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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 40 LIZA SMITH. I am living in Colombia now, where I have made a year-and-a-half minimum commitment to work for Peace Brigades International. The organization was founded in 1981 and it’s based on Gandhi’s idea of having a nonviolent pres- ence in conflict regions in order to deter violence. In Colombia we have a team of about thirty-five volunteers, and another ten salaried people, who accompany threatened human rights leaders. The idea of Peace Brigades is to create a space where these activists can continue doing their work. We’re not body- guards; it’s political accompaniment for people. We represent the international community as witnesses and observers. So, a good part of our work is meeting with government officials, the army, police, the United Nations, embassies, and so forth. We keep pressure on them, because Colombia has agreed to follow certain human rights treaties and we’re there to make sure that that happens. At present, there are also projects in Mexico, Gua- temala, Indonesia, and Nepal. • I grew up in a Buddhist com- munity. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to doing some sort of social justice work, although I can’t say ex- actly why that is. When I was in college, I went to Colombia for a year and it really opened my eyes to how the U.S. affects the rest of the world with our policies and militarization. • I don’t think Buddhist practice would be relevant to me if it weren’t engaged with the rest of the world. It just doesn’t feel useful to me if it’s always inwardly focused. The Buddhist principle of making friends with yourself, with your own mind, seems to have a parallel in the work that I do, where we need to make friends with the so-called enemy. To be able to do this work, you have to be able to go into a military office and sit down with a general and have a civil conversation with him about your con- cerns. They’re not your enemies; they’re your opponents, and you need to engage with them. That feels very similar to the way you would engage with your own mind, so that a space can be created for peace. People often think of Buddhism as an introspective religion. But beyond self-liberation, the Buddha taught compassion for others, expressed through active, skillful engagement in the world. The Shambhala Sun talks to seven Buddhists who are Walking the Talk