honour their sacrifice—by pulling out the roots of war

honour the sacrifice, not the war, November 12, 2012

RespectsJust a few days ago, I shared a few thoughts about how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred. We always have choices in life: These choices determine whether we create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. If we choose to act in ways that create love, peace, and hope, then we will create a loving, peaceful, and hopeful environment, which will foster cooperation, harmony and well-being. Conversely, if we choose to act in ways that create hatred, war, and despair, then we will create an environment of hatred, war and despair, which will lead to tyranny, oppression, death, and wanton destruction.

War is no joke. For those of us who’ve never been involved in fighting a war, war is literally hell on earth. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called war “a satanic institution” and “the destroyer of human foundations”:

Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations.

This discourse of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s, which can be found in its entirety in the book Bahá’í World Faith, presents a logical argument on the nature of peace and war, using an analogy to the natural world: A state of “peace” allows the elements of existence to attract and combine with each other in an orderly fashion, to form an infinite variety of created things. A state of conflict, or “war”, on the other hand, in which elements repel and dissociate from each other, leads to the decay and destruction of these created things. So it is with the human world, in which war leads to the destruction of people, families, institutions, communities, and society—not to mention cities and nations:

When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration… Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests.

This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.

Recent human history is stained with the “savagery and destructiveness” that is part and parcel of war. The Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. The Armenian genocide. The Rwandan genocide. The Trail of TearsSrebrenica. NankingAuschwitz. DresdenVerdunThe SommeLeningrad. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Korea. VietnamSyria. YemenThe list goes on, and on, and on. On days such as today—Remembrance Day in Canada, Armistice Day elsewhere in the world—people everywhere observe moments of silence to remember the victims of the atrocities of war. And yet, the “satanic institution” of war, the “destroyer of human foundations” continues. Why? Why do we continue to choose war, to choose hatred, to choose despair?

Humanity still resists the spiritual transformation to which it is called in this day. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, we have perfected the science of killing and brought it to its zenith. Humanity has reached the consummation of its material powers. Material means can bring us no further in the evolution of our species. What is needed now is spiritual evolution. We must learn how to choose peace, how to choose love, and how to choose hope.

Red Khmer Killing FieldsIt is not enough to remember our fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, or the victims of war or the many atrocities that war produces. Yes, we must stare down the rows of gravestones and piled-up skulls, and pray for the progress of the souls who have passed onwards in their journey through the spiritual worlds. But we, the living, must resolve to honour their sacrifice by changing the way we live, and by teaching our children the skills and the virtues they need to make peace a permanent reality.

To show kindness, compassion, and a burning love that embraces all of humanity. To resolve their conflicts through words rather than blows. To act with trustworthiness and justice, and always deal fairly with their fellows. To know that they, and all their peers, are noble creatures of God deserving of respect. To hold the human spirit, and everything which God has placed on this green earth, as a sacred trust, and to guard that trust for future generations. These virtues are spiritual skills that do not develop without effort: We must acquire them through education and conscious practice.

Only when each one of us becomes fully involved in teaching these skills to the rising generations will this world become another world. Ensuring that everyone has the chance to acquire these skills will pull out the roots that feed the curse and scourge of war—allowing it, finally, to be blotted out from the book of humanity.

The original post, honour the sacrifice, not the war, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos: Respects by Mitchell Shapiro Photography, and Red Khmer Killing Fields by Ann-Kathrin.

peace starts with us

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, July 23, 2013

Cricket PassionWhatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

Recently, one of my blogging friends shared a particularly touching story, and I thought it would be nice to share it in connection with this theme. It’s the story of a Hindu man who gave blood to save the life of a Muslim woman—and, in doing so, ended their town’s history of sectarian violence. Originally published in the Toronto Star in 2011, this story is a timeless example of how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred.

Before 2004 life in the village of Basti Mahran in Pakistan was extremely difficult for everyone, but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men. Cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic. She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion, but the doctors couldn’t find anyone with the same O-negative blood type. Bachu Rama, a local Hindu man with the same blood-type offered to give his blood.

Before long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram. The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus and in the 1990s had been part of an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir killing all Hindus who crossed their path. As Latif and his gang approached the clinic, they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus, and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.”

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him. This was the first time in living memory that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran. Soon everyone heard of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s change of heart, and things in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other. The rapes and attacks stopped. Now Hindus and Muslims not only liked each other, they also actively supported each other – even in their religious practice.

This spirit of reciprocity and cooperation spread to every area of life in the village. Women from both communities joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and began to earn four times more that they had earned when selling separately. The villagers successfully lobbied the government to build power lines, roads and a proper water supply.

When I shared this story with other friends recently, someone commented: “I want to believe it… but it just seems to good to be true.” But these kinds of gestures of love, kindness and fellowship happen everywhere, in neighbourhoods and towns in every country around the world. Sometimes these gestures are small, like the kids in our neighbourhood who left a kind note for their neighbour. Sometimes they’re bigger and more dramatic, like Bachu Rama’s gift of blood that welded a town’s Muslim and Hindu communities together.

And the kind of spiritual transformation that resulted isn’t specific to Basti Mehran, either. Look at the transformation of Norte de Bolivar in Colombia, where crime became “unheard of” after many years of effort teaching and empowering the village’s children and junior youth. Look at the transformation of Bihar Sharif in India, where the lines of caste, age and gender began to blur and fade away after years of expanding community-building activities to welcome a greater and greater diversity of people. Look at the transformation of Tanna in Vanuatu, where a community energized by a spirit of service weathered the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam and began efforts to rebuild their communities long before aid agencies set foot on their island. It’s not too good to be true; it’s just true. People everywhere are able to make choices that lead to the transformation of their communities.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who Bahá’ís take as an example of right conduct, left behind a wealth of Writings that interpret and explain the teachings of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh. Among these are pieces of very practical advice on how to create peaceful, loving communities. My favourite among these goes: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.” In other words, action follows thought: When we focus on thoughts of war and hatred, warlike and hateful actions will be the result. And when we focus on thoughts of peace and love, peaceful and loving actions will be the result—in our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, our cities, our regions, our nations and our world.

That’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

The original post, to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Special thanks to Trisha at creating reciprocity for bringing the story of Bachu Rama and Mahar Abdul Latif to my attention. Photo: Cricket Passion by Umair.

countering hate and violence

Someone posted a question on the Baha’i group on Reddit, asking “What can be done by one person to counter hate/violence in the world?” It was a great question, so I decided to try and give it an answer. Here goes.

As I see it, the most potent antidote to a rising tide of hate and violence is to help yourself and others around you—especially young people—to raise their capacity to show spiritual qualities such as love, kindness, steadfastness, justice, reliance on God and compassion, and to serve humanity selflessly.

Get involved in a junior youth group and give young people a space where they can learn what it means to transform themselves and their community at the same time. Or get involved as a teacher of children’s classes so you can give younger children the spiritual foundation they’ll need to become agents of change within their communities. Work with a teaching team so that you don’t burn yourself out, and so that you can coordinate your actions with others.

It’s important that we not underestimate the uplifting and transforming power of these seemingly simple acts of service. Carried out consistently, persistently, and with a spirit of service, they can completely change the face of our communities—not only Baha’i communities, but the greater community.

If you want to see what this can eventually lead to, check out the Frontiers of Learning video. In particular, the section from Colombia brings me a lot of hope, but all of them show the transforming power of collective action within the framework of the Plan.

a prayer for peace day

Quote

peace dayO Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household. In Thy Holy Presence they are all Thy servants, and all mankind are sheltered beneath Thy Tabernacle; all have gathered together at Thy Table of Bounty; all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence.

O God! Thou art kind to all, Thou hast provided for all, dost shelter all, conferrest life upon all. Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy.

O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home. May they all live together in perfect harmony.

O God! Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind.

O God! Establish the Most Great Peace.

Cement Thou, O God, the hearts together.

O Thou kind Father, God! Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance. Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.

Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace)

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.29

Like many people, we live in a residential area, where many people commute to work, whether by car, bus, or bicycle. The other day at noon, a neighbour’s car alarm went off. It seemed the owner was away, because it kept on going—honking for several minutes at a time, then pausing for a minute or two before starting up again. It was still going when I got home, in the late afternoon. Quynh met me outside and told me she had gone to look at the car, and that she’d seen a bunch of handwritten notes stuck on the car’s windshield, with dark, angry messages—insulting and cursing the car’s owner, calling them the worst neighbour in the world, and worse. She didn’t like the noise at all—it gave her a headache—but she also felt bad for the car’s owner, who obviously was away and would have had no idea what was happening. How could people leave such terrible notes?

lined up in the parking lotWe talked about how stress and anger can lead people to lash out against others and to lay blame. Along the way, we met some of the children and youth who live in the neighbourhood, and we continued the conversation with them. Some of them felt annoyed, saying they couldn’t stand the noise any more. We asked them if they had seen the notes that had been left behind. They had. Some of them agreed with the sentiments that were written. But the owner was obviously away, another one said. How would it be fair if we blamed someone for something that was completely out of their control? And how would we feel if we were in the same situation, and we came home from a hard day at work to a windshield full of angry notes calling us names? Terrible, that’s how, and full of despair. Several heads nodded in agreement.

“So what can we do to change the situation?” Quynh asked. It didn’t take long for one of the children to find an answer: replace all the nasty notes with a nice note. The children brainstormed a message together, settling on “Sorry about all the bad notes, tomorrow will be a better day.” After writing it out in black marker on a sheet of paper and decorating it with hearts, stars, and peace signs, they took it and walked together towards the now-silent car. When they got there, they noticed that all the nasty notes had already been removed, so they simply left their positive note under the windshield wiper. All of a sudden, one of the neighbours stepped out of her house, looking exhausted. “So sorry about all the noise,” she said. It was her car. She had just arrived, seen the notes, and disabled the alarm. She looked around at the children, who apologized—as members of the neighbourhood—for all the notes people had left, pointing out the more positive note they had left on her windshield. Her face brightened immediately, as if a veil of misery had been lifted.

It turned out that she had taken her bicycle to work that day to save on gas. She worked across the river in Quebec, so it was a long ride. Late in the afternoon, she explained, she suddenly received a call—from the Ottawa police, who had received a complaint about her car alarm, which had been going off for hours. Nobody could tell what had happened—it might have been an electrical fault that set off the alarm, or a cat, or an actual burglar—but they advised her to come home as soon as possible to shut it off. Shocked, she biked home as fast as she could, only to find all the angry messages littering her windshield. She had just finished getting rid of the notes when the children came to leave one of their own. She thanked them sincerely for their kindness, and the children wished her a pleasant evening—reminding her that tomorrow would be a better day. When we walked back home after meeting, we assured the children that their action had restored hope to that neighbour’s heart.

Whatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we will create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

hiroshima

I happened upon the Hiroshima Photography Gallery a little while back and thought I’d share it. The photos are by Hiromi Tsuchida, and are part of a much larger body of his work. Some of his works are in the National Gallery of Canada (where my bro works), and his “Hiroshima” project has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa. What touched me the most about this collection were the captions that accompany each photo and tell the stories of survivors of the atomic blast at Hiroshima. Most haunting of all must be Part 3 – the “Hiroshima Collection” – photos of personal artifacts gathered at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Overall, this site is definitely worth a look.

Warning: While none of the photos contain graphic detail of injuries sustained at the 1945 Hiroshima bombing, some images and the stories that accompany them may be disturbing.