PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Philippines: A Middle Way by peaceprobe
January 20, 2007, 8:58 am
Filed under: Philippines

When I am told that I will be introduced to a former communist regional secretary who now practices Buddhist teachings I am very curious. I greet him by saying that I look forward to hearing from a Filipino who practices the Middle Way. He smiles knowingly and relaxes for the long talk awaiting us.

The Philippines is 85% Catholic, perhaps 5% Muslim and the remaining are Protestant. It is rare to meet someone who was once a high official in the party who has so consciously integrated his past and the future along the way. The language of the Way has been part of my life for more than 15 years. The Christian Peacemaker Teams learned of the phrase, “Getting In the Way” from a Palestinian Christian Congress organized to bring Christians from around the world together to discuss the struggle of Palestinians. A CPT colleague was invited by the Congress to develop a mural depicting the them, “Getting in the Way”. The theme and the mural grew on us and we borrowed it, making it our own. When I see the calm smile and white garb of the former regional secretary I can’t wait to hear what he might have to say to illuminate me further about the Way.

The language of the Way has been around for a long time. The first Christians were referred to as the People of the Way. The image of a Way creates notions of a journey, a pathway or a road. The Way may be straight or narrow, it may also include an obstacle course created by ourselves or external forces that make deception or violence sacred. Other natural obstacles inhibit our journey on the Way. The Way may be very difficult, dangerous, or tiring. The Way may require an incredible measure of creativity, and even some surprise help from transcendent places. People use the language of the Way about a new consciousness and a fresh understanding of life and God. The language of the Way is rooted deeply in religious traditions.

Many years ago I learned that the Buddha after living a life of privilege and royalty followed by decades of contemplation, fasting and solitary meditation came to find his rest in something he called the Middle Way. As I listen to the retired regional secretary I begin to think about the language, Getting in the Way, in a fresh manner that combines inner wholeness, and wider margins of a vision of hope for our earth and our life together as a human family. I feel as though I am moving a single step closer from moralism towards morality, from force by military power, or guilt provoking words, towards seeing opportunities for transformation of the personal and the political.

“What bothered you about dialectical materialism?” I ask the regional secretary. “There was much good there,” he replies, “And there is much that is valuable and right from my experience in the analysis of class. Wealthy classes do exploit But I disliked the class hatred and the killing. .There was democracy in our movement but there were also times when the decisions from the center were difficult. As revolutionaries we learned to speak loudly and with confidence,” says my friend who spent 25 years with the movement.

I listen closely.. I don’t hear nostalgia for the old days nor do I hear the slightest urgency to betray former co-workers. I don’t hear guilt over decisions or anxiety over the future. I hear a voice of one who has traveled and can see hints of the Way.

As our conversation unfolds, he describes the urgency he now feels for the land, for the farmers, for the restoration of wholeness and respect among all of us in what we call the body politic. I do not hear the familiar chorus of disappointment in the politicians and military here which leads to tiredness but I do hear a confidence to seize every opportunity to speak a little truth and create a little new space for truth to be visible someplace else. I hear reminders of the spirit, of the power of words, of tiny acts and big projects for living a life of confidence and hope. I hear compassion for former enemies, the military, and government officials.

The more we talk the more I learn about the Way from fresh words and 25 years of experience of living in the shadows. I learn he is a family man, that his wife has a tiny market stand that supports her and their three children. I learn that two of his children are born again Christians and the other one is a practicing Roman Catholic like father and mother. In all of our conversation I do not hear hatred, or labeling or racism or chauvinism. I hear the notes of simple life, but not the words of a simple mind. I am fed by a quick, analytical style in a person who now describes his walk as the Middle Way between the corruption of the Filipino version of elite politics and the strident confidence of the 38 year old Marxist cause being pursued in the countryside and the cities through the use of strategically placed persons schooled in the tactics of violence.. I hear an analytical mind describing violence also used in the service of wealth and capital. I hear a voice inviting people to the Middle Way not for instant salvation or quick wealth but to create space within and without, for spirit, hope and abundant life.

Thirty eight years ago when I took a course in Buddhism I failed to understand the Middle Way. I could only see the Buddhist monks as they moved from village to village each day begging for food, according to their discipline. I could only see the heavy weight of vegetarianism and the hard monastic life of denial. Now I am starting to see that each of us is looking for a Middle Way to peace and hope, a way that allows our bodies, our spirits and our vision to see the signs as we get in the way. I see that that way is clarified by a consciousness of the Middle Way.

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