Today is August 6th. Almost 70 years ago 70,000 Japanese people died on that day within seconds in the city of Hiroshima, and the world as we knew it changed forever.
A few days ago I was having a Cafe au Lait on my way to work at a Bistro somewhere in Quartier Latin, it is August 1st., 2014. The French lady at the other table finished her newspaper and hand it over to me with a smile, so I can read a bit in Le Parisien. Sitting close to the counter she must have heard my German accent when I ordered, yet no problem. I never felt anything else but welcome in France, our neighbour country, the country where I enjoyed the best Aikido. The country where my Grand-Grandfather’s generation killed 1,4 million people within 4 years.
Le Parisien printed the facsimile of a document in it’s centre page which on the day is exactly 100 years old, the announcement of general mobilisation of the French, the country’s begin of World War I against Germany. The whole day, nobody in Paris showed the slightest resentment against the German guest. We had another war after this, and difficult times after then. Now we are friends …
While we are sitting on our pillows practising Zazen, a civil air-plane with 298 people on board was shot down. Day and night the killing in Israel and Gaza continues, and we just sit and breath. Desperation about the lost ones merges with increasing public anger, in Germany we experienced public demonstrations which were openly anti-semetic just a few weeks ago.
The war, the wars arrived once more in the middle of our life and our cities. What is our response, as human beings practising Zen, maybe as Buddhists? Shouldn’t we stop sitting silently on our pillows and go out and fight for justice, against the war I had been asked?
As a father I can hardly imagine anything worse than losing your beloved child. I possibly cannot comment on the emotions and responses of those directly affected by such tragedy. One step aside, that’s “us”. Having Dutch colleagues active in HIV related research, I anxiously checked the passenger list of MH-17 and was relieved not to find a familiar name on it. Suddenly it affects “us”, not some others far out there.
What is a Zen-reply, a Buddhist answer to all this. What shall we do?
As a first action, let me suggest not putting “us” against “them”. “Us” and “them”, we are all human beings, each of us different, yet connected. The rebels with guns which we can see standing at the crash field on press pictures, possibly fathers with kids, seeing the toys lying around in the rubble, that’s “us”. The British news reporter driven by a hard to imagine black-out opening a victim’s bag showing personal belongings to the live camera, and the news agencies multiplying this hilarious scene, that’s “us”. The men carrying away the corpses who days ago were passengers like you and me, that’s “us”. The war-lord in shabby cloths on the phone and the grim looking armed man standing around him, they are “us”. Not so different as we might wish, not so unconnected from our life and circumstances as we want to believe.
“Us” against “them” means continuing, fuelling a conflict, a war. First of all, let us stop putting more fuel into the fire! Let us fight the immediate emotion “us” should now stand up and fiercely fight against “them”.
A second aspect is to understand nothing happens out of “fate” or “by co-incidence”. The principle of cause and effect shows off most cruelly when beloved ones die.
We continue making a fortune by producing and selling killing technology (called “weapons”) while ignoring the fact they will be used for killing human beings, sooner or later. When it hits “us”, we cry out loudly … and continue business as usual. There are reasons for what happened and what will happen. Whatever we do today has a consequence in the future, necessarily.
Let’s sit on our pillows and breathe, let us deeply investigate ourselves and thus understand what is going on: we are not separated, and all our actions have consequences!