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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 60 MORE THAN THIRTY years ago, when l first began to think about Buddhism, there was little or no talk about Buddhism and love. Being a Buddhist was akin to being a leftist; it was all about the intellect, the philosophical mind. It was faith for the thinking “man” and love was nowhere to be found in the popular Buddhist literature at that time. D. T. Suzuki’s collec- tion on Buddhism published in the late forties and through- out the fifties had nothing to say about love. Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was the Buddhist manifesto of the early seventies, and it did not speak to us of love. Even though Christmas Humphreys would tell readers in his fifties publication Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide that “Buddhism is as much a religion of love as any on earth,” Westerners looking to Buddhism in those days were not look- ing for love. In fact Humphreys was talking back to folks who had designated Buddhism a “cold religion.” To prove that love was important to Buddhists, he quoted from the Itivuttaka: “All the means that can be used as bases for right action are not worth the sixteenth part of the emancipation of the heart through love. This takes all others up into itself, outshining them in glory.” Yet twenty years after this publication, there was still little talk of Buddhism and love. In circles where an individual would dare to speak of love, they would be told that Buddhists were more concerned with the issue of com- passion. It was as though love was just not a relevant, serious subject for Buddhists. During the turbulent sixties and seventies the topic of love made its way to the political forefront. Peace activists were tell- ing us to “make love not war.” And the great preacher Martin Luther King, Jr., elevated the call to love from the hidden long- ing of the solitary heart to a public cry. He proclaimed love to be the only effective way to end injustice and bring peace, declaring that “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace.... If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foun- dation of such a method is love.” There could not have been a more perfect historical dharma moment for spiritual leaders to speak out on the issue of love. No doubt divine providence was at work in the universe when Martin Luther King, Jr., and a little-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh found themselves walking the same path—walking toward one another—engaged in a practice of love. Young men whose hearts were awakening, they created in mystical moments of sacred encounter a symbolic sangha. They affirmed one another’s work. In the loneliness of the midnight hour, King would fall on his knees and ask himself the question, “How can I say I worship a god of love and sup- port war?” Thich Nhat Hanh, knowing by heart all the bonds of human connection that war severs, challenged the world to think peace, declaring in the wake of the Vietnam war that he “thought it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace.” Linking Buddhism with social engagement, Thich Nhat Hanh’s work attracted Westerners (myself included) precisely because he offered a spiritual vision of the universe that promoted work- ing for peace and justice. IN ESSENTIAL BUDDHISM: A Complete Guide to Beliefs and Practices, Jack Maguire sees Buddhism’s emphasis on nonvio- lence as one of the central features that attracts Westerners. He writes: “Already large numbers of people concerned about such violence have been drawn to Buddhism as a spiritual path that addresses the problem directly. Besides offering them a means of committing themselves more actively to the cause of universal peace, it gives them a context for becoming more intimate with others who are like-minded. It therefore helps restore their hope that people can live together in harmony.” Significantly, Buddhism began to attract many more Western First Time Around, 2005, oil and alkyd on canvas, 77 x 77 inches. COURTESYOFTHEARTIST No doubt divine providence was at work in the universe when Martin Luther King, Jr., and a little-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh found them- selves walking the same path, engaged in a practice of love.