Some years ago, before I retired from the police department, I read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh hereafter referred to as: “Thay” (Master in Vietnamese).
I can’t remember which book or the exact quote but, the point he was making was this: we have to very careful when we choose sides or, we will become a part of the problem (often it’s best not to choose).
Many readers here will already know Thay’s history. Being from Vietnam he grew up and lived in a war-torn land. He could clearly see the underlying issues that were creating such suffering and death to his people.
He was once asked which side he was pulling for, the Communist or the Americans.
He simply said that we was not pulling for a side, that he was in the middle, pulling for people. His answer got him kicked out of Vietnam and he was banned from the United States. Lucky for the world France took him in and he started Plum Village.
Lesson: when we choose sides and not people, conflict is the natural outcome.
We live in a world of form identity and ego-based reality concepts. From the perspective of individuals these really never completely agree. Often enough these perspectives are so far apart that killing other humans en-masse seems like a good and noble thing. Sometimes it’s just a character assignation or a drive-by slapping…either way, it’s not helpful.
I would argue that Eckhart Tolles’ ideas about the pain body perspective play a major influence in how choosing sides and conflict plays out. A dense pain body will create conflict in all aspects of its existence. If that pain body is in a position of power then quite a lot of havoc can be brought about (Joseph Stalin killed 60 million people. Heinrich Himmler killed 10 million. Ivan IV enjoyed watching 1000 prisoners a day executed in his presence, etc..).
Ram Dass has repeatedly observed how many angry people can be found at peace rallies.
If we look deeply at every social issue on the planet, the environment, human trafficking, war, starvation, the economy, etc.., we can see that at its core is corruption. And, from the perspective of the perpetrator of said corruption, it may seem wholly reasonable (frequently able to ignore the self-serving element of the action in question).
What we can learn from this is that all of us are subject to doing destructive things and feel perfectly good about it. One indication of this as a potentiality is when we feel strong, negative emotions surrounding the issue (now a drama) at hand.
Fear and anger can (and often do) encourage us to make poor decisions from which we can never completely recover.
So, here’s the hard truth: peace, corruption, harmony, violence, all start and end with each of us.
Choosing sides will only ensure future conflict. When we choose to evaporate into a crowd or movement, and outsource our ability to think, we can assume that we are ensuring future conflict. I throw a rock at you, you retaliate feeling totally justified and the wheel of suffering turns.
Innocent victims get caught in the cogs creating more suffering, more offenders and more victims. The perpetuation of suffering is assured. Thich Nhat Hanh was right all along, as was Jesus, Tolstoy and Dr. King, etc..
Are there times when conflict is inevitable? The example that is so often used is actually true, The Third Reich had to be confronted with extreme prejudice. But, these times are rare and when we examine the poisonous soup that came before Hitler we find that all of it could have been avoided, but for some very poor decisions, pain bodies and corruption.
It’s important to look into the future and see the potential consequences of current actions…consequences which are far more predictable than we are often led to believe. Life and actions have a trajectory that can be observed and reasonably well anticipated.
Thay teaches a meditation where we basically live out our death experience. We experience death and the rotting away of our bodies. This was a very powerful experience for me. It’s not an easy meditation to do. If you can handle it I would highly recommend it. It teaches many things, not the least of which is to see the sum of our lives. To stand beyond the physical end and see what we left behind. That’s a horrible time to discover that we were selfish and mean spirited with a list of angry victims in our wake.
Now—this exact moment—is the time to become love, to become peace.
The reality of death puts a lot of things in perspective: time is limited; we aren’t as strong as we would like to think we are; we really own nothing; when we’re dead we can’t go back and fix anything; all humans have equal value.
We are way more than the sum of our incarnate experience.
To save humanity we must become and encourage a new reality paradigm. We must refuse to participate in corruption even when we benefit from it. I believe that we all have the potential to be the change we want to see. The world is starving for want of a new reality.
What if we all join, each individual, to become the very essence of peace?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Wikimedia Commons