how to say–an old tradition. They are different . They remind me of Poland from some years ago. It is beautiful. We will see how many Belarusian students we will have this year. I think they deserve special attention. I am in touch with a Belarusian family who lives here. We have to help them when in need. The sittings in public spaces absolutely amaze me. I am glad that Agnieszka reminded us about the action of the Kanon sangha. I’d like to join. I’ll try to do it somehow. I participated years ago under different circumstances. It is amazing that such silent action can in a sense transform the world. Doing nothing is simply just being.

Maybe it’s better not to sink into intentions, we do not separate: good here, bad there, what I do is good, let it go, It is that simple, let’s give peace and an open heart to the world.we just give peace to the world, the simplest thing that can be Actually, what else is there for us to do? Thank you again.

Jacek :

I find myself to be between a rock and a hard place, because I am a policeman myself, a member of the system. I do not know if I would have the courage to sit down with you. I would have to see it. As an officer, I do not feel safe myself, on the contrary. Just like most of people I feel how I would be treated if I were just an ordinary an anonymous person from the crowd. I remember this one experience from my private life. I was walking my dog in the woods, and picking up some litter as I walked. A police car arrived. The officer did not know that I myself am a policeman… . I didn’t know how the officer would act, how will he behave seeing someone dressed in torn, not very clean clothes and who carries some bottles, rags and other garbage. You get judged by your clothes. It is obvious the police would act differently toward someone dressed in a suit, with an elegant bag, getting out of an expensive car. I suspect in such circumstances the officer would not dare to use strong language.

Let me tell you, I would probably be afraid. I watched the whole sitting situation in Zoom. I saw how the police behaved during your sitting. I watched what they were doing. Luckily they didn’t come closer … . I even turned on a camera to give witness this situation, to have an objective documentation, because I will tell you this : I do not so much disbelieve institutions as I do not trust emotions. If we get in a role and we are very firmly dedicated to the role, we get to be driven by our fears. And this is what I say as a human and as a policeman. When police are to prevent something from happening, they sometimes are not able to determine if a given situation is menacing or it actually is permissible by law; secondly, there is also the emotional bearing that is completely alienated from any rules and regulations. Things may get out of control. And what can we do in such situation? The best method is to be inactive, but how to be inactive when we are just ordinary human beings. Such a public zazen (sitting meditation), such a public statement in the spirit of “non-creation”, not generating anything, such training carried out in the street, not in the sterile zendo conditions, with people who either accept us or not, this is a big challenge. I don’t know if I would sit down with you. I have no idea, I cannot say that I would for sure because many times, I said that I would do something but in reality I never did. Thank you for the opportunity to witness. Maybe someday I will actually be able to sit with you somewhere in the street as an ordinary anonymous person without a label and we will see what comes out if it.

Jola:

I would like to say one more thing. A few years ago, I came across this Belarusian woman, who was associated with the Belarusian opposition. She told me a little about what was going on there some year ago. She resided with me for six months. I don’t know what happened to her after she left. She doesn’t answer my emails or phone calls, so I’m worried. She was a journalist and she wrote a piece for a newspaper that was not to Lukashenko’s liking, so they went after her. I am concerned about her, thus even more so I hope for Belarus to join the democratic countries.

Jacek:

I would like to thank Krzysiek, who goes against the norms, who takes under consideration all aspects of a given situation, and views it from various perspectives. When we are able to understand how others act, why they act, what motivates them only then there will be nobody to blame. The blame will dissipate because everyone acts under certain conditions. We need to put things into perspective, see things through many different eyes. If all of us, on both sides of the barricades did this, these barricades would immediately disappear. There is this sentence in one of our texts: “May we see ourselves in others and see others in ourselves..”

Getsugen Roshi:

I would like to thank you again, congratulate you and encourage you to further actions of this type.

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