Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Persuit of Wisdom

From the beginnings of this journey and Walk I have wanted to share insights about wisdom on this blog. As I observed the effects of human misjudgements on people and the environment in Scotland and England through weapons and nuclear energy, the impulse became stronger and stronger. One of my poetic blurting even screamed, "Wisdom, wisdom, where is the wisdom?" Now that I am home and reflecting on the insights, this blog cannot carry them. The subject is too comprehensive. In fact, wisdom is poetic and elusive. But, wisdom is.

Experience and knowledge are its sources. As are the heart and intuition. Emotion has a role, once understood and disciplined. I have come to see that even the esteemed in truth and nonviolence, though way out ahead in certain areas of human insight and action, have parts that are unwise and weak. Life is really complex. Gandhi, King, Tolstoy could not overcome every aspect of insight to be wise in all things.

I want to share two sources from which I would have summarized on this blog, were it possible. The May 6th issue of the New York Times Magazine's cover article is "Can Science Tell Us Who Grows Wiser?" The basis is psychology and its use of scientific measurement. While frustration is the result of all the efforts over the last thirty years, many insights emerge. "There is a yin-yang to wisdom that makes it difficult to pin down. Wisdom is founded upon knowledge but shaped by uncertainty. Action is important but so is judicious inaction. Emotion is central, yet detachment is essential."

On the other side of learning is observation and experience without measurement. At one of the Quaker Meeting Houses on the Walk I came across Bede Griffiths Universal Wisdom--A Journey Through the Sacred Wisdom of the World. The introduction is an excellent overview. As Griffiths quotes Judith Miller, Vedas..."show that vedic seers sought to transcend conventional religion and discovers hidden source of religion in the divine mind."

These two approaches to wisdom are what Thomas Merton persuded to address the "crisis of the West" (now the East too) and gave body and soul to my search.

In the words of the New York Times article, "As Gandhi (who topped the leader board a few years ago in a survey in which college students were asked to name wise people) put it, 'It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom.'"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Separation, Culture Shock, Death

Honda-shoni is dead. Honda-shoni became a close friend in a very short time. Honda-shoni stands for humanity's cure.

"CIVILIZATION IS NOT ABOUT installing electric lights, having airplanes or producing nuclear weapons. What defines civilization in its entirety? It is not to kill; not to destroy; not to wage war. It is about people holding one another in mutual affection and respect. There is nothing else that defines a viable human civilization. The foundation for these conditions in our communal life is not to be found in the enactment of laws nor in institutions but in religious faith that nurtures tenderness and integrity in our hearts." From Tranquil is this Realm of Mine, DHARMA TALKS AND WRITINGS OF THE MOST VENERABLE NICHIDATSU FUJII.

Honda gave me this book as I left his ashram in Milton Keynes at the end of the walk, when he took me to catch my bus to Birmingham. Nichidatsu Fujii, founder of Nipponzan Myohoji order, spent time with Gandhi and taught him how to chant. (I have not found mention of this relationship anywhere in all my Gandhi readings.)

I received word yesterday by email that Honda was killed in a tractor accident at the ashram.

The Walk spent two nights during the walk at the Peace Pagoda, and also concluded the Walk at the Lantern Ceremony on August 6th. (I mentioned this in another blog.) Honda joined the Walk for a week as did the nun, Martha-shoni. A few memories of my experience with Honda: walking rapidly through a crowded shopping mall looking for a toilet, "the young people have strong blatters" (honda is 50, I'm 69.); Honda's powerful chanting Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo troughout the week walk, not missing a beat during the day, even on the day that the six inch headlines said "TWO MONTHS RAIN IN A DAY"; making coffee to satisfy my need; lending me his poncho to finish the Walk, because mine was held together by tape (A sport's vender told me that "We don't carry ponchos, no need for them here!"); driving me all around Milton Keynes to find batteries for my hearing aides; talking about peace and life. Thank you Honda.

I do not understand many expressions of Honda's Zen practice, except through the spirit. One are the the words in the bowing ritual at every greeting and separation, the practice of Tangyo-raihai. It means "the mission of peace--call it non-violence or ahimsa, passive resistance or not taking life--... the singular practice of bowing and venerating the Buddha in others, is the active precept of cultivating good." How civilized!

Thank you, Honda.

I am going through a "culture shock" of sorts after the Walk. News of Honda's death only accentuates its meaning. The intense living for over two months with a community of Walkers who have nonviolence as their effort to be civilized only accentuates the inadequacies of Western civilization. I remember similar experiences in 1964 when returning to the US after travel to Mexico with a family.

I will continue this blog because so much is accentuating Walk experiences.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I did have an opportunity to share a little about the Walk with a large group of Japanese students at Woodbrooke. The students are from Tokyo and attend a Quaker school there. Their tour is sponsored by the Quakers to give them an exposure to the roots of the Friends in England and Scotland. They will visit some of the same places we walked through.

My Gandhi presentation (in "full" Gandhi attire!) was well received. I felt the intensity as I described my experience with hibacashas in Olympia, the Walk's intent of no more Hiroshima's, and Gandhi's message. My words were translated into Japanese. Their attention was shown by a girl's question, "How were you arrested?" Time did not allow me time to stun them with the situation in the area they would be visiting, i.e. Sellafield's and Chernobyl's radiation. (I had only fifteen minutes at the end of their day.)

Tomorrow I head home to Olympia after five days in New York. I have shared the Walk with the staff at Fellowship of Reconciliation (where my Gandhi portrayals first began), with staff at Democracy Now here in New York, and a number of friends and relatives.

Also, I talked with Leila Zand, FOR's Coordinator of Iran Program. We shared our concerns about US intentions in Iran. She is organizing two week trips to Iran, the next being in October.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Walk moves on

The Walk has ended, the Walk goes on. Here I am on the last day in England before heading to the US tomorrow morning. I am at Woodbrooke Study Centre in Birmingham thanks to some help and encouragement of new UK friends. I just had breakfast with an Anglican priest, Nduma, who was born in South Africa and is now a British citizen due to the twists and turns of the apartheid experience. We had a wonderful conversation about our activities, leading into mutual insights about living with nature as opposed to living by dominating nature. Woodbrooke is a beautiful place to do that, due to its wonderful garden and philosophy. Founded in 1903, the Centre is a Quaker study place which has a rich history including the experiences of coping with two world wars as a pacifist body. And, Gandhi slept here...and more, because the Quakers sent Alexander to India during the Salt Walk so that he could bring to England the reality of the repression which resulted. This was crucial at the time. I will spend the day absorbing the ambiance of the Centre and Birmingham. Also, there is a large group of Japanese youth here who are going to be touring the Quaker places up north, which we had walked through. They are seeing if there is time in their schedule for me to share the Walk with them.

Nearby is Bilberry Centre where a Gandhi Gathering put on by the Gandhi Foundation was held for the past week. I attended from Wednesday afternoon to Saturday. Gandhi books, pictures, references were the unavoidable settings. It felt good to see how people are seeking to learn and apply his way in their lives. The group is religiously diverse and ethnically composed of people from England and Scotland, including a number of Indians living in the UK. I had opportunities to briefly share the Walk with them, and took opportunity to insert insights during their regular sessions. It seemed that most of the mainstream Christian denominations were present through members, as well as others. I think it is indicative of our times that one woman has just been certified to be an Interfaith minister. That means that she will offer various ministries from an interfaith perspective, but not with denominational ties. She has gone through a multi-year program in preparation.

Related to the crucial environmental/human issues, the group members have a fairly good idea about global warming and energy concerns. Of course, I shared my statements. In fact, the organizer had printed out part of my blog for them before I arrived.

One most difficult experience of our last evening was an outburst of a mentally affected person who threatened people. The result was having the police come in at midnight and his arrest. Some felt relief, others felt like we failed him. I left them some suggestions for future organizational tools to handle future possibilities. I compared the week to a Gandhi Ashram, which was meant to include all, also the untouchables, and to be a training place for nonviolence.

In these settings, I have been given heartfelt welcomes and honor. For me, they are opportunities to reenter "the ordinary" after more than two months of intensive involvement with the walk. (An added note, I had opportunity to walk with a man whose parents were part of Bonhoffer's Confessional Church and died leaving him as an ophan. This was a first for me, which I feel blessed with.)

I have been wanting to share a number of insights from along the road. One is from Karen Armstrong's book, Buddha. She writes, "In his view, the spiritual life cannot begin until people allow themselves to be invaded by the reality of suffering, realize how fully it permeates our whole experience, and feel the pain of all other beings, even those we do not find congenial." From especially our own sufferings to that of others like the man arrested at Bilberry to the radiated environment of Scotland and the Irish Sea life will not be full until we pass through the darkness.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Last Day or the Walk

The Walk concluded last night with a Lantern Ceremony at the NIppozan Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes. The Zen Buddhist community put on the most beautiful and heartfelt lantern ceremony I ever attended. This was entirely fitting to commemorate the victims of Hiroshima's Atom bombing and all victims of nuclear weaponry and radiation. Hundreds of people attended, many from Japan and other parts of the world. We walkers had opportunity to be presented. I was asked to bring my Gandhi presence in word and in deed.

The day began when we piled into the van with our luggage to drive across London to the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park where we concluded on Saturday, when we had the most attended day of the walk to enter London. That beaautiful day concluded with a program and meal at Kingsley Hall. It is still a viable community center, which maintains the room where Gandhi stayed in 1932. (I hope to share more of significandce about this day.)

Back to yesterday, we walked from the Pagoda to Number 10 Downing street to deliver our Walk message to Prim Minister Gordon Brown. Work on the street and entrance resulted in our being in a cage to present our message by letter. The security people went through procedures before accepting it. The guards were armed, some with threatening weapons. After leaving Downing Street we walked to Tavistock Square for the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament annual Hiroshima Day event, number 40 at that location. Here again we were recognized and celebrated. CND and its members are dedicated and committed in the face of our Goliath opposition.

Two experiences highlighted the event for me: Len Aldis with the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society spoke of the continuing effects of Agent Orange on the the Vietnamese, showing that also nuclear radiation victimizes future generations. Since I went to prison in 1970 for a direct action with Dow Chemical Co in Washington DC for its production of Agent Orange and napalm, I felt closely connected to his words and deeds.

The second was regarding a documentary film crew from Iran. When they heard of our September 23rd action and my motivation about concern for Iran, they filmed me as Gandhi. They inquired about the US citizens and governments intentions about Iran. I am still most concerned that the US will bomb Iran with fearful consequences. Representatives of Campaign To Prevent War In Iran (I do not have the precise name handy) were also present at the event, passing out their analysis of the situation. Being out of the United States and observing reactions to US actions is a good experience. Wonder, confusion, anger, ignorance, fear, and other emotions are there. The intense interest in the filming of me as American conveyed the desire to find out more about the American people's knowledge. One question was, "Do the American people know that the US has undertaken 270 (?) plus military actions around the world since 1900?

There you have a brief summary of our last day. I will leave on Wednesday for a Gandhi School in Birmingham, England before returning to the US on the 13th of August. I will continue entering more about the Walk as I reflect and have opportunity. The reasons for the Walk are more precisely known now. I need to reflect on their implications. Thank you for staying with me.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


August 6, 2007

Dear people of the United Kingdom and all peoples,

I have just finished walking over 700 miles with Foot Prints for Peace, “Toward An End of Nuclear War”. In thanks to all who welcomed us, I offer my closing words. To those who do not welcome us, I ask understanding and consideration. The world is in a precarious situation due to the exhaustion of the earth’s resources and due to human inventiveness gone awry. Global climate change, fossil fuel decline, and nuclear radiation from war making and from power, and human conflict are primary sources of the dangers. The poor are affected the most and first. All will pay the price.

My journey began at the Faslane Trident base, and proceeded to include Sellafield nuclear power, Dundrennan Firing Base (depleted uranium weapons), and Aldertmaston among others, before entering London. We conclude on the 62nd anniversary of the Atom Bombing of Hiroshima. My observation is that nuclear weapons kill even without their actual use. Nuclear power kills with the mining of uranium, the production of power due to loss and accidents, and the waste. Radiation is entering the human DNA to last indefinitely. People have died and continue to die. We must find other ways. They are available if we make up our minds to use them.

My study of these concerns by compiling scientific research is that we have little time to reduce the harm done and put the human species on a viable and sustainable course. Utmost urgency is required.

Catastrophes are already happening, portending ill for the future. I believe that the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the Israel Palestinian conflict, the Darfur situation, are symptomatic of the technological policies made with Western leadership gone awry. India and China are now joining this abusive consumption and illegal and immoral war making path. The earth, the air, and the water are first victims. They are our life sources. This catastrophic pattern must be turned around.

Albert Einstein said that the nuclear question will be solved only in “the Truth of village square.” Ultimately, all these life issues will only be solved in the village square.

I have travelled this journey as “The American Gandhi”, because it is the most radical way I have to give this message. Gandhi experimented with truth, lived by love, and took the burden upon himself to suffer for truth, rather than attacking his opponents to make them suffer. And, Gandhi dressed as one of the masses to point out the dignity of every person. Gandhi used the spinning wheel because it was a sustainable tool available to all to provide for him or her self…with dignity. This is what I want to say.

All who have eyes and ears to see and hear, listen, study, discover, do whatever it takes to address human caused problems. Our lives are precious, the earth is precious. We have all we need to address our needs.

Thank you for your attention.

Peace, and love,

Bernie Meyer, The American Gandhi


Saturday, August 4, 2007

London entre'

We arrived in London today! After more than 700 miles for me and more than 850 from the four who started on May 12th in Dublin. We met Buddhists at Battersea Park at 12:30, had lunch at the Peace Pagoda, and then walked to Parliament Square amidst thousands of tourists and vacationers. There we joined an Iraq veteran who has been graphically witnessing to the DU effects on children in places like Kirkuk for several years. I stood for more than an hour next to his display to help call more attention to it. The sun is hot as was the air. The week has been wonderfully summer like, including one shower.

So, we are here. Tomorrow is a rest day. Monday is the last day of the Walk with several activities to commemorate the anniversary of Hiroshima. I will report them later. I feel great physically, though tired from a long day. Tonight we stay at Kingsly Hall, where Muriel Lester began youth programs in poor neighborhood. She is credited with beginning welfare programs in England. Also, she did much internationally promoting pacifism with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Her friendship with Gandhi led him to stay here in 1932 when he was in England for the Round Table Conference. I visited his room and say where he slept. Nice.

A little piece of drama. On Thursday morning I arose at 6:00 AM to do my meditation, etc, I was quietly starting down the stairs so as not to awaken my roommate, Duncan, nor my hosts, Irene and Paul. A human shadow flickered on the wall at the foot or the stairs and a whoosh sound. No one there when I got to the first floor. But, an open bathroom window indicated that someone had broken and entered. I had scared off a thief! You never know when the unexpected will occur. Except for a stolen purse with diary, credit card, and pounds, all is well. Well, not quite, Duncan is furious about his stolen tobacco.

I hope to find time to do more sharing tomorrow or Tuesday. Peace and love.