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imperialism & war

A Chat with Enji - of Buddhas Not Bombs

In the public square that should really be called The Public Courthouse Square, a group of meditators have begun meditating every Friday afternoon as both a protest to the War in Afghanistan and to be a silent witness for Peace. The meditations were started by Enji, a practicing Buddhist.
In the public square that should really be called The Public Courthouse Square, a group of meditators have begun meditating every Friday afternoon as both a protest to the War in Afghanistan and to be a silent witness for Peace. The meditations were started by Enji, a practicing Buddhist.

Since she's started the group, the meditations have become larger and have grabbed the attention of Pioneer Courthouse Square security. During the meditation that occurred on December 28, 2001, Square security guards informed Enji that the folding chair she was meditating on was a tripping hazard and was told that such structures are not allowed in the Square. She was also told that she could have such structures (AKA tripping hazards) in the Square if she paid for a permit and showed proof of insurance. She has since stopped using the prop and the group has become larger as people become witnesses for Peace.

I recently talked with Enji and here is what she had to say:

Subversive Yogi: How did you get involved with Buddhism?

Enji: I started meditating in my twenties and have continued since. I moved to Portland in 1991 where I found the Dharma Rain center and became a Buddhist in 1993. I have kept my practice going since then.

SY: Why Buddhism?

E: It felt like I was coming home. I went to college and realized that I really didn't know myself. I was raised a Christian and I no longer felt a connection there. When I came across Buddhism, there was something there that really reverberated and I've been studying it ever since.

SY: Did you have any problems with your family or society after becoming a Buddhist?

E: When you first convert, it's really exciting and you want to tell everyone! And I probably told people too much. If someone asks they don't always really want to know all about it. I did get into some trouble but have learned to back off. Sometimes people misunderstand what Buddhism means.

SY: What are these misconceptions?

E: Someone thought Zen was not Buddhism, that it was possible to be Zen without being Buddhist. There's this pop culture idea of what things are Zen. Some people think we worship Buddha, or worship statues of Buddha. Some people think we see the Buddha as a god, and that we have deities. Buddhism does often incorporate the local folk traditions in a country, but these are not central to Buddhist thought. We see Buddha as a man who awakened to the nature of the universe. We do have cosmic principles, which is what I see as the closest concept we might have to a god. I think this is a non-theist religion, and as such some would say it is not a religion. I say it is a religion.

SY: What are some truths of Zen and how has it helped with your daily life?

E: It has transformed my life. It's hard to encompass it. Shunryu Suzuki, who wrote "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind", was asked this, and his answer was that everything changes. It's very profound and liberating. If we are afraid of "everything changes" then that is something we have to work with.

SY: How have you gotten interested in activism?

E: It's arisen out of my Buddhist practice, which in essence is about knowing who I am moment to moment and being authentic from that center. If there is something important that I find out I have to act from it otherwise I am not being authentic to myself. I have to always ask, "Is this true now? Is this true now?"

There are many ways we are discouraged from looking at ourselves, whether it is movies or television or whatever... and sound bites too! In these times, we as a nation don't deal with grief very well and so the way we are grieving is not very wise. We become angry and in our anger our grief is deluding. We think this response will make things right. The grief is authentic but we collectively aren't good at being authentic and we aren't being good at dealing with grief.

SY: Then what would a Buddhist response to 9/11 be?

E: We came together the Wednesday after and had a processing session at the Dharma Rain Center. After meditation, we talked about where we were at. First, you have to figure where you are at this. Really get into the feelings and don't judge them. That is important to the response - don't judge the feelings good or bad, just let them be. Don't feel like you have to react right away. In my opinion, recognize that this is karma. Greed, anger, and delusion are beginningless. These are called the three Poisons in Buddhism. The war didn't begin with the towers collapsing. Violence is beginningless. When we continue with the violence we are perpetuating it. The only way to stop it is to stop it ourselves, we only have control over what we are doing. If we stop being violent then they might stop also. We can't be sure of that, but if we stop we won't be perpetuating it. It has to stop somewhere.

I think many Americans support the war out of fear, and fear can really warp our thinking. We think we need to be safe at all costs, so we turn away from our usual rational thought. Our government even said that taking action in Afghanistan would increase the chances of terrorist retaliation, yet people think the war is making them more safe from terrorism. When fear rules our thinking, we become deluded.

SY: You mentioned karma and I think people have misconceptions of what karma is. Can you give me a quick definition of Karma?

E: Karma is action - volitional action. It is cause and effect. If I do something it has an effect - whether it's putting the phone down or whatever - every action has an effect. That's karma. We try to create positive effects - that's where volition comes in - to act more compassionate. It's very misunderstood and you will get different answers from different Buddhists. I've been taught its cause and effect.

Everything in this world is interconnected and each action has its ripple effects. Some Buddhists think that some things that happen to you are connected with a past life. I tend to disagree with that because they are talking about subtle things that we don't really talk about in this world. They are talking in a more metaphysical way - it's more simple to think of it as cause and effect.

SY: Do you believe in reincarnation?

E: No. People use reincarnation and rebirth as the same thing but they are not. I believe in rebirth. As far as when this physical body ends where my consciousness ends up in another body? I'm not sure. In Zen, the answer is, "I don't know, ask me when I'm dead." With rebirth you can think about it in this life. Say you are angry with someone, they've done something that bothers you, that is a being, a part of yourself, this angry being that arises. When you do other things this anger doesn't exist but when you see that person you remember and the anger comes back - that's rebirth. That's how I view the self - as empty of a permanent nature. And rebirth is self attached to particular circumstances, emotions, and what not coming back. You have to say I'm not going to be angry or fearful when I see that person again. You have to let that part of yourself go and die.

SY: Wow, that's cool. So, why Buddhas not Bombs?

E: I felt a strong push to be a witness for Peace. I've been observing the media and the people around me and if people don't want a violent response, if they want this country to be peaceful, they feel very alone. Its like being a member of some secret club. We're kind of stifled from talking about this because of the grief factor, because there appears to be so much support for a violent reaction. I felt it was important to be out there saying, "No, I don't agree with this."

As far as meditating in public to show that witness - its certainly something others have done before. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has held a lot of meditation vigils around the country. And the more I think about it, it is a profound way to express our dissent. What can we say in the face of violence? Its just, "No!" And let's be out there in public and say, "No." Its another way we can look within and work on ourselves and be Buddhist.

SY: The meditations have been happening for at least a month now, how has it evolved?

E: There are more people showing up. Mostly, its evolved in me personally - there's this space I need to step into and be brave about it - announcing to Portland and finding ways to express what this means to me and being a point person to those who have questions.

SY: One more misconception that people may have with Buddhism is that it is a cult.

E: This is not a cult. It's older than Christianity. Meditation itself is older than Buddhism. Meditation is way older than that.

SY: Anything to add?

E: I don't want to give the impression that I'm being harassed. What they told me was that I would be cited and banned from the park for 30 days if I brought a chair. But, if I went to the park anyway, then I could be arrested.

And, I won't be there this Friday but someone else will cover for me.

great interview 11.Jan.2002 11:05


great interview -- thanks so much for posting this. it's very inspiring what enji is doing, and i hope more people join the efforts.