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Views from Abroad: Tricycle asks four Buddhists—in Croatia, Israel, Britain, and Japan—to weigh in on war and the possibility of peace.
Breaking the Pattern
Zarko Andricevic, a Croatian Buddhist living in Zagreb, applies the Buddha’s teachings to a legacy of war.
In a conflict as complex as the one in the Balkans, how has your Buddhist practice helped you to avoid being swept up in a popular call to war? It is interesting to observe how calls to war follow a similar pattern: first, there is a minor conflict or incident; then, claims of a great threat to general security; this is followed by fear, polarization, and hatred; and finally, violence or war. This pattern unfolds through state institutions, media, and other forms of public opinion making, and it represents a string of conditioned events that will, if left unchecked, thoroughly shape our feelings and views.
It is a powerful and efficient pattern, often not easily noticed. This was especially so in the complex conflict that took place in former Yugoslavia, which played itself out simultaneously in the political, national, cultural, religious, and economic arenas, and was exacerbated by the tightly interwoven histories of the conflicting parties.
During the war, I found it necessary to apply one of the first things one learns in Ch’an Buddhist practice: nonreactivity to external events, as well as to the inner distractions of body, feelings, and thoughts. Training in nonattachment to such external and internal phenomena is necessary if we are to develop a clear and stable mind. With it, we can see and understand the conditioned nature of conflict. That clear seeing, with the application of moral guidelines, makes it possible to resist the call to war.
How can one avoid taking sides, especially when one’s life and the lives of loved ones are at risk? It is easy to take sides because sides offer ready-made answers. Impartiality requires the wisdom of nonattachment, which comes with freedom from judgment and the clarity to discern the causes, development, and effects of specific events. This is not to be mistaken for a retreat into inactivity and apathy. On the contrary: not to take either side ideologically is to be on both sides compassionately. Not taking sides through wisdom is thus inseparable from true responsibility and concern for those who are the real victims in any conflict.
What does your Buddhist practice bring you in terms of a new way of looking at the conflict? The causes of any conflict lie in strong attachment to certain views, and the core of Buddha’s teaching is of great help here. All phenomena, in addition to being transient, arise and disappear according to a complex set of conditions. When we apply this truth to conflict, we give up the simplistic, black-and-white picture through which conflict is usually described and perpetuated. Views about the “good guys” and the “bad guys” simply do not correspond to the reality. Furthermore, we see that we cannot judge something independently from its context—including, for example, terrorism. It is not a manifestation of inherently wicked individuals and groups (or followers of a certain religion!), but rather a product of causes and conditions ranging from poverty, political repression, and economic injustice. Seeing all this in the light of conditioned arising, there is room for hope. Conflict is not a “given” thing, but a human creation that can be uncreated by abandoning its underlying causes. It can never be solved by destruction of the opposing party, for the causes are still there, and all they need is fertile ground to spring forth again.
Given the history of the Balkans, is peace realistic? Buddha’s teaching leads to peace, and many of those who followed it have achieved peace. If there is a path, and if its realization is possible, is peace then realistic or not? Everyone has to answer that question for him- or herself. I do not know if peace is a possibility in the former Yugoslavia or in certain other parts of the world, but I do know that peace is realistic and achievable. Numerous conflicts in the world do not prove Buddhism unrealistic, but rather confirm its analysis of the human condition and the world situation. Buddhism is based on wisdom and compassion, and despite its decentralized structure and nonreliance on power, it survives. By contrast, all the great powers the world has known have come and gone. Bearing in mind the philosophy they relied on—and those that the great powers still rely on today—it is to be expected that this trend will continue in the future.
Zarko Andricevic is a Ch’an Buddhist living in Zagreb, Croatia. He came to Buddhism through the practice of yoga and martial arts almost thirty years ago.