I will start with three different viewpoints on the use of force to protect oneself and control others –three dramatically different perspectives that all seem to ring true.
ARJUNA: Bhimsa and Drona are noble and ancient, worthy of the deepest reverence. How can I greet them with arrows, in battle? If I kill them, how can I ever enjoy my wealth, or any other pleasure?
Which will be worse, to win this war or to lose it? I scarcely know. Even the sons of Dhritarashtra stand in the enemy ranks. If we kill them, none of us will wish to live.
Is this real compassion that I feel, or only a delusion? My mind gropes about in darkness. I cannot see where my duty lies.
Krishna, I beg you, tell me frankly and clearly what I ought to do….
KRISHNA: Your words are wise, Arjuna, but your sorrow is for nothing. The truly wise mourn neither for the living nor the dead.
There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which you will cease to be.
That Reality which pervades the universe is indestructible. No one has power to change the Changeless. Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal. It cannot be limited, or destroyed. Therefore you must fight.
* * * *
“And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people…
“Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus (Simon Peter) stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
–Gospel of Matthew 26:47, 50-52, New King James version
* * * *
“All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
* * * *
I continuously pray that all soldiers on every side of all battle lines will be watched over and guided through the struggle that befalls them. I pray that each man and woman going into battle will be called to examine his or her conscience and listen exclusively to the Holy Voice emanating from within.
For every soldier thus called by conscience to fight, I pray he or she will do so without fear and with a heart full of peace, and with the knowledge of the Truth taught by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: though appearances are fleeting, the Life who we truly are is immortal.
I also pray that some will hear another calling, typified and taught by the Lord Jesus Christ, to offer oneself as a bridge connecting one’s inner peace to the outer world. Let them learn from Him the principle known to Buddhists and Hindus as ahimsa: doing no intentional harm to any living being. For every soldier thus called to duty by ahimsa, I pray he or she will have the courage to put down the sword and return home. May their sacrifices be made upon holier altars; may they be free to give their lives in service of family, or community; a congregation or a noble cause; may they further enlighten us through their pursuits in science or education, social justice or the arts. May all their lives be lived in the fullness and peace promised by both Krishna and Christ.
* * * *
Neither answer to the question, “Shall I fight?” is wrong nor contradicts the other. This is the hallmark of the kind of deep question that bypasses reason altogether and plunges straight for conscience –the kind for which the only way to answer wrongly is to fail to ask the question in the right way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, for instance, if we could all assume that the battle of Kurukshetra, before which a decorated soldier named Arjuna has a bout of conscientious objection, is nothing more than an allegory of “the war within?” If only I could keep the Garden of Gesthemane a place halfway around the world where something major went down almost 2,000 years ago and not a symbol for a life or death choice that someone made for me today while I sat peacefully and typed in my apartment. But this is a luxury we cannot afford in our world.
We who dwell in the United States of America are all “living by the sword.” With our consent, our leaders have hired many thousands of our own people and sent them overseas, bearing swords in our name. There they confront an “enemy” made up of people just like them, fighting for people just like us. It is our soldiers who carry the swords into battle, but it is we on the sidelines –from the youngest infants to the commander-in-chief—who wield them.
Almost daily we are faced with messages telling us the boundless courage of our men and women in the armed forces is being taken for granted, that we must “support our troops.” It is, and we should –but their sacrifice is not only being overlooked, it is being misappropriated. Somebody already died in your name.
This person, known to history as Jesus Christ, was willingly slaughtered by the political enemies of His people to demonstrate that we exist beyond the world of ego and politics –that the one Life we are all living is eternal. This is what distinguishes Jesus from other martyrs who did the same for a select few: He did not represent a political unit; He assumed the universal identity, the I AM, thus stating His oneness with God and all creation as He let His body be crucified.
Those who have studied the scant records of His actions, and contemplated the mysteries of the eternal Presence He proclaimed, have reached many different conclusions about their significance to our lives now –some literal, some metaphorical. I am not here to argue for or against any of them. But one thing I feel intrinsically is that, by accepting Jesus’ claim as the universal Being, or God, in the William Blake sense of the concept (see image below) we are all on the cross with Him. The part of us which can die –namely our ego, our sense of a self isolated in time and space from the rest of the world and from God—is crucified with Him, and what remains is the eternal Life He shares with us as well, represented by the resurrection.
This is why Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20, KJV).
This is also why he said in addressing the citizens of Athens:
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they mightgrope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being,as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.”
In this sense, whether you read the Bible as historical fact or as metaphorical truth, it is absolutely clear that Jesus, in sacrificing himself to assume the universal Being of God, died so that you would know the eternal Life –not merely speculate about it as philosophers do—and that those who believe in the Lord are thus alive to be living sacrifices unto each other in the name of the God who we all truly are.
Knowing that, what could we possibly have to fear? What is the death of a body compared to the eternal Life of the Spirit that we already dwell within, and which dwells within us? What could any sword-bearer take from me that I would not willingly give to know this Spirit better than I think I know myself?
Right now, there are soldiers dying for us in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They do so out of a sense of duty to us, and they will lay down their lives so that we may live. They are trained to overcome their fear of death because we refuse to do the same. In this sense, our soldiers deserve every bit of the praise and respect we afford to Jesus.
But the “us” for which they would die is also the “U.S.” –the United States, a political entity born of the barrel of a gun; a body politic that lives by the sword and will someday die by the sword. No eternal Life is to be found in a body politic, except in its people, and in them only to the extent that they can accept that “He has made from one blood every nation of men.” It is the moral responsibility of those who know this, those who know eternal Life, to profess this to every nation, first and foremost by living in peace and without the fear of death, as our soldiers do and as Jesus did.
It always puzzles me that many who profess to believe in Christ are also among the most eager to send sword-bearers into the world in their defense. The way of Christ is to call for our defenders to put down the sword. It is to say, “Brothers and sisters, you need not live by the sword on my account, for I do not live in fear of what this ‘great multitude with swords and clubs’ can do to me. My freedom comes not from a political unit, but from Him in which we live and move and have our being. They can kill this body, but the Spirit they cannot touch.”
Whether we come to know eternal Life by Jesus or through other means is not important; what is important is to realize that this knowledge is the only way to lasting peace. Keeping our troops in militarized zones for political reasons will not create lasting peace, nor will bringing them home en masse to a frightened nation. Only the individual examination of the conscience on the part of every sword-bearer can bring about disarmament and the peace of ahimsa –and since our soldiers are bound by a sense of duty to us, it is our responsibility to give them the freedom to do this by putting down our swords, by transcending our own need to be defended.
When we in this culture talk about the philosophy of “non-violence” (ahimsa) professed by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, or the conscientious objection to military service of communities like the Quakers and the Mennonites, we often fail to see that these people are not merely refusing to fight –they have also undergone a spiritual growth process, no less rigorous than the military training of our soldiers, that has helped them evolve beyond the instinct toward self-defense.
So deeply have the “peace churches” of the West and the mystics of the East cultivated their compassion and sense of “that of God within all beings”/tat tvam asi (“thou art that”), that they have found the freedom to say, “I would sooner die in the peace of God than take a single life out of fear.”
I pray that everyone who reads this will be visited with the same kind of peace, and that somehow, individually and then collectively, we will be called to demilitarize our hearts and cultivate this peace to the level at which our soldiers can choose to put down the sword and come home. This is a power far greater than the barrel of any gun.
–2013, Non-Prophet Publishing, Ink
Originally posted in 2006.