How a worldview based on conflict cannot support spiritual peace
Sometimes when I have a quiet moment, I try to think about what parts of my life are really my own and which parts I assumed from my culture, parents, religion, or entertainment. I think about what opinions I have that I really, critically, formed myself, and which ones I choose to believe because it’s more comfortable to do so.
It’s a practice I’m sure many others have done themselves when we wonder if we are truly directing our own lives, or letting others do it for us. For some, it can come in one, life-shattering instant when we realize we no longer believe some of the basic, fundamental truths we were taught as children. In those cases, it can take a long time to deconstruct our worldview and rebuild it with things we do believe, with varying levels of success and emotional struggle.
For others, it can be a slow, ongoing process as we merge the new truths we learn into our existing worldview. Over time our old values are replaced by new ones.
In either case, I’m not saying that the “new” truths we learn are right, or better, or more correct than the ones we learn in our early years. It’s a part of life to want to grow and experience new things and expand our understanding. In some cases, we might abandon a more nurturing set of values and adopt worldviews that are unhealthy or inhumane.
However, one fundamental, foundational “truth” found in most moral, spiritual, political, and economic groups of thought (especially in Western philosophy and spirituality) — one that has influenced a majority of my life, my behavior, and my perception of the meaning of my life so far — is the idea of conflict and its role in our lives. A worldview that has created a culture fascinated with fighting, with choosing sides, with conflict. A culture of violence.
I think about the common phrases we use in our culture. And whether or not we use them in the same ways, they are often rooted in a culture and history of conflict and violence. Things like: “Toughen up”, “I fight for the cause of right,” or even “Put on the armor of God”.
I don’t mean common, harmless idioms or colloquialisms that use violent words like “Let me take a shot”, I mean language we use that actually implies conflict or violence in our intentions.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying these phrases are harmful by themselves. I’m saying these phrases are merely symptoms of our fundamental worldview, one that says conflict is not only a part of life but that we must be active participants in that conflict.
You might think this is a harmless assumption, or that this worldview is even beneficial or essential to the way you live your life or the way you think the universe works. For me, a dozen quotes from famous philosophers and spiritual teachers spring to mind about the beneficial nature of conflict as I write this. But please, think about it for just a second.
When we assume that all life, and even the purpose of our own lives, is to come out the victor in a grand conflict or war, we begin to see conflict everywhere we look, and where we do not see conflict initially, we invent it. We assume there is conflict where there might not be any because in our worldview conflict is necessary and ever-present.
“The root of the fear is the feeling of separateness that can exist here, within oneself. The root of the fear is within the model one has of oneself. That’s where fear starts. Once that feeling of separation exists, then you process everything from either inside or outside in terms of that model. It then keeps reinforcing the feeling of vulnerability, because there are incredibly powerful forces moving both inside and outside of you…When you look at social structures, you see how much social institution is based upon the feeling of fragility within the human condition. Based on fear.”
We end up making decisions not because something is good, but because it is in opposition to what we think is bad. Instead of doing good, we simply fight against the bad. Then we fall into the trap of relative goods and bads, and judging each other and life based on their relative goodness and badness.
Have we ever compared “sins” and good acts based on their relative morality? Have we compared people we know based on their efforts to fight the bad?
I know there is a temptation here to assume that this means there are only good and bad people, with no in-between, no grey area. But that distinction and separation of people into two groups is also a symptom of this conflict worldview. It separates us into two opposing groups who must inevitably clash.
It becomes “us” versus “them”. West versus East. Capitalism versus Socialism. Right versus wrong. Progress versus stagnation. God versus the devil. Order versus chaos. Society versus anarchy. The list goes on.
I don’t believe life is about “getting tough and dealing with it”. I don’t believe there is a need for me to join the army of God and vanquish my enemies before they defeat me. That’s what the world forces us to do. That’s giving in. It’s not hard to fight for your cause. That’s easy. After all, what is harder? To give into your anger, your hate, and raise your banner to fight against “the enemy”, or to let it go? To let go of attachment and learn to love?
“There’s no rush. Go on being right just as long as you can. You’ll see that being right is actually a tight little box that is very constraining and not much fun to live in. Righteousness cuts you off from the flow of things.”
Even the Western idea of a Savior coming to rescue the world from evil through a world-shattering conflict only makes sense when we believe in an active Devil or Satan who strives to raise armies both seen and unseen against us.
Nobody is going to bring us peace. It will not magically happen. Why should we be delivered from the chaos and evil we create, support, and perpetuate? How can we separate ourselves from the “world” when it comes time for “judgment”? No, we must create our own peace. Peace is an internal process, not something someone else can give to us.
“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”
This life is not about learning how to fight better, how to get tougher, how to fight the good fight, and endure through suffering until we finally die and return to a victory celebration. Life is about learning to be you. The special you, the unique you, who will exist once in all the cycles of creation, in every round of reality and consciousness. We’re here to learn to be human.
When we awake to this new truth, this higher truth, how do we look back on those who continue to frame their existence in terms of conflict, or rather, in terms of violence? Those who feel comfortable living in a culture of violence.
They’re not evil. That just perpetuates the worldview of conflict. They’re not child-like, or uneducated, which assumes that our spiritual and human growth is a simple upward path, and implies some are better than others in our eternal journey.
I prefer to think that they are sick. They have come down with the affliction of being asleep and not wanting to wake into a world that is uncomfortable when compared to their dream world.
Why are they sick? Because our world is sick, our world is poisoned, and a poisoned field produces sick flowers. This removes resentment from my heart. It removes pity and anger and replaces it with hope for their growth. I don’t judge those who actively work to make the world a worse place because I realize it’s not their fault, really. They are acting out rationally in a worldview that was given to them.
But not enough to just not pass judgment on those who are sick, who are asleep. We must replace that judgment with appreciation. Appreciation for the growth within them. Appreciation for the soul within them that has always been, and always will be. A lost friend, a lost part of ourselves we will embrace when we return home again.
Once we stop looking at the world through the lens of conflict, of violence, and no longer see “us” and “them”, we begin to see everyone as “me”. As “I AM”. You see there is no inherent conflict, but different levels of growth toward awakening.
“At the root of human conflict is our fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. The illusion that we are isolated beings, unconnected to the rest of the universe, has led us to view the “outside” world with hostility, and has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world.”
If you have already experienced this awakening, then keep going. Remember there is no finish line. There is more to learn. Brahman is infinite and you have just peeked through the doorway. But do not look down on those who still sleep. It is not fair to them that you expect them to awaken without walking the same journey you have. Have mercy. Be kind. Be patient. Love the sleepers and help them along with their own journey. Do not give them answers to questions they have not asked. There are many sleepers who won’t awaken in this lifetime, or for many lifetimes to come. How many incarnations did you have to pass through before you awoke?
If you haven’t yet experienced Nirvana or awakening, don’t give up.
We can always love a little more. We can always be more patient, more merciful, and more charitable.
I hope whatever measure we can improve we do so without conflict.