A CALL FOR PEACE
by Robert Rabbin
Since the shattering morning of September 11, we have all tried in our own ways to understand: "How could this happen here? Who did this? What do we do?"
I would like to speak to these questions, even with the knowledge that my words can neither encompass nor illuminate the whole truth of recent events. My prayer and intent is that these words may contribute in some measure to a healing of wounded hearts, to a search for truth, and, most of all, to a resolve for nonviolent action. Violence and peace cannot co-exist. We cannot prepare for war and expect peace. In my heart, I know that all people want peace, in spite of the seeming evidence to the contrary. Therefore, on behalf of all people, I want to call for peace: total and absolute peace throughout the world, without further thought or consideration or calculation of any kind.
It is a universal human experience that suffering, tragedy, and death can awaken us from the surface of life to its depths, from the superficial to the meaningful, from the crude to the beautiful, from the selfish to the selfless, and from the mundane to the transcendent. As we awaken, we are drawn towards deep reflection, inner Silence, and wisdom. It is through deep reflection, inner Silence, and wisdom that we come to know peace. And now, in this moment of escalating passions and convictions, in this moment in which the world is trembling and reeling from past passions and convictions, we must seek that peace, know that peace, and become that peace.
To honor the truest expression of humanity, we must all call for peace, stand for peace, and act for peace. We must accept only peace. But first, we must become peace itself, not an idea or image of peace, not the rhetoric of peace, not the passions of peace, but actual peace, the peace in which violence cannot arise, because its true causes have been seen, understood, and transformed. There are many among us who have given their lives to such peace, who have become such peace, and who can speak for such peace. We must listen to them, learn from them, and give them seats in those rooms of power in which government and military officials now decide our nation's priorities and course of action. This is a crucial moment in human history. What we do now, as individuals and as a nation, will lead our world down one path or another.
The path we choose now will create our future for years and generations to come. Our every thought, word, and act holds the power to create or destroy. In the simplest of terms, our choices are between the paths of war or peace, between violence or nonviolence, between hatred or understanding, between fear or love, between retribution or reconciliation, between aggression or restraint. It is of supreme importance that before we retaliate against those we believe sponsored the attacks, before we choose one of these paths, we reflect and learn. We must learn, because what we already know, what we already think and feel and believe, the ways in which we already behave-are all links in the causal chain that culminated in the catastrophe of September 11. In order to learn, we have to empty our cup of these things-the already known.
We must create within ourselves a sky of uncluttered awareness, in which we can rest in the clarity, equilibrium, and peace of our purest essence and deepest truth. We must allow our first and second thoughts, our inflamed feelings, and our habitual reactions to dissipate in this sky of awareness, into stillness and Silence.
Wisdom flows from Silence, and we need wisdom. We need a clarity of perception and understanding beyond what we already know. Differing points of view and perspectives are useful, but a higher level of consciousness is essential. Beyond thoughts and words, beyond concepts and beliefs, beyond all that is known and imagined, beyond the mind itself, is Silence-the sacred hub of the universe, the place where all differences dissolve, where all conflicts cease, where all fear turns to love, where all souls shine with the same single flame of radiance. Silence reveals what we don't yet know, and Silence will teach us what we must learn.
From these teachings we will understand, and from this understanding we will grow wiser, and as we grow wiser we will act wisely. Henry David Thoreau wrote, "It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things." If we do not grow wiser, then we will do desperate things, and our desperate acts will cause violence to escalate in ways we cannot even imagine. I pray that we will not take our world down this path. Sitting in Silence and deep reflection, we will find a wisdom that is not diminished by the dualism of the mind, not driven by surface appearances, not defined by the commotion of passions and convictions, not ruled by the chaos of habitual thoughts and reactions. In times of crisis such as we are now experiencing, we instinctively pause, reflect, and seek the solace and guidance of Silence.
But for how long? For a moment? For a day? For a weekend? Typically, that is what we do, and it is not enough, because when we again take to the streets of "business as usual," the quiet voices of reflection and silence are overcome by the louder noise of of habit and convention, of thoughts and beliefs, of anxiety and tension, of ego, fear, and separation. Instead, let us forge an enduring and unbreakable relationship to Silence and deep reflection, one that is constant and sacred, one that is attended to and cultivated in each moment, so that we may be ever and always guided by that to which we too rarely turn, and even then only in times of crisis, loss, and grief. We must surrender to Silence as a way of life, for it is in this Silence that we find the true heart and spirit, the true soul, of our humanity. Silence is the supreme summit from which we can see the past, present, and future of the human drama, and what lies behind it. It is upon this summit that the saints and sages from every country and culture have stood, and it is upon this summit that we must all now stand.
Within this Silence, we learn much about the deeper nature and purpose of human life, about the nature of the world, about cause and effect, about immutable laws of existence. If we are to know peace, we must learn from Silence. So far, we have not. So let us begin now, together, in our call for peace. Let us learn from Silence. In the aftermath of the events of September 11, we can scarcely confront, let alone accept, the enormity of the pain and suffering that has invaded countless lives and communities. We hear the numb and incredulous refrain, "How could this happen here?"
We do not know what to do with our unbearable emotions, with our helplessness and fear and anger and sorrow and grief. Silence teaches us that we must not only bear our unbearable emotions and sadness, but enter them fully and with eyes and hearts wide open, feeling and seeing them to their very depths. In this way, we touch the universality of suffering, stripped of names and flags and uniforms and rationalizations and national anthems. We come without defense to feel the starkness of human suffering.
The people of the United States have been shielded from much of the world's suffering, protected by our wealth and might and distracted by the privileges they allow. Indeed, these same privileges of wealth often blind us to the poverty, hunger, pain, and injustice within our own borders. But now, the shield has been shattered, the protection has been breached, and on September 11 our shores, our homes, our lives were violated, and thousands were hurt, wounded, and killed. Such violation, suffering, and grief is the daily bread of much of mthe world, the world we have been shielded from. Until now. As we struggle to bear the sorrows of our recent devastation, so do all people throughout the world struggle with the same devastation of war and violence.
In this moment of our personal and national grief, we must find the courage to see not just the torn and mangled bodies in New York and Washington, but to see also the mass graves and mounds of torn and mangled bodies everywhere. If we are willing to truly see and feel the world's suffering, not just our own, then we will end war now, right now, and we will accept only peace.
If we can see the madness and horror of war, stripped of justification, then we will call for peace. We will accept only peace because the tragedies of war will be unendurable. This is why we must now gather all of the world's sorrow and add it to ours, because the weight will break our hearts. With broken hearts and unendurable sorrow, we will no longer be willing to tolerate war and violence, and we will call for peace. We will accept only peace.
The magnitude of humanity's suffering may seem to much to face, especially at this moment. But we must. The world is small and we all share a single table, we all share the same meal. We cannot end violence at one end of the table and not the other. "Here" and "there" are the same place. We cannot end violence here, and not there. We cannot enjoy wealth here, if there is no wealth there. We cannot be safe here, if there is no safety there. We cannot be free here, if there is no freedom there. We do not live in separate countries, in separate cities, in separate houses. That is an illusion.
The suffering in our world is beyond calculation: hundreds of millions of people clinging tenuously to life, displaced, malnourished, starving, brutalized, raped, imprisoned, tortured, slaughtered. Ted Koppel's "Nightline" special "In the Heart of Darkness" tells of the story of war in the Congo: 2.5 million deaths in the last three years. In countries whose names we can't even pronounce, the same suffering is being felt, the same horror is being lived. Before the Congo, there were a million deaths in Rwanda.
Before that, a million deaths in Tibet. And all the suffering is from hatred and violence and war, mutilating not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people. All fingers point blame at someone else. Does that matter? Are we not yet ready to admit the universality of suffering? Have we not had our fill of it? Are we not ready to end it? Are w e not yet ready to call for peace, to accept only peace?
It seems we are addicted to war. We are always ready to open the treasury, mobilize armies and navies, launch planes and missiles for the sake of war. We seem always eager for more wars: wars on crime, wars on drugs, wars on poverty, wars for freedom and democracy. We have never won these wars, and yet the wars rage on. Can we live without war? Are we not yet ready for peace? The effects of violence and war are caused by violence and war. If we don't want to suffer violence, we must not engage in violence. We must find another way, even if we do not know how.
Fox News tells us in bold headlines of "America's New War." It is not a new war, nor is it America's. It is the old war, the original one, the one sponsored by hatred and fear, and it is humanity's war against itself. This is but another battle. No one will win, because no one can win. Wars cannot be won; wars can only be lost. Everyone loses, and everyone suffers. Waging war is an antiquated, obsolete impulse that is not worthy of true human beings. It is, regardless of justification, a form of madness and insanity. We must find another way, even if we don't know how. In the early '60s, we were all astonished when President Kennedy declared: We will land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. It was beyond imagining. It had never been done. No one knew how. And yet, people accepted the challenge, and they began. We watched as rocket after rocket exploded, collapsed, spiralled into the ocean, one after the other, for months and years. We did not know how to land a man on the moon. Finally, before the end of the decade, a man was landed on the moon.
President Bush has declared a war against terrorism, a war that may take five or ten years, a crusade against evil. This is not a worthy enterprise. It is a crusade of foolishness to a land of sorrow, and that journey has been taken thousands of times before. We already know how to do that. We must now do what we do not know how to do. We must undertake another crusade to another land. We must take another kind of journey, one that is also foolish, one that dwarfs Kennedy's challenge. It is the kind of foolishness that Martin Luther Kind and Mahatma Gandhi proposed, a foolishness that has never yet been achieved on global scale. What is this foolishness? To meet violence with nonviolence, to meet war with peace, to meet fear with love, to meet hatred with compassion. We do not know how to do this. But if we make an absolute commitment to this, if we resolve with our whole heart and spirit to do this, we will find a way. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. It is now necessary to commit to peace. We will find a way. If retaliatory violence is not an option, what shall we do? This is the great challenge before us.
We have no choice but to call for peace. And so we must find peace within ourselves, we must know peace, and we must become peace. We must find everything within us that is not peace and turn it into peace. We must breathe peace into every cell of our body, into every synapse of our brain, into every strand of our soul. If we do not know how, we must find a way. This is not a dream; this is a necessity.
President Bush has also asked us to be willing to sacrifice much for freedom. Keeping in mind that sacrifice is a holy offering, something renounced for the sake of greater truth, we must ask: What shall we sacrifice for freedom? What shall we renounce for freedom? The wisdom of Silence teaches us to sacrifice and renounce war, hatred, and violence. The wisdom of Silence teaches us to sacrifice and renounce fear and ignorance, and all forms of sectarianism. Wisdom teaches us to eradicate the conditions that give birth to hopelessness, despair, and suffering. Wisdom asks us to offer the gold in our treasury to feed people, to educate people, to heal people-that all people may enjoy peace, safety, and prosperity.
Wisdom also teaches us that we must never sacrifice a peaceful heart, a steady and quiet mind, or a compassionate spirit. Nor must we sacrifice civil liberties, human rights, a government accountable to its people, a free press, or due process of law. These are hallmarks of a peaceful people and of a peaceful society. Without them, fear becomes institutionalized. We must find a way to provide for national security and public safety without sacrificing the emblems of peace, without repressing the expressions of peace. If we sacrifice these, we will have sacrificed peace on the alter of fear, and freedom will have been lost.
In our suffering and sorrow, in our anger and rage, we want quick answers. We want immediate and dramatic action. We want to blame someone and exact our revenge. Silence teaches us that there are no quick answers, that we must not take immediate and dramatic action, and that blaming and punishing others does not illuminate cause. If we do not understand the cause, our actions will perpetuate suffering.
In Silence, with a peaceful heart and quiet mind, we can see through eyes not clouded with bias and prejudice, through eyes cleared of the cataracts of cultural, religious, and ethnic values so ingrained as o appear real. With eyes unclouded, we begin to see that the causes of violence are numerous and interrelated. The events of September 11 are connected to other events in an intricate web of events, created by the past and present thoughts and actions of all people. An immutable law of human existence, one which we little appreciate though we often speak of, is "We reap what we sow," or "What goes around, comes around." All of us stand upon a common and fertile ground and upon that ground fall the seeds of our every action. When time ripens, the harvest appears. No matter how much we protest, blame, or deny, "what goes around, comes around" is an immutable law of human existence. Retribution and retaliation are embedded in our every action.
In years past, as the United States has pursued its ideological, political, and economic interests, our government has sold pieces of our national soul. We have made many dubious alliances. It is a matter of public record that our government has trained, funded, and supported many Osama bin Ladens. One day they are our allies, and the next our enemies. We have made secret deals; we have undertaken covert actions of violence and terrorism. We have often intruded violently into other countries, without regard for their human rights. We have used direct and indirect forms of violence to influence, affect, and dominate other nations whose aims and purposes threatened or conflicted with ours.
In 1996, Amnesty International reported, "Throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman, or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed, or "disappeared" at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame." For the sake of freedom and justice, can we look into this mirror?
President Bush's father authorized our invasion of Panama, ostensibly to bring General Noriega to justice. Many civilians were killed in that invasion. Even as our troops returned home, we left something behind. We called it "collateral damage," but it was not. We left behind angry ghosts. And now the angry ghosts of those whom we violated have come to our shores for their day of justice. All actions find their way home. No amount of justification, rationalization, or denial can change this.In many countries, the United States has written and continues to write stories of violence, leaving thousands of angry ghosts. Do we remember? Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Lebanon, Guatemala, Grenada, the Balkans, Iraq, Sudan.
Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, UNICEF reports that United States-sponsored sanctions against Iraq are responsible for the otherwise preventable deaths of 5,000 Iraqi children per month. They die slowly and painfully, from starvation, from malnutrition, from disease. Our political rationalization is that the sanctions will somehow squeeze Hussein from power. The effect has been to squeeze life from thousands of children. We blame Hussein, but there is no wisdom in blame. Through the eyes of wisdom, we see that these are not Iraqi children, they are our children. Like all children, they deserve the innocence and happiness of childhood. And so we must make them safe, we must feed them with food as well as love. We must nourish them in every way we want our children nourished. They are our children. But we have turned them out of our hearts, and now they are orphaned, and many of those orphans have become angry ghosts. I pray that we can see this with wisdom, so as to not commit the same acts against the people of Afghanistan, where poverty and sorrow already oppress the lives of millions. Let us not add to their burden, but find a way to relieve their burden and ease their suffering. For this, we must become peace itself, and then accept only peace.
A recent segment on "60 Minutes" reported that the family of a murdered Chilean general plans to file a lawsuit against former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The civil suit claims the CIA supported a kidnapping plot which led to the death of Gen. Rene Schneider, the commander of the Chilean Army. The CIA's support for the kidnapping was part of a larger effort by the Agency to instigate a coup in Chile-an objective ordered by President Nixon and overseen by Kissinger. The plot succeeded, President Allende was assassinated, and in the aftermath of that coup thousands of other Chileans were brutally tortured and murdered. While you and I may never know the truth, a higher law knows the truth. Their Kissinger has become our bin Laden.
These stories must be remembered and told if we are to end the cycle of violence. We must speak of these things, not to blame or punish, but to learn what wisdom teaches us about higher laws to which we are all subject. We must listen to the angry ghosts of our past actions, so that we can understand how their terror and agony have become ours. We believe that we are beacons of freedom and democracy, and that our violence is justified and righteous. We believe God is on our side.
Everyone believes God is on their side. If we are to invoke the name and power of God, we must see things as God sees them, not as we want God to see them. We enter God's kingdom through Silence and humility, and as we enter we must shed all our separating labels and loyalties. God has never heard of Americans or Afghanis, Israelis or Palestinians. God has never heard of Christians, Jews, or Muslims. God does not bless one and not the other. God only knows a pure heart and a peaceful spirit, for these are in the image and likeness of God. God does not have enemies.
Though our bombs and missiles target our enemies, they explode in the belly of humanity. In God's kingdom, might does not make right; it only makes angry ghosts. We are called by peace to look clearly and honestly at the recent past, and the present, to acknowledge and admit our role in world violence. There are no loopholes in the law of what goes around comes around. It is simple and straightforward: If you participate in or contribute to violence and war, you should fully expect to be visited by the same. And now we have been visited in a most cruel way. This visitation should inspire us to a deeper inquiry into the ways in which we may be contributing to world violence, and to the violence within our own backyards, our own communities.
We will have to be more honest than we have ever been to discover the truth of this. We will have to look at how we may have invested ourselves in the commercialization of violence, how we may profit from it. Do the weapons that we manufacture, stockpile, and export contribute to violence? Do television programming, the movies we produce, and the video games we sell contribute to violence? Does our culture of convenience and entitlement contribute to violence through the exploitation of others? Does our way of life have violent consequences to nature, to the environment that sustains life on this planet? Does the unequal distribution of wealth in our society contribute to violence? We would do well to ask these questions with sincerity, honesty, and humility. We will have to answer as God would answer.
We want to find strength and unity in our national resolve to triumph over terrorism. But we can never achieve this through violence, because every act of violence creates an angry ghost who one day will come from a country not of this world to exact retribution. This is simply the law of human existence, and this law is not mitigated by the declarations of presidents or tyrants. We all share this earth, and we are bound together in a web woven by our collective actions. Whatever we sow, so shall we reap. This is why we must call for peace, stand for peace, and act for peace. It is the only way. We cannot wage war on terror, because violence is the expression and means of terror. Waging war on terror is suicide.
Terror is a state of intense fear, and a terrorist is one who acts from fear. When people are afraid, they do bad things. Terror is not natural, hatred is not natural, violence is not natural. They are slow-roasted into existence over time, basted with loneliness and sorrow, resentment and humiliation, hunger and poverty, ignorance and anger. We must work to eradicate these causes within all countries. But there is an even greater cause of fear, anger, and violence-a wound that is cut deep into our collective soul.
The Indian poet Kabir wrote "We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves birds and animals and the ants-perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you in your mother's womb. Is it logical you would be walking around entirely orphaned now? The truth is you turned away yourself, and decided to go into the dark alone. You have forgotten what you once knew, and that's why everything you do has some weird failure in it."
Have we forgotten what we once knew, have we betrayed our inner radiance, have we entered a darkness of our own making? Looking at our world, it seems so. It seems that we have become lost, confused, and afraid. It seems we have all lost touch with the spirit that loves birds, animals, and the ants-the spirit that loves all of creation.
The weirdest failure of all is that we have forgotten that we are that spirit. We are that spirit. The natural and innocent state of all human beings is freedom, clarity, and joy. Kindness, compassion, and nonviolence flow effortlessly from this natural state. If we want to end terror and acts of terror, we must return to the natural state within our own self. We must remember what we once knew. We must leave the darkness and enter the light that we are. This is not a dream, but a necessity. This is why we are called to Silence, because in this Silence we remember what we once knew, we see our true Self, and we know there is only this one Self. Within this Self, violence does not exist.
As we reflect deeply and simmer in stillness and Silence, we begin to see the ways of our Self-betrayal, the ways in which we forget what we once knew and, instead, come to believe things that are not true. The light of the Self illuminates the various ways we have defined and diminished ourselves. We see how we create realities out of our thoughts, beliefs, and concepts. From these seeming realities, we set forth on quixotic adventures and crusades, as we may now do yet again. Within Silence, these seeming realities disappear, and only the light of the Self remains. We must not be fooled into believing what is not real.
We must be very careful now to not believe everything we think. Certainly, we must not believe everything we hear. Twenty-five centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." There is much wisdom in these words. If we are to know truth, we must question and examine everything that we believe to be true, everything that we hear, everything that we feel. We must examine everything with the light of the Self, through the magnifying glass of Silence.
So much is being said now, and with such conviction. Just as we need to know the inner truth of who we are, we also need to know the outer truth of what we are doing, of what is actually happening. We cannot assume that what we see, hear, and read is true. We must embody thespirit of Socrates and examine everything. Two questions that can help uncover truth are "What does that mean?" and "Is that true?" Asking these questions is difficult, because we are conditioned to think that beliefs and concepts are real. They are not. Reality lies beyond the world of abstract thoughts and concepts. That is why we must examine everything, especially those things about which we aremost convinced. The truth is rarely so simple as our passions and prejudices would like them to be.
Last night, President Bush addressed the nation. He said, "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." These words may satisfy our emotions, they may confirm our beliefs, they may create a rallying point for unity and a launchpad for retaliatory action. But what do these words mean? Are they true? We must seriously and soberly investigate these words in order to find out where truth lies. Such rhetorical righteousness makes complex situations seem simple, and this simplicity colors the world in black and white. Are those the only two colors with which God created this world? We should find out.
We must question all things. What is "every nation"? What, indeed, is "America"? Both are abstractions, and both do not correlate to the realities behind them. Inquiry penetrates the false world of abstractions and reveals a truer world, one with names and faces of people like you and me, trying to live in peace. Behind such a word as "nation" are millions of people, each with different stories, many carrying burdens, many suffering, many in pain, many oppressed. What, indeed, is a nation, any nation?
Behind the highly managed and staged public official appearances, we do not know what is actually going on, what deals are being made, what money is being spent. We do not know if other pieces of our national soul are being sold for short-term gratification. We must be very persistent in our inquiry, in our questioning, in our search for truth. We should not abdicate our capacity for insight, clarity, and wisdom to those who may use popular prejudice, emotional passions, patriotic fervor, and false claims to call for unwise actions. We must call for peace.
In the same way that self-inquiry reveals the true nature of one's own Self, so too can inquiry reveal the true nature of unfolding events and their cause. If we do not examine and question what we think, what we believe, what we hear, and what we say, it is very likely that we will prove Socrates right: life will not be worth living. Let us be worthy of a life worth living.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "I do daily perceive that while everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. That informing power or spirit is God. I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see in the midst of death, life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, God is light, God is love. God is the supreme good."
Silence teaches us that we are that we are that God, we are that supreme good. All else is a distortion of that truth, a delusion that is created by us as we turn from what we once knew-from what we are-and and walk into a darkness of our own making.
Last week, children from Hollywood-area elementary schools wrote letters to President Bush. One fifth-grader wrote, "When I hear the news, I cry sometimes. I ask God: When is this going to be over?"
Let it be over now. It will be a miracle, but creation itself is a miracle, and we have within us the power of that creation. We also have the ingenuity, the means, the resources, and the knowledge to eradicate all the causes of violence from within all societies. If we now add our absolute resolve to do so, it will be done.
This is not a dream, but a necessity.