Here is a response I received to my previous blog post, I Wish I Could Agree, from my friend Taigen Leighton.
As one of the people holding the banner you object to, I want to respond, and clarify some of the misapprehensions in your article. You missed the point. First, the three banners pictured outside the White House were not endorsed by all the conference attendees, but were created by Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and carried after the conference by some of us who agreed with them. Second, and most important to your article, the banner does Not say “The U.S. Military breeds violence…” It refers to U.S. Militarism, admittedly a loaded term. But I for one, like you, am not an unconditional pacifist. I am glad we have a sturdy U.S. Military, and I very much respect and support the professional soldiers who serve on our behalf. Of course in this world for the foreseeable future we need some kind of military. However, by “Militarism” here I understand this to refer to the tendency of our political, corporate, and occasionally military leaders, supported by weapons manufacturers, to shoot first and “impose” diplomacy later. The unnecessary 2003 invasion of Iraq is just one prime example of excessive use of military, which has destabilized the whole Mideast region and probably led to decades more of American Warfare. President Eisenhower presciently warned against the military-industrial-congressional complex. And this week a young college student (I understand she is from a conservative Republican family) chided Jeb Bush because his brother created ISIS.
But this was not central to the conference as a whole, which focused on response to the Climate Damage crisis, and Racial Justice. The two other BPF banners displayed outside after the conference read “The Whole Earth is My True Body: I Vow to Work for Climate Justice” and “The Karma of Slavery is Heavy: I Vow to Work for Racial Justice.” Inside the White House we were able to comment on Climate and Racial Justice, and many attendees signed the documents we presented to the administration: “A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change” and the “Buddhist Statement on Racial Justice”. Most impressive and useful are the comprehensive presentations by the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, “A Buddhist Diagnosis of the Climate Crisis” based on the Four Noble Truths and his briefer version “Keeping it Simple and Practical”. I would encourage you and your readers to study Bhikkhu Bodhi’s articles.
As to the context of those assembled at this conference, I had no part in selecting the supposed “leaders,” and have long been watching the parking meters myself. But the majority of attendees were from a wide range of Asian-American communities, allowing we “converts” to connect more deeply. There was a fairly sparse Zen representation. But key organizer Bill Aiken and the others on the planning committee did an excellent job of bringing together an unusually diverse group, and arranging a good program at the White House. A couple of the Administration spokespersons were extremely impressive, sincere and receptive. If nothing else, this indicates that some government policy makers are open to including, alongside other influential religious groups, consideration of Buddhist values of compassion, inner transformation, and longer temporal perspectives. While I do no imagine that there will be any immediate noticeable effects of our visit, I am glad for this beginning of a process, and hope we all as Buddhists might engage and respond more fully in many ways with the urgent societal issues we face.