"There's another line in Thich Nhat Hahn's Being Peace that is particularly stinging for Christian activists and liberation theologians: 'If we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace.' The sting become not just more painful but perturbing from a sentence in a more recent book: 'I do not think God wants us to take sides, even with the poor.' This is but a restatement of what my Buddhist partners on the Peace Council told us in Chiapas: 'We Buddhists don't denounce.' To denounce the Mexican government would be to take sides with the indigenous people and against the government.
"In Being Peace, Thay offers some very practical reasons why Buddhist peacemakers don't take sides reasons that resonate with what one reads in contemporary manuals for non-violent conflict resolution: 'Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.'
"But these pragmatic reasons for not taking sides are rooted more deeply in Buddhist experience and teachings. If our true nature is to be 'no-selves' or selfless selves or, more positively, interconnected selves, then our peacemaking, if it is going to be effective, must flow out of our interconnectedness. That includes our interconnectedness with the people whose actions we have to oppose. That includes the death squads. And to act out of a sense of interconnectedness with the death squads is to act out of compassion for them. Now the verbal slap in the face that Roshi Bernie Glassman non-violently gave me at the end of my Zen retreat begins to fill with meaning: 'You will be able to stop the death squads only if you realize your oneness with them.' Only if I feel my actual connectedness with them. Only if I feel genuine love for them. Only then is there any hope for having peace with them.
"This is why Buddhists don't take sides for some people and against other people. It's the same reason why Buddhists don't want to call anyone evil. To pronounce them as evil is to take sides against them, and to take sides against them is to cut off connectedness and the possibility of understanding and feeling compassion for them. Once you do that, once you define anyone as an 'evil-doer,' there's little chance for peace. There's even smaller chance for justice."