I have been contemplating the deep rift that divides our country. It seems as if the United States of America is ideologically divided down the middle. But is it really? Just because we have a conservative base on the right that shouts really loud and a liberal base on the left that shouts really loud. The problem that we have is that the shouters on both sides drown out the majority in the middle. Does that mean that the majority in the middle doesn’t really matter?
I was a Marine. I may have been one of the worst Marines that ever served, but I did my four-year tour in the Marine Corps. I learned about the history of the Marine Corps and my country. I learned how to kill people. Rightly, they determined that I probably shouldn’t have a weapon in my hand. In fact, the only thing that I was ever armed with was a hand-held anemometer, a wind gauge. I was a weatherman. But my brush with the military made me think about peace.
“Cultivate peace first in the garden of your heart by removing the weeds of selfishness and jealousy, greed and anger, pride and ego. Then all will benefit from your peace and harmony.” Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha
That Buddha guy went through some pretty tough transformations on his way to becoming heroic. He started out as a hedonist who was coddled by his parents, protected from the outside world. He was in his twenties before he ever knew sickness, suffering and death. It so affected him that he left his beautiful wife and newborn child in order to get to the bottom of the human condition. He went from having all of his desires sated to living on one grain of rice per day. He was starving to death in search of enlightenment. A young girl with bowl of rice came by and saved his life. The funny part was that his fellow monks shunned him for being so weak. They would rather he died than caved into his human frailty. He took repaired his body and his mind came along for the ride. The rest is 2500 years of history. Which brings us to today.
The enlightenment that the Buddha found was that everything comes from within. We have a well inside of us that runs as deep as an ocean. Magic happens when you tap into that spring. To know yourself, to love yourself, is the key to happiness. It is also the key to peace. Before we can have a societal change away from the wars and the imperial hubris that guides our ideology, we must first know ourselves, love ourselves, and foster peace in our hearts.
You hear it a lot. America is a melting pot. It’s a cliché, but in this one instance it is true. We are Christians and atheists, Catholics and Muslims, Mormons and Wiccans, Jewish and Buddhist, agnostics and Taoists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists. If I left anyone out, I’m sorry, but you get the point. Just because we all bow to a different God, or no god at all, just because we read from a different holy scripture, or no scripture at all, that doesn’t mean we don’t all have things in common. We are the stewards of this planet. We are all a part of the same family tree. Whether you believe it goes back to Adam and Eve or Australopithecus afarensis, we can agree on that. So, if we are all a part of the same family, what makes it okay to kill each other?
Nothing. Not land or diamonds or color of skin, not religion or politics or oil or resources. Nothing makes it okay to kill your cousins.
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.
“The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.” Black Elk of the Ogala Sioux (1863-1950)
So it starts with one person. You have the opportunity to grow peace in your heart. And the hearts of your children. You can choose to sharpen your spear with love or with hate. I choose to sharpen mine with love. One person nurtures peace in her heart and shares it with another. And then there are four peaceful hearts and then eight and so on. If everyone evolves the peace in his or her heart there would be no need for war. But it has to start somewhere. Why not here?
I can hear the naysayers shouting already. There are bad people in the world. We need to protect ourselves from them. We need our guns and our planes and our bombs to protect ourselves and our country. But have we really examined what makes the terrorist strap a bomb to himself and kill a bunch of people? What causes a Hitler or a Stalin or a Genghis Khan? I don’t have the answer. But I don’t think it really matters.
The only one you can control is yourself. And this very moment. You can try to push someone in the right direction, order them into whatever form you want them to be. But in the end they will have to buy in to your ideology. And they won’t. That kind of discontent is what starts wars. It is what causes people to shoot up the McDonald’s or their work or their Congresswoman. Better to leave them to their problems and spend your energy worrying about your own.
“Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy.” The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama was forced from his homeland in Tibet by a Chinese invasion in 1959. Despite fifty years in exile, he still supports non-violent protest. The images of bald monks and nuns in robes facing the Chinese war machine are burned indelibly in my mind. Yet the Dalai Lama refuses to say he hates the Chinese and says that they could even be friends someday. He keeps peace in his heart 24/7/365. This is a lesson for us all.
There are going to be crappy people in the world. You don’t have to be one of them. You can choose to be peaceful. You can choose to vote for candidates and issues that value peace above all else. You can choose to support companies who believe in peace. Or boycott companies who don’t. You can choose the way your food is grown. You can choose to educate those who will listen. You can choose to protest. But keep peace close to your heart.
So greet each day and each person that you meet with a smile. Start your own personal peace movement. Foster the evolution in your heart. If we all agree to do this, if we refuse to sponsor the war machine, if we reject the empire, it will begin to falter. It may not happen today, or tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that we should waiver. We should emulate the Dalai Lama, keep peace in our hearts 24/7/365. Start a peace evolution instead of another war. Only then can we make the planet a more peaceful place.