Buddha at War
Peaceful Heart, Courageous Action in Troubled Times
The author of the Passionate Buddha takes a positive look at how we can act compassionately in these modern times of terrorism and troubles and transform our minds.
"Buddhist masters say that we are in a dark age - but all is not lost. If we are to strive for a new way of life and a lasting peace, we must become warriors. We must take responsibility for the future and guide the world through its dark age into a more enlightened and peaceful time. To achieve this vision we need to: Understand the four thoughts that revolutionize the mind; understand the Four Noble Truths - there's no need to despair; understand and act on the four components of action and change our attitude to life; and use the power of meditation and turn the goodness of the human race into positive energy to help transform the world…Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say that it is always possible to cheer up. And ultimately, a mind that is transformed, free and cheerful can help create peace and happiness. Let us start down the path from this very moment." Robert Sachs.
"The Buddha at War is devoted to gaining access to the battlefield, the one inside us that spawns the one we see before us, and emerging victorious." Stephen Levine.
Read an extract of this title
A Ray of Hope
If you have picked up this book, more than likely you feel that the world is in a dire way. With more than forty wars brewing or under way around the globe; the growth of terrorism, both state-sanctioned and from radical groups; a growing chasm between the rich and the poor; the dramatic climatic and environmental shifts that are bringing us more powerful and frequent tornadoes and hurricanes; and the devastating, cataclysmic tsunami of 2004 - it all looks pretty bleak for the survival of the human race.
That all of these things are happening at once is considered by many people of a fundamentalist religious outlook to be a portent of the impending apocalypse. For others, in the East, these "signs" point to us being in a "Dark Age." While that in itself sounds bad, it is not without hope. The simple truth is that little of what we are witnessing is new. Global warming may or may not be a new "man-made" phenomenon. But regardless of whether you view this as a causal factor or "junk science' our Earth has gone through repeated climatic and seismic tumbles and flip flops. And, certainly, conflict has been a characteristic of the human race since the dawn of civilization.
While the frequency of most of these happenings does seem to be on the increase, we have also developed the media and information technology that allow us to be more aware of such phenomena, and indeed to witness them both in our midst and in distant lands. This frequent exposure to painful and traumatic events has any number of effects on our hearts and minds. Some of us may worry and find ourselves getting more and more anxious and depressed. Others may get frustrated and angry. Still others may try to get on with their lives without noticing too much.
What is heartening, however, is that at the same time, in response to the pain and suffering of those among us, we are also seeing more and more acts of individual and collective kindness, compassion, and heroism that remind us that there is nobility, decency, and love at the core of our being. Increasing numbers of people see the need to make their own personal contribution toward social, political, economic, and environmental peace and harmony. Often against seemingly overwhelming odds and circumstances, people are reaching deep within themselves, striving to connect with "something" in order to better their lives and the lives of their neighbors.
Disaster and dire circumstances are often the teachers that wake us up to the fact that something has to change. It would be nice if this wasn't true, but it is. Most of us would like to live our lives and go about our business without too much hassle or distraction. But, as John Lennon put it, "Life is what is happening when you are making other plans." Life intervenes, things get in our way and we are forced to awaken from the hypnotic trance and slumber of our own routines. We then try our best to meet the tests and challenges that face us. But do we have the focus and fortitude to know what to do? How do we overcome our own negative emotions, which can sabotage our efforts and lead us back into the same old mess, or worse? How do we center ourselves and learn to become skillful in making changes for ourselves? And, looking around us and seeing that our happiness is intimately connected to the happiness of others, how do we develop the wisdom and skillfulness to create positive and lasting change in the world about us?
Answering these questions is what this book is about. It is a book devoted to helping you find the inner resources that will make it possible for you to not be overwhelmed with sadness, despair, frustration, anger, or inertia. It is about changing your life from within and then reaching out to change the world around you. For, as you tap into the inner resources that you already have, new possibility begins to show through the apparent solidity of the oppressive and depressing illusion of a troubled world. And in the realm of possibility, change - no matter how small - has its effects. No good thought, gesture, or act is ever wasted and will slowly but assuredly bring about the changes that we all, as humans, want to experience and share with those we love.
What We Want...
There probably isn't a human being on this planet who doesn't wish to have a happy life. Although happiness can mean different things to different people, some of the more commonly shared aspirations are to feel safe, to have shelter and enough to eat and drink, to be with people you love and who love you, and to enjoy all of these in an atmosphere that is peaceful. And yet there are so many on this planet who do not feel safe, live in makeshift or inadequate shelter, have little to eat and unfit water to drink, and are always looking over their shoulder.
The ideal situation that we all wish for, the dire conditions many on this planet find themselves in, and all points between these two extremes, come about for reasons that are largely of our own making, whether we intend them or not. Some of the causes for the world's ills are glaringly obvious, and it would be comforting to think that with a few free elections, a few corporate shake-ups, and a call to higher ideals, the wrongs of the world could be righted. But such simple solutions are rarely sufficient, because the causes of human suffering are many and intricate, and form interlinked chains of events that lead back to the dawn of human existence. Some, needing a linear rational explanation as to why things are the way they are today, have scanned the annals of history and looked at the lives and legacies of political, religious, and military leaders, who used their charisma or force to claim or take what some would say was more than their fair share. Such leaders often passed what they had on to their children, lineage, or clan until, over time, the original reason for them being rich and powerful was lost under a mantle of legitimacy born of privilege.
One of the many problems with such analyses is that they usually end up simply making us either depressed or angry -neither state of mind being particularly useful in mustering what is needed to take things in a different direction. In the end, what is going to make the greatest difference - what is going to be the spark or catalyst for creating a world where we can achieve the ideals to which we all aspire - begins with our minds. For it is either the clarity or the confusion of our minds that leads us to pick up a pen, march in the street, or shoulder a gun.
Where to Start: Heart and Mind
"Mind" is the connection between the head and the heart, with the master of the two being the heart. When the full power of the mind is awakened - as we gradually awaken from the slumber of our habits, and from our confining superstitions and beliefs about the world and how it is or how it should be anything is possible. We become wiser and our compassion deepens. Inevitably, we become conscious and engaged.
Positive change, even revolution, in any field of human endeavor, be it in the political, social, scientific, or spiritual domain, has come about through the efforts of those with minds informed and fueled by wisdom and compassion, who have transformed their worlds and inspired new ways of seeing and being. Such people have shaken, and sometimes even brought down, the fortresses of the powerful.
If we want to live in a land of freedom, if we want to see conditions in which the needs of all our brothers and sisters are met, we need to develop free minds. Neither external freedom (freedom from entrenched power structures and from such conditions as sickness, poverty, and warfare) nor internal freedom (freedom from the habitual mind that narrows our vision and in turn breeds the host of problems we face both within and without) is easily won. Both require commitment, diligence, and vigilance. Both require time to change. To want change, to create the causes and conditions for change to happen and to become lasting, is no small task, and we must surely celebrate the victories that are made along the way. When we see a tyrannical regime fall; a corporation restructured in accordance with wiser and more compassionate ideals; or social services provided to the disfranchised: all of these are testimony to the hard work - both external and internal - done by individuals pursuing our basic human desire to see good in the world.
However, creating a society where a sufficient number of people are attuned to the needs of the many, and who undertake to safeguard whatever changes for the collective good are attained, requires there to be a widespread awareness and appreciation of the unlimited potential of the awakened mind. In the final analysis, it is the awakening of this potential and the freedom that we experience from within that matter to us most. And, in times like these, which seem so dark and uncertain, it will be our inner strength that points us in a new direction, that will provide the inspiration, ideas, and resourcefulness to create a more positive future for us all. Toward this end, and as a part of the awakening of this potential within us, we need to create a valued tradition of wisdom that in turn produces holistically-minded citizens who are both spiritually attuned to their higher, ultimately good natures and able to function positively, powerfully, and with purpose amid the ambiguity and messiness of everyday life.
No book could possibly examine every detail of the complex and interconnected issues in our world that need attending to. However, it is possible to focus on the inner resources that we, as individuals, can cultivate in order to meet the challenges of addressing these issues. This is the sole purpose of this book. In a time that many Buddhist leaders have called a "Dark Age:' the tradition of Buddhism provides time-tested methods that anyone may easily use to become what I shall call throughout a conscious, engaged activist.
The most important word in this phrase is "conscious:' for in truth, no matter how oblivious we may be to our world, we are engaged and we do act. If we have a body, where we put it in space matters. Once we are born and inhabit a body, we stand on the ground and we are identified as partisan, on one side or the other of this or that. We cannot escape this. If we silently stand behind those who wave guns and perpetrate crimes against others, even if we never pick up a gun ourselves, but try to ignore, even disassociate ourselves from "them:' there will be those who will identify us as part of the crowd that supports the gun-toters.
Our only option, therefore, if we are no longer to feel that we are the victims of circumstance or of the capriciousness of our times, is to become conscious - to make conscious choices, no matter how imperfect, and accept and live with the consequences of those choices. At least then we will have tasted freedom and will be able to stand taller in the face of the challenges that life will inevitably put before us. This foundation of becoming more conscious in our engagement with the world will only grow and mature with time. It is the bedrock of our freedom.
The above reflections, and what I am to present throughout these pages, are expressed in a language that comes from my training in the teachings of the Buddha. However, their essence is to be found in the words and deeds of the Founding Fathers of the country in which I live: the United States. In the Age of Enlightenment, a group of people came together not only to secure their independence from what they perceived as a tyrannical authority, but also to create a form of government and governance that would avoid the pitfalls of emerging states throughout the course of history. Much of what they said and wrote reflects a profound appreciation of education and of the awakening of our inner resources as the most important safeguards for an emerging democracy. As such, the United States has always stood as a country founded on higher, enlightened ideals.
However, it is not my intention in this book to represent the United States either as an embodiment of an ideal or, conversely, as a country that has not lived up to an ideal. As an American, I shall simply, from time to time, draw on examples of American history, recent and more distant, in addressing issues that individuals and groups need to be aware of in seeking to create positive social and political transformation. For it is my belief that the teachings of any philosophy or spiritual tradition can remain alive only if they can be made relevant in the context of our day-to-day lives and realities.
All this said, it is my wish that the reader find through these pages the strength and resourcefulness to awaken and deepen their own innate potential, not only for their own personal benefit but also for the benefit of each and every being that they meet. For true contentment and peace will only be attained when what brings us contentment and peace is shared.
Thich Nhat Hanh