Inner Peace on Earth

“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”  How many times have we seen and heard this sentiment . . .

It comes from the New Testament, a scene known as “The Annunciation to the shepherds,”  where angels come to a group of shepherds to tell them of the birth of Jesus.  After their announcement, the angels proclaim glory to God “in the highest” and on earth peace and goodwill.  The phrase we are familiar with differs slightly from the various Biblical translations, and was first popularized for Christmas in carols written during the 18th century, and then on about a billion greeting cards.

For most of us, peace on earth means “world peace,” a state of international friendliness, the end of war.  World peace is not yet at hand, and with each act of violence, whether on the streets of Berlin or in Chicago, this lofty goal seems to slip further and further from our grasp. Some people reasonably question if peace on earth is even possible.

However, in another sense, peace on earth is already here. If you are able to achieve a degree of inner peace then this is peace on earth.  In Peace is Every Step, the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says,

“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see.  The question is whether or not we are in touch with it.  We don’t have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky.  We don’t have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child.  Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.”

We don’t have to wait until Christmas, or any other time, to unwrap peace on earth.  To paraphrase John and Yoko’s anti-war mantra, peace is here . . . if you want it.

“Good will toward men” means compassion.  Buddhism teaches that inner peace is the root of compassion, and if we experience inner peace, we should naturally want to share it with others.

For example, the Dharma-sangiti Sutra reads,

“When one has grasped the fact, that this ‘great essence of inward peace’ for oneself as for one’s neighbors, has as its real meaning the avoidance of pain (such as infinite suffering) and the full attainment of joy in this world, one must cherish enthusiasm through a eagerness for it; even as a man shut up in a burning house longs for cool water.”

So then, I do not wish you peace on earth.  Instead, may you, and me, all of us, have a real eagerness for peace.

“The development of a kind heart (a feeling of closeness for all human beings) does not involve the religiosity we normally associate with conventional religious practice.  It is not only for people who believe in religion, but is for everyone regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. It is for anyone who considers himself or herself, above all, a member of the human family and who sees things from this larger and longer perspective. This is a powerful feeling that we should develop and apply; instead, we often neglect it . . .”

– Tenzin Gyatsu, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, A Human Approach to World Peace


Finding Peace

This is the time of year we often here the phrase, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Although this phrase from New Testament, part of “The Annunciation to the shepherds” where a group of angels tell some shepherds about the birth of Jesus, is not exactly a mandate for humans to establish peace on earth, nevertheless, that is the popular sentiment.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has this to say about peace:

We may shout, ‘Let there be peace!’ but this won’t really bring peace. Peace will appear in the world around us only when each individual learns to tame the disturbances arising within his or her own mind. Then, peace will come automatically.”

Actually, peace is already here. If you calm your mind, there is peace. If you illuminate your mind, peace shines brightly like the sun. Once we have found inner peace, it is crucial that we share it. Sharing peace with the world is the highest awakening, the supreme enlightenment – the path of the altruistic heroes we call bodhisattvas.

May you find peace today, this season, and every day, and let us all share peace throughout the coming year.

– – – – – – – – – –

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche quote from Union of Mahamudra and Dzoghen


War! Huh, Yeah! (Empty Sky)

Bruce Springsteen’s song “Empty Sky” is how I remember that day, how it looked that morning. Here in Los Angeles, the sun was bright and ths sky had not a cloud, it was Spanish blue.

I worked sales for a greeting card company. I usually went in between 6 and 6:30am. That’d be 9 o’clock on the east coast. I called a customer at a Hallmark store in New York City about a re-order. “We’re under attack!” he shouted into the phone. “America is under attack!” Well, that’s fine, Gus, but what about those cards? He hung up. We were under attack, yeah, right. I went into the main office where some of the other early birds were gathered around the television and I watched one of the towers fall.

It’s been 11 years, and since that morning it has been America on the attack. Wednesday night, the man who in 2007 got himself elected President of the United States with words like these, “It is time to bring our troops home! It is time to realize there is no military solution to the problem of Iraq! It is time to turn the page!” went on TV to speak to the nation. He told us we are still at war. I sort of get the feeling we will be at war . . . forever.

us-soldier-iraq2bJust as soon as the troops come home, out they go again. Only 475, but that is just the beginning. Like Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again.

Speaking of the New York Yankees, I’ve been watching a lot of my favorite team this summer. The other day I was trying to remember what song they used to play in the 7th inning stretch back in the good old days before 9/11. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” usually. Now it’s a salute to the troops and Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.” Woody Guthrie hated that song. His prejudice rubbed off on me. I hate that song and I hate Kate Smith’s voice. She reminds me of Ethel Merman. I hated Ethel Merman. Well, hate is a harsh word. Strongly disliked.

But I really hate war. The thought of war blows my mind. I hate that we are still at war. I am not terribly fond of this ISIL group, but I think the mistakes of the last 11 years should have taught us there is no military solution to the problem in Iraq. Didn’t someone else say that?

Because so many of the Buddha’s teachings can be summarized with the word “peace” (santi), he is often called the “king of peace” (santiraja). Once, during a period of drought, his relatives argued over water rights to the Rohini River. They spit into two factions and were ready to go to war. The Buddha intervened. He asked each side what was more important to them, water or their blood? He was able to convince them of the futility of war.

The Sunni and the Shiite are related. They are brothers and sisters in the same faith. Can they ever be convinced of the futility of war? Of bloodshed? Can anyone in the Middle East, be they Muslim, Israeli or Christian be convinced? It will take a Buddha-like or Gandhian figure to bring them together. I don’t see one on the horizon, do you?

I am not against the President’s strategy. I mean, I guess I’m not. I don’t have a better one. It’s just that war is something I despise. And I am not against the troops. I am weary of the necessity of supporting them.

Tuesday was the 185th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birth. I know it’s a joke from Seinfeld, but the title of his epic novel “War and Peace” really should have been “War, What Is It Good For?”


Black Rain

Today, August 6, is the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It happened at 08:15 Japan time. The Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, released a bomb named Little Boy containing 64 kg (141 lb) of uranium-235 over the city. It took Little Boy 44.4 seconds to drop from 31,000 feet (9,400 m) to a height of about 1,900 feet (580 m) where it detonated.

hiroshima-damage4.7 square miles (12 km2) of the city was destroyed. Within seconds, 75,000 people were killed or fatally injured. 65% of the casualties nine years of age and younger. Beneath the epicenter of the explosion temperatures were hot enough to melt concrete and steel. 69% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. The bomb started fires that spread rapidly through wood and paper homes.

The blast released nearly 200 different kinds of radioactive isotopes (nuclear fission particles of uranium and plutonium that escaped fission). These particles and other materials irradiated by the bomb’s neutrons were carried high into the atmosphere.

The mix of massive amounts of airborne irradiated materials merged with heat and thermal currents from the firestorms caused it to rain within an hour of the bombing. Fallout particles mixed with carbon residue from fires created the deadly “black rain” reported by many eyewitnesses.

On that day, Hiromu Morishita was 14 years old and in the ninth grade. He survived. He became a calligrapher and teacher. He was president of the Senior High School Teachers’ Society and the Hiroshima Peace Education Institute in Japan. He wrote a poem:


MorishitaWatch dutifully
with your eyes.

Here, something happened that shouldn’t have.
Here now, something irreparable continues.
Here tomorrow, signs of everyone’s destruction
may appear.

Don’t watch with one eye.
Don’t watch with your arm or with your head.

With the heart of one who endures despair.

– – – – – – – – – –

“Hiroshima” (Morishita, Bradley, and Dougherty 14) Memories of the Future: The Poetry of Sadako Kurihara and Hiromu Morishita Commentary by Edward A Dougherty


Cowardice Will Save the World

By all accounts, James Garner, who passed away Saturday at age 86, was a likeable guy, who excelled at playing likeable guys on the small and big screen. Many of the characters he played were interchangeable: wisecracking, sometimes glib, unsentimental, cynical. A number of them were cowards.

In one episode of the show that provided Garner with his initial fame, Bret Maverick said, “Bravery gets you nothing but hurt.” And Jim Rockford, Garner’s other big television role, was always a reluctant hero. But the biggest coward Garner ever played was in The Americanization of Emily. In that film, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Edward Madison makes no bones about it. He says, “I preach cowardice.”

Andrews as Emily
Andrews as Emily

Emily is one of my all-time favorite films. I saw it shortly after its release in 1964. In those days, we had what was known as the “double bill” or “double feature.” You got to see two movies for the price of one (plus a cartoon). I don’t remember what the main feature might have been that afternoon (as I recall it was an afternoon), but Emily stayed in my mind. For one thing, it caused me to fall in love with Julie Andrews. I had already seen her in Mary Poppins, where she was practically perfect in every way, but in this movie, she was sexy as hell.

Emily was memorable for another reason . . . in 1964, I still had an idealistic view about war, I doubt I knew much about what was happening in Vietnam at that time, and I certainly had not read anything in-depth about Gandhi or learned the word ahisma yet, but Charlie Madison’s “cowardice” resonated, striking a pacifist chord that must have already existed within my 12-year-old soul.

Based on William Bradford Huie’s 1959 novel of the same name, written by Paddy Chayefsky, directed by Arthur Hiller, the film is essentially a satire on war, but it’s also about life, love, bravery, Hersey Bars and Coca-cola. Garner’s character, like Henley in The Great Escape, is a “scrounger,” and aide-de- camp for an admiral stationed in London. It’s just before D-Day and Charlie has things pretty good, living it up in his cushy job until he’s handed a dangerous assignment (photographing the first dead man on Omaha Beach) and falls in love with Emily, a British war widow.

This brief exchange conveys the two character’s outlooks on life:

Emily Barham: I believe in honor, service, courage, and fair play, and cricket, and all the other symbols of British character. Which have only civilized half the world!

Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: You British plundered half the world for your own profit, let’s not pass it off as the age of enlightenment.

Chayefsky’s script captures the growing anti-war feeling, which in ’64 was actually little more than an undercurrent on college campuses across the U.S. Chayefsky later wrote Network, another cynical film, and it is his cynicism here that gave Emily its cutting edge. I don’t know, but I suspect that Chayefsky found the peacenik sentiment of songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” with its “Oh when will they ever learn?” refrain a bit trite. Waiting in the wings was flower power and the Summer of Love and it would be quite a while before we learned that they will never learn.

Which begs the question, is Charlie a craven coward, or that another word for a pacifist, a hero who sees the absurdity of war and refuses to participate in it. Charlie sums up his philosophy with these remarks to Emily’s mother:

We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on the ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogeys. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers. The rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow’s weeds like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio…Yes. An everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud…Now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September…Maybe ministers and generals blunder us into wars, Mrs. Barham, the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution . . .”

You will have to watch the film yourself to see how Charlie’s views on war play out, and filmed in glorious black and white, it is a film well worth seeing . . . more than once. By the time Garner made it, he was in a position to pick and choose the parts he played, so I have to believe that he shared this cynicism toward the virtues of war, even though he was a true hero in the classic sense, receiving two Purple Hearts in the Korean War.

moe2I’ll always be in love with Julie Andrews, and I will always have a fond regard for James Garner, a likable guy who played likeable guys so well that he seemed like a friend and it’s sad he’s no longer here.

And I think I shall always be a coward.