What lies at the very heart of war? The great sages saw the cause as being a spiritual ailment. There are often symptoms of, personal ambition of a leader/leaders which often manifests as a quest for power/wealth; and the “Them and US” mentality which is a breeding ground for a lack of empathy or even hated of others.
The sages have stated that there cannot be peace without inner peace. Some of the verses I quoted are:
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires. Bhagavad-gītā 2.70
One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace? Bhagavad-gītā 2.66
A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—he alone can attain real peace. Bhagavad-gītā 2.71
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong. Śrī Īśopaniṣad mantra 1
The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste]. Bhagavad-gītā 5.18
A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogī [or mystic] when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything—whether it be pebbles, stones or gold—as the same. Bhagavad-gītā 6.8
He is a perfect yogī who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna! Bhagavad-gītā 6.32
Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says, “love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies—or else? The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. – Martin Luker King Jr.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So the topic tonight that we’re going to discuss is titled Endless Wars – is There a Solution?
When we try to look at the heart of—we ask the question, “What is at the heart of wars?” and people will often reference different ideologies or political philosophies, different forms of nationalism. But I think, without over simplifying things, you will generally see that there are two characteristics that are always present.
One is personal ambition of a leader or a group of leaders. And that personal ambition often is connected with a quest for power and wealth, and often fame. So this is sort of like something that you will almost always see.
And the other thing that you will always see is this view of others and oneself, the “Them and Us” mentality. And this “Them and Us” mentality often serves as a breeding ground for a—not only a lack of empathy, but making it so even hatred towards others or to despise others that you see as being different commonly resides at the heart of many conflicts. It’s always–it’s necessary.
When we look at these two characteristics we need to understand that they’re actually spiritual ailments. They are in fact a spiritual disease. And so if we are going to look at things practically, if we accept that this, a spiritual ailment, or a spiritual disease lies at the heart of these conflicts and all forms of conflict, then we have to be realistic and accept unwillingly perhaps, that there always will be wars. There always has been, and there practically always will be, because of this situation.
When we speak of a spiritual ailment or spiritual disease we’re speaking about states of consciousness that people want to exist in or choose to exist in or embrace. And one cannot be forcibly moved from a state of consciousness—famous old proverb or saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink,” and another one, “A man convinced against his will is of the same conviction still,” meaning that you can try to bludgeon, threaten, beat somebody, to outwardly adopt what it is that you’re trying to have them accept, but inwardly they are still going to be of the same opinion. And it’s a really, really important saying because it recognizes the crucial role that free will plays. “A man convinced against his will, will be of the same opinion still.”
So when you consider these realities then, yeah, we are always going to see a rise in these incredibly unfortunate situations that war always brings, particularly to the innocent public. And so before looking at the solutions there is a need to embrace that part of the solution is in fact a martial application.
What do I mean by that? When we looked at the ancient Vedic system that people adopted in their life in ancient India, and it was influential throughout a big part of Asia and even into Europe, where—In India it was known as the varna ashram system, and it had to do the varnas and the ashramas—the ashramas were the different stages of life. They were four: to be a student, particularly of spiritual learning. This was called brahmacharya, then grihasta. During brahmacharya life one was—cultivated spiritual knowledge, but also were schooled in a profession that aligned with their natural tendencies and characteristics, their natural abilities. So at the end of that education period one could remain—I mean a limited number of people remained perpetually as like monks, but the majority of people then married and engaged in their occupation. But it was done very dutifully, with an understanding that my life is meant to be for some higher purpose, and that of course, was a spiritual purpose.
When one reached the age of about 50 to 60, that sort of area, one retired from their profession and actively running and organizing the families—in ancient times families were extended families. People lived together in quite large communities. But one then retired from their occupational life and running the family as it were, and became now completely absorbed in the preparation for their death, knowing that this is where it all goes. This is where all the roads lead to. They lead to death. And I should now prepare for this eventuality. And so in this state a person engaged more in spiritual learning and practice, and they became more of spiritual mentors to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren rather than just a doting parent and grandparent. They actually were very focused on trying to help cultivate spiritual understanding with their family members.
The fourth stage of life was called sannyas where a person may now renounce everything in the world and take to the road as a wandering mendicant, a pilgrim, to spend the last period of time. There were those who after being students, brahmacharis, dedicated their life to this life of renunciation and actively engaged in trying to help people spiritually. These were called sannyasis.
So this was the ashramas.
The varnas, this word varna has to do with your tendency towards work. And so society was fundamentally divided into four classes of people. Those that were the teachers, and principally spiritual teachers but not just that, educators in general, the scientists, the intellectuals. They were known as brahmans or brahmanas, and their job was to act as the spiritual guide of society.
Then there were the ksatriya. The ksatriyas were the warriors, the administrators, the police, the military. Their business was governance, and primarily the role of protectors of society, to protect in all ways. Then you had the vaishyas, which were the mercantile and farming class of people who were responsible for almost all the economic activity in society. And then lastly you had what were known as the sudra. The sudras, they were—they worked in support of all the other three categories of people. They were today’s paid employees as it were. So this is how society was organized.
Part of the role of the ksatriyas was to be extremely capable and very willing to engage in warfare where needed to protect the general masses of people. In this spiritual system there was no pacifism. When they saw that there were very disturbing elements, a leader or ruler who had gone off the tracks, who had become avaricious for money and for land and for power, and so sought to invade the territories of others, the ksatriyas had a spiritual duty to stand against such unrighteous activity and to be prepared to lay down their life in the defence of the innocent. So that was there.
And that, it’s always going to be necessary to have this element within society. This is when you look at societies as—in a broader picture.
So while the reality of war was recognized societally, there was an acceptance that people were admonished to attempt to solve these two problems which we spoke about which are the driving force for many conflicts and wars. And the solving it was not what you do to somebody else, but it was entirely focused on our own individual and personal lives, the changes that we need to seek. As it’s often stated, “Be the change that you want to see.” The responsibility lies with us as individuals to live the kind of life, and be responsible for creating, within our own sphere of influence, the type of world that we would like to see.
So in these two things, the first item that I mentioned related to the idea of personal ambition or lust or greed, the quest for power and wealth seen in the leadership class. There was this need to recognise that the solution to this massive problem, which is incredibly pervasive in society and is promoted—I mean we have a whole consumer economic system that is entirely built upon fanning the flames in the individual of—the flames of greed and of envy, to envy what others have. This is what advertising is all about, all forms of advertising. It’s about, “Look at that. Isn’t that cool? Aren’t they having a wonderful time? See how happy they are. See how perfect their life is. You need to have this too.” So it directly promotes this principle of envy—almost all advertising–and the greed for more. Never be satisfied! Always have this hunger for more and more! These two drivers were consciously promoted in the early 1920s, 1930s, and adopted by leading economists of the time as being the powerhouse of economic development. But of course, it has a corrosive and corrupting effect on individuals. In other words, there is a price to pay, and so the more that people are encouraged to adopt these things, the more danger society is actually in.
So, the common characteristic we see in these kind of situations is where there is an utter lack of inner peace. People have a really hard time being alone and just sitting down peacefully doing practically nothing. Everybody’s so agitated to pick up the remote or hit the computer or whip out the device and you take all these things away (laughs)—I mean people that attend some of these retreats where they practice not speaking, silence for 10 days–they do them in different formats but everybody that does it, whether it’s in Christian communities or Buddhist communities or yoga communities, when they try doing it everybody is just like, “Oh my God, it was so hard just to not have a device, not to be active like this, just to be with myself!” We soon find out that we’re not very good company. When people are locked up alone in solitary confinement it’s called torture, and the idea that you’re being tortured because you’re such bad company is—anyway, let’s not go there. So this lack of inner peacefulness is absolutely a foundational cause for a lot of these problems.
Ambitions, greed for wealth and power, the desire for greatness, these can be considered in society to be positive traits, but actually that same trait taken to the other end of the scale can be incredibly destructive. So there is real need to recognize this and to consider, “If I cannot be at peace myself, then how can I contribute to peacefulness in the world?” This is just a reality.
On the subject of peacefulness the Bhagavad-gita gives some pretty extraordinary insights. They prescribe—it’s prescribed in the Bhagavad-gita that if a person wants to experience true peacefulness they have to adopt a lifestyle that will result in that. And so we have a verse in the 2nd chapter, the 70th verse or sloka, where it says,
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which are ever been filled but is always still–can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy such desires.”
So this is directly in conflict with what we are told by social media, by advertisers, by modern society, that we need to cultivate and stimulate desires, and we need to strive to fulfill them, and this is how we will become happy and fulfilled. But in a spiritual culture one is admonished here or directed that a person must learn to become undisturbed by the “incessant flow of desires.” So even in an enlightened condition the possibility of desires still arising may be there but one is told that one must learn to not be disturbed by them, and then gives the example, just like the ocean where many great rivers flow into the ocean yet the ocean remains always steady, that when a person learns to tolerate the incessant flow of desires that person can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to fulfill desires.
So this is kind of quite extraordinary. We’re building, over the past hundred years, more than at any time in previous history, human history, we are building a society that is utterly driven by this idea that desire is good and fulfilling desire is really what human life, the purpose of life, is all about. This is how you become happy and fulfilled. The spiritual perspective is opposite.
Then in another verse,
“One who is not connected with the Supreme…”
…meaning the higher spiritual reality or truth, God in its highest understanding.
“One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be happiness without peace?”
Another startling idea, that for happiness to really manifest and exist it must be built on the foundation of inner peacefulness. And to be in that state one requires a steady mind and transcendental intelligence. There must be a cultivation of a spiritual perspective, spiritual knowledge to guide one’s life choices.
And now finally:
“A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, and has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—[that person alone,] he alone can attain real peace.”
So these are extraordinary qualifications, and we’re not going to get into to dealing with them now but if one wants to contribute towards building a society where peace has a chance of reigning then these are necessary ingredients. There also has to be a recognition of my place in this world and of the world itself. There has to be a recognition that we cannot own this world. We are transients. We show up, we spend some time here in this particular lifetime, then we leave. Everything was here before we showed up in this lifetime and it will be here after we have left. The idea that we can truly own is a false idea and an understanding, a spiritual understanding is that we can become caretakers but we can never truly be owners.
In one of the Upanishads, the Sri Isopanisad, the 1st mantra, isavasyam idam sarvam is a very beautiful verse, and it goes:
“Everything animate and inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. [the Supreme Soul] One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”
So this was the consciousness that one was encouraged to cultivate. The idea that we should learn to just play nice and share everything, it just does not really cut it as a solution, because when individuals, when their sense of proprietorship exists, ownership, and it—when that is a foundation, then one will always have the idea that there is a possibility of limitless growth of my proprietorship. I can acquire more and more and more. And when—so the idea of ownership feeds this adverse state or perverted state, where people begin to fight over God’s property. They lay claim to this land or that land as being ours, or we are going to take it from them, or these possessions, or this money. When a person is overwhelmed by covetousness and this sense of—false sense of proprietorship it’s incredibly foundational to conflict, conflicts which can grow easily into war.
So now moving on to that second item that I mentioned, which is the idea of “Them and Us.” This mentality is actually a breeding ground for a not only a lack of empathy but the possibility of even hatred towards others. And the foundation of this consciousness is—it’s based on this misidentification of the body as being the self, the non-recognition that we are all eternal spiritual beings. We may have taken birth in different countries, in different races, even in different species of life, but from a spiritual perspective we are all brothers and sisters. We are all sons and daughters of the Supreme Soul. And this falsely identifying with a particular type of body is a breeding ground, as I said, for a lack of empathy or even hatred.
So we see today the world is plagued with political philosophies and social philosophies and ideologies that are overly focused on racism, on sexism, caste-ism, classism; and there is not an appreciation of the fact that the cure for these things will not be found in the cause. And what do I mean by that? Well, there is this massive focus in the–particularly in the Western world, on the question of racism. Racism where a person acts prejudicially, harmfully or hatefully towards somebody else based upon a bodily identity is abominable. And yet many people want to make this the focus for the cure, that now we have to turn things around. Before it was the whites dominating the blacks and abusing them, so now we need to switch places in order for there to be a retribution. And that’s just insanity. So the cause of these ills in society cannot be the cure. The cure lies in seeing things, developing a vision that goes beyond the external labels.
In the Bhagavad-gita there is a verse that describes the nature of a transcendentalist, who by nature is always humble, and there are deep spiritual reasons for that humility. So in this verse it says:
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana…”
…that means a person of great culture and learning, particularly spiritual understanding.
“…[They] see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcast.”
…a social outcast. They see them with equal vision because the vision that they have cultivated is, “You are not that body, and you are not that bodily label. You are an eternal spiritual being residing within that body.” And this transcendental perspective rolls over to all areas of life so in another verse it states:
“A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi [or mystic] when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything—whether it be pebbles, stones or gold—as the same.”
So this is actually a really deep subject and I’ll just mention this verse and keep going. Maybe we can revisit it sometime. But then in the final verse I’ll read in this category is:
“He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and their distress.”
So by comparison to his own self, this is a definition of empathy. Empathy is possible when someone sees things on a deeper level. I just—somebody sent me a link, this horrible war raging in the Ukraine, and it was a video of a Russian soldier, youngish guy, probably 19, 20, something like that only, who had been captured by the Ukrainians, so there were a mob of people around him, and there were soldiers coming in and out of the frame. But there was a woman who—a youngish woman probably in her 20s who was feeding the soldier. She had given him a pastry of—quite substantial pastry and a cup of—looked like borsch, this beetroot-based soup. And he was obviously ravenously hungry, because I think they’ve been low on supplies, and so he was biting at this thing, and gulping. And the woman was telling others not to harass him, or indicating not to do it, and she had asked the guy for the phone number of his mother, and she was calling the mother in Russia and doing a face-to-face call. And the guy was just eating. He was just like desperately hungry. And she held up the phone, and he saw his mother’s face on the phone and instantly cried, you know, for–about his situation, and what he was probably been asked to do, and his situation now. And the woman had this amazing reaction. I mean here is a guy that was part of an army that was reigning down hell on the residents, and instead of being hateful, seeing his breaking down to his mother, instantly connected with her own maternal instincts, and as he lowered his head and had a couple of deep sobs, she stroked the back of his head in the most gentle manner. And in that situation, it’s a manifestation of what we’ve just been reading about here, how in spite of those external things, belonging to a different nationality, being involved in this bloody and horrible conflict, she could relate to his broken-heartedness at being in that situation, and she sought to comfort him. And this is like a little glimmer of this higher spiritual reality and truth.
And if we want, as a society, to come to the position of not being involved in these horrible conflicts of war, then there is definitely this incredible need to really cultivate that vision and understanding, that we are all brothers and sisters, that we’re all children of God. We are all eternal spiritual beings. We are not defined by the labels placed on these bodies. We are also eternally loved. And this understanding, that when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves even more, that’s a deep, deep idea tied into the laws of karma, when you look at it through the lens of reincarnation, when you look at it, that you cannot engage in any act and get away with it. There are consequences, good or bad, to all of our choices, to all of our actions.
In an amazing speech that Martin Luther King gave— I’m just going to read part of it where he talked about this principle of learning to love thy enemy. This is what Jesus Christ admonished people to do. And we’ve talked before about forgiveness and the importance of it, how to become free from many of the hurt that may have been visited upon us in this lifetime. So in speaking about how to love the enemy, he spoke on the topic of why, why it should be practiced. So he stated:
“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies—or else? The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
Powerful words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.” This is not just a theoretical idea. This is a practical reality. And yet we will see in our lives how common this is: Someone treats us badly, and our reaction to that is to now treat them badly; and not only does that not actually take away what has happened to you, it makes your situation even worse on many levels, and it sets you up in your life for a downward spiral, for a habitual go-to of more anger, more violence, more hatred.
And seeing that video clip that I mentioned was so incredibly touching for me to see that display of gentleness and kindness, of forgiving and understanding, and wanting to see the other person who has inflicted much pain on us not also suffer.
As I mentioned in the Vedic society, yes, a warrior class is necessary to maintain order in the world, but they need to be spiritually guided. But the broader society has to work to adopt values that are going to actually make a broader social difference. You know, the saying, “Think big, act small.” is so important. Some people would think, “Wow. This is such a huge idea, but I’m such a small, little person. I can have no real influence on the world.” Maybe you can’t, maybe you can. Maybe you can to some degree. At least within your own circle of influence you can become a guiding light, you can make a difference that becomes a generational influence that flows down generationally. You have that opportunity.
We think of people like Martin Luther King. He had such a profound effect on so many people. In Asia we think of Mohandas Gandhi and the enormous impact that he had on millions and millions of people and the example that he set. We reflect back a couple of thousand years to the life of Jesus Christ, and the profound effect that he has had.
So, a lot of people want to be critical of Christianity for the flaws manifest in people that may claim to be followers and were very imperfect and did many wrong things, but that wasn’t the majority. There was a minority. The people that were influenced by him to try and live a more compassionate, more caring, charitable and supporting life, a life where you actually learn and practice forgiveness and love of even those who have harmed you, has been amazing, incredible.
And so we come to the end of this talk. I hope that you will take some of the things that we have mentioned and reflect upon them in your own life. Don’t spend all your time finding fault with others. It’s so easy to do. Spend your time attempting to become a better person, to live a better more spiritually directed life, become a positive influence even on your immediate family members, people in your circle of influence, by your own example. Then in this way we can contribute towards the idea of moving towards a society where the repetition and endless wars at least decrease.
Thank you very much. So, we will chant. I will sing the mantra Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
This is a very beautiful and powerful mantra that has been utilized for countless thousands of years and brought great transformation. I’m just remembering, and I’ve spoken about it before, I think it was a talk quite a couple of years back, called A Boy Who Would Be King where a prince, he was treated badly, young boy, by his father. And he was so determined to stick it to his dad, he went off into the forest seeking help from some higher spiritual reality, God, to help him stick it to his dad, basically. He desired a massive kingdom and great opulence, just to teach everybody a lesson. And as a result of a meditative practice that he adopted under the guidance of a great spiritual personality, where he utilized this mantra, the Supreme Soul Bhagavan appeared before him in his meditation. And he was so overwhelmed by this vision. And he was asked, “What do you want? You can ask anything.” And he said he felt thoroughly ashamed, because the thing that he thought was so valuable previously, like a vast treasure of gems, now he sees it as being like broken glass, pieces of broken glass, that the spiritual reality that he had experienced was the only thing now that he desired. So these wonderful spiritual sounds when chanted appropriately can bring such transformation. Thank you.