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Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 155-157

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Book Review

Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace

Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace. Edited by David W. Chappell. Somerville, Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1999. 253 pp.

This earnest book demonstrates the continuing vitality of Buddhism in many parts of the world. The contributing authors are the leading figures of contemporary engaged Buddhism, and they write from firsthand experience. The Dalai Lama outlines methods for promoting harmony among different religious traditions. Thich Nhat Hanh shows how the principle of nonviolence was tested in the rescue ofVietnamese boat people during the 1970s. A.T. Ariyaratne presents the work of the influential Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka. Shih Cheng-yen, sometimes called "the Mother Theresa of Asia," describes the relief work ofTzu Chi, the largest charitable organization in Taiwan. Dhammachari Lokamitra documents the impact of an adopted Buddhism among former "untouchables" in India. Robert Aitken surveys engaged Buddhist activity in North America, including hospice work, prison reform, and sustainable farming. Many of the writers have personally suffered the deprivations of war and oppression; in some cases they continue their work amid threats of violence or arrest.

An aim ofBuddhist Peacework is to offer a Buddhist response to a declaration that emerged from a 1994 meeting of world religious leaders organized by UNESCO. This document, "Declaration of the Role of Religion in the Promotion of a Culture of Peace," is included as an appendix. Two of the book's contributors, the Dalai Lama and the senior Cambodian monk Maha Ghosananda, participated in the UNESCO meeting. Indeed, some of the declaration's language has an engaged Buddhist ring: "We must be at peace with ourselves; we strive to achieve inner peace through personal reflection and spiritual growth, and to cultivate a spirituality which manifests itself in action."

One of Buddhism's distinctive teachings on the subject of peace is the practice of "internal disarmament," the term used by the Dalai Lama in his essay. Unless individuals are able to tame the forces of greed, anger, and delusion in their own minds, the prospects for peace between communities and between nations are slim. For an engaged Buddhist, there must be alignment between "inner" and "outer" disarmament. One cannot work for peace--or any other worthy social goal--in an agitated, antagonistic way. In this collection, peacework is something one does as spiritual practice.

Shakyamuni Buddha approached the existential problem of suffering by analyzing the causes of suffering. In a similar spirit, engaged Buddhists have embarked on a Buddhistic analysis of the causes of war and peace. Contributor José Ignacio Cabezón writes: "Peace cannot arise simply by wishing it into existence, but only by the cultivation of its causes.Viewing peace in this way has the salutary effect of shifting the emphasis of peacework from result to causes." Somewhere in that mix of causes we [End Page 155] eventually encounter ourselves. If the world is truly interdependent, we share responsibility for violence and atrocities occurring "elsewhere."Thich Nhat Hanh, in his essay, declares: "If we look deeply, we will observe that the roots of war are in the unmindful ways we have been living. We have not sown enough seeds of peace and understanding in ourselves and others, therefore we are co-responsible: 'Because I have been like this, they are like that.'" The notion of sowing "seeds of peace" is reinforced in the image on the book's cover: two hands tenderly plant a seedling in receptive soil.

But internal disarmament is not enough. As editor David Chappell asserts, "Today there is a new urgency for that [inner] peacework to be manifest socially, ecologically, and materially."Witness the plight of several Buddhist (and formerly Buddhist) nations in Asia. "Recently, Buddhist countries have become notorious arenas of genocide and brutality," writes Karma Lekshe Tsomo. Citing Burma, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, and Tibet, Tsomo asks, "What went wrong?" Peacework also has new meanings in an age of ecocrisis. For Stephanie Kaza, "a first step in keeping peace with nature calls for contact with ecological suffering." Kaza highlights four ways to...


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