This talk was presented by Ruth Rosenhek at the Peace Forum held at the University of Sydney on April 8, 2003

Spiritual Perspectives on Peace

“Why do we kill people who are killing people to prove that killing people is wrong?"
Holly Near

Thank you to the organisers. It is an honor to speak alongside these other speakers.

I acknowledge, honor and pay respect to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the Land.

May Peace Be With You. May Peace Be With You

I begin with a quote from the Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, from Love in Action

“In our former lives, we were rocks, clouds, and trees. We may have been an oak tree ourselves. This is not just Buddhist; it is scientific. We humans are a very young species. We appeared on Earth only recently. We were plants, we were trees, and now we have become humans. We have to remember our past existences and be humble. We can learn the Dharma from an oak tree.”

The Event of War has ripped the veils of denial and pushed aside obstacles that might have previously kept us from speaking truth, standing up for peace, justice and freedom for all peoples, for all beings.

The deadly forces of violence shine a light on how what Martin Luther King called the deadly triplets – racism, militarism and materialism – have insidiously woven their ways into the fabric of our lives.

We are all deeply embedded in economic, political and social structures that are fundamentally based on the exploitation of land and water, indigenous people and local communities. We too are part of what is now called the War Machine.

For what we face goes deeper than a George Bush or a John Howard. We live in a time when there is a spiritual crisis – humankind lives in an illusion of separation from the Earth, each other and even ourselves. The philosophy of Deep Ecology critiques western world’s underlying anthropocentrism or human centeredness. We treat the planet as if it was a commodity, a piece of scenery, something to be manipulated and extracted from, something with no value unless it is shaped by our very hands.

As scientist James Lovelock has said, “It is as if the brain decided it was the most important organ in the body and decided to mine the liver.”

or as Paul Erlich said, “we are sawing off the very branch on which we sit.”

This would indeed point to some sort of psycho-spiritual crisis.

We participate in this misguided way as we drive our cars, eat food that was grown through destruction of topsoil, and flush our toilets to name but a few.

We have forgotten that the air that we pollute is the air that we breathe and we depend on it.
We have forgotten that the water that we poison is the water that we drink and we depend on it; we are made of it.
We have forgotten that the Earth we destroy is what we are made of and that we destroy ourselves.

Wars will continue to be waged until humankind remembers who we are, until we remember the sacredness of all beings on this planet. As indigenous peoples have always done and continue to do through their practice of rituals and ceremonies.

I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me,
That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly,
and my blood is part of the sea...
There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute,
except my mind,
and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself,
it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.
D H Lawrence

When we remember who we are, 1 species in tens of millions of species, descendants of a long line of species on this planet sharing part in the emerging splendour of a 13 billion year old Universe, then we will be at Peace on this planet.

Not only must we reconnect with our love for Nature and all the many species that we share this planet with, we must learn to love each other, regardless of lines of race, class, nationality, and other such divisions.

Instead, we have stopped seeing each other. Starhawk, educator/activist/witch writing from Palestine about the young American woman, Rachel Corrie who was bulldozed by an Israeli soldier talks about how the soldier physically saw the young woman, but not the precious life of this human being.

“And I conclude that the soldier was only doing what colonization makes necessary. To be a colonizer, we cannot afford to see the colonized as fully human. (A Bone from Rafah (March 26, 2003)

I think the Aboriginal people of Australia would fully attest to this.

It is high time that we remember who we are in our divine earthliness and put our energy towards opening our hearts to each other.

In fact, those who we see as our enemies can bring much learning to us by reflecting bits of our own shadows.

Last year, at the Rainforest Information Centre in Lismore, some of us started the “I love George Bush” campaign. Try it out. Try thinking “I love George Bush.” and see what reactions you have. These reactions are emotionally loaded material that is available for our growth and healing.

Compassion is not necessarily enough by itself; we also need to agitate, to act. Compassionate Agitation; that is action from the heart. At the same time, we might infuse each action of our day, no matter how small or how large, with a prayer for peace. washing dishes, emailing, walking…

This is not action from guilt or shame or should ofs, could ofs, or self sacrifice. As a Gestalt counsellor, Frank, once said to me, “Thou shall not ‘should’ on thyself.

It is acts of love, beautiful, timely, elegant, graceful acts from the heart that will be the most long term and binding. and this love for each other comes naturally to us, what EO Wilson calls biophilia, all we need to do is to remove the obstacles to love and await feeling moved.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, we need to learn to love ourselves. Sure, this sounds like an old cliché but now is the time to put this into practice, with newly inspired resolve, for the sake of peace on this planet. And it is not always easy.

"The resolve that all beings live in peace and harmony is the willingness to meet, straight on, all the horror - beginning with yourself" - Gangaji

Agitation, annoyance, boredom, frustration, self judgment…all of these can serve as a mindfulness bell that signals that it is time to breathe or to pray for peace or to love ourselves. These discomforts might signal that it is time to pause and shift from being externally referrented to internally focused.

The War on Iraq is a wake-up call on many fronts to conscious living. While on the one hand we are working towards a beautiful future on the planet, on the other hand, regardless of how the future turns out, regardless of whether we stopped this war or saved that forest, there is plenty of suffering on the planet right now and how we address that suffering each moment of our lives is what can bring us a sense of deep fulfilment.

As many have remarked, this is the first war to have been publicly debated before being waged. The global movement is an exciting and promising event. We are living through the transformation of culture right now.

After the rally in Brisbane on the day the war officially ‘began’, I was exiting the car park and as I paid the young punk looking man, I said, “May Peace be with you.”

"May peace be with you", he replied.

May peace be with you.

Thank you very much and I will end with a quote from His Holiness the XIVth Dalai lama

Never Give up
No matter what is going on
Never Give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Word for peace
and I say again
Never Give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going oon around you
Never Give up

Addendum (adapted from a posting on a listserv that I’m on)

Thirty-five years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson went on national television to say it was clear that the people of the United State of America wanted neither him nor his Vietnam policy (a negotiator would go to Paris to talk with the Vietnamese after refusing until then to do so and Johnson would not run for re-election).

The current movement is not a discrete event, it was in motion then and it continues now. When we are looking for hope, we must remember this larger context.

There is a wise Jewish teaching encoded in the Passover song called Dayenu.

"If we had just gotten to the Red Sea and the sea had not split,
dayenu, that would have been enough for us!
If we had gotten to Mt Sinai but there had been no revelation,
dayenu, that would have been enough for us!
If we had received revelation but never crossed the Jordan,
dayenu, that would have been enough for us!”

The deeper psychology of this song calls us to celebrate each step of the way. catch our breath, and then take the next step. If we never celebrate small victories, we will burn out before we can achieve the big ones.

So let us celebrate not only our recent victories -- not only denying Bush the UN's support and Turkey's aid, not only helping to create this fine grass-roots world-wide movement for deep social change -- but also that victory 35 years ago.