a guest blog, by Dr. Thor Gonen (Bhavana House, Israel)
The Buddha: Violence breeds fear
Looking at people in conflict, I will tell you of my dismay
How moved I was
I saw people writhing
Feuding with each another like fish in a small pool
When I realized this, dread arose in me
The world is entirely worthless
Every quarter is in turmoil
Wanting somewhere for myself
I saw nowhere that wasn’t taken
Seeing nothing in the end but competition,
I became disgusted.
(Attadanda Sutta Sn 4.15)
I arrived at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in 2001, just two days after September 11, an event that shocked the world and put it into a deep turmoil that continues to affect the world to this very day. I first met Ajahn Sumedho in a private conversation, and when he heard that I was from Israel, he said: "What a Kamma! Being a Jew and an Israeli". In his compassionate way he did not say "What a difficult Kamma". I replied "I'm living with it for 50 years; this is the way it is". His words echoed in my heart and today, 15 years later, their deep meaning become clearer to me, as a member of a society that is in conflict with the Palestinians for almost 50 years. I am dismayed by the deteriorating psychological, constitutional, cultural and social processes that the young Israeli society has been going through during its 67 years. I am a witness to these unfortunate changes and "dread arose in me" as described in the Attadanda Sutta.
In the Madhupindika Sutta (The Honey Ball Sutta MN18), the Buddha pointed to the source of conflicts and violence as being a strong attachment to views and opinions. In the Attadanda Sutta (On Violence) quoted above, translated from the Pali and kindly offered to us by Ajahn Varado, I found a powerful and poetic essence of all wrong conduct in deeds, words and thoughts, beside a description of the psychological impact that conflicts and violence have on a society, in this case, on Israelis and Palestinians, living in the midst of it for decades. The first part of this Sutta, which served as a trigger for this article, holds a precise mirror of people whose lives are influenced by actual violence. Here I wish to present not only the source of conflict and violence in the area where I live, but also to show the stages of that disease. The dependent origination between internal and external conditions as factors which are playing part in the apparent escalation may lead to destruction. One can pull out the thorn of suffering rooted in the hearts of these two populations only by taking responsibility for past deeds, showing empathy towards the traumatic pain on both side, giving up arrogance, cruelty, greed, and reckless behavior on the personal and on the societal levels.
In this paper, as harsh as it may sound, I give a personal account of the conflict, which implies and resonates the deep pleading for peace stated by my fellow Dhamma friends, by the few (barely surviving constant threats for their very existence) Israeli human rights organizations, by scholars in some Israeli academies and universities, and by what was left of the Left-wing Party in Israel. I have to be candid and say that, unfortunately, my account does not take me to a positive prognosis. The future is, of course, unknown.
A promising start
The first prime minister of Israel and the person who founded Israel as a state, Mr. David Ben-Gurion, first met with Buddhism back in 1955, when the State of Israel was just 7 years old. It all started when he met Mr. U Nu, the prime minister of Burma (now Myanmar), during his visit to Israel. Deep friendship developed between the two and in 1961 Ben-Gurion paid a reciprocal visit to Burma and there he met with few monks. One of them was the Venerable U Bah Khin, who is considered one of the fathers of the modern practice of Vipassana and Mr. Goenka's teacher. Venerable U Bah Khin propagated Buddhism and Buddhist meditation around the world, causing goodness and wellbeing to many people. In 1962, Mr. Ben-Gurion traveled alone to Burma to meditate in seclusion in one of the monasteries, and in the spring of 1962 he published in "The Times" an article in which he praised the Burmese meditation system and Buddhism as a practical, tolerant, open minded and wise way of living and understanding life. Between 1956 and 1962 he corresponded at length with Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, one of the most outstanding members of the Theravada school in Sri-Lanka, a monk who was originally a German Jew. It certainly had an effect on him, said he wanted to abandon politics, to retire and focus on what he had learned. Like many intellectuals drawn to spirituality, Ben-Gurion was also very impressed by the search for truth and especially by the rationalism of the southern school of Buddhism. As a secular person, he appreciated most the fact that there is no need to believe in any God, and was deeply moved by the Buddhist request for Sila (ethics, morality). His take on "enlightenment" was "disillusionment, wising up, sobering up from illusion", but alas, things went very differently for Israel. Buddhism was grasped as an esoteric, exotic way of thinking, totally irrelevant for a Jewish state that was based on very different set of religious beliefs.
Ignorance as the source of conflict
Israel was founded in the late 40s by refugees, mostly European, who went through the horrors of the Second World War and the traumatic Holocaust. The Holocaust, a terrible event which is considered today by historians as a "foundational past", a warning sign to the human kind, to be aware of potential catastrophes, and a turning point which changed the way in which people and societies apprehended themselves. The refugees were survivors, severely hurt by their past, grieving their murdered relatives and financially destitute. Israel, this tiny piece of land, 3% of Myanmar size, was the only country in which they hoped to live and exist in security after the Holocaust and after thousands of years of persecution. They defended their claim that this is the Promised Land according to the Old Testament. I was born to this situation right after the state of Israel was founded, growing up like the rest, in very harsh living conditions. I'm not complaining, that's what invigorated me. "No more" was the new ethos of the "New Israeli": strong, direct, brave, hardworking and a fighter. What was established in Israel in the first 20 years was admired by many nations which wondered with astonishment as to the capacity of these refugees with meager resources to create a functioning society. Israel was a democratic state and a secular society, as Ben-Gurion envisioned it, and with a minority of Orthodox and traditionally religious who had not yet affected the social and political character of Israel.
These Jewish refugees, who arrived and established Israel, settled in a land that was populated by local Palestinian Arabs. Suggestions made by the United Nations to divide the land to two separate states, Israel and Palestine, was not acceptable by the Arab countries and they subsequently declared war on the young country of Israel. This was a question of survival. The compromised division of the land did not materialize and in this war Israel won. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were expelled. Thus, while for the Jewish refugees the establishment of Israel was a source of relief, for the Palestinians it was the Nakba, the destruction. Here we meet the two existential narratives, the Israeli-Jewish one and the Muslim- Palestinian one, that are at the heart of the conflict.
The seed of conflict was planted by way of sheer blindness: the inability of these two peoples to realize that this small piece of land is an innate and only home land for the two of them; that each ethnic group has its own justified narrative to live here; the wish of each group to own the land exclusively, excluding the possibility of sharing it; that the Palestinian exile will be a huge humane issue and will cause a future global political and social problem; that the Palestinians will feel they have a right to fight for their rights and for their return to live on their land.
The blindness was reinforced by denial and concealment: The Israeli education system did not teach the new generations about the Palestinian problem and the Israeli leadership denied the existence of a Palestinian people, repeating the slogan "land without people that was given to people without land". It was said that it is unlikely that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust will be capable of atrocities and deportation after what they have suffered. So, although Israel was established with a spirit of dedication, courage, strong determination and hopes to build an exemplary, modern, role model society that will be based on social justice - it was accompanied by a dark shadow. Any intention of Israel to play a particular role and to fulfill a historic-teleological-ideological mission of being "the light unto the nations", was darken by the shadow of Palestinians' expulsion from their villages and overtaking their land, ignoring all future results and the Karmic fruits of these actions. Wellbeing cannot be achieved at the price of another's distress.
At this point, despite Israeli behavior resembling that of an infant who believes that if something moves away from him, it will simply disappear - there still was no hate. This poison will not appear until later, when other conditions will become ripe for its appearance, and regrettably it will appear with the strengthening of the Jewish Orthodox community and the expansion of the national-religious population in Israel. Countries are somewhat like humans. If they suffer from denial nor are they treated for trauma in their childhood - the result will evolve into more difficult symptoms to treat.
Hatred and arrogance fuel the violent conflict
The second phase of the violent conflict was the development of hatred and arrogance: Hatred by Palestinians towards Israelis for their forced deportation, appropriation of their land and the difficult living conditions in which they found themselves in the refugee camps, while an unhealthy arrogance developed on the part of young Israeli society, supported by their success to overcome difficulties. This childish arrogance, that was not directed towards the Arabs only but amazingly towards the whole world, was the mind state of a very young society that allowed itself to be swept by conceit intoxication, so well described in the Upajjhatthana Sutta (Subjects for Contemplation, AN5.57 ,translated from Pali by the venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu):
"`Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging'? There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] youth's intoxication with youth. Because of that intoxication with youth, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body... in speech... and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that youth's intoxication with youth will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker."
Well, as opposing the Sutta's wise suggestion, the Israeli arrogance has become firmly established in 1967, after its glorious victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria that attacked her. By the rapid military triumph of Israel in the "6 days war", the conflict seed grew to be a giant baobab tree. Israel conquered very large territories, but paradoxically, this very fact became her own spiritual failure, as the leaders were not wise enough to understand the threat that undermines this victory. The occupied territories were not fully returned to their owners along with a peace treaty, and a sense of overbearing bossy atmosphere started to characterize the Israeli society, manifesting itself in reckless actions, both in the sense of human interpersonal everyday relationships and publicly, by building Jewish settlements illegally, according to international law, on these newly occupied territories. No obliged consideration for the wellbeing of the Palestinians that inhabited these lands and a deep disrespect towards their property were apparent now. The old city of Jerusalem was under Israeli occupation now, and this was accompanied by a strong religious sentiment. Secular Israeli intellectuals and the Left-Wing party urged the leaders to wise up and to use this opportunity to initiate and establish a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians and with the Arab countries, but of no avail. Israeli society was overcome by a dazzling euphoria of victory.
The occupation and the situation in the occupied territories were hashed up and were not a topic that came up in the media or in schools. A young generation was born to a new materialistic society in which hedonism, selfishness and materialism were the new cherished values. The Arabs were the hard workers having no civil rights, being "transparent" second-class citizens whereas the Israeli-Jews were now the masters! The occupation and the ruling over huge Arab population looked quite natural, quite normal, and the preference to live in a fool's paradise led everyone to believe that this situation of "masters and servants" can go on forever. The word "eternity" started to be very popular, dismissing and ignoring the basic law of Impermanence, Anicca. One can say that Israel was morally and psychologically defeated by its own victory.
He should not sink to false speech,
Nor should he cultivate lust for physical forms.
He should comprehend pride, and should abstain from impetuous behavior.
For whoever there is no thought “This is mine" or “This belongs to others"
Who has no feelings of possessiveness, he does not grieve for anything
Thinking "It is not mine".
(Attadanda Sutta Sn 4.15)
Obviously, the warning stated in the Attadanda Sutta was not known to the Israeli leaders, and would never crossed their minds if it would not have been for the bitter fruits that everyone had to swallow – the 1973 war.
Injustice repeated patterns, greed, deceit and discrimination as enhancing the violent conflict
In 1973 Israel lost the war that took her leaders by surprise and suffered huge losses. Many young Israeli soldiers died, were wounded and suffered from severe battle-trauma. It was a devastating earthquake for the almighty Israeli society, but in spite of that the leaders did not pay any price for their myopia and conceit. A left-wing protest movement arose, asking the leaders for accountability, and a new possibility for peace dialogue and coexistence was opened. Indeed, suffering should be understood, as said in the First Noble Truth, and unfortunately, people have to suffer, to go through suffering, to penetrate suffering so to understand the benefit of wisdom. I am not so sure that the Second Noble Truth was understood, because in 1977 a nationalistic right-wing party won the elections in Israel. Paradoxically, a "cold" peace treaty was signed between Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and part of the occupied lands was handed over back to Egypt. This was a huge let go on the Israeli part as the right path to walk. Unfortunately, instead of striving for peace agreements that will include the Palestinians, the Gaza strip, the Arab quarters of East Jerusalem, the Islamic holy sites and other territories, these were kept under Israeli occupation and administration.
Far away from the public eye, "under the rug", the Israeli government continued to do whatever it wished in the occupied Palestinians territories, pouring heavy funds taken from the Israeli tax payers to massively build new settlements for the Jewish population in the West Bank and the Gaza strip territories, at the expense of the neglected welfare and education systems within the "Green-Line", meaning, Israel within the1967 borders. The Palestinian towns and villages were neglected and were driven to the verge of poverty with unjust distribution of resources and wealth, cutting them off water and electricity supply, oppressing the Arab population with all kinds of false security excuses and forming a hurtful situation.
The Israeli society went from a survival necessity of home-land to a nationalistic real-estate obsessive greed, only this time with an unjustified narrative and an attachment to a false, unrealistic idea of "the Greater Israel", from the Mediterranean Sea to the desert and to the Jordan River. This idea and the terrible events that followed were now supported by a religious belief that God gave this Greater Israel to the Jews, and by a very troublesome strengthening of Jewish fanaticism and orthodox extremists. At the same time, religious extremism following the Islamic revolution in Iran, also contributed to stirring up emotions and strengthened the religious stream. Paradoxically, this was largely encouraged by Israel, which saw Islamic religious movements as obstacle to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Here are the thicker branches of the violent conflict baobab tree, growing by repeating the same patterns of injustice as was done in 1948 rather than relinquishing them. This time it was not "just" two different historical narratives, one against the other, but two very strong emotional religious extremes, one against the other. These religious ideologists were blind to the consequences of clinging, of not letting go, and thus, continue to fuel the fire of greed, hate and delusion
I call greed the 'great deluge',
Lust I call the 'torrent',
Concocted religious teachings are the 'foothold'
Sense pleasure is 'hard-to-cross mud'.
(Attadanda Sutta Sn 4.15)
Israel has not formally annexed most of the territories it conquered in 1967 with the exception of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Although there has been no formal annexation, a partial de-facto annexation has taken place, expressing itself by inhabiting hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens in many communities and cities that Israel has built in the occupied territories. The Israeli law was applied selectively only on the Jewish-Israeli population, while the Palestinian inhabitants were deprived of that. The fact that they were not granted with Israeli citizenship and that the Israeli law was not applied to them, caused a galling, vexatious discrimination between the two populations.
Not surprisingly, the first Arab violent uprising (Intifada) exploded at the end of the 80s, causing high flames of violent aggression on both sides. The whole place was drifted into a havoc of mutual killings, revenges and hostile acts. The first reaction of the Israeli nationalistic regime was one of disrespect, followed by a harsh policy of mass arrests, curfews and Palestinian houses demolition. Radicalization of the right-wing political parties as well as the same radicalization that swept the general Israeli population led to an unrealistic call for a massive Arabs transfer from the occupied territories, which of course were not realized. The first Intifada came to an end in 1993, with the Oslo-agreements, but a second Intifada broke out in 2000, protesting against the Israeli policy of apartheid and oppression of the Palestinians. Mutual violence was escalating over the years, and mutual devastating hatred developed now between Palestinians and Israelis.
By now, the atmosphere of violence seeped into the Israeli society itself and Prime Minister Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, who was seriously committed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to making peace with the Arab nations, was murdered in 1995 by a young right-wing religious extremist, who committed it with the blessings of the radical Jewish Orthodox leaders and the religious "sages". Shockingly, I was there, where the murder took place, 20 years ago. The promising hope for peace died with Mr. Rabin's death. Like Mr. Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president that was assassinated 35 years ago, Mr. Rabin was murdered because he had intentions for peace.
The new Israeli regime that succeeded Rabin's government has no intention for peace, having in mind to continue the occupation. The Israeli right-wing regime was still attached by the dream: the Greater Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the desert and to the Jordan River. It was clear for Israelis who supported the peace process that this dream is a nightmare, a sure recipe for ongoing war. They were condemned by the majority of population and by the Israeli leadership as "Arab-Lovers". Can anyone think that life can go on without wishing the welfare of every being, without Lovingkindness and Compassion? Without it, there is no solution to this conflict. Apparently, this truth was well felt among those who supported the peace process although they did not come across any Sutta, like the Karaniya Metta Sutta (The Buddha's Words on Loving-Kindness Sn 1.8 PTS: Sn 143-152 translated from Pali by The Amaravati Sangha) or the Vatthupama Sutta (The Simile of the Cloth, MN 7, translated from Pali by the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi), because the Suttas are not a doctrine. They are reflections of Truth.
13. He abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.
14-16. He abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with compassion … with a mind imbued with appreciative joy … with a mind imbued with equanimity, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with equanimity, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.
(Vatthupama Sutta, MN 7)
Meanwhile, trying to deal with terrorist attacks, Israel was involved in two more major wars in Lebanon, (1982, 2006) which ended in a diplomatic defeat for Israel because of its fear and its greed. Its lack of generosity which could have led to positive agreements. By then, the right-wing regime, alongside with the Palestinian leadership, always missed every opportunity for peace, although they would always say that they want peace, blaming each other of not having "a real partner".
Moral shame abandonment, forgetfulness, incitement and religious nationalism deepens violent conflict
Now, at mid December 2015, one can inform the beginning of the third Intifada, an apparent wakeup call on the part of Palestinians to Israel: the situation of force against them, denying them their basic, legitimate rights for so many years, is neither legal nor immoral. Furthermore, the policy of maintaining the suppressive status quo is not beneficial for Israel in this unstable region. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, says that in recent years his visits to Israel and Palestine have been undertaken on an emergency basis. He saw firsthand how the upsurge in perpetual violence has touched the full spectrum of both societies. The occupation, in which Israel is ruling over nearly 2 million suppressed Palestinians, continues in an unbelievable stable equilibrium, while the region is growing more and more volatile. The settlements and the illegal outposts are expending, civilians are living under daily fear and terror, administrative detentions, curfews, military checkpoints on the borders of the occupied territories, harassment and humiliation and human rights violations are causing a deep mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon stresses that the two-state solution is the preferred formula for resolving the conflict.
Relying on the passing of time is not in Israel's favor. It would be irresponsible to stand by and to expect better conditions to emerge. Israel is disregarding, ignoring the public world opinion although the calling is getting louder, warning Israel to abandon the occupation, to let go, for its own sake. Everybody is stressing the inherent existential danger of deliberately forming a policy of a settlement enterprise. As a small country surrounded by enemies, Israel cannot afford to lose the support of the global community. As time passes, mistrust is getting deeper, the gap between the two-state solution and the actual reality is widening, while both sides are clinging increasingly tightly to the land and to their political and religious ideas. The excessive force that Israel is using only generates greater emotions of hatred and strong desires to revenge. The longer the grievances, the clashes and the killings will remain unaddressed, the harder it will be to control the passions that continue to rage.
Meanwhile, slowly, as the Israeli borders of 1967 drawn on official maps were blurred out and disappeared from the Israeli maps as if it never existed and the West Bank territories were marked as "Israeli", so blurred out and disappeared the values and the virtues of morality, kindness, decency, tolerance and compassion in everyday life in Israel. One cannot be brutal on one side of the borders and kind on the other, and the Israeli society became flooded with violence within. The young generation since the Oslo-agreement in 1995 is growing up with the conviction that peace is neither possible nor necessary. The Israeli society grew to be more aggressive, merciless and intolerant, not only towards the Palestinians but also among Israelis in their everyday. Threats, verbal abuse, intolerance, incitement and physical injury are now directed not only against Arabs but against the few in Israel calling for peaceful coexistence. These Israelis are now feeling the same type of helplessness felt by the Palestinians.
In the last five years the process of psychological and moral degradation became tragically faster without much self-awareness on behalf of Mr. Netanyahu's government and his supporters. If they would stop for a while, using some reflective introspection, they would be shocked like Dorian Gray in Oscar Wild's book to discover their inner true frightening faces: hate, deception, dispossession, possessiveness, materialism, exploitation, discrimination, callous behavior, egotistic lack of consideration for others and hedonism. Verbal and physical violence appeared in schools and on the streets, and racism which was directed towards the Arab population is now directed towards Israelis that oppose the occupation. Public discourse has become loud and verbally abusive, and in demonstrations against the occupation there have been physical attacks and intimidating threats. This hostile atmosphere is supported by new laws that limit the activities of peace and human rights NGOs and blocking their financing. Control over the Palestinian people is achieved by a regime of intimidation, instilling fear, and yet the same very principles are applied now also to the Israelis who do not agree with the occupation. Many refrain from active protest out of fear of violence and find themselves in despair. They are now perceived and labeled as harmful citizens to the national security. Due to growing intolerance and terror, Israelis were stabbing other Israelis who resemble Arabs. One can ironically say that the Israeli society has been sadly creating its own internal Intifada. Today the Israeli society is a sick one. The Holocaust is used as a justification for acts of violence instead of using this tragic event as a warning sign for every society and an educative example against racism. Today's Israeli society is very far from the humanistic, caring, characterized by mutual assistance and democratic foundations laid down in 1948.
The orthodox and the fascist-clerical population grew due to an accelerated internal demographic growth, and this fact changed the social and the cultural fabric of the Israeli society. It turned to be infected with cultural illiteracy, religious fanaticism, superstitious believes, narrow-mindedness, extremism and above all – deeply characterized by the old notion of superiority in comparison to the secular Israeli population and of course to all the other "Gentiles". The Jewish ethos holding the view that the Jews are the chosen people by God, "a light unto the nations", received now a new and very dangerous interpretation that led to a false belief that anything goes, everything is allowed in the name of "A Higher Law", God's Law, in Israel and in the occupied territories. Just as a moderate reminder, one might suggest that
The sage does not speak of himself as someone equal, inferior or superior
At peace, unselfish, he neither clings nor relinquishes.
(Attadanda Sutta Sn 4.15)
The Jewish terror deepened now its roots and more and more Israelis took to the messianic religious ideas as justification for "the Greater Israel", they foster a terrible anti- social behavior. The Jewish settlers in the occupied territories refused to obey even the Israeli law and the Army and brought chaos and despair. Some of them, with a radical militant religious nationalism, dared to burn by now 42 Christian churches and Muslim mosques in Israel and in the occupied territories. Their graffiti on the walls were offensive and incisive against any other religion but Judaism. They uprooted and burned thousands of olive trees, some very old, that were so necessary for the wellbeing of the poor Palestinians in the occupied territories, and then, as nobody put an end to these harassments or tried to stop them, neither the government nor their parents or their rabbinical religious leadership. For the last few years they surpassed themselves and burned Arab Palestinian family houses, burning people to death while asleep. They have not been caught yet or punished. Their Jewish rabbis leaders did not condemn any of it. One must be fair and point to the fact that none of the Muslim religious authorities did not condemn the killings of Israelis by Palestinians in this third Intifada. The ignorance and hostility is mutual. On top of it, even the secular Israeli army became for some chief officers "the army of the Lord" and went through a deep theocratization (religionization). It is said by Prof. Yagil Levy that the penetration of the Jewish religious authorities into the army has a clear strategic agenda, meaning, to refuse to evacuate the West Bank occupied territories if this order will be given by any government someday in the future. Not that such government is seen in the horizon.
What future awaits the young generation of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Streep? I do not know. Great irony is now inherent in the name of the national anthem called "The Hope". The two Peoples will reach a state of peace only when the wishes for peace will exceed any other wish, when it will be more important than anything else. Peace will be possible only when the two foes will acknowledge each other's trauma and pain. Peace will be possible only with the mutual acceptance of each other's narratives, the Israeli one and the Palestinian one. Group dialogue meetings between the two societies are essential so to help both to lower the level of fear and demonization, and learning each other's language in schools can be helpful. In Israel there are research institutes and still few NGOs, among them Buddhist groups, which are interested in propagating the peace process in Israel. We organize petitions, demonstrations and encounters between Israelis and Palestinians; visiting Arab villages and taking part in financial aid. None of us succeeded so far to change anything on the bigger scale. 15 years ago I said that I would like to bring the Middle Way to the Middle East. I propagated the Dhamma as much as I could in Bhavana House, a Dhamma and meditation sanctuary that was open in Tel Aviv together with my friend, Dr. Itamar Bashan. We hosted monks of various Buddhist traditions, translated Suttas into Hebrew, translated and published books written by our teachers, and taught adults, adolescents, teachers, psychologists, Medical Doctors and Journalists. Remembering Ben-Gurion, where is the Israeli leader today who can enter people's hearts in a meditative way, pacify them and divert them to peace?
Seeing nothing in the end but competition, I became disgusted.
Then I saw a spike, Hard to see, embedded in people’s hearts.
A person affected by this spike rushes about in all directions.
But on pulling it out - he neither rushes about nor falls away.
Attadanda Sutta Sn 4.15
I apologize for my bitter words. I wanted to share with you, friend, the catastrophic change that takes place in my home-land. It is not easy for me to witness the decline of the society that I am part of and identified with. I needed a lot of Metta to write this paper and the readers will have to generate a lot of Metta towards the people living in the Middle East. It takes quite a practice to be able to realize the Absolute while living in such a condensed relative reality. Ajahn Sumedho understood it immediately. I would have been very happy to write a paper about the 10 Paramis manifested in Israel, but alas, this is not the case. This presentation is a warning sign: if it could happened so quickly in a young democratic society it can happened anywhere. Mr. Netanyahu's recently stated that "Israel will forever live by the sword", but "forever" does not exist. Things will have to change. The occupation will have to stop. The peace forces in Israel are now a very small minority and cannot influence the governmental policies, neither the Israeli public opinion. What is urgently needed is an international intervention that will force both sides to negotiate and find a solution to this painful conflict. Shalom. Salam. Peace.
When BODHI was co-founded in 1989 (in Australia as well as the US) it became one of the world’s first Buddhist-influenced non-government organizations seeking to improve social and environmental justice for all.
Both major forms of Buddhism recognise the importance of compassion. A central tenet of Mahayana Buddhism (which includes Tibetan Buddhism) is the concept of “bodhicitta”, the wish to be of benefit to all beings. An important aspect of Theravada Buddhism is the concept and practice of “metta”, or loving kindness. In principle, both forms of compassion extend to all forms of life, including people of any race, faith, ethnicity, status or caste.
The experience of each of the co-founders of BODHI was that organized and practical expressions of either metta or bodhicitta were rare, at least by Buddhists and Buddhist sympathisers. We knew, of course, that Buddhist teachings had a powerful, generally positive influence in many countries, but also that many nominally Buddhist counties had experienced internal conflict and sometime practised overt aggression - but so had many Christian and Muslim countries.
We also knew of organized programmes in Western countries to raise funds for Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal, efforts which had commenced soon after His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama had fled the Chinese invaders in 1959, accompanied by about 80,000 of his countrymen, in the first of several waves. (See an interview with the Dalai Lama in 1960.) But we did not know of any Buddhist-influenced organizations similar in aspiration to OxFam, Save the Children Fund, or the Catholic aid organization Caritas. Although a group called Tzu Chi (“compassionate relief”) had been founded in Taiwan in 1966 we did not, at that stage, know of it. Nor (in those pre-internet days, when research was more difficult) did we know of the Karuna Trust, which, based in the UK, had then been active for several years. We knew of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, but its focus was more on dialogue and the promotion of peace, than on poverty relief via partners, as we intended.
Today, there are many Buddhist-influenced organizations that seek to promote social and environmental justice, from Buddhist Global Relief to the Foundation for Universal Responsibility. Some of these are linked in the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. However, few among these groups seek to actively promote poverty relief and poverty prevention. BODHI, though small, has supported almost 50 such projects, mainly in India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Tibet. We also have tried to raise concerns about numerous issues relevant to social justice, in our newsletters, on our various websites, in reports and other publications and via social media including Facebook.
Recurrent themes have included climate change, inequality, racial and other forms of discrimination and the lack of female education and empowerment and its consequent effect on poverty. Compared to the need, BODHI can only make a small difference, but we can do far more collectively than as individuals.
The Guardian has a new article by Rose George called India’s poor sanitation is damaging millions of children. There’s no excuse
It is reproduced below:
Earlier this year, in a sweltering classroom in Delhi, I met a young Indian boy named Ram. His father is a watchman in a government apartment block, and the family live in the building’s garage. But there is no toilet, so Ram, a small, whipsmart and endearingly cheeky boy, must cross two busy highways to get to the overcrowded public toilet in a nearby slum.
Obviously, rather than risk this, Ram and his siblings sometimes do their business in the open near the apartment block, making him one of India’s 564 million people who practise open defecation. Because of this, Ram told me: “They’re throwing us out.” I asked where his family will live instead and he just shrugged.
Ram is an example of the idea that children can be active citizens. They earn this right because they can teach us adults things we have forgotten, as with a child’s most common lament: “That’s not fair!” They are right: it has been 25 years since India launched itself on to the path of structural adjustment, and despite media focus on its growth, triumphs and controversial prime minister Narendra Modi, it’s not just Ram who should be saying that there is too much about modern India that is not fair.
Modern India has a massive middle class (the third largest in the world after China and the US), economic growth that makes market economists salivate and the third largest number of billionaires. It also has 250 million people with zero assets. Not even a radio. And, as Caught Short, a new report by WaterAid reveals, it has more stunted children than any other country. Nearly 50 million Indian children are stunted, including Ram. Probably because, like millions of other Indian toddlers, he was constantly exposed to disease carried by faecal particles he encountered when going to the toilet wherever he could.
A single gram of human excrement can contain 10m viruses, 1m bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 worm eggs. Living barefoot and not washing your hands, you’re likely to ingest dangerous bugs with your food and drink, if you have any. Diarrhoea ensues; and any nourishment children do get is washed out by the bugs, stunting their growth and development. Half of all cases of malnutrition are linked to diarrhoea, says WaterAid. If a child experiences five or more cases of diarrhoea before the age of two, he or she may be stunted. Beyond that age, “the effects are largely irreversible”.Ram’s situation is unfair and immoral, but it’s also uneconomical. Poor sanitation loses India 6.4% of GDP – $53.8bn – according to World Bank calculations. It is now well known that investing a dollar in sanitation can save a government $6-8 in costs: healthcare, mostly, but also days not worked and children whose earning potential is as stunted as their height.
The writer and activist Harsh Mander, author of a searing book on Indian indifference called Looking Away, would give children a fair start (which is the name of a current UNICEF India campaign), in the form of a universal social floor. It would cost 10% of GDP and cover an equal school environment, where children of different backgrounds – income, ethnicity or religion – are schooled together. There would be access to basic healthcare, in a country where a quarter of the population fall into poverty because of hospitalisation costs. This is not a fantastical proposition. In 2014, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said that “there’s now overwhelming evidence that [user fees for healthcare] actually worsened health outcomes”. Higher taxes? What an unfashionable notion. Yet India’s tax income is 14% of GDP, one of the lowest among similar nations.
It is common in India to stop at traffic lights and see a young girl with dirty hair and a wide smile gesturing to her mouth; or a boy selling tissues or trinkets. It has also become far too common, on a micro and macro level, for India’s thriving middle class to look away – or worse, to look through. Unicef’s Fair Start campaign highlighted this with a film that used children from marginal communities as actors. It may not seem a sophisticated concept, but it is groundbreaking for one reason: when the film’s wealthy children see poor children begging, or heading off into the bushes to go the toilet, they actually notice them. Unlike the adults, who have learned that windows can be opaque, these children see clearly to the other side of their prosperity and privilege.Do we have to wait for this generation to grow up before we stop tolerating the current levels of inequality and poverty? No one is asking Indians to look through a looking-glass. Just a window, and to acknowledge that the poverty on the other side is not only unfair and unacceptable, it’s fixable.