8 Apr 2024

By Northern Lotus Sangha

Peace Vigil with Northern Lotus Sangha

On the 13th of January Northern Lotus Sangha from Newcastle together with Northumbria Quakers, in solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, joined a peaceful protest in front of an arms factory supplying parts for Israeli army. Pease read below some moving and personal reflections from Northern Lotus Sangha members.


As a PV practitioner the question of how inner peace and outer peace co-exist, has, and continues to be, a constant contemplation for me. I was drawn to Thay’s teachings for this reason, impressed by his resolve to live between monastery and the street, revering spiritual practice and action.  Since October 7th the pro-Palestinian solidarity movement has grown in the UK shining a light on the violence in Palestine, and depending on which media you read, a culture of Israel-state violence that has existed there for decades, that is also coming into awareness. 

Whether or not we agree on the cause-point or our feelings about October 7th, the facts remain of widespread oppression and violence in the area perpetuated by the IDF. As in Vietnam, America along with other countries including Britain, is heavily arming one-side and supporting an offensive that holds an irreverence for life on, what I would call, a frightening scale. I would call it genocide, and the importance of dharma practice to hold the reality of that, feels essential right now to motivate change. 

In the Vietnam War (referred to by many in Vietnam as the ‘American War in Vietnam’) On a deep level Thay refused to take a side and at the same time called for an immediate and  lasting cease fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqMCcgd5Pqk

Learning that an Arms factory, active in supplying Israel with components for war-planes, was operating less than a mile from our Northern Lotus Sangha, we simply decided to be a continuation of Thay’s work, to be there, to witness and be present in silence.

The factory is in an industrial area just outside of Newcastle. We arrived at 10am and stood with many other demonstrators at the factory gates. From the fences of the factory compound hung child’s shoes and a banner ‘This Factory Kills Children’. The event that morning followed the pattern for other Palestinian solidarity gatherings I’d seen, a sound system set up and speakers would take the mic from there; academics, artists (poets, singers), Mothers and Fathers from diverse backgrounds including Muslim and Jewish speakers. 

We set up next to the speakers and lined the mid section of the road with candles 1 for 100 people who had died (nearing 25,000 at the time of writing). We couldn’t light them for the wind, though had one in a jar that was lit. 

Each candle felt like a meditation, putting it there outside the factory, sangha hands, gentle and sure. We sat in front of them, joined by a friend from the local Quaker meeting, and listened to 2 quotes; one from Thay and the other from the Quaker Peace testimony.


As I arrived outside the Rafael arms factory, I was very moved by the passion of the protesters who gather regularly and work tirelessly to raise awareness of the role of the arms factory in perpetuating the violence in Gaza.

Before we began our vigil, a Sangha friend invited us to set out candles, each representing 100 lives lost in Gaza. As we each slowly, purposefully set out each candle, I felt a deep heaviness contemplating the magnitude of lives lost to violence. In total, we placed 250 candles. We then sat together in silence. As we sat, I brought my attention to my breath whilst simultaneously being aware of our surroundings, of my fellow mindfulness friends, the passion of the protesters, the passers-by in their cars, many of whom used their horns to show their support. There were some passers-by who shouted support from their cars, and occasionally others who cursed in expression of their distain towards us. I contemplated Thay’s words on violence, that people are not our enemy but ignorance, violence and injustice in ourselves and in others are our enemy. I took the opportunity to look inwards at the seeds of ignorance and violence within myself and to look on these with understanding in order to help me to understand the violence in Gaza.


This was the first time I attended a rally with a Plum Village Sangha. 

There was a good turnout of people with signs, banners, voice, and emotions. I felt that being present in silence, in support of those who were there, and acknowledging those who had died, was a powerful way to contribute to the discussion with peace and respect. 

Sitting there alongside sangha friends gave me a feeling of solidity. Despite the noise, the people and cars, having the safety of the sangha and being mindful of my breath, body and feelings allowed me to find peace and a quiet space, giving me space to reflect.  

I wonder what people were thinking when they were driving past? I could see families having conversations while looking at attendees with the microphones on one side and the sangha in silence on the other. Out of the hundreds or thousands of people who went past, I hope the action of the sangha started conversations which led people to be more aware of the importance of connection, interbeing and how they can engage in action for peace and change.  


As the bell faded I felt stable, the sounds of the protest felt supportive and the words of the organiser still in my ears, ‘Thank you so much for coming’. I’ve had that before in public spaces, despite the noise and movement, I felt a sense of power in showing peace in stillness. Cars passing by looked at us, green, black and red (Palestinian flag colours) decorative smoke filled the air. In times of this stillness there is, for me, an outward awareness and in addition a space for internal contemplation. I looked over through the factory fence and saw workers looking back towards us. I imagined what they might think about what is happening, do they feel responsible? Do they have children? Do they connect the suffering to their own feelings? These are questions I may never know the answer to, though it brought compassion for the situation. And more widely, how wide the gap of disconnection must be for those in power to our familial connection, as people.

A police person approached us at one point commenting on the candles, when I told them we were in a silent vigil, they left, nodding.

After half an hour we sounded the bell and stood together in a circle, at once it seemed holding one another close, eye contact, sharing how it was. We gathered the candles, signs, some stayed with the event and others left for appointments. 

The power of vigil is witness I feel, not turning away from what Thay calls our ‘ignorance’ – to be caught in cycles of violence. 


Northern Lotus Sangha meets at Eartlings Cafe (part of Newcastle Sikh Gudwara) 2nd and 4th Mondays and online 1st and 3rd.

There will be another march happening on the 26th April. If you’d like to join, please email northernlotussangha@gmail.com