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Buddhism: A Culture of Peace

Lee Lewis
MN Zen Center

Buddhism is known generally as a tradition or religion of peace. As a tradition, it emphasizes the cultivation of inner peace and serenity, joy and repose through the observation of the mind.

In the introduction to The Way of the Bodhisattva (Shambhala, 2006), the Padmakara Translation Group writes, “Anger, defined as the flooding of the mind with violent and aggressive feelings, leading naturally to hostility and conflict, is outlawed in Buddhism as in no other religious tradition. Even so-called righteous anger, often excused as having injustice and abuse as its object, is utterly condemned if this involves the overpowering of the mind in a wave of uncontrollable and destructive passion.”

How does anger arise?

We get anxious, fearful and angry when something happens that causes us discomfort or unease. For example, when we hear the buzz of a mosquito or when someone cuts in front of us as we’re driving down the freeway we tighten or harden out of habit. We are not really threatened; nevertheless, our response is as if we had been. It is not unusual to amplify the response with thoughts like “I’ve got to smash that mosquito before it bites me!” or “I’m going to tailgate that so-and-so!” These thoughts and emotions easily spiral out of control, become obsessive and dominate our internal environment long after the mosquito flies away or the offending driver has disappeared in the endless flow of traffic.

These are little things, but they could be bigger, like a boss whom we think is out to get us, an intimate companion who betrays us, or a developer proposing a 25 story hotel across the street. Sometimes these “threats” can be relatively impersonal, like a terrorist attack 1,500 miles away. Basically the response is the same as to the buzz of a mosquito.

One of the noble truths of Buddhism: the truth of suffering. Things will always happen that cause us discomfort or unease- it is inevitable for us as human beings. However, how we respond to the discomfort makes the difference between peace and serenity.

How to create space for peace

Peace can only start in individual hearts and minds. It doesn’t start in a culture or society. Each heart that practices peaceful living is a seed that may lead to a culture or society of peace. Creating a culture of peace begins by simply noticing when you are getting hooked””when something upsets you and you are tightening-up and becoming rigid. Just noticing creates a space that allows for a response that is not habitual””it creates an opening for a response that is rooted in peacefulness and serenity rather than in a frightened ego.

The second step is to refrain from going down the path of amplifying the anxiety and unease””to refrain from habitual mind patterns of creating stories about what could happen or what you would like to do to the offender. Let go of the perceived attack on your ego. A fundamental Buddhist attitude is: ego doesn’t really exist; it is a construct. At a deeper level, no being exists by itself and every being is intimately connected to everything else.

The third step is to relax into the cause of the anxiety or unease””to “not tighten-up and harden” but rather, to say, “ah, that is what it feels like to become anxious” or “there I go again, getting my chain yanked by something totally out of my control.” It is so easy to add to the initial trigger by creating something much bigger: stories of doom, destruction and retaliation.

Buddhist practice is to cultivate joy and repose, calmness and happiness. The steps outlined above are simple tools that may be helpful. Meditation is a fundamental element of Buddhist practice. To cultivate and nurture joyful repose and quiet at a deep level, meditation is essential.

It is important to emphasize that the only work you can do is on yourself. Although Buddhism does acknowledge social causes and conditions of suffering, yet, if we are to address inevitable large scale environmental collapse, racial injustice, and poverty, among other social problems, it has to begin with individual hearts and minds rooted in peace and compassion. Activists, like community folks in general, must respond from a place of peace””otherwise the result will inevitably lead to the amplification of fear, hatred, and anger.

Read Up

Practicing Peace in Times of War, by Pema Chodron, Shambhala Audio, 2006.

Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, by Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (eds.), Shambhala, 2000.

Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, by Stephanie Kaza (ed.), Shambhala, 2005.

Engaged Buddhist Reader, by Arnold Kotler (ed.), Parallax Press, 1999.

Act Locally

MN Zen Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-822-5313
mnzencenter.org

Common Ground Meditation Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-722-8260
commongroundmeditation.org

Shambhala Meditation Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-331-7737
shambhala-mn.org

Print Resources

Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chodron, Shambhala Audio, 2006.

Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (eds.), Shambhala, 2000.


Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, Stephanie Kaza (ed.), Shambhala, 2005.


Engaged Buddhist Reader, Arnold Kotler (ed.), Parallax Press, 1999.

 

Web Resources

Buddhist Peace Fellowship
bpf.org/html/home.html

 

The Buddhist Review, Tricycle, an independent Buddhist magazine
tricycle.com

 

Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher and scholar of Buddhism
joannamacy.net

 

 

Organizations

MN Zen Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-822-5313
mnzencenter.org

 

Common Ground Meditation Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-722-8260
commongroundmeditation.org

 

Shambhala Meditation Center
Minneapolis, MN
612-331-7737
shambhala-mn.org

Buddhism

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