THE INNER PATH TO WORLD PEACE:
Viewed in this light, the popular political vehicle of voting is a charade played by the wealthy and powerful few to promote the illusion of choice. It is also a cynical ploy designed to win our allegiance to a system that we all know to be morally wrong.
Voting is also a superficial and ineffective means to bring about peace. Expecting peace to arrive through electing people whose impulse it is to wage violence is about as sensible as hiring a known scam artist to manage your finances. Henry David Thoreau was correct when he once wrote the following about the futility of voting:
While the horrors of institutionalized violence will not end through formal political channels, nor will it cease through violent confrontation with the system itself. Much to the disappointment of self-described ‘anarchist’ youth everywhere, employing violence to dispose of the system’s warmonger ways is definitely not an effective moral strategy to bring about peace. Pure anarchism neither condones violence nor welcomes chaos as an organizing principle of human relationships.
As ruthless as governments and corporations can be, meeting their institutionalized violence with mob violence only winds up begetting more violence! As the wise Jesus eloquently put it millennia ago:
If we as a species intend to ever transcend our bloody cycle of aggression, we need to ground our actions in love and understanding. Everlasting peace can be achieved in no other way.
How can you expect to inspire cynics of world peace, if all they see is violence in the streets that’s meant to achieve otherwise noble goals? Governments and corporations are made up of living and breathing people, with the same capacity to feel as you and I.
One of our responsibilities as humans is to encourage others to come out of the darkness of hate and into the light of love. Employing violence to bring about peace is an internal contradiction. There is a reason that great leaders like the late Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are so fondly remembered. Both men won over the hearts of even their most bitter adversaries through peace and love.
The limitations of protesting for peace
Non-violent, direct protest has been the most popular path by which people have attempted to address grave social and environmental injustices. This collective tactic has proven effective for bringing about peace, only when its participants manage to transcend the political theater of separation. Ram Dass, an infinitely wise spiritual teacher, fully captures this point in saying:
True movements for peace are deeply rooted in love and aim at purifying the hearts of all people. The anti-Vietnam War and civil rights protests of the 1960s are powerful examples of peaceful action. Both movements began as political demonstrations against war and inequality, but eventually evolved into spiritual testaments of love.
The 2016 protests by indigenous peoples against the construction of a massive oil pipeline, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, is an inspiring example from current times.
In that instance, indigenous peoples from around the world united against the proposed desecration of the sacred Earth. For several months, these brave souls camped out, kept continuous prayer circles and endured savage displays of cruelty at the construction site. Despite the violent reactions by authorities, the original peoples remained peaceful as a testament to their faith in humanity and their indigenous traditions.
However, each of these examples are exceptions to what commonly occurs during peaceful protest. All too often, demonstrations become muddled in the illusion of separation.
This is the challenge that all sincere peace activists must eventually confront and transcend. For whenever protesters fail to love the persons they are protesting as much as they love themselves, they descend into the murky waters of self-righteous action. The result is that some activists wind up releasing the same negative vibrations of fear and hatred as the groups they are protesting against.
History is rife with examples of once-peaceful protests becoming violent or consumed by divisiveness. From my own past experience as an anti-war protester, I can recall two instances when anger built up within the hearts of the participants and escalated into verbal conflict. Such experiences only reinforced the false ‘us’ versus ‘them’ duality and severely damaged the credibility of our message.
The problem of maintaining momentum in protest is an added issue that impacts the success of peace movements. Unquestionably, though, protesting remains among the most dramatic and effective ways for bringing attention to mass violence.
Marches, pickets, boycotts and symbolic occupations are all effective tactics for uniting otherwise disassociated groups in society. However, once awareness is raised and interested groups begin unifying under a common banner, the inevitable question arises, “Where do we go from here?”
Often, the answer to this question is to direct the momentum of protest activity into influencing political elections. This strategy may very well result in the achievement of significant short-term victories for peace—particularly within our local communities. Still, in terms of advancing the vision of peace, electoral politics accomplishes little when it comes to striking at the root of our aggression and violence in the first place. That root is ego.
We all need to look within
While non-violent protest can be a powerful means for bringing awareness to and mobilizing activists for peace, it alone will not alter our tendencies to inflict harm on one another. If we as one human family wish to work toward an everlasting peace, we must each find our own inner peace by looking within through the power of prayer and meditation.
Imagine if all human beings learned to pray and meditate regularly. Two positive outcomes would immediately result. First, every person would refuse to inflict harm on any other being. Second, as a collective, we would no longer support those structures that are fundamentally unpeaceful.
Once we all learn how to achieve peace within ourselves, violence will no longer be an issue. Aggressive outcomes like war and environmental devastation are collective reflections of our inner states of turmoil. If we hold fear and hate within our hearts, then hate and fear will guide us in our power roles as statesmen, corporate officials, law enforcers and even protesters.
The key is to cultivate the peaceful intentions of tolerance, forgiveness, compassion and love within yourself. Before setting out to change the world, we must first change ourselves.
Each individual’s path to awakening may take years or even lifetimes. And that is OK. We are each endowed with the ability to awaken. The path to becoming a peaceful being begins with tapping into that natural space of stillness that resides within us all. This space has been called many different names—Oneness, God, The Great Emptiness, the Atman or Absolute Being.
The Chandogya Upanishad—a sacred Hindu text from the larger collection of Upanishads—describes this space as far beyond fear, separation and ignorance. It is a space of faith, unity and wisdom that is more vast than the mind can comprehend.
The text goes on to describe the feeling of bliss in this space:
There are two primary channels through which we can access the inner space described in The Chandogya Upanishad: the first is through the power of prayer, and the second is through the practice of meditation.
Prayer can be thought of as an invocation or act of soulful communion during which one shares their faithful intentions and conscious desires with the Universe. Meditation is the act of stilling your mind and tuning your soul towards the vibrations of the Universe. In the depths of meditation, one learns how to listen for the Universe’s insights and guidance.
In accessing this inner space, it is important to understand that prayer and meditation are not duelling counterparts. Just as joy and suffering are part of the same cycle, so it is between prayer and meditation.
No seeker of peace may be said to truly know the one without the other. Our faithful intentions and conscious desires cannot be fully known and expressed in prayer without us first coming to know them through the stillness of meditation. Conversely, we won’t fully know how to listen for answers in meditation if we have not yet learned how to cast prayer onto our hopes and dreams.
Benefits of the inner path to peace
As we begin to pray and meditate with some regularity, we will intuitively come to recognize the growth of three positive qualities.
First, we will become more compassionate. As we begin to sit in meditation and prayer for longer intervals, we will feel the space around our hearts start to loosen and our love for all beings increase.
Further, as we learn how to direct intentions of goodwill to all life, our practice will enable us to act with greater compassion in our day-to-day lives. In fact, a deep and persistent yearning to devote their lives to serving the Earth and humanity will come to nag at the souls of peaceful beings.
It is no coincidence that some of the most dedicated social reformers from the past have also been some of the most compassionate people. It is also not a coincidence that these same individuals spent considerable amounts of time in meditation and prayer, cultivating feelings of goodwill.
Such inspiring figures for peace, such as Christ, Buddha, King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, were also known for their uncompromising commitment to inner work and personal transformation.
The historical time periods and regions they lived in were different, but the essence of their message was the same. True peace can only be achieved when we each make the choice to look within and offer the peace we find to the world. As Gandhi beautifully put it:
Through prayer and meditation, we also cultivate a deeper faith in the Way of Things, the Universe, God or IT. When we still our minds and open our hearts, a vast world of inner knowing is revealed. This space of serenity bursts forth into our consciousness to command more focused attention. As we tap into this space, all events and happenings on the physical plane of reality are imbued with a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and perspective.
Suffering through sickness and disease, landing in prison, being trapped in an abusive relationship, losing a home and experiencing the loss of a loved one are all trying life experiences. In lessening the emotional pain of each event, it makes little difference whether we pray or meditate. Regular prayer and meditation allow us the experience of being present with our suffering, and the ability to be present offers new perspectives from which we can view our own suffering.
Pushing nothing away, one can simultaneously confront the profound emotions of sadness and despair, while gaining deeper insight into the reasons, lessons and potential for growth that arise from suffering.
The ability to be present, while keeping our hearts open, opens a window into the higher realms of conscious action and pushes us into union with the Mind of God. Faith is the direct outcome of this communion. And from faith comes love, the fruit of true wisdom.
As we pray and meditate with greater frequency, a third quality will begin to emerge: an absolute sense of clarity as to the connection of all things in the Universe. The poet Nancy Wood powerfully conveys this feeling of oneness, in the spirit of the Taos Indian:
Within the depths of both prayer and meditation, we can’t help but feel a deep kinship with all beings of the Earth. It is this profound sense of interconnection that sparks monumental shifts in consciousness and breaks down barriers of separation. It is the illusion of separation that frustrates our attempts at world peace. Anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, nationalism and class ism are all faces of a false reality that pictures the web of being as a collection of unrelated parts.
Worse still, our culture teaches us that all other parts are to be feared and dealt with aggressively. Through prayer and meditation, we can learn to overcome the dark forces of ego and achieve a state that the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn calls ‘interbeing.’
The inevitable march to world peace
The path to world peace will not be easy or predictable. It will likely unfold as a bumpy road filled with many surprises along the way. Some of these surprises will be pleasant, while others will not be quite so. However, it is inevitable that humanity will one day find peace, because the essence of this universe is love and righteousness.
There remains one question that both activists and spiritual seekers might ask: How, exactly, does each individual’s awakening consciousness translate to the forging of a collective consciousness of world peace?
To answer that question, as more of us begin to awaken spiritually through prayer and meditation, our personal acceptance of violence will wither away. Men and women who once turned a blind eye to rampant militarism may one day refuse to support the war machine with their presence and dollars. Police officers, who once acted violently due to their fear of other races, may find themselves unable to engage with their brothers and sisters in that way. The people of the globe may no longer tolerate the misdeeds of their megalomaniac rulers or the predatory corporate schemes that threaten the Earth’s ecosystems.
Upon awakening to Oneness, it will be seen as a spiritual necessity to protect our beloved Mother Earth from the misguided plundering of her resources for short-term profit. Conscious citizens will demand much more from their governments in the way of regulating the destructive tendencies of enterprises. It is also likely that protest will remain a widely popular and effective vehicle for bringing about change and demanding accountability from public officials.
However, there will be a profound difference between how we demonstrated before, and how we demonstrate after the moment of our spiritual awakening. Previously, most of us have viewed the people we were protesting against as bitter adversaries and have labelled them ‘the other.’ In the future, our peaceful marches, pickets, boycotts and occupations will become passionate declarations of our faith and compassion. Crucially and powerfully, such declarations will transform those who we are trying to reach through our peaceful actions.
We will come to find that both our ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’ are equal reflections of ourselves. When we adopt this view of a unified existence, our feelings of love for all beings will be so strong that we won’t be able to sit by as innocents suffer from others’ unmindful actions.
The act of protest, then, will transcend the political theater of separation and become a collective rallying cry of our souls’ desires for peace, unity and love. The potential for world peace is boundless when we attain such awareness in action.
It is worth concluding this urgent call for meditation, prayer and peaceful action with these inspiring and prophetic words from Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Medicine Man, found within The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953):