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Being Peace

Buddhism: Week 2

Being Peace
Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paul Knitter has been an activist for peace and justice since the 1980’s. He has been inspired by the Engaged Buddhism of the last fifty years. Engaged Buddhism, a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh, brings insights from Buddhist practice and teaching to social, political, environmental, and economic injustice. In his book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, Knitter applies the Buddhist approach to Christians who are sincerely working for justice:

Buddhists are much more concerned about waking up to our innate wisdom and compassion (our Buddha-nature) than they are about working for justice. If Christians insist that “if you want peace, work for justice,” the Buddhists would counter-insist, “if you want peace, be peace.” That’s the point Thich Nhat Hanh gently drives home in the little book . . . Being Peace. His message is as simple and straightforward as it is sharp and upsetting: the only way we are going to be able to create peace in the world is if we first create (or better, find) peace in our hearts.

Being peace is an absolute prerequisite for making peace. And by “being peace,” . . . [Thich Nhat Hanh] means deepening the practice of mindfulness, both formally in regular meditation as well as throughout the day as we receive every person and every event that enters our lives; through such mindfulness we will, more and more, be able to understand . . . whomever we meet or whatever we feel, and so respond with compassion. Only with the peace that comes with such mindfulness will we be able to respond in a way that brings forth peace for the event or person or feeling we are dealing with.

This Buddhist insistence on the necessary link between being peace and making peace reflects Christian spirituality’s traditional insistence that all our action in the world must be combined with contemplation. . . . But the Buddhists are very clear: while both are essential, one holds a priority of practice. If action and contemplation form a constantly moving circle in which one feeds into the other, the entrance point for the circle is contemplation. [1]

I believe the entrance point can be action or contemplation. Frankly, I believe most people act, love, sin, and make mistakes before they see the deep need for contemplation. Yet only when we are resting in our deep center, our source, the Indwelling “Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being . . . . only then can we be of service to others” over the long haul—and with love. [2]

Knitter continues:

Why? Just why do Buddhists insist on the priority of Awakening over acting? Why do they want to “just sit there” before they “do anything”? Certainly, there are different ways a Buddhist might answer this question. But I believe that one of the recurring responses would be: to remove one’s ego from one’s peacemaking, so that one’s actions will not be coming from one’s ego-needs but from the wisdom and compassion that constitute one’s true nature. [3]

When we first founded the Center for Action and Contemplation almost thirty years ago, we envisioned spending half our time teaching contemplation and half teaching social justice. But for the same reasons Knitter gave, as well as the fact that Western people are already geared toward action, but need training in stillness and silence, we now spend eighty percent of our effort teaching contemplation, knowing that if the inner world is authentic, an individual’s political, economic, and service attitudes will always change organically from the inside out.

Gateway to Silence:
“The suchness of each moment is the infinite mercy of God.”  —Paul Knitter  

[1] Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oneworld Publications: 2009), 183-184.
[2] Ibid., 184.
[3] Ibid., 184.

Image credit: “The Bodhisattva attains Awakening and becomes the Buddha” (detail), a Lalitavistara (The Life of the Buddha) relief at Borobudur in Java, Indonesia, 9th century.