thumb prayerflagsA reflection by Tulku Sherdor

"If there were something we could do to show our gratitude for the great service offered to us, from time immemorial to the present, by horses, cattle and sheep, whose brute labor we have used and whom we have butchered; to cause tranquility and happiness to prevail in our land and region, and the people in it to enjoy harmonious relations; and, above all, to bring about the restoration and further development of peaceful relations among the various monasteries, dharma traditions and religious systems, wouldn't that also help to increase affection and friendship among people? 

And wouldn't finding a way to create and extend cordial relations among people, from our perspective as Buddhists, propel us further along the path taught by our most compassionate Teacher?   If we could take such ideas and actions as a starting point, and embellish them with the superior viewpoint (boddhicitta), living life gently and consciously, wouldn't the world itself, quite naturally, be improved thereby? "

Hung Kar Dorje Rinpoche, in his preface to the Book of Prayers for Universal Peace, explaining his purpose for creating the Annual Prayer Festival for World Peace at Blue Valley Thubten Chokorling Monastery in Golok, Tibet.

As we enter another year, one again threatening escalation of misery and bloodshed all over the planet, one in which people continue to be unable or unwilling to co-exist and to distribute resources equitably, it is easy to ask, what is the point of praying for peace? Isn't that pointless? If you already wish for peace, that's good; but you won't convince anyone else to become more peaceful by prayer alone. After all, as Buddhists, we don't believe some god will step down from heaven and impose peace on the world just because we ask him or her nicely and sincerely to do so.

The answer to this question is at two levels. First, where the Buddhist view and the scientific world view converge is on the understanding that all apparent phenomena arise interdependently, that is, through the gathering of appropriate causes and conditions. This truth of causation applies not only on a material level, but on a psychological one as well. There is always some degree of interrelationship between our own mood and expression and the response we receive, the interaction we have with the world. There is genuine give and take. Therefore, necessarily, the more peaceful we are in our own minds, the more peacefulness we will find, and generate, around us. That is just how things work. Everyone is attracted to and affected by a person who is deeply at peace with themselves.

But what does this mean, to be at peace with oneself? What makes someone this way? In Buddhist terms, a person becomes peaceful by practicing, by cultivating peace within themselves. This is very practical, not at all mysterious. 1200 years ago, the Indian Buddhist teacher Santideva explained that our journey through life at times can be like setting out barefoot to walk through a great valley of very sharp rocks. Our first impulse might be to try to find some soft material to cover the entire valley floor, end to end, so that we never have to risk stepping on anything sharp. We want to secure, to insulate ourselves from all danger, from experiencing any pain. But, Shantideva taught, it would be much more effective to wear a pair of leather sandals. That way our safety is always with us, we don't have to change the world as a whole to experience it. This is an analogy for cultivating patience, tolerance, and peace of mind. They are effective qualities, tools, or equipment we can take with us into any and every situation.

Second, the number one cause of peace is the wish by human beings to experience peace. These days, as in days past, so many people believe, or at least pretend they believe, that peace can be accomplished or obtained by subduing anyone and everyone who appears to stand in the way of our own happiness. Peace, in their view, can be accomplished through aggression. In Buddhist terms, that never works. Because we are all stuck in this world together, our peace is contingent on yours, and yours on ours. No one can maintain a peaceful existence at the expense of others for very long. In fact, in the history of mankind, it is empirically true that it never works, at least not for very long. Hostility breeds hostility, and only peacefulness breeds peace. This is simply basic cause and effect. So long as you bear suspicion and hostility towards others whom you perceive to threaten your security, no amount of negotiation, strategy, no number of peacekeeping forces and no treaty, no matter how perfectly drafted, will ever ensure peace. Peace is not won by continually making others too fearful and helpless to attack you. Human beings have been trying this for thousands of years, and it simply doesn't work. Empires have always been built this way, and soon fell and crumbled.

So what works? Convincing people that aggression is a dead end, and that only peace begets peace. Peace is won not by controlling others, but by convincing them, by winning them over. Everything starts and ends with the intentions and aspirations of human beings. We have created the world in which we live. If we are young and aspire to go to law school to study human rights, that can set the whole course of our lives in motion. Similarly, if we truly aspire to contribute to peace in the world, the strength of this aspiration will carry us forward, and we will discover endless ways to convey a message of peace in our lives, through how we live. And this affects everyone around us.

Now, there may be those who have become so hardened that they truly do not want peace. They want to kill us. That is the only thing that would make them happy. But even this powerful hatred did not come about by accident. It is the result of conditions that have hardened over a long period of time, in their societies and in their own personal lives. Such people will not respond well to our prayers, and if we talk to them about wanting peace, they may just as well cut our heads off. That can happen. Does this mean that praying and working for peace is futile? Not at all. But it may be a much bigger and longer undertaking than we at first imagine. But because of interdependence, because of the power of our own positive aspirations, change is possible, it is inevitable. We have to have determination as well, even if it takes generations and lifetimes. That's all.