I walked into my apartment, opened my laptop and the first story was there. Of a Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over the Ukraine. Images of a scarred landscape. Intense, manifest suffering.
I got up, put on the kettle, sat down. Felt utter panic. Stood up. Put on the radio.
After 30 minutes of radio, internet, and the shock in journalists voices, the tears came. Because this felt personal. As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, I flew with Malaysian Airlines to Europe countless times. That could have been my family. And a thought kept circling my mind: my people, my people, my people. The people of my world are hurting.
I finally turned everything off.
om mani peme hum.
I willed all minds of love and protection to move to those families, to those people on the plane, their distraught families, the families on the ground in the Ukraine who have been suffering for so many months. Because this is what we are: families, the same, scared living species.
Later that evening, I was relieved to head to a meditation class I was teaching in downtown Portland to discuss the building of inner peace. It felt like a helpful response.
Everything my teachers have taught me—wisdom passed down for thousands of years—has been pointing to one essential fact that as a planet, I think we need to get to grips with: peace is a mind.
It manifests outwards from the minds of living beings and therefore it counts on all of us to contribute to its arising.
I've been studying this peace, trying to find it within in myself, by following an ancient pathway of teachings. I've seen glimpses: how peace is a mind that is perfectly calm and gentle. How it radiates outwards, and how it arises when we start to let go of the negativity in our minds.
My teacher says our mind is like the vast, wide open blue sky—it has a lot of space in it. Space for differences between cultures. Space for allowing others to feel negative towards us. Space to love and cherish them anyway.
Building home peace
I am reminded of something that was said a couple of months ago, on the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. An inspired teacher in our tradition called Gen Kelsang Jampa was giving a free talk in the Old South Meeting House in the very heart of the city. An historic building of revolution and change.
That evening he talked about world peace. But he began by talking about inner peace, and then he shifted to "home peace". I thought that was a good point. How are we acting towards our loved ones? Can we start there? Can we start by building home peace? That feels manageable, and necessary.
This morning, as the radios continue to talk and our planet attempts to understand the dropping of bombs and planes and the appearance of missiles on the grounds of our lands, I have been contemplating the words of my teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his book Transform Your Life.
These words come from a Tibetan monk whose response when his country was invaded was to move into the mountains of Nepal and train his mind until it was an expression of permanent peace. He did this because of his compassion, knowing all living beings are suffering and need help. So he became the solution.
Like Buddha Shakyamuni—the ultimate revolutionary and pacifist—his response was to eradicate all traces of hatred, attachment and ignorance from his own mind. Perhaps we can say, this is the Bodhisattva's response to the dropping of bombs.
Geshe Kelsang's words strike me as wise and helpful and worth contemplating today. I hope they bring benefit to anyone whose eyes have landed on this blog today:
"Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. We all wish for world peace, but world peace will never be achieved unless we first establish peace within our own minds. We can send so-called "peacekeeping forces" in to areas of conflict, but peace cannot be imposed from the outside with guns. Only by creating peace within our own mind and helping others do the same can we hope to achieve peace in this world."
Photo credit: Kevin Gill (CC by 2.0.), and Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, Tharpa.