Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances. —Mahatma Gandhi
Peace is possible. I have no problems with that concept. We can live in harmony with one another, be happy together, and live more fruitful lives. We’ve known this my entire life and we know exactly how to get there. So why does peace elude us? Why do we seem to careen from one conflict to the next?
For billions of people, the path to peace lies within their religion, their belief system, and that should work. With as many people who believe on some level, one might expect that peace would be inevitable. Unfortunately, in too many cases, it is the leaders of those religions who toss up roadblocks. When religious leaders spew hate, when pastors stand on pulpits (literally) and claim that their deity should strike dead all LGBT people, or support a bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic candidate for president, they put hate in the way of our path to peace.
Not that we need their help. We provide enough roadblocks on our own. Our continued quest for power and dominance over other people, or even our own lives, creates canyons that become impossible for us to cross. Our inability to give up our desire for things, our desire for external pleasures, our insistence on being the best at any and all costs, make finding peace impossible.
Some Get It Right
Not everyone is quite so removed from peace. There are a couple of people who stepped forward over the weekend and offered, once again, to illuminate the path to peace for us. Interestingly enough, both are the top religious figures within their extended belief systems. They differ on a great number of details, but they both know the way to find peace.
Pope Francis was aboard a flight to Rome from Armenia, talking with reporters, when he made a statement that shocked many but lit a candle of awareness for many more believers. He said:
I believe that the Church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons. The Church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times, many times — when I say ‘the Church,’ I mean we Christians because the Church is holy; we are the sinners. We Christians must say we are sorry.
The Catholic church has traditionally been slow to apologize for anything. What Pope Francis instructs believers to do, however, is cleansing. Making amends for wrongs of the past clears away many of the roadblocks that prevent us from moving forward. He sets an example for people to follow not only in asking forgiveness but effectually stating that actions the church has taken toward LGBT people, the poor, women, exploited children, and its stance on weapons are wrong.
Reaching Even Deeper
While the pope’s comments are welcome and refreshing to the ears, they alone are not enough to drive us toward peace. Apologies and asking forgiveness are a good start, but there are more personal issues with which we need to content.
Probably the best use of my time this weekend was watching and listening to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism during his visit to Indianapolis. That over 6,400 people were in attendance speaks to how many people are struggling along a path toward ultimate peace and tranquility. The Dalai Lama’s words were often mixed with humor, but his instructions were strong.
“We are all brothers/sisters,” the Dalai Lama said frequently in an address focusing on compassion. He related compassion as the most human of emotions. “Now scientists even say, basic human nature is compassionate. The compassionate feeling toward your enemy, the trouble maker … only we human beings can do that.” He referred to the love a mother has for her child and a child for its mother, instructing that such love breeds compassion that is the source of peace for the world.
Getting There From Here
The Dalai Lama offered many ways we can remove the roadblocks holding us back from achieving peace, both personally and corporately. Among them, were:
- Stop linking religion to violence and fanaticism. “There is no such thing as Muslim terrorist or Buddhist terrorist,” he said. “There is just terrorists. … Those who commit such acts of violence are insincere in their religion.”
- Education of the current generation is key. Multiple times the Dalai Lama emphasized that compassion must be part of the curriculum and an emphasis in how we teach children if there is to be any hope of change. He said that it was “too late” to change the hearts and minds of older people, but that the education of children in how to be compassionate could bring a more peaceful world.
- Everyone has the potential for love and compassion within them. The Dalai Lama spoke often of a “seed” of love within everyone that holds the potential for compassion and that we must first focus on growing that seed before attempting to take on the world.
- Action, not prayers, changes the world. The Dalai Lama brushed off the concept that prayers and “releasing pigeons” had anything to do with world peace. Rather, he said, “We created this violence, so we can reduce this violence.”
- Accept that we are all the same. Again, referring to the world’s population as brothers/sisters, he said, “Sometimes there is too much discrimination on color, on class — rich and poor. This actually (is a) man-made distinction.” He emphasized that we call come from one source. We are all the same.
Knowing Where To Start
Looking across what seems like a minefield of obstruction, one might feel overwhelmed by all that must happen before we can change the world. The starting place should be obvious: start with yourself. There is nothing we do, nothing we say, that is not an extension of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. We must change ourselves before we can change the things outside ourselves.
Maybe, just maybe, religion might work for some. The Dalai Lama said, “All religions carry the same message — love, compassion, things like that. That’s the basis of our harmony.” Understanding, of course, he is referring to the core tenets of religious belief, not the various bastardizations found in the majority of worship centers.
Others may find that path through meditation, yoga, deliberate focus, conscious awareness of the temporal nature of all things, finding happiness in being.
There is more than one way to get there, but each of those starts with you and I finding that seed of love within us, building that into an immense compassion, and then teaching that first to our children and then to others.
We can achieve the peace that eludes us but we cannot expect it to come from anyone other than ourselves.