Communities of Resistance

by Mark Chmiel

Dear Sangha,

I’ve been rereading book I first encountered back in the 1980s, The Raft Is Not the Shore.  (This title will remind some of us of our recent sutra readings.) It’s a dialogue between Thich Nhat Hanh and his friend, Jesuit poet and antiwar resister Daniel Berrigan.  The subtitle is “Conversations toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness.”

Thay was living in France in 1974 because he could to return to South Vietnam unless he was ready to face a very grim life, whether in prison or not.  Berrigan had spent many months in a federal petitionary for committing an act of civil disobedience in 1968: Pouring home-made napalm on Selective Service files in protest of the U.S. aggression in Vietnam that became ever more hideous year after year.  Each, then, could value the other’s company, calm, and clarity during those evenings together in Paris.

The topics they explored include memory, Eucharist and death; religion in relation to economics and the state;  exile; Jesus and Buddha; and communities of resistance.  It is this last topic especially that may still speak to us  during a time of ongoing war and increased surveillance in the US and throughout the world.

On nurturing such communities of resistance, Berrigan elicited the following from his Buddhist friend:

“One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself.  So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system.”

“I look for communities of resistance  — beautiful, healing, refreshing both in surroundings and in substance. In such communities you meet people who symbolize a kind of freshness; their look, their smile, their understanding, should be able to help.”

“I think communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness.”

I think of our Mindfulness Sangha and our plans for an August day of retreat at Chris’s lovely farmhouse in Fenton.  A day for slowing down (both our minds, speech, and movements), for paying attention to the variety of flora and fauna in our midst, and for de-toxing  from agendas, accomplishments, and acceleration.  Further, a time for meditation and recollection:  How do we live each twenty-four brand new hours in awareness of those many people near and far who are being  literally “invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system”?

For example, I think of those dehumanized by the prison-industrial complex, whom Jenn Reyes Lay brought to our attention a few weeks ago or the Ugandans still reeling from the afflictions of a long, brutal civil war, which was the subject of Jean Abbott’s testimony earlier this summer.   Both Jean and Jenn model for us strong commitment,  determination, and lovingkindness in the quest for healing and wholeness.

May we take refuge in the sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.

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