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In light of recent national and international events, REED magazine invited alumni, faJJKculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

In light of recent national and international events, REED
magazine invited alumni, faculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

After Bamiyan
By Gary Snyder ’51

March 2001
The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hsüan Tsang described the gleaming, painted giant stone Buddhas standing in their cave-niches along the Bamiyan Valley as he passed through there on foot, on his way to India, in the 7th century AD. Last week they were blown up by the Taliban. Not just by the Taliban, but by woman-and-nature-denying authoritarian worldviews that go back much farther than Islam. Dennis Dutton sent this poem around:

Not even
under mortar fire
do they flinch;
the Buddhas of Bamiyan
Take Refuge in the dust.
May we keep our minds clear and calm
and in the present moment, and honor
the dust.

April 2001

from a man who writes about Buddhism

Dear Gary:
Well, yes, but, the manifest Dharma is intrasamsaric, and will decay.

I said,

Ah yes . . . impermanence. But this is never a reason to let compassion and focus slide, or to pass off the sufferings of others because they are merely impermanent beings. The haiku goes,

This dewdrop world
Is but a dewdrop world
And yet . . .
. . . “and yet” is our perennial practice. And maybe the root of the Dharma. . . .

A person who should know better wrote, “Many credulous and sentimental Westerners, I suspect, were upset by the destruction of the Afghan Buddha figures because they believe that so-called Eastern religion is more tender-hearted and less dogmatic. . . . So — is nothing sacred? Only respect for human life and culture, which requires no divine sanction and no priesthood to inculcate it. The foolish veneration of holy places and holy texts remains a principal obstacle to that simple realization.”

I wrote back, “This is another case of ‘blame the victim.’” Buddhism is not on trial here. The Bamiyan statues are part of human life and culture, they are works of art, being destroyed by idolators of the text. Is there anything credulous in respecting the art and religious culture of the past? Counting on the tender-heartedness of (most) Buddhists, you can feel safe in trashing the Bamiyan figures as though the Taliban wasn’t doing a good enough job. I doubt you would have the nerve to call for launching a little missile at the Ka’aba, there are people who would put a hit on you and you know it.”

September 2001

The men and women who
Died at the World Trade Center
together with the
Buddhas of Bamiyan,
Take Refuge in the dust. small bullet

Gary Snyder ’51 is an influential poet, community activist, ecological philosopher, and Buddhist dharma warrior. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his book Turtle Island.

Learning the right lessons
By Donald Steinberg ’74

Sitting in the assembly hall at the Tokyo conference on Afghanistan’s reconstruction in January, I thought about how far we have come over the past six months. As late as summer 2001, it was difficult to get the world’s leaders to focus on Afghanistan’s massive internal displacement, its tragic social decline, its production of four-fifths of the world’s heroin, its millions of landmines, and its grotesque violation of human rights—especially women’s rights—in the name of a perverted interpretation of Islam. Even when Physicians for Human Rights produced a study showing that one-sixth of all women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had tried to commit suicide, it failed to penetrate the world’s conscience.

A half year later, leaders from more than 60 nations and international organizations were there in Tokyo pledging $4.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, stressing the need for a proper role for women and disabled Afghans in future political, social, and economic systems. Speaker after speaker promised to work for a democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, making the explicit link between the international community’s neglect of Afghanistan’s poverty, suffering, and civil strife over the past decades and its emergence as a source of terrorism, drugs, and refugees.

A generation of Americans born into peace and prosperity came to view our victory in the cold war as making us invulnerable to threats emanating from beyond our borders; for them, the past year has been a wake-up call. Our challenge is to learn the right lesson and channel our national resolve into the right battles. We ignore suffering and instability abroad at our peril. We will indeed ensure our own homeland security, forcefully confront terrorist groups and their state sponsors, and combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But equally important, we must dedicate ourselves and our resources to fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, hunger, and repression—conditions that give rise to desperation that translates itself into terrorist acts.

As we look beyond our borders, the fight against terrorism cannot be our nation’s only foreign affairs objective. We must use our nation’s renewed interest in international affairs to ensure that major power competition does not re-emerge; that developing countries join the community of market democracies, becoming beneficiaries and not victims of globalization; and that our nation is a full partner in finding peaceful solutions to regional crises, such as the Middle East and Kashmir.

The past several months have reminded us of our mutual dependence on friends and allies around the world. No American was unmoved by the swift and heartfelt expressions of sympathy and support from the United Nations, NATO, and regional bodies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Foreign friends tell me that they themselves were surprised at their own outpouring of affection for their American cousins, and came to realize the strength of the values and interests that bind us together. We must not squander the reservoir of resolve abroad ready to work with us in pursuit of a more secure, more democratic, and more prosperous world. small bullet

Donald Steinberg ’74 is the deputy director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, where he is helping direct the reconstruction effort for Afghanistan. He formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Angola, deputy White House press secretary, special representative of the president for global humanitarian demining, and special assistant to President Clinton for African affairs.


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