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"Vowing Peace in an Age of War, Part 2: Carrying Forth Realization Into The World" by Alan Senauke

30 March 2010

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Meditating on peace, echoes of Dogen ring in my ears. In Bodaisatta Shishobo/The Bodhisattva's Four Embracing Dharmas, Dogen writes, "You should benefit friend and enemy equally. You should benefit self and others alike."1   In the same fascicle he explains, "The mind of a sentient being is difficult to change. You should keep on changing the mind of sentient beings, from the first moment that they have one particle, to the moment that they attain the way."2   Wielding words like Manjusri's sword of discriminating wisdom, Dogen's radical language cuts to the heart of peace, even in his own age of bitter civil strife and political manipulation. His thirteenth century world is different from our own, but the conflicts and twisted karma of suffering beings is the same. 

Meditating on peace, I also hear other voices from my own time, Zen teachers who are always changing the minds of sentient beings. Three of those voices are here at this meeting in body or in spirit. 

In the late 1960s the United States was waging an illegal war in Vietnam, while the repression of African Americans, Latinos, Indians, and youth at home reached a pinnacle of violence. Returning from a decade in Asia, Gary Snyder published a piece called "Buddhism and the Coming Revolution" that is radical and completely to the point even today. It set the terms for a engaged Buddhist practice of peace that we are still trying to live up to. Gary wrote:

...Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain. . . The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one's ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of "all beings." This last aspect means, for me, supporting any cultural and economic revolution that moves clearly toward a free, international, classless world.3

Bernie Tetsugen Glassman's Zen Peacemaker Circle calls us to a great meal with all hungry beings. His vision is as wide as the six worlds: offering food to people on the streets, teaching zazen to those needing spiritual nourishment, feeding the countless hungry ghosts. Hungry ghosts are within and all around us. Bernie takes his students out into the bitter city streets so we may begin to feel what it is like to be homeless. Homeless people are not other than ourselves. He draws together people of many faiths to bear witness on the killing grounds of Auschwitz, where the hungry ghosts of victims and killers are still crying out to be reconciled. This is the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara hearing the cries of the world and preparing to bring others across.

I hear the patient voice of my own root teacher, Sojun Weitsman, whose subtle and dogged peacemaking is at once quiet and deeply challenging. Dogen articulates the principle of "practice-enlightenment." What I have learned about practice-enlightenment from Sojun is that enlightenment and character development are not two — that wisdom and morality insist on each other. This is also a radical notion. It gets to the root of how we practice in the world, saving beings. 

Talking with his senior students recently, Sojun Roshi said that wherever there is human suffering we should just help people, including ourselves, before we find fault with systems and organizations, even though such systems really must be changed. Political, social, and economic systems consist of human beings. Even as I confront structures that perpetuate great harm I try to see all the people who co-create these structures. I am compelled to recognize and admit my own ability to harm, so my own heart of wisdom and compassion may open more easily. I have watched Sojun persistently working away at this truth for years: building a diverse sangha in Berkeley, helping to heal old wounds at San Francisco Zen Center, and gathering a wide circle of students and teachers that links Soto Zen in the East and West. 

These voices and others weave through my dreams. Each makes the case that peace, or non-conflict, calls for independence, interdependence, and vow. The political expression of this dharma position is non-cooperation and non-complicity with any system or government or corporation that causes harm and impedes harmony, even when that system attempts to hide itself and delude us or buy us off with privileges and spectacles.

The dream of peace and the practice of peace arise in war and conflict. In every age, war compels people to cover our hearts and act in unimaginably cruel ways. No other animal is capable of such cruelty. A hospital or an embassy is bombed. Those responsible shrug their shoulders. "An accident," they say. Landmines and booby traps are seeded across many lands. Civilians do most of the dying. Homes are systematically destroyed. Refugees are driven across borders at gunpoint. Women are targeted for rape, rape as a weapon of war. I could be speaking of a dozen places around the world right now. Particular details, the color and shape of victims, heroes, and perpetrators, the landscape itself differs, but the face of war is always terrible. It victims need our help. So do the perpetrators. 

"Because there is the base, there are jewel pedestals, fine clothing."4  This is Shakyamuni Buddha's great teaching of Dependent Origination: Because this is, that is. In an age of war this is an encouraging fact. Because there is war, I know there is also peace. But if I think of peace as something that can be
described and held on to, if I create a concept called peace and cling to it, conditions for war arise.

Dogen teaches that there is a peace beneath and beyond our ordinary notion of peace, and that zazen is simultaneously the door to this peace and its expression. The work of Zen and the dream of peace are not different. So what are we to do? 

The dream of peace is the Bodhisattva's first vow. "Beings are numberless; I vow to save them." Or as we chant at Berkeley Zen Center, "Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them." Numberless beings include oneself and all others. Saving them means sharing the Dharma, helping each being realize him or herself. In a material sense it means feeding, sheltering, clothing, healing, comforting, listening, reconciling, practicing. At times it means organizing and protesting. If other beings go without, my own comfort and realization are incomplete. Acting and sitting by myself, there is no one else who can take responsibility.

The practice of peace is being upright in each moment, zazen. Dogen writes: "Zazen is not learning to do concentration. It is the dharma gate of ease and bliss. It is undefiled practice-enlightenment."5  (Fukanzazengi) Being upright in peace can actually be done in any posture; one finds one's place in any state of mind, even in the terrors of war, the rigors of wounds and disease, the nearness of death. Our dharma friend Rick Fields died recently after enduring four years of cancer that spread from his lungs throughout his body. Speaking of his struggle, Rick said, “I don’t have a life-threatening disease. My life is threatening my disease, in that it is keeping the disease from taking over. I have a disease-threatening life.”6   In Rick’s very last moments he chanted a verse of refuge and liberation. This is being upright to the end. 

1  Eihei Dogen, from "Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance," in Moon in a Dewdrop, p. 46.
2  _____"Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance," p. 45.
3  Gary Snyder, from "Buddhism and the Coming Revolution" in Earth House Hold, (New York, New Directions, 1969), p. 92.
4  Dongshan Liangjie, from "Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness," in Timeless Spring: A Soto Zen Anthology, ed. by Thomas Cleary, (New York, Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1980), p. 41.
5  Eihei Dogen, from "Rules for Zazen," in Moon in a Dewdrop, p. 30.
6  "In Light of Death: An Interview with Rick Fields on living with cancer," interview by Helen Tworkov, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, (Fall, 1997), p. 105.

Hozan Alan Senauke is vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center and the founder and director of Clear View Project, developing Buddhist-based resources for relief and social change. A musician and poet, he has also directed the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and is a founder of Think Sangha, a group of Buddhist-activist intellectuals and writers.


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