Articles May 15, 2024

Guiding Teacher Reflections on War & Nonviolence

As guiding teachers for Spirit Rock Meditation Center, we wish to speak personally, from the heart, about the impact of the war in Gaza and Israel. This is a time when practitioners, including ourselves, need the Dharma to hold, support, and guide them. We are heartbroken at the loss of life, safety, and well-being on a devastating scale in both Israel and Gaza, and as individuals we seek the best ways to respond with skillful speech and action.

The Buddha’s teachings guide us in our intentions and actions in all respects. Our path of practice, the Noble Eightfold Path, involves two factors of non-harming, in the limbs of intention and action. The second factor of wise intention includes the intention of non-violence (avihiṁsāsaṅkappa in Pāli), and the intention of good will (avyāpādasaṅkappa). The fourth path factor of wise action includes abstaining from killing (pāṇātipātā veramaṇī).

The Buddha’s teachings are clear that intending harm and causing harm is unwholesome and that we are to cultivate lovingkindness or goodwill as the foundation for all of our actions. The Buddha expressed these teachings in many beautiful ways. Our aim is always to uphold them, and we share a few examples:

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. (Dhammapada 129)
And how is purity threefold by way of body? It’s when a certain person gives up killing living creatures. They renounce the rod and the sword. They’re scrupulous and kind, living full of compassion for all living beings. (AN 10.176)
And how is it… that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, lovingkindness, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself. (SN 47.19)
And what, friends, is the unwholesome, what is the root of the unwholesome… Killing living beings is unwholesome; taking what is not given is unwholesome; misconduct in sensual pleasures is unwholesome; false speech is unwholesome; malicious speech is unwholesome; harsh speech is unwholesome; gossip is unwholesome; covetousness is unwholesome; ill will is unwholesome; wrong view is unwholesome. This is called the unwholesome… And what is the wholesome? Abstention from killing living beings is wholesome; abstention from taking what is not given is wholesome; abstention from misconduct in sensual pleasures is wholesome; abstention from false speech is wholesome; abstention from malicious speech is wholesome; abstention from harsh speech is wholesome; abstention from gossip is wholesome; non-covetousness is wholesome; non-ill will is wholesome; right view is wholesome. This is called the wholesome. (MN 9)
Let none deceive another, nor despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill will wish harm upon another. (Snp 1.8)

The Buddha once said to Ānanda, his attendant, that Saṅgha was the whole of the holy life. (SN 45.2) At no time has this been more profound than our current existence. To maintain our sanity, we need one another. We need to encourage each other to maintain our meditative practice. We also need the support and refuge of Saṅgha, with its shared commitment of non-harm, its cultivation of love and compassion, and its respect for all beings.

The Buddha’s teachings guide us in our commitment to create a container and safe place for all to practice at Spirit Rock. People with many backgrounds, beliefs and faith traditions seek spiritual refuge at Spirit Rock. People also have differing interpretations of the Buddhadharma and what specific actions it calls for at this time. While some may be externally active and call for peaceful protest, others may have a more internal expression and be moved to meditation and compassion practice.

We believe Spirit Rock’s openness to all such practitioners is in keeping with the Buddha’s teachings and actions. The Buddha taught people from all walks of life and with all types of communities, occupations, and caste backgrounds. The liberation teachings of the Buddha exclude no one and should be accessible to everyone. Our doors at Spirit Rock are open to those who seek seclusion, safety, and peace to practice the Buddhadharma, to all who sincerely seek a refuge to liberate their hearts and minds from suffering.

We also think it is crucial to recognize that, while the war in Gaza and Israel prompted us to make this statement, we must attend to the ongoing harm and violence on a mass scale happening in many other parts of the world, including but not limited to Sudan, the Congo, Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine and here at home. For all communities suffering from harm, we call for a permanent peace and an end to all hostilities.

May all beings be well.

Guiding Teachers Council
Spirit Rock Meditation Center