A Buddhist way to world peace


In this most recent article, we saw how to view others as kind to us, as necessary to us, so that we could love them.

But a question may arise, “How can I see people as kind when they are mean or unjust?”

This is the question that came up in my mind when I saw the footage of Philando Castile’s girlfriend being comforted by her child in the aftermath of his terrible shooting. As a friend said on Facebook:

If this doesn’t humanize the outrageous event, I don’t know what will.

The worst of it, it seems to me, is that this has been going on forever. So how to respond constructively, how to see the “kindness” in this situation? As someone else put it on Facebook:

One day I hope I can learn to react to things like this with genuine compassion, rather than it make my blood boil.

I have been wondering how Diamond Reynolds will explain to her little girl what happened. How would a Buddha explain it in such a way that he could help the child, perhaps saving her a lifetime of sadness, victimhood, and distrust?

It pretty much goes without saying, but needs to be said again and again anyway, that if this had been a white family the man would still be alive. This family are victims of the ignorance and prejudice of others. The cop shooter was a victim of his own ignorance and delusions, and he was also a victim of the age-old system that allows this discrimination to carry on.

It seems to me that when it comes to the 400-year-old history of racism in this country, black or white we are all trapped in this corrupt system together. The sooner we realize that, and the sooner we pull aside the veil of ignoring, maybe the sooner the prejudice and complicit behaviors can end. As Martin Luther King Jr put it, the struggle against racial discrimination is

… not a struggle for ourselves alone, but it is a struggle to save the soul of America.

Delusions are our real common enemy

samsaraBut, even deeper, we are all victims caught up in the corrupt system of samsara, and this is our real problem. As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains in How to Solve Our Human Problems:

Our real problem is not the physical sickness, difficult relationship, or financial hardship that we might currently be experiencing, but our being trapped in samsara.

Whatever problem we are having, whether individually or collectively, we are having it because we are trapped in the prison of samsara, the cycle of impure life, by our delusions. If we are still in samsara, this means we are dominated by our bad habits of anger, selfishness, attachment, jealousy, etc, and above all by our ignorance. These are the source of all our negative thoughts and actions and of all our suffering experiences.

If we are in a prison, whatever problem we are having individually or collectively — whether with cold porridge, moldy surroundings, no money, or violent prison guards — the real problem is always that we are in prison in the first place.

And if we are in this prison of samsara, then even if some other prisoners seem to be having it worst than us at the moment, this is no cause for feeling superior or complacent. We are all in this together, lacking freedom, and we will have similar if not worse problems soon enough.

Delusions are our common enemy, the real enemy. It is essential that we separate people from their delusions. They are not their delusions, just temporarily controlled by them, as are we. Every living being is in fact kind, is even our mother from past lives; and our mother is never our enemy. In How to Transform Your Life, (available as a free ebook), Geshe Kelsang says:

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being. Consequently, their love and compassion for sentient beings never diminish. Failing to make this distinction, we, on the other hand, are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind.

We are all slaves of our delusions together. They are like some master race enslaving us all, so there is power in opposing them together. To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr:

When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery.

World peace is possible

equalityWe need vision and hope based on reality — based on a realistic, helpful view. A Bodhisattva has huge vision, wishing to end all suffering everywhere with the understanding that everyone has the potential to be suffering-free. Is this what MLK Jr meant when he said:

I have seen the promised land.

We need to know and believe that an alternative way of thinking and living is possible. That world peace is possible. Geshe Kelsang said in 2009:

If everybody followed this view — sincerely believe there is no enemy other than our delusions — all our problems that come from fighting and war will be ceased permanently. Following this view is the best method to make world peace. Unfortunately, everybody denies or neglects Buddha’s view, his intention. So we want world peace, everybody says, “World peace, world peace!”, but no-one understands how to do this.

Everyone, Buddhist or not Buddhist, can apply these practical teaching on blaming the delusions, not each other, for our suffering. If enough people follow this simple but profound view, world peace is a possibility.

Does this view help me consider the situation with more compassion, for a start? Yes, it does. It increases my wish to help everyone caught up in that situation become deeply free, not just from this horror but from all suffering.

More importantly, could Diamond’s little girl benefit from this idea? I believe so. I believe it could help empower her and give her peace if she took it to heart. I believe it could help the cop, too, to see the error of his ways. And it could help everyone trapped in thedoorways in mind system see that it doesn’t have to be like this, that there is another way out of this mess for all of us.

Temporarily we can be working to improve these particular situations by changing our minds and changing our society. Ultimately we can be working to break everyone out of samsara’s prison altogether. And can we not be doing all this at the same time?

An idea whose time has come

Our modern age is a time of momentous and lightning-fast change. It seems as though a lot of things are going downhill fast, but this rapid change can also open doorways in people’s minds as they struggle to figure out another, better way to be, given that the old certainties are no longer working.

What MLK Jr said some decades ago seems even more the case than ever:

Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

Given that, I believe that Buddhism is an idea whose time has come.

I have been thinking recently of how Buddha Shakyamuni himself appeared in India at a time of great social change, 2500 years ago. There was a lot of population upheaval from love alwaysthe rural areas to the towns, and a chance to shake things up a bit – and with his teachings on the equality and interdependence of all things, as well as his example of teaching, ordaining, and treating princes and paupers alike, Buddha upheaved the caste system.

I submit that Buddha’s teachings would be equally capable of ending racism, and the ignorance and fear and greed that underlie it.

I found this interesting quote the other day by a Sri Lankan monk, Walpola Rahula, who said in 1978:

Buddhism arose in India as a spiritual force against social injustices, against degrading superstitious rites, ceremonies and sacrifices; it denounced the tyranny of the caste system and advocated the equality of all men; it emancipated woman and gave her complete spiritual freedom.

Buddhism is all about liberation from suffering. Mainly this means getting ourselves and everyone else out of samsara permanently. But this doesn’t mean that we all have to GO somewhere — samsara and liberation are mere reflections of our minds. We need to create this alternate peaceful liberated reality right here and right now by purifying our minds and our actions.

What is modern Buddhism if not applying the ideas of Buddhism to the problems of the modern world? In the modern world, we are not sequestered in caves and monasteries, as were the practitioners in Tibet. In this world we are all interconnected and interdependent like never before, and we ignore this fact at our peril. Far better to take advantage of it to spread the ideas of wisdom and compassion to bring about genuine, lasting improvement.

So, I am asking you, how are we going to get these ideas, such as the one above, out there?!

More in these articles: What is modern Buddhism for? and A vision of hope in these troubled times.

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Buddhism and creativity

How do I get rid of problems? Buddha’s advice

Choose love

What are delusions?

 

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

27 thoughts on “A Buddhist way to world peace”

  1. Thank you for this essay! Such timely relevance, moral clarity and wisdom. I have always loved Geshe-la’s teaching on the importance of separating the person from their delusions. Buddhism has so much to offer modern people wrestling with the particular demons of our time. Our world desparately needs many modern Bodhisattvas to appear.

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  2. This is simply wonderful. Thank you. It is all stuff I “know,” and yet I forget again and again. I am so blessed to have Sangha members who remind me again and again, that just as I am not MY delusions, neither are ‘they.’

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  3. I think that the best way to get this idea out there is to live it. Let’s not worry about how to spread it. I think that will take care of itself! If we see it and then make the personal commitment to live it in our own unique way, it will naturally spread to everyone around us! People will see us and want to know what makes us happy. I think that it’s also so important to stay true to ourselves and not try to be someone else. We each have our own particular gifts and will effect only certain people. Let’s use our gifts and spread the love! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. Thanks so much for posting this. It’s time has come! Maybe we can organise large rallies ( Public Talks? ) and get people to these teachings, get riled up against delusions. Becoming peaceful and acting to change things for the better externally and internally from a good heart. We are The Inner Activists. We have these activist tendencies, that need to be channeled with this wisdom. So timely! Thank you 🙂

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      1. Absolutely!! Just one way of connecting Buddha’s teachings with people’s wish for positive change in the world. Daily experience and Lamrim. Improving our wisdom and compassion ourselves, and showing that example. But how do we get have this dialogue with wider society? This is such a good question worth pondering more and more. We’re practicing and praying but what else to open up dialogue… or is that enough.?? What about the stories we tell and where we tell them.. the photos, and emails and responses and videos, memes, how we personally respond to problems in the world and what we say and do about them. The power of example. I was thinking how crazy it is how gmail now offers me 3 options for a reply to an email I receive, and I can just hit a button to choose one. What! Who is predefining my possible replies, responses, where is my voice in that, whose example are those based on? I think what would Buddha’s possible response options be? How can we bring Buddha’s wisdom and compassion to the common default set of responses and action. This is such a great topic to explore. I look forward to hearing more 🙂

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  5. Hi Luna Thank you, once again, for a really, really thought provoking and heart wrenching presentation of recent and on going events that are constantly occurring on a daily basis. And these are the events reported , never mind, the ones never reported, Constant conflicts arising all day “24-7”.
    Never stop “always something” and “you never know”.

    These recent outrageous events and conflicts just keep coming , they remind me of an old movie “Daybreakers”. Sometimes I feel like some investment has been made via any sort of media campaign to keep us locked in a “us and them” mentality.

    We just have to keep reminding ourselves to be mindful and alert to our sincere desire to realize that true happiness depends on the happiness of others, by persevering in the practice of equalizing self with others we come closer and closer to being release from the bonds of suffering.
    Guaranteed Promise Associated with this method. We just have to try.
    This is a much better and easier method. Safe Not much energy involved. Starts with me.

    The out come of Practicing Affectionate Love is certain to deliver its promise of real freedom and continual happiness vs practicing hatred which is certain to deliver more hatred, more pain and the perpetual pendulum of samsara

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  6. Thanks for this, Luna!
    I am preparing to teach GP on Thursday night, and am searching for ways to explain that dharma practice is not “escapism” but activism.

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  7. Thanks Luna for this profound and touching article, made me reflect about the fact that we all need reminders to remain tender despite adversity, to stay gentle in the face of aggression, and to continue to open our hearts in times of struggle, loss, and war. We wouldn’t be human if we did not become affected by our world and have reactions to the current state of it or each other.
    However, there is a way to come back to a place of compassion once more, our Teacher Geshe Kelsang remind us again that peace can be spread right here and now,spreading wisdom, compassion , love and equanimity and the desire for us to create peace in our world, even in the face of fears, troubles, and wars.

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  8. Geshe-la has given so many teachings on nurturing love and compassion. These are literally the only minds that will have the power to effect the world in the way you are saying. Even if we accomplish emptiness and have personal freedom, if we do not have the compassion described below, we do not have the power transform the world. It is the genuine minds of qualified love and compassion that become alive within the person, as who they are (though aware they are empty), which has the power to change external appearances and bring about world peace for all living beings. That being said, it would seem that the first thing we should do is transform our hearts and help others within our Sangha to do the same. As our hearts ripen, the way we think and act will become more similar. We may individually apply genuine compassion differently based on the needs of those around us, but the mindsets and inner reflections and way of thinking will all be the same. This is because the mountains of self are infinite views, but the mountain of other is ONE view.

    This starts at home, with our loved ones. If we can’t change the deluded mind of our loved ones, what makes us think we can change the world on a larger scale? So I’d say step one change our hearts and actively share wisdom of Dharma to those we know and see how it helps us and them grow. Then, we get together and discuss with each other the things we are trying to accomplish in our loved ones and our various situations and then help each other and become inspired by each other. Then we tackle the world.

    There is power in numbers (karmic power) but this power can only come from a renewal of our hearts, our intentions and actions to overcome minds that are not congruent to our pure wishes. How can we ever think we individually or as a group can ever end outer wars when we still make wars with others in our minds? Though it is true that we should act for others now not some future day when we are enlightened, the effectiveness of our actions is directly related to our accomplishments ending the wars within our minds and the wars we help settle in the minds of others.

    If we hold the mind that thinks, “One day I hope I can learn to react to things like this with genuine compassion, rather than it make my blood boil.” can we really help end outer wars? Even though the mindset of the quote is virtuous because it wishes for compassion, it is not qualified because the mind at the time of the statement is not compassion. We can have a compassionate intention without the subsequent actions of compassion arising in us. This is an attainment to be valued for sure, especially where there was no compassionate intention within us before. However, like the person seeing the stranger drowning and jumps in to save them, unless our compassion is active and alive through us it will not have the power to accomplish the world changes you are speaking about.

    This is why I say we, followers of Geshe-la’s, must individually change our hearts and then we can collectively join and impact a greater change within this world. Only through the renewal of our hearts can we ever hope to help others effectively. As ordinary beings we are powerless. We may try different things, but our actions will always be stained by our self-grasping self. With compassion the opposite is true, we will make ever-increasing efforts that arise with ever-increasing skill causing us to help more people in a more effective way. This is merely the purification of our karma as we move down the mountain of self and up the mountain of other, but appears within us as compassionately wise contemplations and actions.

    How many of us give to others where it hurts our self-grasping self that needs it or feels it deserves it? How many of our possessions do we see as ours alone versus as things to be shared or used for the benefit of others? John Lenon sings it good when he asks, “imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can?” Whether he meant how I interpret it or not, it doesn’t matter, but for me it doesn’t mean having no possessions, but does mean having things that you covet and would never share or use to benefit others. This can be our home, car, computer, money. It doesn’t matter, only we can know our hearts. But we can’t know our hearts if we lie to our self. And we can’t become aware that we are lying to our self if we don’t evaluate our mind and intentions and actions objectively through the eyes of compassion, the eyes of others. This honest self-reflection in the mirror of compassion is the key to becoming a person that removes suffering from the world through their very existence in the world, because it brings the previously hidden image of our selfish self to light while replacing it with a more compassionate self.

    If you think about when you quoted how Buddhas see the person separate from the delusions arising in the person, this is very similar to us seeing our selfish self through the eyes of compassion. When looking at our self objectively through the filter of compassion, we are compassion looking upon our deluded self objectively. We create a separation from our delusional self and our compassionate self. We may still identify with our delusions, but in time we will begin to identify with our compassion and see the self within us and others just as Buddhas see it.

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  9. It makes me feel hopeful that Geshe-la has given us a temple in DC and has called it the Temple for World Peace. May Washington be transformed as a place where wisdom, compassion, and cherishing others reign supreme. Thanks, as always, for your insights.

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  10. So important to make this explicit bridge between these injustices going on around us and the root of them, our samsaric delusions. We need to be aware and to act, but always with wisdom.

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