Inquiring Mind —In This Issue - War and Peace

Spring 2014 (Vol. 30 #2)

Twenty years ago in the Isan region of Thailand, near the killing fields of Laos and Cambodia, I noticed that the tapered cylinders of temple bells in every wat appeared to be made from bombs. During the 1960s and '70s, massive bombing raids on Vietnam and Laos had been launched from secret U.S. air bases in this part of Thailand. At the war's end, when the U.S. withdrew from Southeast Asia, large stockpiles of weapons were left behind. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Isaiah says, "and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares." Ingenious people of Thailand converted bombs into temple bells, calling Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople to practice a way of peace.

I have one of these bells at home, made of good American steel, three-quarters of an inch thick. It was given to me by some monks from the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. They painted it a bright yellow and wrote on it: "Turning bombs into dharma bells."

This issue of Inquiring Mind is about war and peace. In idealistic moments I like to imagine that peace is the abode and resting place of humankind, the place one naturally inhabits when all conflicts melt away. In the give-and-take of real life, conflicts between people are inevitable. Conflict is, in fact, the precondition for peace; it is how we truly learn about each other, our difference and sameness.

When conflict and acrimony overwhelm nations, war is too often the result. Throughout history, war has brought upon us unbounded violence and destruction that transcends reason: from Homer's epic age, to the intertribal slaughter of Buddha's time, down to battles and terrors that today pervade our media and fill us with dread for ourselves and our children.

Through all these centuries there has also been a path of nonviolence, a disciplined determination not to trade blow for blow and wound for wound, not to fuel the fire of hatred. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.

As editors of this issue, Barbara Gates and I have tried to give voice to multiple points of view: the way of the warrior, the path of nonviolence, the voice of protests, and the grief of those left behind. Those voices, based on the lived experience of fellow practitioners, are moving and passionate. Each deserves your attention and thought. And, of course, there are many more that we wish we had space for. Our intention was not to be all-sided in some "value-free" fashion, but to present conflicting views and to encourage you as readers to inquire deeply and reach your own conclusions.

I have my views, some of them entrenched. Barbara has hers. Doubtless you have yours. It is safe to say that all the people in this issue see themselves as doing the work of peace. We all have different maps leading there, different notions of what is force or violence, and different understandings of appropriate action. In the end, each of us must choose her or his way wisely. Toward this end, I like to recall these words from Mother Teresa: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

—Alan Senauke, Guest Editor


God Is a Three-Letter Word
Norman Fischer finds no inconsistency in praying to God while leading a Jewish meditation group and giving Zen teachings that never mention God.

War and Peace: A Buddhist Perspective
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi affirms the Buddha's call to put down our weapons but wonders if there aren't times when military force could be the most moral choice.

Karma of Dissent: An Interview with Ann Wright
Influenced by Buddhist teachings, Ann Wright resigns from the U.S. State Department in protest against the Iraq War.

Message from a Combat Medic
On an Afghan airfield, Angela Caruso-Yahne is invited to write a message on a bomb soon to be delivered to its target, and considers the complexities of her own call to service.

There Is No Other: A Roadmap to Nonviolence
Michael Nagler points to Gandhian nonviolence as the bridge between spiritual practice and social change.


The Thousand-Year View: An Interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Is it skillful to teach mindfulness to soldiers going to war? Jon Kabat-Zinn says yes, with discernment to maximize the wholesome and minimize harm.

Cultivating the Mind of a Warrior
After years in military intelligence, Elizabeth Stanley, founder of the Mind Fitness Training Institute, says an effective warrior is both monk and killer.

The Militarization of Mindfulness
Ronald Purser challenges the mindfulness revolution: as an attention-enhancement technique, mindfulness is easily subordinated for military purposes.

Mental Armor: An Interview with Neuroscientist Amishi Jha
Attention researcher Amishi Jha suggests that soldiers trained in mindfulness can control when—or when not—to pull the trigger.

STRONG Spouses
Amid chopper sounds, rumbling tanks and machine-gun fire, Margaret Cullen teaches mindfulness to military wives.

Memorial for a Military Man
On the 60th anniversary of Bonnie O'Brien Jonsson's father becoming MIA in Korea, she attends his full military funeral and wonders, "Who am I to judge my father?"


Notes from the Ashes
Martine Batchelor introduces compelling last notes left by the immolators.

Our People Want Freedom
Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project and sister-in-law of the Dalai Lama Rinchen Khando Choegyal tells us, "Don't say they shouldn't have done it. It's done. Ask: what did they wish?"

Regarding Fire
Hozan Alan Senauke reluctantly questions the dharmic implications and the strategic value of self-immolation as a tool for social change.

Begging Bowl of Tears
When Barbara Gates finds herself wheelchair-bound for three months, a mirage of a forest monk coalesces in her kitchen and urges her to be content with what life puts into her bowl.

Practice: How Do I Contribute to War?
Ven. Pannavati Bhikkuni asks: how do our everyday actions cause war? How can we end it?

The Dharma & The Drama: War Is Over
Wes Nisker exposes the absurdity of war and exhorts us to sing along with John Lennon: "War is over! If you want it."