Active Commitment - Christopher Titmuss

The Active Commitment to the Values of Reconciliation

or Betrayal of those Values

I had a one to one meeting in February 2009 with an Israeli citizen in Sarnath, India, where the Buddha gave his first teachings on the profound significance of the middle way.  The Israeli, a delightful and steady person, told me that he had spent several years living in the KuluValleyin the foothills of the Himalayas. He took care of an apple orchard as well as sustaining a meditative and mindful way of life. He told me he was currently engaged in some reflection on whether to abandon his quiet abode in the Garden of Eden, as he referred to his location in the valley, and go back toIsrael, perhaps to live inEast Jerusalem to find ways to give support to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.

One of the European dharma teachers had invited him to become a gardener in his centre inFrance.  I viewed that offer, generous and supportive, but a sideways step.

There are times when we reach a crossroads in our life. There is much value in living a way of life that fits in accordance with the dharma teachings of virtue, mindfulness, a certain austerity, sustainability and wisdom. We may be impelled to take a step into the unknown without sacrificing those core values and practices developed and cultivated over years.

christopher titmus

It is as this junction in life we meet our edge. I hope to see this young man inIsrael. I haven’t heard from him. Perhaps he returned to the Kulu valley. Perhaps he went to the centre inFrance. Perhaps he is inEast Jerusalem.

Meditation, working on ourselves, retreats and service to practitioners provides a vital resource for inner change, and dharma teachings and practices give real ongoing support to that.  There is a commonly held view in Buddhist circles that the practice of metta and karuna (loving kindness and compassion) shows itself essentially as a function of meditation. We cannot underestimate the power of such meditations – softening of the heart, empathy for the suffering of others and the dissolution of the judgemental mind.

All of that belongs to the power of practice of the individual alongside other individuals. The outcome of these practices can generate a feel good factor within and a real reduction in the tendency to blame others for what happens to us or the group or nation we identify with.

Limitation to the Approach

There is a severe limitation to this approach. There are no risks involved. We do not challenge ourselves. The adoption of a so-called spiritual approach to war, terror, great suffering or unresolved issues of our time then often means a passive response. “It is karma.” “There is nothing you can do.”  “We can only spread some loving kindness.” “There is no answer to these big issues.”  “It is hard enough to be at peace with myself.” “It’s best not to get involved in politics.”  Those who posit such responses obviously regard their view as the truth of the matter. It is not. It is a view lacking a certain empowerment. Humanly enough, we identify with the view inhibiting our capacity to take fearless steps into the unknown to engage in the task of transforming the most formidable situations. 

As human beings with the wisdom of the Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we have to take risks that challenge any kind of view that supports greed, hate and delusion. We are also prone to turning our back on these three poisons of the mind and of society in the absurd belief that they will go away by themselves.

 There is terror among practitioners of sounding judgemental leaving us incapable of distinguishing criticism from making a personal attack on another or others.  The Buddha often spoke of the three poisons – greed, hate and delusion. There is the obvious example in the homeland ofIsrael. The policies of the Israeli government and Israeli army have caused understandable outrage around the world.  There is the greed of taking and occupying Palestinian land. There is the hatred involved in the invasion ofLebanonandGaza. There is the delusion that the occupation, extermination of Hamas and their families, the control ofGazaas the world’s largest open prison, the economic blockade for basic needs, food, and medicine as well as countless deaths, maiming and traumatisation, will bring peace toIsrael.  BBC news here in theUKsaid that Israeli soldiers had t-shirts that said ‘kill a pregnant Arab, one bullet two deaths.  Israeli soldiers gave reports to newspaper of the deliberate killing of Gazan civilians. Twenty nine members of one family died. The suffering is incalculable.

Our television, radio and newspapers have carried numerous reports of UN representatives, international lawyers and human rights organisations who believe there is massive evidence to show war crimes.  The Palestinian authorities have given the names to the UN of the 1400 Palestinians, a third of them children, who died in the massacres inGaza. Hamas has killed 23 Israeli citizens in the past eight years with its rocket attacks intoIsrael. That also has to be examined as a war crime. The state ofIsraelis in a crisis of greed, hate and delusion, except for those clear minded and courageous Israeli citizens who absolutely refuse to give a word of support to the violent policies of the Israeli government and IDF.

People within Israel and outside of Israel can understandably fall into despair about the situation. The Buddha said “We are soldiers. We make war on greed, hate and delusion.”  There is no virtue in despair, no virtue in any identification with the nation state, no action if we keep solely to being peaceful with ourselves.  We have to protest about the idea of a “Jewish state” if it means that the Arab community inIsraelcontinues to be treated as second class citizens with less opportunities than Jewish citizens.  A Dharma network is a progressive and compassionate movement that supports the marginalised, the rejected and ignored.

The Buddha referred to name/form and consciousness. The task of fearless ones is to name the suffering and the condition of consciousness that gives rise to suffering. The Buddha said there are four primary causes for violence – desire, blame, fear and ignorance. We must not be afraid to name the primary causes for violence, whether it is terror from the state or from the organisation. We must name the meaningful steps to go forward.  There is no room for patriotism and loyalty.  The resolution of suffering is far more important than supporting the often violent and discriminatory objectives of the nation state.

We have to look hard and deep into ourselves. That means taking responsibility for events and trusting in our capacity to belong to the process of meaningful change, so that we are no longer submitting to the dictates of government and most of the media.

I can’t see the purpose in trying to be ‘spiritual” about all of this. The Buddha never sanctioned such an approach.  There is the hub of the teachings and we need the quiet determination to stay true to the hub of the teachings, namely the Four Noble Truths. 1. There is suffering. 2. There are causes and conditions for its arising. 3. There is the cessation of suffering. 4. There are ways to resolve the suffering. This is a sound, down to earth, challenging and direct approach to suffering, great or small. The suffering of the Palestinian people is great. The suffering inIsraelis relatively small compared to the Palestinians whether inGazaor theWest Bank. Suffering, great or small, is pointless.

Application of Truth

The Sangha of practitioners must engage in this dialogue. We have to apply the Four Noble Truths in an appropriate language to any painful circumstance through meditation, reflection, inquiry AND action. Dharma practitioners inIsraelcan offer a real way forward, express insightful concerns, privately, publicly, on the streets while supporting voices organisations to stop the hatred. This is an engagement that reflects the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.

I often hear a quote attributed to the Buddha: “Hatred does not cease with hatred. Hatred ceases with love.” This is not the statement of the Buddha. He said: “Hatred does not cease with hatred. Hatred ceases with non-hatred.” It is a profound statement.  It means we should not demand of ourselves that we love our government and our army, no matter what action it engages in. Nor do we have to love Hamas or Hezbollah.  Let’s dissolve the blame and hate, and the other poisons of the mind AND engage as Dharma soldiers to transform the situation. 

I live in theUnited Kingdom. Last summer, one Israeli television announcer said to me: “Your country hasn’t been at war for more than 60 years. You don’t know what terror is like. “The television announcer clearly had no knowledge of our recent history. We have been constantly at war – colonial wars,Egypt, the IRA inIreland, the numerous terror attacks in mainlandBritain, as well asNorthern Ireland, inIraq,Afghanistanand the so-called war on terror. Far more British soldiers have died in our wars in the past 20 years than Israeli soldiers.  Blinded with prejudice, our government and our army have caused untold suffering on others in the name of keeping the peace. We have to keep our voice of protest alive here as well.

The Buddha spoke frequently of the importance of action and the results of action. We have seen the action and the results of action of our governments and the dehumanisation process that goes with it. We are also challenged to engage in action. We may not know the results. The Buddha spoke of the “unintended consequences” of our actions. We need to offer each other empowerment, be willing, as I stated earlier, to take risks, and to stay committed to a process of awakening and reconciliation so that the obscenity of what took place on Gazan citizens never happens again.

During my stay in Sarnath, I also met with a Buddhist monk fromBurma.  Burmese soldiers had arrested him for giving support to the dignified “saffron revolution” in 2007 when Burmese monks and nuns marched in protest against the Burmese government and military.  For more than a year, the monk, aged 28, was held in prison, tortured (recalling to me the tortures I saw the visible pain in the kindly monk’s face) and then he escaped one night climbing over barbed wire fences. He walked day and night through the jungle and barren hills ofBurmaintoIndia.  The army officers, who beat him up, used their boots to stamp on his bare feet and use various ‘treatments’ on him. The army officers told him he betrayedBurmaby not supporting the government.  He was treated as a traitor.  Who had betrayed true human values - the Burmese government and military regime or the Burmese monk?  Who has betrayedIsrael?

Let us not betray the values of action committed to reconciliation. Let us make sure our voice is heard.

May all beings live in peace and harmony?