Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Raft Is Not the Shore: Conversations toward a Buddhist/Christian Awareness / Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh -- Boston: Beacon Press, 1975

Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh are among the most important peace activists working during the Vietnam War.  Daniel Berrigan is a Catholic priest who was often at odds with the Catholic Church.  Among Berrigan's most influential actions were his reception of three American airmen released by the North Vietnamese and his destruction of draft files using homemade napalm.  For the latter action, he and eight other peace activists were jailed.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who worked to bring peace to Vietnam, particularly during the American phase of the war.  He was refused re-entry into Vietnam by the South Vietnamese government in 1973 after the Paris Peace Accord was signed.  

The Raft Is Not the Shore is the transcript of conversations between Berrigan and Nhat Hanh that took place in France at the close of the Vietnam War.  The topics of conversation include the role of religion in the world, the responsibilities of priests and monks, the relationships between government, economics, and religion and the importance of forming "communities of resistance" that will work against forces of violence and in favor of human rights and the dignity of all people.  There is a healthy dose of comparative religion in their conversations -- comparing, of course, Christianity and Buddhism, but not as much as one might have thought.  It is, by and large, a discussion between two peace activists about their experiences, their attempts to deal with the obstacles they faced, and their strategies for effective actions for peace.  In the course of their conversation, one can clearly distinguish their different dispositions.  Berrigan appears to be more strident and angry, while Nhat Hanh appears more patient and forgiving.  One might speculate about the reason for these different attitudes.  Are they a function of the religious background of the two men or are they simply a reflection of their individual temperaments?  In any case, it is clear that both men have a profound and sincere sense of justice and a commitment to peace that transcends their self-interests.

The work is worth reading whether you are looking for insight into these two important historical figures, insight into the Vietnam War, or insight into peace activism.  

No comments:

Post a Comment