The Spirit of Ahimsa

Thread Across Thread (Kentucky and California)

» The Deep Hunger - Huston Smith: a talk

» The Bodhisattvas

» Freely Reflecting on the Perspective of Ahimsa

» No One a Stranger

» "The Path Under My Feet" -  Reflections on walking by Nipun (April 17, 2005)

» An interview with Ramdass Maharaj

» Tel Aviv Peace Walk - by Eliyahu McLean

» Louder than yelling ...  - By Loolwa Khazzoom

» Vietnam 1967 and San Francisco 2003 - by Tom Mahon


Thread Across Thread (Kentucky and California)

What if a miner coughed every time I switched on a light?
Or three drops of coal ash sludge oozed out of the electrical
socket every time I turned on my computer?
What if I lost one increment of hearing every time I judged
“those people” as uneducated because of the accent in their voice?
Then I might begin to know the cost of living in my world.

Or would I learn that a cough is the sound of a light switching on,
And learn to live with poison and cancer?
Would I simply adjust to hearing no voice but my own?

The cloth was started before we are born.
The future is woven before we can see the pattern.
God is somehow embroidered here and there,
And the answer to our prayers is the touch of thread across thread.


-- Wade Meyer
(This poem was first published in
Pacific School of Religion Bulletin Spring 2009)

The Deep Hunger

Huston Smith: a talk

There is within us, in even the brightest, most lighthearted among us, a fundamental ‘dis-ease’ that acts like an unquenchable fire that renders the fast majority of us incapable of, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.  This desire lies in the marrow of our bones, the deep regions of our soul.  All great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion tries to name and analyze this longing.  We are seldom in direct touch with it.  And, indeed, the modern world seems set on preventing us from getting in touch with it by covering it with an unending phantasmagoria of entertainment, obsessions, and distractions of every sort.  But the longing is there, built into us like a jack in the box that presses for release.  That is the hidden hunger that is within all of us.  The San people of the Kalahari Desert refer to it as the “Deep Hunger” which is even deeper than the physical hunger of the stomach.

-- excerpted from Huston Smith, speaking on “Hidden Hunger, Hidden Knowledge: The Meaning of Spiritual Awareness” at the October 2005 AHIMSA/IWR conference on the Human Capacity for Peace.

The Bodhisattvas

During the short eons of swords,
They meditate on love,
Introducing to nonviolence
Hundreds of millions of living beings.

In the midst of great battles
They remain impartial to both sides;
For bodhisattvas of great strength
Delight in reconciliation of conflict
            Holy Teachings of Vimalakirti (Buddhism)

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Freely Reflecting on the Perspective of Ahimsa

Ahimsa starts with each individual.
It is a practice
and the offered result of the practice,
as playing a violin is both the practice and the concert –

the practice of living
and the offering of such a life.

It is food for the deep hunger of longing,
feeding both ourselves and others
at the same table –

bringing peace both in ourselves
and in how we relate to others.

Above all,
ahimsa lives and works in the world.
It is non sectarian.

It is always aware of violence,
but does not see violence as the “Other.”

Ahimsa is its own choice of response to violence.
If it faces societal violence, it takes as its attitude that violence must be spoken to by nonviolence.
If you cause me pain, you know I feel pain
because you know I am really the same as you. 
Your weapon is only our identity to
know we can be separated.
You cleave me as separate – the enemy or Other,
but only by knowing we are not different.

In my knowing this,
in our knowing this,
either I can return violence in kind, continue the fiction of separateness,
or I can respond with the demonstration of our deeper non-separation.

Ahimsa is not self-rightness. 
It cannot be that.
It does nor claim itself as greater or more right than the attitudes of violence. 
But out of its own nature it cannot respond to fire by trying to burn it back.

It does not avoid pain.
Life goes on.

Ahimsa cannot avoid this perspective.

To live it is to choose it, to practice it,
so deepening into us,
as our awareness
and becoming the only attitude in action that we can take. 

There is no question but that nonviolence is this relationship:
first, reflective within oneself,
Second, without separation, to others.
There is power simply in knowing that people have lived this.  
– Nik Warren

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No One a Stranger

If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others.  Rather learn to see your own faults.  Learn to make the whole world your own.  No one is a stranger, my child; this whole world is your own.  
– Sri Sarada Devi

I have come to think that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.  I have come to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience

I look only at the individual.  I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time.  Just one, one, one,… .   So you begin….   I begin.

Let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world.  Let us use love and compassion. 
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Nipun Mehta, founder of CharityFocus, has supported AHIMSA on many ways.  The following travel notes are from a walking pilgrimage that he and his wife recently took in India.

Reflections on walking by Nipun (April 17, 2005):"The Path Under My Feet"
"If there is frequently asked question, it is this: why walk?

One, to observe reality at a human pace. Move over palm-pilots, it is time to go at the speed of two feet. Everything is slow, deliberate and intentional. Todo-lists turn into undo-lists. Lighter your load, wider the smile. Arrogance of security loosens its grips and slowly gives birth to humility of the unknown. The more you unwind, the deeper you experience. In place of wasting energy figuring out your plans, accept whatever comes; because in the end, each circumstance is a mirror of what is already in your heart.

Two, to experience moments not events. Instead of pressing on the accelerator, yield to the cows and admire their grace; instead of being an absent minded consumer, greet the vegetable vendors as fellow pilgrims of life; instead of ignoring the stare of kids, smile at the little ones who have never seen grown-ups with back-packs; instead of ignoring poverty or shelling out a rupee of guilt, connect with the source of that poverty within you. An uninterrupted, commercial-free play with nature; it is you and your consciousness together at last.

Three, to deepen your awareness. Witness that you are not separate from your pain or the celestial hues of sunlight that cross the fields at sunrise. Learn how nature works with abundance, without any need for accumulation; the crows skip with two feet, the camels bob around without moving their heads, the monkey stare as if it's a new show each time. Need, not greed. Understand the simplicity of cause and effect. You serve, you get served. No images, no theories, no complications. Just instant karma. When you put it all on the line, there is no choice but to go deeper.

Yet, walking is painful. Your feet hurt, your body aches at the thought of not knowing if you will have lunch, the bag on your back feels heavier than it is, the soles of your feet are hot even with your sandals on. You are frustrated but don't know the source of your frustration. You miss the comforts of home, or even a plain ol' city. Everyday, you start from scratch. Every person is a new encounter. No business cards, no glory from the past to rescue you. This is you and your mind, facing off. There is no victory, no defeat; and ultimately, there is no reason left to even do this. Then you breathe. You take another step. One foot rests while the other moves forward. Then you breathe a real breath." 

An interview with Ramdass Maharaj

"Do you, Ram Dass Maharaj, ever become elated? Or is everything the same?"

"A still mind is what gives me joy. There is so much
joy that you won't believe it. Nothing else exists there. That is home."

"What is the best form of service?"

"The best form of service is that which gives rise to
humility. Whatever you do, if it curbs your arrogance, if it brings forth humility and good character, that is the best form of service. Gandhi was the father of the nation, yet he would pick up a broom and clean toilets.

Best service is one which cleanses us of our arrogance. In Mahabharat, Yuddhistir was to throw a huge celebration after his victory but the biggest question was: who do we honor first? Of the many teachers, many scholars, many gurus, who should go first in this vast land of Bharat, which at that time was five times India's size right now? They finally decided on Krishna. And after the yagna, what did Krishna do? He picked up all the dirty plates that people ate in!

Man's greatness lies in washing away his arrogance and doing the smallest of actions with utter humility. That is a holy person. Seva should be that which washes away your pride, where you insult no one and foster only goodwill for all. This is the best form of service."  

You can enjoy more at his blogsite: »

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These following stories are from Eliyahu McLean, a peace worker in the Middle East.  Eliyahu spoke to AHIMSA in 2003

Tel Aviv Peace Walk

Jan 2003
by Eliyahu McLean

Hello friends,

On Friday January 10th I took part in a powerful Peace Walk from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. The flyer passed out along the four hour journey read: "The Time is Now. Be saved from despair. Get out of the house and return to hope. We, Jews and Arabs walk together in silence in one powerful line for peace."

Participating in the Walk, organized by Shvil Zahav, were over 120 people, children and elders, including a busload of Arab youth who came from Shfar'am and Um El Fahem. Among the organizers were Ron Cohen, Nicole Cohen-Addad and Mahmoud Salame.

At the closing circle one Jewish participant, Iris observed: "people identify with this small faith of ours, and the faith spreads that there IS a future."  Halam from Um El Fahem shared: "this is the way to make peace with our neighbors... We walk with one heart, one body and one spirit for peace."

A long time friend joined the 'Walk' and captured the spirit of this event in an article published in the San Francisco Examiner on January 23rd.

Louder than yelling ...

Special to The Examiner

AFTER THE DOUBLE suicide bombing in Tel Aviv two
weeks ago, all I wanted to do was hide out in my apartment and keep a low

I was wondering once again if all the heartache
and terror were worth living in Israel. But then a close friend, Eliyahu
McLean, a fellow Lowell High School alum and peace activist, e-mailed me
about an Arab-Jewish peace walk after the attack.

 When he told me that a bus full of Arab teenagers
was coming from the North to join this walk, I felt deeply touched. In my
experience, Arab-Jewish peace events were attended almost
exclusively by Jews. I felt inspired that the youths were risking their own
safety to come to Tel Aviv right after an attack against Israel, to stand side
by side with Jews and condemn the violence. If they could do it, so could I.

As I arrived, I noticed an old man with a long
white kafia to the right, two women with veils to the left, and a large group
of youths in between, speaking Arabic. I wanted to cry from the sense of

A meditation gong rang out to bring all the participants to
silence. It rang out again, and we began a four-hour walk from
Yaffo through Tel Aviv.

Friday afternoons are full of pre-Sabbath hustle
and bustle. The contrast between our single-file quiet line and the
noise around us was startling, causing an external and internal impact.

Everywhere we went, people asked, "What's this
about?" We handed them fliers with a full text explaining the walk's mission
-- to unite Arabs and Jews as human beings, promoting tolerance and
nonviolence. Some people just stood and watched, clearly touched. Others dropped
what they were doing and joined our walk.

Inside, I felt a growing sense of calm. I felt connected to and strengthened by the silent walkers before and after me. I felt that our love for each other as human beings was stronger than all the hatred in the region.

Others seemed to share my feeling. "A lot of times in the past," an Arab youth later told me, "when I came to Tel Aviv, people made unpleasant remarks at me as an Arab. I got very upset about that. But now, the people on these walks are always with me in my heart. So I don't pay attention to other people's comments anymore."

Against the backdrop of extreme levels of daily violence, the silent expression of human love may be the loudest, most powerful force around

Eliyahu McLean is Interfaith director of Ruach Shalom, Ru'h al Salaam; Peacemaker Community-Israel.

Loolwa Khazzoom, a native San Franciscan, is
director of the Jewish MultiCultural Project and editor of Behind the Veil
of Silence: "North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Women Speak Out."

To see great pictures from this and previous 'Walk' events, visit the Shvil Zahav (The Middle Way) website at »
and for info email David  Lisbona »

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Vietnam 1967 and San Francisco 2003

by Tom Mahon

If you have a minute, let me share with you an experience I had in Vietnam in 1967
that came back to me during The peace march in San Francisco this January.

I dropped out of school in '64 and was soon called up by Selective Service.
The year before Tonkin they weren’t as aggressive in taking people, so I got
a 4-F rating for health issues that might not have kept me out of service
the next year.

But wanting to see what it was all about, I got seaman’s papers and shipped
out to Vietnam as a civilian in the Merchant Marine.

I became friends with the chief engineer – not much older than me but a very
experienced world traveler.  One evening in the port of Qui Nhon, about
halfway between Saigon and the DMZ, he invited me to join him and visit a
local sight.  We ambled through the town and out into the countryside on a
beautiful summer evening.  You would never know this was a war zone; it was
more like a stroll by the bandstand at Lake Harriet.

We got to the place he wanted to see; a Buddhist temple.  He went in, lit a
joss stick and placed it before the Buddha with reverence.  Then he handed
me his matchbox.  I was shocked. “No way!  I’m not praying to a false god.
Let’s get out of here before anybody sees us,” I said, concerned perhaps
that Fr. Ozark might amble by with an eraser in hand.

He began to explain to me that the Buddha is not a god, but a mortal who was
fully aware.  “Aware of what?” I asked.  “That’s what we’re here to find
out,” he said.

I figured I’d have a hard time explaining this to St. Peter when my time
came.  As we debated, a short man with a shaved head and saffron robe came
into the temple.  He spoke flawless English, welcomed us and invited us to
join him and his fellow monks for tea.

We followed the monk-who-spoke-English into the dining room of the
multi-building complex.  As he went off to prepare the tea, the room filled
with a dozen other men whose saffron robes shimmered against the pale blue
wall with a hallucinogenic intensity.  My friend told me these were
businessmen and family men who take a year off to devote to the Buddha; none
of them spoke English.

After the tea was served, the monk-who-spoke-English leaned across the table
and said to my mate and me, with an intensity belying his meek demeanor,
“The Christ and the Buddha teach the same thing: that all men are brothers.”

Suddenly the room was ripped with a violent wave like a combination
earthquake and tornado. An enormous rush of wind, leaves and dirt blew into
the room from the courtyard outside.  I got up and looked out the door to
see an Army helicopter emptying its machine gun into the bushes along a
nearby wall.  Figuring someone has seen Vietcong in the area, I turned back
to the room and yelled above the downwash to the monks seated at the long
table, “There’s enemy activity outside!”

The monk-who-spoke-English had a different take on what I’d just said. “Yes,
there is,” he replied. “And they do this to us every night.”

“No!” I shouted at the monk.  “These are Americans.  We don’t do that.”

I went outside and, foolishly, stood only a few yards from the bushes that
were convulsing from the fusillade they were absorbing.  I looked up into
the helicopter and felt a wave of nausea.  I recognized the pilot.  Not
literally, but I knew him.  He was me.  An earnest, clean-cut young guy who
ten years before had worn a coonskin cap, and five years before donned a
white sport coat and a pink carnation.  And now he felt he had an honorable
mission, playing havoc with the heathens every night at teatime.

I came back into the room, and the monks looked at me as if in sympathy for
what they knew I was going through.  The monk-who-spoke-English got up, came
over to me and touched my shoulder, “It is best if you leave now.” And he
led us out a different way through the compound, down a long dark corridor
to a door.  He opened it and the street light that entered showed a face
both serene and tormented.  He looked at my mate and me and said again, “The
Christ and the Buddha teach the same thing: we must be kind to each other.”

We stepped through the door and were back in town, with the blare of a
thousand Honda scooters; the passing women in their ao dais; the men going
about their business as merchants or saboteurs; who knew?

St. Paul fell off his ass on the road to Damascus.  I fell on my ass on the
road out of St. Paul, Minnesota.

I recalled this during this January’s Peace March in San Francisco, because I hope none of our children or grandchildren ever faces such violence directed at them.  And I hope, too, that none of our children and grandchildren is ever in such circumstances that they rain fury like that on innocent men and women.

More and more it seems that it’s only as individuals and small
communities that we can keep alive the honorable part of the tradition we
were educated in – of reason over rage; civility over salaciousness;
magnanimity over mendacity.

We may not quite be Gandalf or Dumbledore, but we are becoming the
greybeards of a society in deep trouble, and with the skills at our disposal
we need to leverage our collective energy and be heard.  We’ve all come a
long way, and each in our own way paid our dues, to gain a much deeper
understanding of the angel’s words we heard fifty years ago at the Christmas
pageant in second grade, “Peace on Earth!”

In closing note, one of the Vietnamese monks of that generation has since become a world
figure.  His name is Thich Nhat Hanh.  His book, 'Living Buddha, Living
Christ' (Riverhead Books, 1995) is an eloquent expansion of the message of
the monk-who-spoke-English that long-ago night.

-Tom Mahon is an advisor to AHIMSA.

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