Cultivating Peace, Dismantling War: Inner and Outer Disarmament

by Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, February 2005

Berkeley, CA (USA) -- Seeds of peace abide within us. They must be carefully tended. This is the Buddha's teaching, resonant with the wisdom of all the great religions. As we begin the year 2005, Buddhist Peace Fellowship is putting forth a theme for our work: "Cultivating Peace, Dismantling War." We are asking our members, friends, and chapters?particularly those of you in the United States?to reflect and act in accord with this theme, to connect our dharma practice with the challenge of peacemaking.

The machinery of war lies all around us. Six thousand nuclear warheads rest in America's arsenal, enough weapons to destroy the world many times over. More than $150 billion in arms trades over the last ten years were brokered by the U.S., half of the world's weapon sales. Millions of landmines lie just beneath the surface of roads, tracks, and fields in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and nearly eighty other countries, while our government stockpiles more than ten million mines and reserves the right to deploy them. Government leaders congratulate themselves on a U.S. role as the great voice for peace and democracy, but this is hardly the way others in the world see us.

In the streets of America's cities, anything from "Saturday night specials" to automatic weapons are cheaply obtained and readily used. Urban police are locked into their own spiraling arms race, with automatic weapons and tasers becoming weapons of choice against the poor.

The language and images we encounter on television, in the movies, and on the streets are increasingly violent, sexualized, and coarse. When fundamentalists and evangelicals raise questions about "values," they have a valid point. We have become a self-centered nation without any true moral authority

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As engaged Buddhists in the United States, how do we respond to an epidemic of violence that has deep roots in our own nation, our lives, and our privilege? This is a question that is always before us. BPF's theme "Cultivating Peace, Dismantling War" is a way of talking about national, personal, and inner disarmament. This word "disarmament" carries, for some people, uncomfortable echoes of the Cold War and decades past. But with all kinds of nuclear and conventional weapons more widely available and more deadly than ever, disarmament is precisely what we need: disarmament in conflicts between nations, and inner disarmament within ourselves, in our families, workplaces, and communities. Thoroughgoing disarmament is the way to dismantle war and cultivate peace.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama consistently teaches about "inner disarmament." He explains that "Outer disarmament comes from inner disarmament. The only true guarantee of peace lies within ourselves?you try to reduce negative emotions such as hatred, anger, jealousy, extremism, and greed, and promote compassion, human affection, tolerance?"

Meditation practice is the essence of inner disarmament. In meditation we become intimate with our disquiet or dukkha, our own potential for violence. What the Buddha called dukkha is variously translated as "suffering," "dissatisfaction," or "lack"?the seemingly ceaseless flow of anxiety and self-centered thoughts. As meditation deepens we physically realize the interconnection of all beings, even those whose actions we recoil from. They are essentially not different from ourselves. We all share the same capacity for delusion and enlightenment. The difference is a matter of choice based on compassionate understanding.

Buddhist wisdom explains that we ourselves provide a home and a source for the violence around us. We live according to the laws of karma or intentional action, which simply put means that the choices we make about how to live create the sea of cause and effect in which we swim.

But meditation is not enough. To cultivate peace we must move from silence into action. Thich Nhat Hanh's expression of the First Precept or Mindfulness Training points the way.
"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."

Inner Disarmament and Outer Disarmament are like vines twining together, inseparable. "I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life." If we really take this sentiment to heart, there is pressing work to be done in the world.

    * Stopping the war in Iraq, which is spiraling into ceaseless destruction. Acting with all the nonviolent tools available to us.

    * Identifying, lobbying, and demonstrating against arms manufacturers and traders.

    * Building public awareness and support for U.S. participation in the dismantling of all nuclear weapons, the end of nuclear weapons research, and cooperation in all international treaties that ban the sale of landmines and other so-called conventional weapons.

    * Training ourselves in nonviolence and peaceful methods of conflict resolution and communication. This should be an integral aspect of our practice and part of the school curriculum at all grade levels.

    * Teaching and manifesting religious tolerance and cultural awareness in a world that is ever more diverse.

    * Deepening our understanding of social, economic, and environmental justice so that we are no longer blind to forces that lead us in the United States to live at the expense of millions of other people around the world, people who seek happiness just as we do.

    * Helping people take the time to quiet and settle themselves, to slow down so that life can be savored rather than avoided.

This is a short and incomplete list of activities that can move us in the way of "Cultivating Peace, Dismantling War." We offer these suggestions to spur discussion within BPF chapters, at Buddhist practice centers, and among friends. We welcome your responses to these comments, and reports of your activities. We see this new year's theme as one that will express itself with particularity and focus, and as a garden in which each of us can flourish.

Hozan Alan Senauke is a Soto Zen priest and teacher in the tradition of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. He was ordained by Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1989. Alan is presently serving as tanto or head of practice at Berkeley Zen Center in California, where he lives with his wife, Laurie, and their two children, Silvie and Alexander. From early 1991 through the end of 2001, Alan was Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He is presently Senior Advisor at BPF.