You’ve seen them so often you may not pay attention to them anymore. They are part of the scenery. On some Saturday mornings they quietly gather in front of the BIW administration building.

On launching day they mix in with the crowds on land and raise homemade signs.

On some special days they congregate on the Brunswick Commons. During air shows at the Brunswick Executive Airport they stand with their signs of peace and disarmament.

No matter where they show up, their message is the same. Peace. They are a loosely organized group that has been around since the Vietnam War.

The earnest people who make up the group are not outsiders. They are our neighbors from all walks of life and they are serious, maybe more serious than most of us, about ending war and adopting peace.

True, they have not taken the community by storm. No tidal tsunami of change has swept across the land. No lamb lying down with the lion. Peace will be neither a Cecil B. DeMille production, nor the second coming of Jesus.

Probably it will be friends and neighbors walking away, turning their backs on war to face peace. Institutionally replacing the War Department with the Peace Department.

Usually there are just a handful of protestors walking back and forth, some carry signs, some just themselves present. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Because of their sparse numbers and the quiet way in which they behave they are easy to disregard. But there is another way of looking at the phenomenon of what Zorba the Greek called “the whole catastrophe.”

In an earlier life I lived in Southeast Asia, where the predominant religion was Theravada Buddhism. One of the traditional concepts of their Buddhist practice was the law of karma, which explained that, like our golden rule, good deeds will produce good outcomes and bad deeds will result in unwholesome consequences. Karma.

One sure way of earning merit toward “good” karma was to support the Sanga, or community of monks who left the temples each morning to “beg” for food.

In Thailand the Buddhist temples are the center of village and neighborhood life. When a boy approaches adolescence, he is expected to spend three months living in a temple, his belongings reduced to one robe and one bowl. It could be thought of as a Buddhist bar mitzvah or a confirmation.

So every morning there would be servants and householders standing outside, rain or shine, waiting for the saffron-robed monks to come and accept the food given them. In turn, so they believed, they would gain maybe enough merit so that in some future life they could attain enlightenment and get off this wheel of suffering.

There were critics of the system who said it was a burden on society because the temples didn’t pay taxes, implying that the monks were freeloaders. I asked a Buddhist teacher I knew just how to answer such criticism.

“It is very simple,” he said. “The monks are reminders of another way of being. Imagine, you are on a crowded bus and your mind is on some problem in your life or some relationship and you’re not paying attention when suddenly you see out the window a lineup of monks outside a home whose occupants are serving the food for the monks’ one meal of the day. The sight of those monks in their saffron orange snaps you out of your reverie and reminds you to be mindful and to experience peace in that moment before it is gone, just like everything else.”

The members of the peace group standing on the street corners with their signs are like the monks, calling attention to the “other” way.

Even though we may not agree with them, they are part of the whole catastrophe, reminding us that, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “everything is just as it should be.”

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