‘Peace is the way’

/ March 10, 2017

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way”Plum Village song

Like all of the major world religions, Buddhism is a religion of peace. The Dhammapada, an early Buddhist collection of verses on practice and ethics in everyday life, makes this abundantly clear. Verse five of the text states:

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred.
Hatred is only appeased by Love (or, non-enmity).
This is an eternal law.”

According to tradition, this early text is considered to be a series of answers given by Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, to questions put to him on various occasions. The verse above speaks to us of peace and non-harm, in much the same way that our school’s first precept does:

“I will not intentionally harm people, animals and plants, and any part of our school environment, caring for them in a way I would like to be cared for myself and looking after the school in a way I would like my own belongings to be looked after.”

There are plenty of areas in my life where I do not feel at peace (…yet), where I am not tranquil, where I am disturbed both personally and in my response to global affairs. Some of the events unfolding in the world at large are frightening and bewildering for many of us.

I have been reflecting on how to approach this situation and its attendant feelings: How do I protect my mind and do my best in the face of difficult thoughts and opinions? Should I become more of an activist? What shall I tell my child, now and when she is older, about how I acquitted myself in these times of uncertainty and inequity? How do I come to peace around this? Am I even allowed to be peaceful in the face of the state of the world?

I have been really helped in my contemplation of these complex thoughts and feelings by verse one from the Dhammapada:

“We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws
the cart.”

(translation from the Pali: Thomas Byrom)

From this, I am understanding that, in fact, there is a veil over my thinking; there may be some ‘reality’, but I am not currently perceiving it with much clarity. From Janice Willis, an American practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism:

We all harbour prejudices of various sorts. There is no exception to this fact. Not one of us is completely freed of prejudicial attitudes. We don’t like certain colours or sounds; we’re annoyed by certain circumstances, behaviours, or styles of doing things. We are harsh critics even of ourselves. Having likes and dislikes is taken for granted…The problem occurs as, unfortunately oftentimes is the case, when our own individual likes and dislikes become reified and solidified; when we not only form inflexible opinions, but take them as truths; when we form negative judgments about other human beings and about ourselves and these judgments become for us the lenses through which we view and experience ourselves, the world around us, and its inhabitants. At this point, we have entered into the arena of prejudice of a quite pernicious sort, the sort which causes harm and suffering both for ourselves and for others. And whether it be friendships and loving personal relationships destroyed, or wars fought over religion or contested territory, or one group of beings dominating another or restraining their freedom of movement, at this point we cease being human beings at our best.”

Returning to the title of this blog, and the beautiful song that inspired it, I can come to a more peaceful place right here and right now. I can do this through the practice of mindful awareness and the development of positive qualities such as loving kindness (including self-kindness and forgiveness), compassion and equanimity. Mindfulness can help to shift us from reactivity, defence and conflict, to the way of peace. Loving kindness, or friendliness, will melt boundaries and soften hostility and insecurity in others.  When we meet others with deep listening, presence and an open mind and heart, empathy grows, and empathy allows compassion.

Equanimity is not indifference, though it can be about seeing the impersonal nature of the arising of events, both in the personal sphere and in the wider world. We are touched by life, but not floored by it. In my explorations, it is important to stay open and present and perhaps from that place, a deeper level of activism – or service – arises, one that is balanced and steady.

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