[The DSA Buddhist Circle represents Buddhist members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Their aspiration is to provide a political home for Buddhist socialists in the United States. At this time, DSA members all over the country--Buddhist Circle members included--are organizing day-in and day-out for Palestinian liberation and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Buddhist Circle has penned this open letter to the American Buddhist community with the aim of spurring them to action in the name of peace and justice in Palestine. Buddhists were heavily involved in the anti-war movements of decades past. Now can be no different. The Buddha's teachings call on all of us to give freely to the cause of Palestinian liberation, just as Buddhists worldwide engaged in popular resistance against the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and, before that, the Vietnam War. The Circle has asked all Buddhists to sign onto this letter who share the sentiments it contains, and all readers to help with its dissemination by sharing it on social media and in their faith communities.]
To all American Buddhists:
As fellow practitioners, we beseech you to do everything in your power to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid, and the revocation of U.S. political and financial support for the Israeli military.
The attacks against Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7 were an inexcusable horror. As Buddhists, we abhor violence of all kinds because we understand human life to be sacred: something no person, but only the natural universe, has the right to take away. At the same time, as students of the dharma, we train ourselves to look deeply into the roots of suffering in order to discern its causes—not only its symptoms. Looking deeply into the cause of suffering in Israel and Palestine, we recognize that its roots are planted firmly in the Nakba, in which the creation of the contemporary State of Israel facilitated by European colonial powers stole a nation, shattered a people, and displaced hundreds of thousands. This led directly to the status quo which precipitated the open-air prison of Gaza, the rise of Hamas, and the current war. To weaponize the loss of Israeli life on October 7 to justify the Israeli government’s slaughter of over 12,000 Gazans is to disrespect those lives lost—and makes a mockery of life itself.
As Buddhists, we believe that the potential for Buddhahood is universal and inalienable. The Buddha was not a god; he was merely an individual who, through practice, achieved enlightenment. The same capacity for enlightenment he exhibited, the Buddha-nature, is present in every one of us, regardless of the circumstances of our birth or the actions we have taken. Each and every one of us is a Buddha-to-be.
So, too, are the people in occupied Palestine. The journalists, doctors, and humanitarian workers whom Israel has murdered—they were Buddhas-to-be. The civilians who have perished from incessant Israeli bombardments since October, and in all the bombings before, whom our Muslim siblings know as martyrs, were Buddhas-to-be. The survivors of Israel’s cataclysmic siege on Gaza—the children pulled from rubble, the families huddled together as city blocks collapse around them—are Buddhas-to-be. The survivors of the Nakba and their descendants scattered throughout this Earth—they, too, are Buddhas-to-be. And all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—Jewish, Muslim, or Christian—are Buddhas-to-be.
Life is sacred. Service to others is sacred. Human bonds are sacred. Violence and retribution are never sacred. And there is nothing inherently sacred about ethnicity, nation-states, or religious institutions. In fact, the greatest evils in human history have been perpetrated in the name of these. We can take no more of it.
The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, who himself came of age in an era of warfare and colonialism, once remarked that the task of a Buddhist in wartime is to be a “lotus in a sea of fire.” This profound challenge—to serve as a force for peace, compassion, and lovingkindness in the midst of torrential violence—has resurfaced yet again. Now is not the time for Buddhists to retreat to their cushions and meditation halls. It is not enough to be the most mindful person in an empty room. Not ever, and especially not now.
We Buddhists undertake the precept to refrain from killing and from supporting any act of killing. Our doctrine of right livelihood compels us to sustain ourselves in a way that does not require injury or abuse of others. Therefore, we cannot stand idly by while our taxpayer dollars fund Israel’s scouring of Gaza, which is only the current chapter of 75 years of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israelis. Buddhists must now put their names, careers, and influence on the line to preserve the lives of all who suffer because of Israel’s crimes. Every Buddhist in every sangha, if they are to remain true to the Buddha’s teachings, must give freely of themselves to the cause of Palestinian liberation.
Now is the time to organize. Protest. March. Join or form an organization for Palestinian liberation in your area. Promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement as the foremost path of non-violent resistance against Israeli apartheid. Speak out. Flood every channel of communication and every theater of society until the powers that be have no choice but to hear the cry of peace-loving people everywhere: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This is a historical demand for freedom and democracy in the Levant, and for equal rights and self-determination for all peoples.
Living beings are numberless. We vow to save them all. We will not sit silently while Gaza burns. We will not turn away from the suffering of Palestinians. We will not close our hearts to their humanity, no matter the cost to ourselves. We will hear their cries as if uttered from our own throats, because their freedom is a necessary prerequisite of our own. For if we ever walk through liberation’s door, it will be all of us together, hand-in-hand, omitting none.
Stop the killing. Save lives. Ceasefire now.
DSA Buddhist Circle, Religion and Socialism Working Group, Democratic Socialists of America
Image credit: Change.org