Non-harming is the only viable path to peace

The way things actually are is quite different than the way things appear to an unawakened mind. Indeed, the fundamental confusion (avidyā) about the interdependent nature of self and world resides at the heart of all violence.

Our world is riddled with senseless political and religious conflicts, fueled by erroneous moral justifications for harming others. Violence is continually legitimized as a rational response to fear, greed, and hatred—the three main afflictive mind states that arise from ignorance/delusion (avidyā). One suffering mind, a group of suffering minds, even a nation of suffering minds, will grasp at deluded narratives of separateness, superiority and dissimilarity to readily negate the inherent equality and preciousness of every human life. This is what makes it possible for a human mind to fully empathize with ‘its own kind’ and absolutely loathe and fear ‘the other’.

The Buddha taught that avidyā results from not understanding suffering, its causes and cessation. In Buddhist psychology, avidyā refers to primordial confusion about the actuality of experience; a fundamental cognitive-affective misapprehending of internal and external phenomena—most importantly an apparent internally experienced self, existing separately from all other phenomena. This basic misperception of separateness undermines our ability to recognize the fallacy of egoic dualism and its destructive influence on human behavior. Furthermore, our capacity to harm is directly related to the misapprehension of a separate self.

For this reason, Buddhism proscribes non-harming (ahimsā) as the main practice for attaining wise understanding (vidyā).  Non-harming requires recognition of the inherent equality of all beings and application of virtuous non-preferential compassion. Ahimsā is a profound practice for realizing emptiness, the interdependently co-arisen nature of all phenomena.

Embracing the truth of interdependence and the practice of non-harming could be a game-changer in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Both sides have long blamed each other for choosing violence over negotiation and peace.  This has intensified the hatred and fearfulness of both populaces. There can be no peace as long as both sides refuse to admit that their own security and happiness is mutually dependent. As long as the Palestinians suffer, Israelis will suffer. Seeking the welfare of the other is the only way to assure mutual happiness. While it may seem like a pipe-dream, total commitment to non-harming and non-preferential compassionate action is the only viable path to ending this unending conflict.

Four days ago Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer spoke the truth of the powerlessness of the Palestinian people, “I think we are going to die. It makes me sad that I cannot protect the child I made; I can’t protect him from these missiles. I just can’t. I don’t have the superpower to end this madness.” How can anyone read this father’s plea and not feel brokenhearted? As of yesterday 170 Palestinians have been killed by bombs and 1000 Palestinians have been wounded. 17,000 residents of Gaza have been forced into UN refugee camps located near areas which will be heavily bombed in an immanent Israeli military campaign. 800 Palestinians with foreign passports have left Gaza. Few Israelis have been harmed and none have been killed.

I have no faith that Hamas will ever awaken from their delusional suffering. They clearly do not care about the health and well-being of the people of Gaza. However, when the Israeli government claims that bombing is the only response to Hamas’ stupidity, I say think again. There have always been willing honest negotiators who represent legitimate interests on the Palestinian side. As a Jew I must believe the Israeli government is capable of working with these partners to make peace a reality through non-violence and serious negotiation. In order to do this Israel must loosen its attachment to a national narrative of victimization. Israel is not a weak nation, yet their choices do not reflect inner strength and wisdom. It is time to stop bombing and come to the table with a commitment to work tirelessly to negotiate a fair two-state solution. Fellowship, cooperation and reconciliation is the only path to Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.

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