Iraq War

Letters From The Editors

This past winter we have been standing on the brink of war. All of us have, in one way or many ways, practiced mindfulness to help the USA not to fall into that abyss of immeasurable and unnecessary suffering and drag many other countries into it with her. Many of us, whether monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen have been present in towns and cities to demonstrate our commitment to a solution of the problem between the USA and Iraq by peaceful means. From Plum Village Thay has led the Sangha in chanting the names of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to send wholesome energy to break through the thick veil of war that surrounds the President of the United States and his advisors. Only the deep understanding and compassionate action of the bodhisattvas can break through the thinking which constantly sees war as the only solution. Let us all send out this energy to the President and others every day of our lives. At the time of writing we are still not sure of our success in this effort. Whether we fail in our attempts to avert war this time or whether we are successful, there is a lesson for us to learn. We have to practice now to make peace for the future. Only peace in our lives right now can ensure there will not be another threat of war in five, ten or twenty tears. If there is a war in 2003 that is because in the 1980’s or 90’s or even before we did not practice peace in our lives. We have waged war in our own person, with our neighbors and even with our loved ones. Only mindfulness practice can help us recognize when our body, feelings and perceptions are not at peace in ourselves or with others. Sister Jina’s article is designed to help you with this important aspect of practicing peace.

Poetry is a call to peace, since writing and reading true poetry is a practice of pacifying our own mind and the minds of others. Our own teacher in Plum Village is a poet of the spiritual dimension. Poetry can put us in touch with the essence of the practice of mindfulness without us having to make any effort. At times when we feel close to despair, poetry can remind us that life is still beautiful, good, and true in some of its most wonderful aspects. Poetry that comes from a pure and peaceful heart is a non-violent means to wake people up to the need for peace.

Education is a wonderful field for engaged Buddhism. How can we bring mindfulness practice into the school and university so that the future generation does not have to make the mistakes that our own generation has made? Please read the articles by educators in this issue to inspire you in your own work with young people.

Forty-two new Dharma teachers received the Dharma Lamp Transmission from Thay in Plum Village in January of this year. A taste of the transmission ceremonies comes to you in this issue where you can read transcripts of Thay’s exhortations to a few of the new Dharmacaryas as well as his or her inauguration talk. There is a thirst all over the world for the spiritual dimension made real by mindfulness. Numerous Dharma teachers are needed to respond to this thirst. Transmitting and receiving the Dharma Lamp is a concrete step towards world peace.

Last but not least, have you signed up for a mindfulness retreat this year to support the spiritual dimension in your life? You will see some of the options available advertised in this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. We look forward to practicing with you at one of the retreats this summer or fall.

Sister True Virtue, Green Mountain Dharma Center, Vermont.

Several of my Sangha members and I have been spending each Wednesday noontime dressing in black and standing in vigil in our downtown plaza. We Women in Black stand in silent prayer all over the world, inviting all who see us to consider deeply the costs of war. Standing in a group of 400 this week, the prayer for peace was palpable. Many people in cars, who were stopped at the traffic signal in front of us, offered supporting and grateful words. And many of them offered challenging and angry words. It was easy to stand in this Sangha with my heart open to all, offering lovingkindness equally to those who agreed and those who disagreed with me. I considered how different it would feel if I were standing there alone, receiving such angry energy from the passersbys. Now, more than ever, we need the support of our Sangha members to help us maintain our happiness and equanimity. I find great comfort in the simplest of our practices: awareness of my breathing, the sound of the bell, receiving and offering a gentle smile. I try to read the Discourse on Love every day. I recall often that our practice grew deep roots in the midst of war.

This week I learned that Martin Edwards, a member of the Fragrant Rose Sangha in Santa Rosa, California left on a peacekeeping mission to Iraq with a group called Voices in the Wilderness. They are committed to stay in Iraq if war breaks out, doing whatever they can to help. A Quaker, Martin took medicine and messages of peace from Americans who wrote letters that he will deliver to people he meets. I addressed my letter to an Iraqi mother, and Martin will try to bring back a photo of her. Each little thread of heartfelt connection helps weave a strong blanket of peace to our planet.

The next issue of the Mindfulness Bell will focus on engaged practice. An interview with a Vietnamese-American monk who served in the Gulf War; an interview with a practitioner who has a center helping people with the challenge of AIDS; and stories of Peacewalks around the world are just some of the features. We welcome your stories of how your mindfulness practice engages you in the world. And we would love to receive more poetry and art. Please send us your contributions by early May.

A tip to subscribers: check the label on this issue to find when your subscription expires, and go to www.iamhome.org to renew online.

Go in peace,  Barbara Casey, Jacksonville, Oregon.

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Peace, Salaam, Shalom

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On September 24, 2005, approximately 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the war in Iraq. People clustered into various affinity groups including the Buddhist one that Sangha member Susan Hadler joined.

We sang as we walked down Sixteenth Street towards the White House, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.” I sang to Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon, wearing his name on a tag around my neck, given to me at the church where we gathered before the march. Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon was twenty-six years old when he died on April 22, 2003. A beloved son, a brother, a friend, maybe a father. I also sang to my father who was twentyfive when he died in April 1945 in World War II when I was an infant. I sang with the mothers and fathers walking with us whose children were killed recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We walked together with our knowledge of war and our message of peace: clergy and laypeople of all faiths, Code Pink women, anarchists dressed in black, Buddhist monks accompanying our steps with drums, brothers and sisters coming from Alaska to Florida. I walked with the Buddhist affinity group, thankful to be part of a community practicing walking, singing, sitting, and breathing peace. We walked with the larger Sangha, gathered to hold in mind and heart the names of all the dead in the war on Iraq and to present those names with a letter to President Bush as a plea to end the killing and to use our resources for helping people live.

We sat in front of the White House, peacefully and joyfully sharing food and water. We did not move when the police told us to leave. The police picked up Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, and carried her to a paddy wagon. She was smiling. They arrested people in batches, handcuffed them, put them into paddy wagons, and drove off. We sat on the curb and sang peace songs to Mr. Bush and the White House and Congress and to each other. Walking. Sitting. Singing. Smiling. Our practice nourished us and gave us strength. The atmosphere within and around us was peaceful, dedicated, generous.

Prisoner 5-168

Our turn came. Our Buddhist affinity group stood in a row, each with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. When it was my turn I smiled and bowed to the young police officer, turning as he attached the handcuffs. As prisoner 5-168, I entered a DC Metro bus borrowed from the city due to the unexpectedly large number of people being arrested, 374 in all. A police escort led the bus to the park police headquarters in Anacostia.

Our bus was our jail cell for about ten hours. We were a joyful group of forty-eight women of all ages and colors, singing, talking, sharing stories. Those who could scratched the noses of those who couldn’t, as we worked to wriggle out of our handcuffs. The young police officer assigned to us tried to be tough but ended up becoming our friend. As time went on my slight headache worsened and I lay down on the back seat, a woman sharing her pillow with me. I followed my breath in and out, and I felt Thay’s presence, reminding us to keep breathing. He knew where we were and I felt his prayers and energy. I began to relax.

About one p.m., we were led inside a garage split into two rooms by a chainlink fence, women on one side, men on the other. Sangha sister Roberta and I began doing mindful movements and a circle formed. As the outside doors closed, we knew we were locked up in a filthy, greasy place, but our minds were free and we were able to help each other stay calm. Often during that night and since then I have sent love and courage to those who are imprisoned.

We Are Free

Finally the police called our numbers to be processed. Inside the police headquarters more information was taken and for a short time we were put into tiny dirty cells, about seven to a cell. Called by number for fingerprinting and photographing, we were then given back our names and our property.

I looked out the door into the four a.m. night and saw a taxi waiting, and Maia and Bob of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship welcoming us. Our taxi driver was a South African who had been arrested many times in his country’s efforts toward liberation.

Because we were a Sangha and because we practiced, we were peace and we were free and we were home every step of the way.

Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, lives in Alexandria, Virginia. This was her first arrest.

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Wishing You a Peaceful Heart

An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan By Beth Howard

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Yesterday [May 29, 2007], I read in your online diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”

Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.

I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.

My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb.

Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.

This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.

When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family, and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial

plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year to year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.

Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slide show of pictures from Iraq on his laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.

Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”

We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.

So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eightyear-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.

Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell (Winter 2005-2006.) I wrote an article titled “Peace is Every Step” on the L.A. Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was “I Have Arrived, I am Home” on walking with Thay in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.

In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.

Beth Howard, Peaceful Source of the Heart, practices with the Bird & Bell Meditation Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne and with the Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is a writer, yoga teacher, weaver and singer, living with her husband of thirty years, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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