May 1999, Volume 6 Nr. 9, Issue 69
Plato said, "We become what we contemplate." Several times during the first few weeks of May a teaching colleague, somewhat discour- aged with the quality and caliber of the fruits of our labor, stated to me, "I wouldnt want these kids defending me." If what Plato said is true that the reality around us is such that we have a tendency to create it, then in my friends mind she is creating a personal world in need of defending by young people who are condemned to failure.
Another way of looking at Platos commentary is that the universe has a tendency to fulfill our expectations. It gives us what we perceive we want. We are that which we think.
Consider the ancient Sanskrit word "mandala." Meaning circle, a mandala is a complex design used in the practice of contemplation and meditation. The mandala describes the symbolic cosmic diagram representing the inseparable nature of the physical and spiritual universe. The word spiritual has many connotations which are uniquely made manifest in the mind of the beholder.
To me, the spiritual is the moment-to-moment state of affairs of the internal psychic house. It is a snapshot frozen in the mental framework of where the head is at any given moment. One can then say that a mandala is the connecting framework between that which exists outside of ourselves and how we experience it.
In the book, Attitudinal Healing - A Guide for Groups and Individuals by Genevieve Weirich an article entitled, "Miracles Still Happen" Robert Redd describes a profound experience. Redd writes of being told by a doctor in the hospital that his wife had died from a lung embolism. Suddenly, a nurse enters the room declaring that, "Weve got her going again." Redd then goes on to describe how he spent the entire night thinking about the possibility of his wife not pulling through. In the quiet of the chapel (a place where I too, often found refuge when back in 1991 I donated a kidney to our son) Redds "minds eye" conjures up the image of a flower whose four petals contain the words: acceptance, patience, relax and love.
Redd struggles with the acceptance that his wife might die. Acceptance to him became letting go realizing that there are things which he could not change. Accepting things as they are, however, is not the same as accepting things as we wish them to be.
The war in the Balkans is a thing "that is" while a response to it is a thing we create. Whatever form our creation takes, it is a product manufactured by the biologic processor residing between our ears. The words that we repeat follow the creation reinforcing the imagery. The now new, more powerful imagery can become so encompassing that we easily accept it as the Truth. It is then difficult to see any other way. The mandala in the mind thus becomes fixed. The cosmic diagram of "what is" limits the possibility of what might or can be.
The horrific images on television of the suffering of the civilian Kosovar population are tragic. These folks deserve the attention and humanitarian help of the international community as do far too many other people in similar circumstances around the world. With that in mind it is much too easy to buy into the line that violence against a declared or even proven aggressor is justifiable or warranted, that it is the only response possible.
Consider, a different mandala, one of real peace, one upon which the best of the worlds great religions are founded. Consider, if you will, the teachings of Jesus, a victim of the death penalty.
If our national cosmic diagram were to incorporate the A.J. Muste phrase, "There is no way to Peace. Peace is the way", then we might be willing to spend at least as much resources in providing all the people of the Balkans (and the world) that which they need to settle their differences, have adequate shelter, enough to eat and water to drink. Should not the governments and people of the world spend as much time and energy preparing for and implementing peace as they do for war? Should not the self-proclaimed "greatest nation on Earth" commit a substantial amount of its always available military resources to eliminating the inequities and other causes of war as they do on making war? Can readers name just one US institution of higher learning dedicated solely to peacemaking and conflict resolution? Why not? Dare to name two?
I remember early in the 1980s attending a meeting of the Monmouth County New Jersey Education Association. The issue discussed at the time was the investment of teacher pension funds in South Africa by the huge New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). There was tragedy taking place in Soweto as a result of the decades old minority white South Afrikaner practice of apartheid. Human rights abuses were common even to the extent of torturing children in the nations jails. I dont recall anyone suggesting that Johannesburg be bombed as a solution to the ongoing tragedy. Eventually, apartheid was abolished as a consequence of growing world consciousness through sustained and patient dialogue, debate, a world boycott, peacemaking and finally attempts at reconciliation. Would violence of the type now unleashed by NATO and the US have saved more lives? Highly doubtful.
After hundreds of years of animosity and decades of senseless bloodshed, Ireland has achieved a good start at achieving a lasting peace which now requires continued effort and support. NATO did not bomb London to loosen the grip of the British on Ireland. Though factions of the IRA did run a long bombing campaign against England, the results of that action were counterproductive and much innocent life was unnecessarily lost.
Then there is Israel and the Palestinians. Is it not interesting that Jerusalem was not laid waste (as are vast sections of Yugoslavia) in response to the forced mass movement of people out of their homeland? Which side are you on boys? Have we not as a species lived long enough to realize that might makes right leaves many more people dead?
One can go on and on. There is Somalia and North Korea where people are starving. There is as much brutality, death and destruction in East Timor and Turkey as there is in Kosovo. Should our response in all these areas be massive bombing? I think not. Bombing and other violence only make things worse. I firmly believe what the American reporter who was closely following Mahatma Ghandi said after his assassination. She said, "He showed the world another way but, the world did not listen." Fifty years later, it is still not listening. I am tempted to ask, "Where have all the pacifists gone?" And, I am afraid that the answer will be, "Gone to Wall Street everyone."
I am not naïve enough to believe that if I chant phrases of encouragement for a better world or an end to the war in Yugoslavia that it will happen and in the morning all will be well in the Balkans. I do believe, however, that war as an option to settling disputes between nations has long ago become obsolete. When my mandala of peace and its possibility, however, become visible enough, the consideration of it by others becomes possible and the opportunity of finding and implementing alternatives to violence develops. Perhaps, my colleague someday might discover that no ones children are required to die in defense of the failed policies of the older generation.
Leo Buscaglia in his book Love writes,
"Man learns evil in the same manner in which he learns good. If he believes in a world of evil he will respond suspiciously fearfully and by constantly searching for and assuredly finding the evil that he seeks."
Consider the defining United States foreign policy in the closing years of the 20th century. Almost without interruption, serially one-after-the- other, a steady stream of men are presented as so evil as to be equated with Adolph Hitler.
To name just a few who have been "elevated" to the stature of evil which the United States government loves to hate and hates to love, there is Daniel Ortega, Moamar Qhuadafi, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Salvador Allende, Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, etc., and of course Slobodan Milosovic. Odds are that in the not too distant future, Milosovic will be replaced by a new name, another manifestation of evil created by the corporate-military-prison-industrial complex. The corporate mantra has for quite some time chanted that the good guys (us or US) must save the planet from the do-badders (everyone who opposes us). It is as if the United States is that "man" that Leo Buscaglia wrote about who sees evil everywhere.
This scenario has played itself out often in US history. An example is the Joseph McCarthy era where a dangerous Marxist could be found hiding under every rock found in Hollywood, the classroom, the opera house, theater, stage and even in the halls and chambers of the US Congress. The policymakers thus become the embodiment of the evil they purportedly are railing against. I suggest that that is what is happening in Kosovo today.
Who can argue that unleashing the might of NATO (without a UN mandate) against a small country the size of Kentucky is not evil (even if the goal is to stop evil)? Perhaps, the policymakers could take a cue from Anne Frank, the teenager during World War II, who shortly before her murder by the Nazis wrote in her diary, "No matter, I still believe that at heart man is good."
On April 11, I listened to a National Public Radio piece about an Irish town of 50,000 who is offering to take in a hundred or so refugees from the Balkans. My thoughts immediately turned to the Statue of Liberty which as child I could see from rooftop of my familys apartment building in downtown Jersey City. I thought of my parents coming to a new country where like other immigrants we faced prejudice as being the "green horns" on the block. I wonder why this grand lady is now not witness to Balkan refugees arriving at her shores? Should not the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo merit the mass opening of our doors? Should not communities throughout the United States and the people who back the bombing be willing to open their towns, villages and cities to these traumatized and brutalized people? Should not the people of the US be building a mass movement to take in these people? Yet, I hear no mass calling of offering refuge to these people. Why not? I suppose the token gesture of "temporarily" placing them in such ill conceived locations as Guam and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is sufficient to ease the conscience of nation that has accepted the belief that war is a way to peace. Has history not taught us anything?
I believe that the evidence is clear for those who wish to examine it. On May 20, 1998, Amnesty International issued a critical report on US human rights violations that the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
" should send a clear, public message to all of its employees that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the unjust use of force and firearms will not be tolerated.
"Allegations of ill treatment collected include people struck with batons fists or feet, often as punishment for attempting to run away from Border Patrol agents,
"Every time a U.S. Border Patrol agent illegally beats, shoots or abuses the human rights of a person, regardless of the person's immigration status, it is a violation of U.S. and international law, Kerry McGrath, deputy regional director for Amnesty International, said. We want them to know the world is watching."
This is but one example. Illegal immigrants detained for long periods of time also often suffer inhuman treatment.
Then there is the case of General Pinochet. One willing to listen hears the deafening silence of the US authorities over atrocities committed in Chile when General Pinochet was our boy and doing our business. No wonder critics of US foreign policy claim its real goal is to keep the world safe for Capitalism.
Returning to the opening paragraph of this issue and the words, "We become what we contemplate." The terrible and sad events of April 20, 1999, in Littleton, CO, I believe are a testament to Platos insight. On April 22, 1999 CNN Interactives homepage graphically illustrated the wisdom of his words. The headline of the major story down the middle of the page reads, "Milosovic Home a Legitimate Target, British Say." In the column to the right were links to the stories: "Littleton Looks for Answers", "Harris Hinted of Violence, Klebold a follower", "Poll: More parents worried about school safety", "School shooting sparks gun control debate", etc.
Both columns deal with violence within this country and by this country. While the nation now will further debate why its children are so angry few will see Platos ancient admonition on the CNN Interactive homepage.
We contemplate violence as the solution to our domestic and international problems. Bomb Vietnam. Bomb Cambodia. Bomb Panama. Bomb Afghanistan. Bomb Sudan. Bomb Iraq. Bomb Yugoslavia. Plant land mines. More nukes. Execute the prisoner. Incarcerate for profit. We arm the world and then wonder why our children are armed. We beat up our spouses and wonder why students beat up, shoot and kill other students. We teach how to kill and wonder why our children kill. We glorify the war machine and its weaponry and are shocked to find our children in possession of them. We teach might makes right through thought, example and deed and then are appalled when our youth practice what we preach.
The youth mirror who we are. While there are those that are quick to blame the lack of the "presence" God or the Bible in the schools for the problem their historical lapse in memory reveals their hidden agenda. Jesus taught peace. He was called the prince of peace and hardly would have agreed with violence as the solution to anything. Quite the contrary, he was a victim of violence and capital punishment.
The proponents of solving the worlds problems through biblical means forget that the United States has always been a violent country, one where the Bible was often used to justify violence. The treatment of the indigenous population and slavery are but two dramatic examples. These folks yearn for a yesteryear America where love of God prevented human abuse. Their pipe dream forgets the violence of the Civil War, the twenties and the crime on the nations big city streets, the open gang warfare , the killings of the workers standing up for their rights at the coal mines, the sweatshops in textile mills, the killing in Haymarket, Vietnam, etc.
Yes, we become that which we contemplate. Then, we become blind to that which we have become. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." How can the kingdom of heaven be found in a Balkan field of depleted uranium shells? We become that which we contemplate and we spend hundreds-of-billions of dollars contemplating death and destruction. We get what we pay for. Imagine if that money were spent on cooperatively eliminating the causes of war, injustice, famine, disease and ignorance. Imagine if we contemplated that as much as we contemplate the violent what we might become? We might not become residents of heaven but life for millions and millions of people would be much less of a hell than that which we have created for them. Perhaps, with enough non-violent contemplation, our children can someday live outside the inferno of violence all too common in our schools.
THE GREAT MANDALA (The Wheel Of Life)
Words and music by Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers and Albert Grossman
So I told him that he'd better
Take your place on the great Mandala
Tell the jailer not to bother
What's the rumbling in the courtyard?
Tell the people they are safe now.
Take your place on the great Mandala
Copyright 1967 Pepamar Music, ASCAP
"When I received the Nobel Prize, the only big lump sum of money I have ever seen, I had to do something with it. The easiest way to drop this hot potato was to invest it, to buy shares. I knew that World War II was coming and I was afraid that if I had shares which rise in case of war, I would wish for war. So I asked my agent to buy shares which go down in the event of war. This he did. I lost my money and saved my soul. "
"As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular."
© 1999 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski