January 7, 2009

A letter from a Buddhist in Israel: War and Peace.

Israelis watched smoke rise above the northern Gaza Strip (New York Times) Photo:Pavel Wolberg/European Pressphoto Agency

I just received a Sangha Announce letter from Tal Haifa from our Sangha in Israel and it really made think about everything that is going on over there right now (I have been avoiding the news like the black plague). The pain that people are experiencing for their loved ones, their homeland and their religion must be very great and I think we could all take some time to sit and send peaceful loving thoughts to our brothers and sisters on both sides of the fence.

Dear Sangha,

Following our recent post about the Israel Shambhala Meditation Group’s Dharma Gathering this Thursday, which will include listening to Pema Chodron’s talk on Practicing Peace in Times of War, we’ve received quite a few responses, mostly friends wishing us well and asking how we are. Thanks to everyone who sent us a word. In case more people would find it interesting to know a bit of how we’re doing, here are a few short (late night) thoughts. I wouldn’t try to represent anyone else’s experience but my own, so this is not “How things are in Israel”. It’s just how I’m living this time.

On one level, our life routine is just the same- work, school, home, too much internet news reading. I just got back from teaching music in Acco, tomorrow a gig in Jerusalem. Thursday evening is our Shambhala weekly gathering. Routine.

At the same time, I feel distressed and sad, and brokenhearted.
What I find somewhat surprising, somewhat new, somewhat encouraging is that the pain won’t totally freeze into two-dimentional blame. There is a lot of that going on in talkbacks, blogs, op-ed’s, political statements. If you want to have a solid black and white view, you can find some expert to back you up with any view you want. You can even switch solid views 10 times a day, or make up your own signature mix of them.

It just doesn’t help. The sadness or uncertainty or pain don’t go away.

So paying attention moment to moment, and not being lazy so as to get sucked into blame, rage, stupidity. That is the challenge. It’s there for the taking, continually. Right now. It’s no different from anywhere else.

Interestingly, having come back to live in Israel less than two years ago, I find it much easier to stay open-minded about the situation while living here, rather than glued to the monitor back in New York City. Here I actually meet people, breath that same air as all the people I’d like to categorize as— red/green/white/whatever. It’s actually easier to not fall into the traps of over-attachment to one’s identity as red/green/etc, and self-righteousness. Things are just too real (so to speak) to patch up a water-tight story about them. It’s actually a relief.

Our group’s mentor on behalf of Shambhala and our close friend Robert Chender, in one conversation following one of his visits (in which he taught Levels 1 and 2), told me that the only way to stay sane here (anywhere?) is to suspend judgment. I have checked this everyday since, and I think it’s true.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have views and opinions on the situation. But I try not to grasp them as ways to plaster over feelings of fear, sadness and pain, or any other feeling (anger, for example). I think that’s where a lot of problems begin.

Fortunately, I have the practices and the wisdom of our lineage to connect to and train in (plus add to that six years of really good group therapy!). In the last few days, I am finding an extra potency in the fact that we practice the warrior tradition of Shambhala. I feel that these are indeed the teachings for this time, THIS place.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fired a shell towards Gaza. Israeli mortar shells killed as many as 40 Palestinians, among them women and children, outside a United Nations school in Gaza on Tuesday where there were taking refuge. (New York Times) Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters

Finally, I just wanted to mention that we don’t hear about it in the news, but there are numerous Palestinian/Israeli groups working, meeting, engaging in peace activities as we speak, and as this tremendous suffering is happening. That is also part of daily reality here. It’s important to know.

Much love to our beloved Sangha, our heart-brothers-and-sisters in Shambhala.

May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

Ki Ki So So!


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