It was the beginning of July.
The war between Israel and Hamas had just started and brought an enormous amount of confusion and depression. Daily massive death and injuries among innocent children and women in Gaza, family and friends running to shelters a few times a day, 18-year-old soldiers funerals, complete neighborhoods being destroyed, parts of missiles found in my nephew’s kindergarten—it was all too crazy to digest.
My best friend regularly encouraged me to work past my depression, saying that if I wanted peace, I had to cultivate it from within. I knew he was right, this was my own message during the last war in 2012, but now it was just too unbearable.
As an answer to my deep distress, the good forces of the universe came to my aid and sent me the book Infinite Life by Robert Thurman.
The book opens with Thurman’s awakening testimony, which happened not while he was initiated by an almighty guru on a mystical Himalayan peak, but rather on his way to the grocery store in New Jersey. This opening gave me hope and hope was precisely what I needed in this harsh time. I started reading the book thirstily.
Thurman talks about perceiving the world in a dualistic perspective. There is the enlightened point of view, which sees that everything is perfect as it is—every suffering, every misfortune, happens because different human beings are at different stages of their spiritual evolution. Then there is the samsaric perspective, or the normal-human-being approach, that sees the enormous measures of suffering, violence and injustice in the word as hellish and horrific.
In the “Justice” chapter, Thurman quotes Ram Dass who once asked his guru,“”What about the horrors in Bengal?’ His guru smiled to him and said, ‘Don’t you see it’s all perfect!’ Ram Dass then said, ‘Yeah! It’s perfect—but it stinks!’”
For many years I did not follow the news. “Knowing what’s going on just makes me depressed and does not help anyone, so what’s the point?” I told myself and others. Thurman says, no! You have to read, you have to know, because you are a part of everything. The suffering of others is your suffering. By trying to ignore it, you isolate yourself and make yourself even more miserable.
The key to enduring suffering is to maintain the enlightened approach that everything is perfect while keeping a deep connection with our innate state of bliss. Then we can see how much everything stinks, and instead of letting it bring us down, we bring the situation up by using our minds to reinforce a positive change.
Thurman guides us through specific meditation techniques that provide effective tools for dealing with suffering in a positive and constructive way. In my meditation sessions throughout this war, I used Infinite Life’s instructions, to cope with the suffering caused by seemingly infinite death.
My imagination envisioned trucks of supplies coming into Gaza, distributing nourishing and delicious food amongst all hungry people, new beautiful and spacious houses being built (instead of those that were demolished), celestial doctors healing all injuries and traumas, goddesses hugging all humans who lost their relatives, bringing them comfort and ease; buddhas planting compassion and forgiveness in the hearts of everyone involved. I visualized Palestinians and Israelis blooming and flourishing side by side, living in peace and harmony, supporting each other, being grateful for a friendly and prosperous neighbor.
As I progressed with reading, I was inspired to enlarge the scale of my visualizations and imagined all humans on Earth understanding that hatred has to stop and peace must prevail.
“If life is beginningless and endless…then you and everyone else have already been living together forever…. We all have been each other’s mothers, fathers, lovers, best friends, and worst enemies. We will continue to be everything to each other throughout time. So in order for our lives to become completely actualized in enlightened happiness, all other beings must experience their lives as full of happiness”.
Many of my Facebook friends mocked my calling-for-compassion statuses, saying I was stupid and naive. They claimed Hamas will forever want to kill all Israelis and the situation has no resolution. They would probably say that meditating on a peaceful utopia will just make me more delusional than I already am. Thurman says that by performing these visualizations, “our mind…is acting powerfully, sending out tendrils of connectedness, setting up a morphic resonance with other minds and hearts…reinforcing a wave that goes round the world.” I choose to believe him.
I pray that one day everyone see that our enemies are not other human beings from other nationalities or practitioners of other religions. “If you only recognize delusion, greed, anger, envy and pride as the main enemies of your well-being and learn to focus your mind on overcoming them, you can install wisdom, generosity, tolerance, love and altruism in their place.” Infinite Life tackles these enemies one by one, and teaches practical methods which transform them into the basic virtues necessary for fulfillment and happiness.
Infinite Life has enriched my meditative experience and changed my practice priorities. It made me cope with my internal enemies before I delve into contemplation practices. But even more than that, Infinite Life helped me deal with the recent war in a constructive way. Even if there is absolutely no external effect to the meditative visualizations in the book, they surely had the internal effect of cultivating my inner peace. That by itself, brought a little more peace to the world.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: author’s own