A Roadmap To Peace…

May 29, 2009 by  
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“Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

 ”Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction.”

- Pema Chodron

In the Buddhist tradition much of human suffering is attributed to the effects of three primary forces that are at work in the human mind. This triad of psychic forces is generally translated as Greed, Hatred, and Illusion. Other wisdom traditions have developed similar frameworks in their analysis of the causes of human anguish. For example, the Roman Stoics warned against the influence of lust, pugnacity and acquisitiveness. According to these pragmatically oriented traditions, the task of building character, or of cultivating spiritual growth, aims to diminish the intensity of these forces that are circulating in the body-mind system. In doing so the practitioner creates a climate of inner peace from which an array of virtues may flow into the world.

The force of greed is born from an innate yearning to maintain a continuous stream of good inner feelings. It fuels the relentless drive to seek out experiences that will provide a steady stream of pleasure. This dimension of mind is charged up with an assortment of habitual cravings; with varying degrees of addiction that are directed towards objects or experiences that often lie beyond reach. The mental state of greed could consist of anything from lust, to an obsession with collecting handbags. It is a state in which appetites fan their own flames, generating an inner momentum that drives behavior.

The Buddhist approach to this problem is not an inordinately severe or ascetic one. It is not a position or path that endorses abstinence or a “just say no” mentality. It is a perspective that places the array of human desires in a sober context: Desire is seen as a good servant, but a bad master. It has an appropriate time and place. Moderation and proportion are necessary to keep its living flame from engulfing us in an inferno of agitation and addiction. Such states feel like a powerful spell that can compel us to make some really bad decisions. Desire is to be enjoyed when available to experience. When the world does not offer up the objects of our desire, despite having taken our best shot at getting them, letting go enables us to hold on – to a balanced and poised state of mind.

The mental force of hatred refers to the anger and aggression that can arise and overtake the mind when threatened in some way, or incited by a hostile or unpleasant presence. The mind of anger operates with an internal logic that is spelled out in its own native tongue. Under the influence of such a state, decisions and actions that would be seen as outrageous and destructive from a clearer and calmer vantage, seem entirely consistent and appropriate. They actually feel gratifying in the heat of the moment, often providing a sense of momentary relief and satisfaction. Invariably, this is followed by feelings of regret or even self-loathing, in proportion to the damage that has been done.

One way of looking at the phenomenon of destructive anger is through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis. When applied in retrospect such postmortems often reveal great costs and negligible benefits. The primary cost of being drawn into this mental state comes with the loss of peace of mind – it leaves you shaken and disturbed.

Reflecting in this way can lead to a realization that the mind of anger is to be regarded with a healthy sense of skepticism and distrust. Bearing in mind its power to mislead, to contaminate our perceptions and to steer us down the road of regrettable action, can help us resist its gravitational pull. Doing so brings its own rewards, in the form of tranquility and a sense mastery that nurtures self-esteem. Of course there are practical benefits to exercising such restraint as well. By regarding the mind of anger from a skeptical distance we can preclude unnecessary confrontations, or at least prevent an escalation of hostilities. All of this takes real guts.

A distinction should be made between anger that has been channeled toward appropriate action, and anger that simply corrodes the mind until it boils over and unexpectedly explodes. Consider an example of injustice in the world, such as the Chinese occupation of Tibet. When hearing of daily events in this part of the world – the persecution, oppression and destruction of a people and its culture – it is hard not to feel a sense of indignation and anger toward the Chinese authorities. If such feelings become the basis for a course of constructive action – e.g. active participation and opposition to these injustices, then it has served a useful purpose. Such anger has been harnessed to good effect. If however it is just another source of distress, another axe to grind, further evidence to fuel a sense of despair about the condition of the globe, it only serves to erode one’s peace of mind. The idea then, is to engage energetically while maintaining a clear sense of conviction and a cool head.

The mental phenomenon of illusion is the grand-daddy of the entire family of woes that inhabit the human mind. The mind of illusion consists of distorted or partial perspectives, of perceptions that are clouded and buffeted on a sea of unstable emotions, and is the root that grows beneath the other two categories of mental anguish.

I have no illusions about having breached these walls of illusion – or more accurately, my head is filled with just such illusions. So I will say just a few things based upon the occasional glimpse behind the veil …

… It is a state that is charged with expectations that are levied upon an indifferent and impersonal universe. It is a vantage from which it is difficult to distinguish circumstances that can be influenced or controlled through personal effort, from those that unfold independently of our will and wishes. The mind of illusion obsesses with schemes and configurations of thought that are designed to sway the world in its favor. It imagines a desired outcome will emerge from the nervous energies it brews up in high doses. While it may succeed in generating an abundant supply of such energy, the only certain outcome will be the erosion of our own peace.

Needless to say, the project of quelling these energies, of redirecting mental and physical currents that are charged with their own natural momentum, of rearranging errant and longstanding habits of mind, is a daunting one. It involves the cultivation of a form of insight that watches over the mind with an increasingly refined eye; it entails keeping a vigil that observes the impulses and tricks the mind involuntarily plays.   

Through the habitual cultivation of this form of contemplative perception, a practitioner can progressively strengthen the power of an inwardly focused lens that observes the activity of the mind. In doing so she creates the conditions that make it possible to see her world with increasing clarity – to recognize what separates conscious experience from what is referred in Buddhism as the “basic goodness” that is inherent in all Being. It is a path whereby one may cultivate an increasing experience of an inner peace that ultimately blossoms to express itself in the world.

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