A few years ago I was invited to speak at an Islamic women’s conference at a mosque in Melbourne. What follows are my thoughts on peace.
Thank you to our hosts for presenting this program today, and thank you for inviting me, and my colleagues to participate.
My Gurus have taught me that to welcome another person with love and respect is the true goal of meditation and spirituality. They also say that in order to do that we must first learn to love and accept ourselves, and then we can share that love with everyone.
The issue of Global Peace has become more urgent since the rise of terrorism in the late 70s and after 9/11. For many middle Eastern, and a few European countries terrorism has been a constant threat. 9/11 woke up the Americas in a dramatic way. Now, suddenly, there were terrorist threats in our homes and our loved ones were dying.
The question arises, ‘is peace possible?’
Classically there are two views on attaining peace. One you could call the ‘external’ point of view. If you change the government and you don’t allow selfish, greedy and rich people to run things from their self-interest then you have a chance for peace.
The other the ‘internal’ says that as long as there is violence in the individual heart, aggression is translated into domestic violence, social violence and global violence.
We cannot have peace in the world when there is a lack of peace in the hearts and minds of individuals. The mystic GI Gurdjieff used to say: ‘external consider always, internal consider never.’
Internal considering is when we imagine how others see us and we react to that imagining. When we internal consider we worry about how we look to others, what others think of us, whether we are more intelligent, more beautiful, richer, or more successful, have more or can do more. We can become obsessed with ourselves. We are so concerned about ourselves that we are blind and deaf to others. There is no friendship, no communication, and no understanding when we are caught in self-concern.
External considering is the opposite. We focus our attention and awareness on the ‘other’ and speak to the listening of the other person. A wise person always hears first and speaks second. They are free of self-concern, self-pity. External considering creates oneness. It is from this place that solutions, negotiation, agreement can be found.
The great sage Sai Baba of Shirdi said about his devotees, ‘I give them what they want until they want what I have to give.’ In other words if they came asking for a blessing to have a baby, he gave it. If they came looking for a dowry for their daughter’s marriage, he gave it. If they came looking for money, he gave it. He did not lecture them on what they should or should not want or, that they should be asking for spiritual enlightenment. But when they asked for that, he gave it.
I was an activist in the 70s for a short time. I was working for a Youth Hostel funded by the Canadian Federal Government. When the funding ended the residents took to the streets in protest. The riot police showed up ready for battle. It became violent and I began to question the effectiveness of political activism. As I watched the police brutally beat my fellow demonstrators I understood that if I was going to work for peace it would not be in politics. Fortunately I was dragged away by a friend and was not arrested. That day my spiritual search began.
A few years later I was fortunate to meet a Guru whose teachings resonated within me, and whose energy woke me to a spiritual life. I began to do ‘sadhana’, serious work on myself. I learned to meditate.
Meditation has shown me all the good and not so good things about myself. It has taught me that Divinity is within me but it also taught me that I had unconscious fear, anger and sorrow that needed to be addressed. I learned to recognise negative emotion when it arose within me and to not speak or act out of it. As I meditated I began to understand myself and accept myself. As I accepted myself and learned to love myself my anger, fear and sadness lessened.
To commit to non-violence within one’s own heart is an act of great compassion. It is not easy.
My teacher Swami Shankarananda says: ‘Tell the truth don’t get angry’ meaning that we need to find the razor’s edge of truth and kindness in our communication. We can say what we have to say if we have compassion.
He also says: there is no good situation that a bad attitude cannot ruin, and there is no bad situation that a good attitude cannot improve. It is important to examine whether our attitude or understanding is contributing to peace or inflaming conflict.
One of the major blocks to inner peace and good communication within an individual is blame. When things go wrong the mind automatically asks, ‘Who is responsible? Who’s at fault? Who can I blame?’
Blame and finding fault can destroy love, can destroy relationships, destroy family unity and creates enmity where there was friendship.
In the Hindu Trinity of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, love is the sustaining power. When we give our love and devotion openly and freely to our nearest and dearest, to our work, to our friends, to our lives, we have peace in our lives. If we withdraw our love from the life we have built then we create instability, confusion, separation and uncertainty.
The poet saint Rabia wrote:
I have two ways of loving You: one is selfish and the other is worthy of You. In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone. In that other love, You lift the veil and I feast my eyes on Your Living Face.
As Rabia says, the minute we give our attention and our devotion to that which really matters we see and feel divine love. The power of our heart to love is perhaps the greatest power we have. Rabia inspires us to overcome the blocks to our love, our connection to the Self and to the Divine. Is your heart available? Is your heart open? Is your heart generous?
Women particularly feel the burden of violence. We do want those we love, our children, our husbands, our fathers or mothers going off to war to die at the hands of terrorists. We also want to protect them from the temptations of a worldly life that separates them from the family unit. And so the task of educating children to think and feel responsibly falls to mothers.
A few years ago I was on pilgrimage in India to visit the samadhi shrine of Bhagawan Nityananda, the spiritual source of the divine energy of my lineage. One afternoon while meditating I silently asked him if he had a teaching for me. As I listened for an answer I heard a voice, ‘Always return to love, especially when you do not want to.’
The famous guitarist Jimi Hendrix said: When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.