(Three days after 9/11, I wrote an 8,000 word article entitled “A Call for Peace.” More than a decade later, I feel my words are as relevant and timely as then—maybe more so. I am posting an edited version of that original piece, as the entire article is too long for blog posting. I have not changed a word. Much in the world has darkened in these past few years; my sentiments remain true for me, my heart is the same, my call for peace as necessary.)
Since the shattering morning of September 11th, we have all tried in our own ways to understand: How could this happen here? Who did this? What do we do?
I would like to speak to these questions, even with the knowledge that my words can neither encompass nor illuminate the whole truth of recent events. My prayer and intent is that these words may contribute in some measure to a healing of wounded hearts, to a search for truth, and, most of all, to a resolve for nonviolent action.
Violence and peace cannot co-exist. We cannot prepare for war and expect peace. In my heart, I know that all people want peace, in spite of the seeming evidence to the contrary. Therefore, on behalf of all people, I want to call for peace: total and absolute peace throughout the world, without further thought or consideration or calculation of any kind.
It is a universal human experience that suffering, tragedy and death can awaken us from the surface of life to its depths, from the superficial to the meaningful, from the crude to the beautiful, from the selfish to the selfless, and from the mundane to the transcendent.
As we awaken, we are drawn towards deep reflection, inner Silence and wisdom. It is through deep reflection, inner Silence, and wisdom that we come to know peace. And now, in this moment of escalating passions and convictions, in this moment in which the world is trembling and reeling from past passions and convictions, we must seek that peace, know that peace, and become that peace.
To honor the truest expression of humanity, we must all call for peace, stand for peace, and act for peace. We must accept only peace. But first, we must become peace itself, not an idea or image of peace, not the rhetoric of peace, not the passions of peace, but actual peace, the peace in which violence cannot arise, because its true causes have been seen, understood, and transformed.
There are many among us who have given their lives to such peace, who have become such peace, and who can speak for such peace. We must listen to them, learn from them, and give them seats in those rooms of power in which government and military officials now decide our nation’s priorities and course of action.
This is a crucial moment in human history. What we do now, as individuals and as a nation, will lead our world down one path or another. The path we choose now will create our future for years and generations to come. Our every thought, word, and act holds the power to create or destroy. In the simplest of terms, our choices are between the paths of war or peace, between violence or nonviolence, between hatred or understanding, between fear or love, between retribution or reconciliation, between aggression or restraint.
It is of supreme importance that before we retaliate against those we believe sponsored the attacks, before we choose one of these paths, we reflect and learn. We must learn, because what we already know, what we already think and feel and believe, the ways in which we already behave—are all links in the causal chain that culminated in the catastrophe of September 11.
In order to learn, we have to empty our cup of these things—the already known. We must create within ourselves a sky of uncluttered awareness, in which we can rest in the clarity, equilibrium and peace of our purest essence and deepest truth. We must allow our first and second thoughts, our inflamed feelings, and our habitual reactions to dissipate in this sky of awareness, into stillness and Silence.
Wisdom flows from Silence, and we need wisdom. We need a clarity of perception and understanding beyond what we already know. Differing points of view and perspectives are useful, but a higher level of consciousness is essential. Beyond thoughts and words, beyond concepts and beliefs, beyond all that is known and imagined, beyond the mind itself, is Silence—the sacred hub of the universe, the place where all differences dissolve, where all conflicts cease, where all fear turns to love, where all souls shine with the same single flame of radiance.
Silence reveals what we don’t yet know, and Silence will teach us what we must learn. From these teachings we will understand, and from this understanding we will grow wiser, and as we grow wiser we will act wisely. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” If we do not grow wiser, then we will do desperate things, and our desperate acts will cause violence to escalate in ways we cannot even imagine. I pray that we will not take our world down this path.
Sitting in Silence and deep reflection, we will find a wisdom that is not corrupted by rigid concepts, not driven by surface appearances, not defined by the commotion of passions and convictions, not ruled by the chaos of habitual thoughts and reactions. In times of crisis such as we are now experiencing, we instinctively pause, reflect and seek the solace and guidance of Silence. But for how long? For a moment? For a day? For a weekend? Typically, that is what we do, and it is not enough, because when we again take to the streets of “business as usual,” the quiet voices of reflection and Silence are overcome by the louder noise of habit and convention, of thoughts and beliefs, of anxiety and tension, of ego, fear and separation.
Instead, let us forge an enduring and unbreakable relationship to Silence and deep reflection, one that is constant and sacred, one that is attended to and cultivated in each moment, so that we may be ever and always guided by that which we too rarely turn, and even then only in times of crisis, loss and grief. We must surrender to Silence as a way of life, for it is in this Silence that we find the true heart and spirit, the true soul, of our humanity.
Silence is the supreme summit from which we can see the past, present, and future of the human drama, and what lies behind it. It is upon this summit that the saints and sages from every country and culture have stood, and it is upon this summit that we must all now stand.
Within this Silence, we learn much about the deeper nature and purpose of human life, about the nature of the world, about cause and effect, about immutable laws of existence. If we are to know peace, we must learn from Silence. So far, we have not. So let us begin now, together, in our call for peace. Let us learn from Silence.
In the aftermath of the events of September 11, we can scarcely confront, let alone accept, the enormity of the pain and suffering that has invaded countless lives and communities. We hear the numb and incredulous refrain, “How could this happen here?” We do not know what to do with our unbearable emotions, with our helplessness and fear and anger and sorrow and grief. Silence teaches us that we must not only bear our unbearable emotions and sadness, but enter them fully and with eyes and hearts wide open, feeling and seeing them to their very depths. In this way, we touch the universality of suffering, stripped of names and flags and uniforms and rationalizations and national anthems. We come without defense to feel the starkness of human suffering.
The people of the United States have been shielded from much of the world’s suffering, protected by our wealth and might and distracted by the privileges they allow. Indeed, these same privileges of wealth often blind us to the poverty, hunger, pain, and injustice within our own borders. But now, the shield has been shattered, the protection has been breached, and on September 11 our shores, our homes, our lives were violated, and thousands were hurt, wounded and killed. Such violation, suffering and grief is the daily bread of much of the world, the world we have been shielded from. Until now. As we struggle to bear the sorrows of our recent devastation, so do all people throughout the world struggle with the same devastation of war and violence.
In this moment of our personal and national grief, we must find the courage to see not just the torn and mangled bodies in New York and Washington, but to see also the mass graves and mounds of torn and mangled bodies everywhere. If we are willing to truly see and feel the world’s suffering, not just our own, then we will end war now, right now, and we will accept only peace.
If we can see the madness and horror of war, stripped of justification, then we will call for peace. We will accept only peace because the tragedies of war will be unendurable. This is why we must now gather all of the world’s sorrow and add it to ours, because the weight will break our hearts. With broken hearts and unendurable sorrow, we will no longer be willing to tolerate war and violence, and we will call for peace. We will accept only peace.
The magnitude of humanity’s suffering may seem too much to face, especially at this moment. But we must. The world is small and we all share a single table, we all share the same meal. We cannot end violence at one end of the table and not the other. Here and there are the same place. We cannot end violence here, and not there. We cannot enjoy wealth here, if there is no wealth there. We cannot be safe here, if there is no safety there. We cannot be free here, if there is no freedom there. We do not live in separate countries, in separate cities, in separate houses. That is an illusion.
The suffering in our world is beyond calculation: hundreds of millions of people clinging tenuously to life, displaced, malnourished, starving, brutalized, raped, imprisoned, tortured, slaughtered. Ted Koppel’s recent Nightline special “In the Heart of Darkness” tells of the story of war in the Congo: 2.5 million deaths in the last three years. Can we even imagine the suffering of that dark nightmare? In countries whose names we can’t even pronounce, the same suffering is being felt, the same horror is being lived. Before the Congo, there were a million deaths in Rwanda. Before that, a million deaths in Tibet. And all the suffering is from hatred and violence and war, mutilating not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people. All fingers point blame at someone else. Does that matter? Are we not yet ready to admit the universality of suffering? Have we not had our fill of it? Are we not ready to end it? Are we not yet ready to call for peace, to accept only peace?
It seems we are addicted to war. We are always ready to open the treasury, mobilize armies and navies, launch planes and missiles for the sake of war. We seem always eager for more wars: wars on crime, wars on drugs, wars on poverty, wars for freedom and democracy. We have never won these wars, and yet the wars rage on. Can we live without war? Are we not yet ready for peace? If we don’t want to suffer violence, we must not engage in violence. We must find another way, even if we do not know how.
We have no choice but to call for peace. And so we must find peace within ourselves, we must know peace, and we must become peace. We must find everything within us that is not peace and turn it into peace. We must breathe peace into every cell of our body, into every synapse of our brain, into every strand of our soul. If we do not know how, we must find a way. This is not a dream; this is a necessity.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Image: Pink Sherbet Photography at Flickr