Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi's idea of freedom offers a radical message for the world

Last month, David Giambusso wrote an interesting article, "Does Peace Come From Within? The Dalai Lama and Other Nobel Peace Prize Winners (Gently) Disagree" about a debate at a peace education conference in Newark, New Jersey. The Dalai Lama and other Nobel Peace laureates challenged each other about whether peace comes within and if "inner peace" is a good thing.

..."It isn't that I'm just an angry human being, it's anger at injustice," said Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban land mines. "I'm still struggling with inner peace and I'm not sure I'll ever work it out."

..."Forgiving the oppressor while he is committing injustice is permitting him to continue," said Shrin Ebadi, who won her Nobel Prize in 2003 for defending the rights of women and children in Iran. "Therefore the timing of forgiveness is very important."

"Shirin Ebadi is no wimp. His Holiness, fighting for the freedom of his people, is no wimp. Gandhi was no wimp. Martin Luther King was no wimp," Williams said, adding that peace had become synonymous with weakness.

The Dalai Lama agreed, saying tranquility should not be confused with ease.

"Peace is not just the absence of violence. Peace is something fuller," he said. "Real nonviolence you confront, conquer the problem ... You have the ability to use force, but you restrain."

James "Loose" White, 28, a one-time member of the Crips gang who advocates for nonviolence on the streets, agreed with the Dalai Lama that restraint can be harder than giving in.

"It takes courage to act like an individual and choose the right path," he said. "To take all that aggression and redirect it in a positive way."
(Wouldn't it be something if powerful governmental leaders could redirect their aggressive energies towards constructive directions instead of nonstop war and destructive preparation for war...)

This great article by Madeleine Bunting expands upon some of the subtleties in the Buddhist (and Jain) concept of "inner peace" and the essential interplay between the inner and outer in Engaged Buddhism: "Aung San Suu Kyi's idea of freedom offers a radical message for the west," at the Guardian:
On the wall by my desk, there's a spread of photos of Aung San Suu Kyi which appeared in the Guardian a year ago. It's a kind of family photo album with snaps of engagement, babies, university, chilly British family picnics and travels. It's a strikingly poignant illustration of everything Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed over 15 years of imprisonment in her struggle for Burmese democracy. Every time it catches my eye, it is both humbling and gives me hope: a reminder of what the human spirit is capable of...

What makes her Reith lectures so fascinating is they represent a statement of the ideals and mindset which have steeled her resolve and inspired her courage. The first lecture addresses the universal human desire for freedom, the second considers her fight in Burma to achieve it.

...She weaves in Christian metaphors and concepts with the Buddhism, Russian poetry and the eastern European dissident tradition. It is a unique synthesis of east and west, only possible in someone deeply versed in both...

For her, freedom is not only a set of institutions, laws and political processes, it is also a quest of the individual spirit, the struggle to free oneself from greed, fear and hatred and how they drive one's own behaviour.

That is why she always talks of a "revolution of the spirit". You cannot have one without the other, both are part of transformational change; the individual and personal is inextricably bound up with the political, as she made clear in her interviews with the American Buddhist, Alan Clements, in Voice of Hope. Clements shared a Buddhist teacher with her and he told me that the meditational practices she is known to pursue are vital to cultivate the courage and insight for her political battles. When asked by Clements what her greatest struggle was, she replied: "It's always a matter of developing more and more awareness, not only day to day but moment to moment. It's a battle which will go on the whole of my life." Her greatest aim, she told him, was "purity of mind".

It is the awareness which enables her to perceive the fear that lies behind the violence of the Burmese junta and to insist on offering them dialogue. The practice of metta – "loving kindness" – is not passive, she says, and points to the Buddha himself, who went to stand between two warring parties to protect them both at the risk of his own safety...

But an inner sense of freedom can reinforce a practical drive for the more fundamental freedoms in the form of human rights and the rule of law." She points to the monks who led the 2007 saffron revolution as acting out of "loving kindness" for the people suffering from sharp rises in food prices. She is putting herself at the forefront of the reforming movements in Buddhism in Asia, gently insisting on the interrelationship between practical action and private spiritual discipline.

Like the Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, she is playing a vital role in communicating through her words and her life a Buddhism that speaks to the deepest human needs.
Read Bunting's entire article here.

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