Sunday was Armistice Day! The U.S. commemorates this day of peacemaking after World War I. This Monday was Veterans’ Day, the commemoration of all the people who valiantly gave their service for the goal of World Peace! Veteran’s Day, especially when it is connected to Armistice Day, is a day to reflect on the meaning of peace and to reflect on how we can change our violent, war-oriented culture into a non-violent, peace-oriented culture, especially here in the United States.
All spiritual and religious traditions have certain practices that move people towards the practice of “ahimsa,” the practice of not harming anyone or any living being. These traditions encourage daily practices of prayer and meditation. They stress the inner journey where we do battle with our inner enemies. These inner enemies of hatred, fear, greed, lust, possessiveness, laziness, doubt, judgment, etc. are the real actors in the violence that plagues our world today. They surface in our minds through violent, negative thoughts and in our actions that harm another’s dignity. These inner enemies often seem to have a driving force of their own, as though they are separate from ourselves. That’s why the ancients often called those “inner actors” demons. In Christianity, the biggest demon or “dynamic force” was labeled Satan, the Devil himself. We have given a lot of power to those inner forces, even to the point of calling them “intrinsically evil”.
We have forgotten that there are other forces—positive, loving forces—operating within us as well. We have forgotten this because we have forgotten the practices that enable us to have our mind think of the divine qualities of love, faith, sufficiency, trust, hope, fortitude, perseverance, joy, etc. These forces, called virtues because they are very powerful, can neutralize and overpower the negative enemies/forces.
Do you remember the time when you had a song running through your mind and you couldn’t get it out? I do! And I remember that song almost driving me nuts. It just wouldn’t go away until I started to sing the loving, melodic song “Halleluiah! Halleluiah!” to the music of Pachelbel’s Canon in D minor. The other song eventually vanished and I rejoiced in the positive, uplifting melody that eventually joined with my calm, peaceful, quiet mind…my buddhi. I was saved from the nerve-wracking cadence of the original melody.
In the same way, we have forgotten the forces of peace and non-violence and their accompanying virtues because we have forgotten how to change our inner “demons” to “glorious angels” of God’s love within us. But the religious and spiritual traditions have given us thoughts that can move us to the peace we want. Every tradition has its own “mantram.” A mantram is translated as “the protector or guide for the thinking being or the mind.” Every tradition has its own phrase or “word” that guides the mind back to peace and non-violence. We have just forgotten them and we have forgotten to practice those healing words.
In Yoga, “so-ham” is the original mantram. It means “I am that,” and it is spoken with the rhythm of the breath (“so” on the inhale and “ham” on the exhale).
In Yoga, the single word “OM,” the original sound of the creation, is also a very helpful protector and guide for the mind, especially when it is sounded aloud.
The Buddhist use the mantram “Om, mani padme hum,” which is a phrase referring to the jewel of compassion in the core of the heart.
Jewish practitioners use “Be still, and know that I am God,” the English translation of Psalm 46:10. Jews also use “Barukh attah Adonai” (Blessed are Thou, O Lord!) and “Ribono shel olam” (Lord of the Universe!).
Muslims repeat the name of God in Arabic, “Allah,” over and over again, or repeat the sentence, “Allahu akbar” (God is Great!)
Hindus use “Rama” (The name of God) and Taoists repeat the word “Tao” (The Way).
Christians use many different mantra: “Maranatha” (Come, Lord Come!), “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” (An English translation of a Latin Middle Ages sentence.), or “Ave Maria” (“Hail, Mary!” referring to the mother of Jesus, the Christ). I remember my mother saying, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me!” whenever times got rough in her life.
Faithful dedication to any one of these mantras, said repetitively for about 20 minutes a day, will help us recapture our inner divinity—the Christ within, or the Buddha within, or the reality of our own divine, infinite and perfect essence—and can truly defeat the internal warriors. We will win the inner “jihad” (as the Qur’an says) because these practices help us recognize God in our lives.
Finally then, winning this interior war will change our violent culture. Alleluia!