I once asked an Israeli antiwar activist how realistic her hopes for peace were; she had advocated a “one-state” solution in Israel/Palestine, expecting Israelis and Palestinians to live under one flag. Her answer caught me off guard. “How realistic is this?” she shot back, referring to the second intifadah, which was peaking at the time.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that peace was “neither absurd nor unattainable,” pointing out that “all other methods have failed.” In his 1964 Nobel Laureate acceptance speech, King said, “Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.”
In “The Disappearance of the Spiritual Thinker,” Pankaj Mishra writes, “By a perversity, peculiar to our times, it is the advocates of nonviolent politics—of negotiation and dialogue—who face skepticism, if not outright derision.” The West’s ideological bent and our unwavering secular faith in history and progress lead us to believe we can forcefully impose our social, political, and economic systems upon others.
The dominant historical stream of thought among Western thinkers—whether communists on the left or neoconservatives on the right—has been not that history is to be navigated but that it is to be made. While we pompously discuss what shape the world should take, an indifferent world arises before us. As an old Portuguese saying goes, O cão ladra e a caravana passa—”The dog barks and the caravan passes.”
The inevitable result of ideological thinking—what a Buddhist might call attachment to view—can be seen easily enough in Iraq today. With tens of thousands dead and no end in sight, our government seems ever more committed to peace through violent means. But as King argued in his 1967 “Christmas Sermon,” “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.”
This is nothing new. It was clear enough to the Buddha 2,500 years ago, and to other great spiritual thinkers. As the Buddha taught:
Hostilities aren’t stilled
through hostility, regardless.
Hostilities are stilled
this, an unending truth.
We can scoff all we like, and consider peace advocates naive and soft-headed. But if we look at the record of the impenetrably ideological neoconservatives in this country today, it’s all too clear whose heads are in the clouds. It’s the advocates of peace and dialogue whose feet are most firmly on the ground.
Our Special Practice section this issue, “Commit to Sit,” should help to keep your feet on the ground. We’re throwing down the gauntlet with a “28-Day Meditation Challenge,” a guide to a monthlong meditation program that we hope will help readers cultivate and maintain a steady sitting practice. Some may complain that the word “challenge” contradicts the very spirit and purpose of practice, but we say, “Whatever it takes!” The important thing is that we practice, and if this challenge can provide some motivation, so much the better. Once we are on the cushion, all of the competition that challenge implies will offer plenty of grist for the meditative mill. And if not, take a look at Master Sheng Yen’s views on “comparing mind.” In case you fear sitting alone at home, keep in mind that the Tricycle staff will be joining you in taking up the challenge. Sharon Salzberg, who helped Senior Editor Alexandra Kaloyanides develop the program, will be answering your questions on our website, which will also feature additional resources and discussions for participants.
Last but not least, congratulations to David Taylor, whose Tricycle essay, “Fearsome Roots in a Quiet Forest” (Summer 2006), took first prize in the North American Travel Journalists Association’s Historical Travel category. David’s article covered his trip to North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in search of the elusive ginseng plant. Sharing first prize was Travel + Leisure; National Geographic Travel was runner-up. And speaking of awards, I’m happy to announce that Tricycle was awarded Folio magazine’s Silver Award for spiritual titles. Last year Tricycle took the Gold, which was awarded this year to the very deserving Spirituality & Health.
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