Policies for International Peace
Where is Peace in a Time of War
I am in contact with many peace workers, especially in the Middle East, who want to be part of a larger movement. One of them wrote to me feeling desperate and rather hopeless right now. Reading the firsthand account of what it feels like to stand for peace in a raging war zone moved me deeply. I wanted to give a few points that may help all of us who are asking ourselves, "Is it realistic to hope for a new kind of humanity when the same old aggressions keep coming back?"
- Change doesn't start on the surface. It's generated from consciousness. This has been true throughout history. If Buddhism can begin with one person and Christianity with twelve, let us not think in terms of numbers and odds. It may sound grandiose to compare ourselves to great spiritual guides, but we act collectively, as an alliance. Our strength comes from critical mass.
- We aren't here to make the world evolve. We are here to evolve as individuals and then to spread that influence. In the wisdom tradition of Vedanta, the stream of evolution is known in Sanskrit as Dharma, from a root verb that means 'to uphold.' This gives us a clue how to live: the easiest way for us to grow is to align ourselves with Dharma. We don't have to struggle to grow—that would be unproductive, in fact. The Dharma has always favored non-violence. If we can bring ourselves to a state of non-violence, and connect with others who are doing the same thing, we have done a huge thing to reinforce Dharma.
- Societies get into the grip of their own self-created story. It's helpful to realize that we can choose not to participate in that story. Realize that national and tribal stories are limited, self-serving, based on the past, reinforced by orthodoxy, and therefore opposed to real change. Stories are incredibly persuasive. Wars are fueled by victimization that runs deep, for example. So let us not try to change anyone's story. Let us only notice and observe ourselves when we buy into it and then let us back away from participating in it.
- Let us not demand of ourselves that we alone must be the agent of change. In a fire brigade everyone passes along a bucket, but only the last person puts out the fire. None of us know where we stand in line. We may be here simply to pass a bucket; we may be called on to play a major role. In either case, all we can do is think, act, and say. Let us direct our thoughts, words, and actions to peace. That is all we can do. Let the results be what they will be.
- Let us realize that engagement and detachment aren't opposite—the more engaged we become, the more detached we will have to be. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves in conflict, obsessiveness, anxiety over the future, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Keep in mind that we are pioneers into the unknown, and uncertainty is our ally. When our minds want closure, certainty, and finality, let us remind ourselves that these are fictions. Our joyous moments will come from riding the wave, not asking to get off at the next station.
- Since most misery is born of failed expectations let us learn to minimize expectations so that we will feel far less guilt and disappointment.
- We aren't here to be good or perfect. We are here as the antennas for signals from the future. We are here to be midwives to something that wants to be born. Good people have preceded us. They solved some problems and created others. As one wise teacher once said, "You aren't here to be as good as possible. You are here to be as real as possible."
- I know this sounds difficult, but let us try to be tolerant of intolerance. This is a hard one at times, but if you try the opposite—showing a hard heart against those with hard hearts of their own—all we've done is expand the problem. It's helpful (but often difficult) to remember that everyone is doing the best they can from their own level of consciousness. Trying to talk a terrorist out of his beliefs is like trying to persuade a lion to be a vegetarian. All we can realistically do is seek openings for higher awareness.
- Let us resist the lure of dualities. These include us versus them, civilized versus barbarians, good versus evil. The good, civilized people of Europe managed to kill millions of themselves, along with millions of "them." In reality we are all in the same boat of human conflict and confusion. Sometimes it helps to admit that the doctor is not far from being a patient.
- Let's create an atmosphere of peace around ourselves. Imagine that we are like a mother whose children come home crying about fights at school. Would it be her job to soothe their wounds or to arm them for fighting back tomorrow? Simplistic as it may sound, the male principle of aggression can only be healed by the feminine principle of nurturing and love.