9.5 mins read.
The more I hear about this war, the more angles there are, the more difficult seem the choices. On one level, it’s very simple – stop hurting and destroying people because that’s bad and peace makes everyone happier. On another level, the delusions in the minds of living beings are relentless quagmires and it is delusions that are creating this war. Power struggles tend to spring from self-grasping ignorance, greed, and aversion, the three poisons that complicate everything and destroy all our lives.
Through the kindness of Buddha Dharma, we understand where the real enemies of world peace lie; and these cannot be destroyed by guns and bombs. The real enemies of world peace are hatred, anger, strong attachment, greed, pride, ignorance, and selfish intention inside our own minds. If we’re listening to the advice of enlightened beings we will destroy the real enemy, and peace and happiness will forever pervade the world.
We have to recognize the actual enemies in our midst — delusions, it turns out, not each other. So if we are responding to world events with just more delusions, then we are part of the problem. Peace has to start in our hearts. I remember Geshe-la saying that if we’re campaigning for world peace, holding banners and marching along the streets, while our heart is full of anger and irritation, there’s a contradiction there. If we march for world peace with love and compassion, wishing every single being to be happy and free, that’s wonderful, right? But if our hearts are not in peace, then it is hard to claim that we’re contributing to world peace.
I also value the late Thich Nat Hanh’s perspective:
We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds — our own prejudices, fears and ignorance.
This is a profound truth – it is as if our prejudices, fears, and ignorance have taken the form of these destructive weapons. What else are these weapons if not the very manifestations of deluded minds? In How to Solve our Human Problems, which explains how to uproot hatred and anger from our minds, Venerable Geshe-la says:
Imagine what the world would be like if we all conquered our anger? The danger of war would evaporate, armies would become unnecessary, and soldiers would have to look elsewhere for work. Machine guns, tanks, and nuclear weapons – instruments useful only to the angry mind – could be put away, as all conflicts, from wars between nations to arguments between individuals, came to an end.
What can we do right now?
People differ on the details of the whys and wherefores of this invasion/military exercise, depending on our positionality; but one thing everyone seems agreed on is that top-level politics are often corrosive because power (fighting for it or trying to hold onto it) corrupts. It is a rare person with lots of power who escapes this with their good motivations and integrity intact. But people in power get to make all the decisions. So where does that leave us? What opportunities do we have to make a difference? And not just with the war, but with all the other major challenges in our world today?
This talk of needing peace in our hearts and minds is not wishful thinking hippy speak that precludes cold hard facts – it is based on science because everything can be proven to be the nature of consciousness.
This is the main reason why our prayers are going to make a difference – for if our mind and intentions become increasingly pure, our world will too.
Without an understanding of the true nature of reality, it is hard to be confident that we can make any difference — I am just over here with my tiny local mind wanting everyone to be happy while at the same time knowing this is a vain hope because the world and everyone in it is out there, solid, real, and inherently existent, nothing to do with my mind.
But we cannot find an objective world that is outside of our consciousness any more than we can find a dream world existing outside of our dream consciousness. Not even time and space exist outside of our mind. Even quantum science is catching up to this spiritual truth. Because everything depends upon our consciousness, when we purify and transform our minds we purify and transform our worlds. As Buddha Maitreya says:
Because living beings minds are impure, their worlds are impure. When living beings purify their minds, they will inhabit Pure Lands.
In general the world seems to be in a big old mess. But it is not inherently or objectively messy — the appearance of mess is coming because living beings’ minds are in a mess, a quagmire of delusions, giving rise to impurity, suffering, war, famine, fires, and the rest of it. This means that suffering can be brought to an actual end if and only if living beings purify their minds.
We can know from our own experience that when our mind is peaceful and happy, the world is a purer and more peaceful place and we tend to see others as friends, not enemies. With compassion we see others as the very source of our positive minds and happiness and we value them as very precious. But when our mind is full of delusions such as strong greed and aversion, then we live in a world that is characterized by those perceptions — we see others as enemies, in the way of what we want – “Get out of my way!”
In other words, the world we live in depends entirely on the world we are focusing on and paying attention to, which depends on the quality of our consciousness. The whole world is a reflection of our mind and karma – our collective world being a reflection of our collective minds and karma.
This all means that our mental actions are very powerful because our mind is very powerful – it is literally creating our reality. Therefore, we should not underestimate the power of prayer to bring about actual improvements in the world we experience. (For all we know, it might be prayer that is already all that stands in the way of us and the forces of total darkness! Hard to prove either way.)
The power of prayer
At the opening of the temple for world peace in New York in 2006, Venerable Geshe-la said:
Nowadays, we can see in the world so many problems, people experiencing so many difficulties. Storms, famines, floods, incurable diseases, wars, earthquakes, etc. People are asking me, what should we Buddhists do to help these problems? I replied, we cannot be involved in any political problem or it becomes worse. Our job is, we pray, we pray for these obstacles to be pacified. We pray for people to pacify their negativity, wrong views, their extreme views, through prayer. Our job to solve these kinds of problems is we pray for everybody to become friends. To have harmony, good relationships, to pacify their wrong views of selfish intention. This is our job. I believe it is the best method to help. It is the best method to benefit.
As explained here and in other places, not being involved in “political problems” doesn’t mean that Buddhists don’t act to help others practically. Bodhisattvas have a vow to go to the assistance of those in need, for example – they don’t just sit on their hands. They can go to work every day – right there is office politics. They can work for justice and equal rights and so on – right there is local politics. Even within Dharma Centers and families and friendships there are politics.
But any strictly worldly solution seems to come with its own complications. Politicians do things to try to stop this war, that’s their job, even if they have to use blunt instruments like sanctions. But with these necessary evils new problems come, such as the desperate troubles of ordinary citizens in Russia. I saw a Moscow man on the news the other day who cannot get hold of his life-sustaining medicine – his daughter was pleading in tears because he is dying.
Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say:
Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. To prepare for war, to give millions of men and women the opportunity to practice killing day and night in their hearts, is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.
It may sound obvious when we hear it, but are we (me) doing it? Am I creating the causes for peace or for war? Am I in any way happy about the suffering of those under the effects of the sanctions, for example, “Yaay, sanctions are working! The supermarkets are empty! This’ll show them! They should never have voted that monster in.” I think we have to be so careful not to add our own schadenfreude or confusion to the mix.
There is some debate amongst Buddhists over what politics even means and what problem-free politics would look like; but I won’t go there in this article. I will just say my opinion is that some political ideas and motivations seem a lot wiser and kinder than others – in the battle between the two most dominant political systems in the human world today, for example — free-market, rule-of-law democracy vs authoritarian kleptocracy — I’ll take the first any day because it is based on the truth that no one is superior. Therefore, continuing to show up for democracy is a worthwhile goal.
If you have a gun, you can shoot one, two, three, five people; but if you have an ideology and stick to it, thinking it is the absolute truth, you can kill millions. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s not helpful to be heavily attached to our ideas, though, so I think it’s good to check sometimes to see whether or not we are holding wrong viewsbased on ignorance, carelessness, or other delusions that will give rise to more suffering. If we don’t have compassion and wisdom in our hearts, if we actually wish for others to be harmed, I think we can safely conclude our views are deficient even if they seem reasonable. Following those views will not help.
Prayers for world peace
In this context, then, why is prayer something we can all do that will guarantee good results without making things worse? Crucially, how might it help bring about world peace so that we are not all doomed?! I am out of time to explain more now, but part 2 is here: Praying for world peace.
Meantime, I really would love to read your comments on any of this – how do you think you can make a difference?