About Peace: a message from Laurence Freeman OSB


Today is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War started by Hitler’s invasion of Poland and followed quickly by Stalin’s invasion from the East. It is also a hundred years since the beginning of the First World War I which the civilized nations of Europe joined in a futile and barbaric self-mutilation. Many historians see these two wars as essentially the same war with a twenty year break to recover strength and hatred before continuing.

What have we learned today? We see the same patterns of violent response to political and ethnic tensions repeating themselves in the Ukraine, in Palestine, in Syria. No one can use violence without lying. The first casualty, whenever violence starts, is the truth itself. There is always denial, distortion and, of course, projection of the blame onto scapegoats. This desecration of truth reveals that the true nature of human beings is peaceful and – in the deepest and most challenging sense of the word – loving.

We are closer to being truly human when we employ compassion, forgiveness and patience than when we strike another intending to harm or destroy him. Only if we are in experiential relation with that truth of our own nature, however, can we avoid the dark temptation to use violence and the lust for more violence that inevitably follows the first blow.

No doubt to the cynical politician or the active soldier the only alternative to violence seems abstract and unrealizable or even absurd. But there is no other way to break the cycle of violence except to confront our own inner demons and illusions and to be restored to direct knowledge of our true nature.

The human heart, as Buddhism says, is essentially good. The kingdom of heaven is within and among us, as Jesus says, and happy are those who fight for justice - even if they fail. And, for Rumi, the question that precedes peace is one of self-awareness: ‘If I am constantly warring against myself, how can I be in harmony with another?’

The wisdom of humanity is of one mind when it says that we make peace with others by finding the truth within ourselves. Meditators of all spiritual families are united in this vision. Their meditation and their teaching is a direct contribution to this work. Let us be conscious of this and our work will be stronger.

Laurence Freeman OSB
1 September 2014