Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not taking sides: embracing the oppressor and the oppressed (how to address to President Bush on Iraq)

As a follow-up to the topic of fighting the good fight, which is about having an "us" (the good guys, the righteous) versus "them" (the bad guys, the unrighteous) mentality and whether spiritual people of conscience who accept some form of interdependence should take sides, I re-post this letter from Thich Nhat Hanh (text follows)to provide a more specific example for reflection and discussion...

Honorable George W. BushThe White House
Washington DC, USA

Plum Village
Le Pey 24240
Thenac, France

Dear Mr President

Last night, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the USA) coming back to me in a dream. He was with all his children. He told me, "Let's go home together." After a millisecond of hesitation, I told him joyfully, "Ok, let's go."

Waking up from that dream at 5 am this morning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East; and for the first time, I was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and I felt much better after about one hour. Then I went to the kitchen and made some tea. While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said is true: our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home as brothers and sisters.

Mr. President, I think that if you could allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, and their discrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you; I trust Buddha nature in you.

Thank you for reading.

In gratitude and with brotherhood,
Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village

In my last post, I ended by asking: "What is our compassionately informed response to those who we thing are harming the planet and causing immense suffering because of their greed, anger and fear? A compassionate response does not have to imply a whimper - compassion requires a great deal of strength - but deep down do we believe that such an approach will be seen as weak or be ignored by the powerful? And isn't it so much easier to empathize with the downtrodden? Is it a choice between the preferred and the practical, between idealism and realism? Or do we really believe (in) and practice what we preach?"

That post was very general and allows for many permutations of this theme, and it has received replies (feel free to click over and add yours). Here, however, we have a specific example of someone, Thich Nhat Hanh, who did just what I was mentioning. He chose to see Bush as his brother and to appeal to his humanity and his divine/Buddha nature rather than simply mocking him or using angry accusations listing his personal failures and their consequences. So what do we make of this and similar letters, speeches, and other forms of communication? It is certainly something that we can appreciate coming from Thay as he is a world renowned peace activist and Buddhist teacher, but do we really believe that letter, assuming it was received and read, made a difference? And is effectiveness the primary yardstick in cases like this? Do we read things like this and "forgive" Thich Naht Hanh for his simplicity and directness (but also see it as a little naive) because of his status and image? Or is he on the right track, and if so, in what way should we follow his example?

In particular for those who are opposed to the occupation of Iraq and those who capitalized on it politically or financially...

Can you see yourself writing a letter like that to George W. Bush? To Dick Cheney? To the David Lesar, President and CEO of Halliburton? To Erik Prince, founder and owner of Blackwater Worldwide? For the Pro-Iraq war visitors, same question but fill in the names with Nancy Pelosi, or Hillary Clinton, etc.

Or to be really blunt - does such wording make the author sound like a spacey, out-of-touch, overly naive optimist who needs a reality check and to get involved in really making a difference rather than expressing futile sentimentality? Again, I know many or probably most of you might not think that about Thich Nhat Hahn, or if the letter had come from the Dalai Lama, but what if had come from a New Age guru running a crystal therapy center? Or from a Wiccan college freshman taking a course on globalization? Or from your own desk (assuming you are not a New Age guru running a crystal therapy center or a Wiccan college freshman taking a course on globalization)? That is, if you respect Thay's letter and approach, is it because you respect him or because you respect his letter and approach?

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