Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hahn‘s 1975 dialogue Communities of Resistance: A Conversation is the eighteenth chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace . This dialogue leads off the Post-Vietnam to the Present (1975- ) section of the book. Hahn and Berrigan’s hopes for communities of resistance springs from their own experience with religious communities in the Buddhist and Catholic faiths, respectively, and with the experiences of their late mutual friend Thomas Merton.
We have already discussed Merton’s essay The Root of War is Fear from a previous chapter in the same book. In it, Merton defines the calling of a Christian to “work for the total abolition of war.” Merton reminds us that the place to end war is within ourselves. My comments in the post about Merton’s essay could easily be applied to Berrigan and Hahn:
As we have seen in the essays by Muste, Day, Addams, Gandhi, and Penn, religious conviction can be a great motivator to speak out for pacifism.
Berrigan is Jesuit priest, award-winning pacifist and published poet who was wanted by the FBI during the Vietnam War for destroying military draft files.Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and pacifist who has been exiled from his native country since the Vietnam War for his pacifist activities.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King nominated Hahn for the Nobel Peace Prize saying that:
I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [the Nobel Peace Prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.
Dr King’s essay, Declaration of Independence from the War, in the same book we are discussing was featured in an earlier post.
In the dialogue currently under discussion, Berrigan and Hahn traverse the difficulties in both of their religious traditions of keeping monastic communities engaged with the broader community. Berrigan advises young monks that
Try to think that you are not planted somewhere like a tree, but are on a pilgrimage, back and forth; one who goes and comes back and offers to our people the resources of discipline and wisdom
which are your gifts; gifts which, I think, are bottled into a monastery vintage and are simply not available to us.
Hahn compares that ideal to the Buddhist tradition which allowed the Vietnamese monks to invite in artists, and when they were forced out of the monastery by the war to form communities with the peasants. They had simplified the usual 100’s of rules in Buddhist practice down to just 14. And those 14 were softened into guiding principles which were to be questioned and reviewed. The first principle being do not kill.
Berrigan layers the idea of resistance unto intentional communities. He finds that individual protests are not enough. He found that the continuity provided by communities was necessary. Berrigan gives the examples of the military draft file burning that he took part in in Cantonsville, MD. A community was necessary to persevere through the repercussions and trial.
Hahn talked about the mere 14 rules they developed for a new Buddhist community:
The rules said not to kill — not to kill and not allow or encourage others to kill, And to do all you can in order to prevent killing and to prevent war.
Hahn compares living in such a community to living outside of it:
Living in modern society, one feels that one cannot easily regain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself. . . . So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded occupied, assaulted and destroyed by the system. The prupose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly.
Berrigan speaks from experience that even such communities may not serve as a respite:
The trouble is that monasteries have become pleasant places where discipline and prayer go on, but where resistance does not go on.
Both engage in a discussion of ” the way” within their religious traditions. Hahn returns to the personal as starting place:
So the way must be in you; the destination must also be in you and not somewhere else in time or space.
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- Merton: The Root of War is Fear
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