International peace-builder, psychologist, and practitioner of Engaged Buddhism, Dr. Paula Green, died February 21, 2022 due to complications related to cancer. She was 84. Eric Manigian of the Buddhist Action Coalition reflects on her life and impact.
I was heartbroken to receive news of Dr. Paula Green’s passing. One really can’t tell the story of Socially Engaged Buddhism in America without a large chapter dedicated to Paula. I had the great honor and privilege to interview her recently for the Buddhist Action Coalition’s Speaker Series. I invited her to draw attention to her life and work, which I feel not enough people know about. She was an inspiration and a great role model for the budding Socially Engaged Buddhist movement that is now flowering here in the United States.
Paula grew-up in Newark, New Jersey, just like my dad. In the 1970’s, she earned graduate degrees in both intergroup relations and humanistic psychology. From there, she transitioned into the then newly emerging field of international peace-building.
Paula would always get to the core of what was at hand, and not let you off the hook too easily.
“In the 1980’s I honed my skills through serving on the boards of directors of numerous social change organizations and learned to be courageous and trustworthy in responding to emotions and conflict in my work as a psychotherapist,” Paula once wrote. “Through this history, a year of living in Asia, and the guidance of wise mentors, I developed as a peace-builder.”
In 1994, Paula envisioned and founded the Karuna Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1995, she was asked by the New England Peace Pagoda of the Nipponzan Myohoji order to create and lead a Convocation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Many people know of Zen Buddhist teacher Bernie Glassman’s “Bearing Witness Retreats” to Auschwitz, but not many know the idea started for Bernie when he attended this Convocation. From there, Karuna Center was invited to meet with the women survivors of the atrocities in Bosnia, which led to an ongoing project working to foster reconciliation in Bosnian communities and rebuild social cohesion.
Paula and the Karuna staff cultivated relationships in conflict zones around the world including Rwanda, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sudan, Ghana, and South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to name a few. Then in 1995, Paula began teaching at The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont,, and created the “Conflict Transformations Across Cultures” (CONTACT) program, which I attended in 2016. It was an amazing experience, with 45 students representing 14 different countries in my cohort. Paula’s most recent project brought her international experience back home here to the U.S. in her “Hands Across the Hills” project, connecting Trump-supporting coal miners in Kentucky with progressive liberals in western Massachusetts to “meet face to face with people from a community that voted differently, in an attempt to better understand each other.”
“We had to start with the things that connected us first, or it would have fallen apart immediately,” she said of this project,
Paula received a number of awards in her lifetime, including the 2009 “Unsung Hero of Compassion” award from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the 2010 “Leadership and Service as a Peacemaker” award from the Symposium for Engaged Buddhism and “Psychology of Peace and Justice Prize” from Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the 2015 “Outstanding Human Rights Activist” award from Kean University, and the 2018 “First-Ever Prize for Peace-building” award from the Alliance for Peacebuilding.
I was introduced to Paula by Roshi Eve Marko eight years ago. I wanted to put together a reconciliation retreat for Turks and Armenians to dialogue around the Armenian genocide that occurred 100 years before. Together, Paula and I worked on the details of the retreat for about a year. It was during this time that I got to know her working style and true skillfulness. Though we eventually had to abandon this retreat, it led me to join her CONTACT program at The School for International Training. She had a soft way of suggesting you do something, but the words always hung around for a while after. She had a beautiful way of speaking directly to your heart, not in a mushy way, but in a very grounded and caring way. Paula would always get to the core of what was at hand, and not let you off the hook too easily. I watched with awe at the way she could facilitate a dialogue circle with her amazing ability to guide, affirm when needed, correct in just the right way, keep the group focused, and point out where the dangers are. She did it all with a gentle — but assertive — presence.
During the years of the Trump administration, I called Paula several times, often in a panic. In a talk given at Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in December 2016, Paula presented “Despair and Empowerment in Our Watershed Moment.” She knew the gravity of what was at stake, she knew the patterns after decades in the field. During this time Paula was a spiritual anchor for so many of us.
Paula had a way of looking inside of you. I can still hear her voice telling me five years ago, “I think you should go into end-of-life chaplaincy, my generation is getting old and they have been exposed to the dharma. They will need you.” Although I replied “I don’t think so, Paula,” I’m now in the process of finishing my chaplaincy training.
When I heard of Paula’s passing, I sent a note to Eve Marko. She had driven out to see Paula and her husband, Jim, at their house. Eve told me Paula died with a smile on her face, and that Jim looked radiant. Jim told her Paula had left him with a great gift called “love.”
Mine was just one small life that Paula touched, but there are thousands of others — she has been a friend and mentor to so many. I will forever carry her in my heart.