Jan 10, 2014 How a 4’11” woman with a drum helped send me on a peacefully powerful trajectory
Starting early on, I felt much disharmony in life. In college, I became devoted to human rights activism, but was an angry human rights activist, angry at the vile human rights violations of the present and past, despite Amnesty International’s wise advice to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. For the first years of my criminal defense practice, I was angry at all the injustices of the criminal "justice" system. My anger in some ways fueled my passion for my work, and I had many victories early on, but I would have had even more victories had I shed my anger.
Anger arises from fear. Anger and fear block one’s power. We always will have devastating earthquakes, tidalwaves, hurricanes, and tornadoes; disease, vicious animals, and droughts; and too many people who step on others and even derive pleasure from doing so. Getting angry at any of these situations does nothing to help reverse them and to help those who suffer from them.
Lama Surya Das found it insufficient to join anti-demonstrations without improving himself from within,and to find peace within himself. Here I was demanding that others stop unnecessary warfare and stop torturing and otherwise violating others’ human rights, but insideI did not feel at peace.
The most critical flashpoint for me to turn away from anger, and to embrace the powerful path of peace and compassion for others, came one lunchtime in January 1991 in the midst of Gulf War I. Each day during that war, I arrived at my corporate law firm to find Support Our Troops yellow ribbons (what about Support Humanity and Humans?) adorning the desk of the neighboring attorney and others, hearing not a peep in favor of ending the war and in favor of peace. I found comfort during lunchtime in being with the peace activists two blocks away at the Lafayette Park across from the presidential palace.
Little did I know at the time that soon would be arriving at Lafayette Park, by returning plane from Japan, a giant of a woman in a 4’11" frame, who would help be a catalyst for me to redirect my being and life towards powerful peacefulness in everything I do, although I was not always a quick learner at that, and still have far to go.
Thirty days before Gulf War I ended, Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist nun Jun Yasuda, from east of Albany across the river — arrived at Lafayette Park for thirty days of water fasting, drumming and repeatedly chanting Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo for peace in Lafayette Park, sleeping around fifteen blocks away at the subsequently closed Catholic Worker House near Chinatown. As with so many other people over the decades, I was immediately taken by Jun-san, who believes strongly in the power of obtaining peace and healing for humanity by the simple acts of chanting her prayer with a drum, walking sometimes hundreds of miles while praying with the same drum, even in the most punishing of weather, being peaceful every step of the way.
Is it mere coincidence that on the pre-planned last day of Jun-san’s thirty day 1991 fast, that George Bush I announced the end of the war?
Ask Jun-san about her sacrifices of multi-day and even weeks-long fasts and walking even in the coldest, hottest, and wettest of situations, and Jun-san redirects the conversation to the beautiful people — all people are beautiful to her — with whom she connects along the path, and to how such hurdles pale in comparison to the daily suffering of so many. Ask her about the trespasses of people as evil as Hitler, and she will point out that even he had more at least one positive characteristic, from having been a painter, and that even he would have wanted the compassion of others, even possibly a massage. Talk to her about Kim Jong Un’s tyrannical execution of his uncle — whether it was really by intentionally starved dogs or by firing squad — and she will refocus the conversation to the millions of Koreans both north and south who want peace, and on bringing people together for peace rather to have them divided.
Two days ago, I had the great privilege and glee of picking up Jun-san at the Baltimore-Washington airport, having just finished a fifty-mile anti-fracking walk (here bundled up in a crimson parka) that included punishingly freezing temperatures as the walk neared its completion, to be in Washington during current demonstrations and fasting to end U.S. detention in Guantanamo. Now 65, Jun-san remains non-stop action and peace personified, with her enjoyment of Elvis’s music merely one of the reminders that this superhuman-seeming woman is really one person showing us all that we each have great potential to do good on this world and for each other.
When I am in Jun-san’s presence, I feel like I am in a sea of calm, with my batteries all the more recharged to continue with positive and peaceful energy in all that I do in my personal and professional life.
Here are some great quotes from Jun-san:
– "If no respect to Earth, how you survive? Even if you have money. You damage your mother.”
– Long distance walking while drumming and chanting is prayer for Jun-san. While walking, she says to herself “Thank you for Earth. Thank you to life.”
– When Jun-san goes to the supermarket, "Yasuda bows to the people at the cash registers. ‘And some people say, "How come you’re bowing?"… I say, "You are very beautiful and you are very sacred." They say, "Oh, thank you very much." And they become happy, you know.’"
– “All humans are beautiful. Somehow society is upside down.”
Deeply thanking and bowing to my friend and teacher Jun Yasuda.