The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
April 2013 – Vol. 16 Issue 2
“We want to disarm human hearts and human beings, one by one, country by country. We can choose to do this individually, by seeking truth and living our lives with as much integrity as possible.” – Mairead Corrigan Maguire
How can ordinary people encourage peace? Mairead Corrigan Maguire’s efforts show that ordinary citizens can impact even longstanding, seemingly intractable problems. When several family members were killed in the senseless violence in Northern Ireland in 1976, she and Betty Williams, a witness to the deaths, led massive peace rallies of Catholics and Protestants, and went on to form Peace People and share the Nobel Peace prize in 1977. In an interview in the March Progressive, she outlines her nonviolent, grassroots approach: “We have to start from the fact that there are always alter-natives to violence. We mustn’t start off with the idea that there’s only militarism, invasions, and occupations. We really have to look: What are the alternatives here? That’s what we were saying in our community in Northern Ireland when we were faced with death threats, when our cars were destroyed, and paramilitaries were after us. We were saying no to bombing and paramilitarism. That wasn’t justice. That wasn’t solving our problem. We were moving around in circles for seven years and people were dying every day. It was getting worse. So, we had to find another way of trying to solve our problems. You talk to your enemies. You sit down and talk to them and say, ‘Why are you so angry? Where’s your problem coming from, and we’ll work this out together.’ We were not against anybody; we were for life, for respect, for change.”
Mairead wasn’t a politician, celebrity, community leader, or wealthy philanthropist. She left school at 14 when her family could no longer afford tuition, and after saving for a year of business classes became a secretary. Nonetheless, her determination allowed her to act to bring more peace, justice and mutual understanding into a deeply divided and violent situation: “We mobilized for six months. Our approach was to try to bring down the fear in the community and to come together to say, ‘How do we build a Northern Ireland identity? How do we work together to have a bill of rights and shared political structures?’ We went to communities that had a great deal of violence and set up discussions and provided platforms for people who otherwise would be committed to the armed struggle or to the loyalists. We had them coming together on the same platform to talk. That was very important – step by step – for bringing together people to realize that they could solve their problems without killing each other. We had rallies throughout Northern Ireland every Saturday, and also … in other parts of the world. The point was to try to bring down the fear between the two communities. We were trying to see how we could connect. That worked because in the first six months of the peace movement there was a 78 percent decrease in the rate of violence. And it never went back up again.”
Her approach was inspired largely by her Christian faith: “I was born into a Catholic family.… Faith was very important to us eight children and my mother and father. It was grounded in the Christian tradition of social involvement.… I witnessed a lot of violence, and I found myself asking the question: Do you ever use violence to try to bring about political change? … I was forming the question because we were living under emergency laws and had to face all sorts of problems. I went on a journey to find out if you would ever use violence. One young IRA man said to me: ‘There is such a thing as a just war. The Church blesses just wars, and we’re right to be using violence for change.’ Well, I studied the just war concept, and I realized that it is a phony piece of morality. Your really can’t apply it. More than that, I looked at the cross and Jesus. The cross to me is complete non-violence because Jesus said, “Love your enemy. Do not kill.” I realized that I could never kill anyone or hurt anyone, but I was committed to trying to bring about social and political and economic change.… I was more prepared for a nonviolent movement by looking at Gandhi and King and Abdul Ghaffar Khan. All of these people suddenly came alive for me because we needed their methods to bring about change.”
Today she continues her efforts for peace and human rights around the globe, working with others to draw attention to victims of oppression, violence, and injustice and to encourage nonviolent solutions. Despite all the problems in the world today, she remains optimistic: “I believe people are wonderful. The vast majority of people have never hurt anybody in their lives, don’t want killing, don’t want wars. In all the countries of the world, they just want to love their families and get on with their lives. I believe passionately in the power of people…. I go to places and I see all these people working on peace education and on a culture of nonviolence and non-killing. You look at all these different movements going on: the environment movement, the interfaith movement, the human rights movement, the youth movement, and the arts movement. Once we link up and network, there will be new institutions, new beginnings, and a change in the economy because capitalism is destroying many people’s lives. It’s just one leap to think in a different way. I believe in a non-killing future.”
Asked whether he could impart any secret wisdom, the Sixth Ch’an Patriarch Hui-neng answered: “What I can tell you is not esoteric; if you turn your light inwardly, you will find what is esoteric within you…. Those who wish to hear the teaching should purify their mind first and, after hearing it, clear up their own doubts as the sages did in the past.”
The essence of Ch’an had been, according to tradition, transmitted from sage to sage since the time of Buddha – not by “words and letters” but by life and example, by action and application, by symbols and suggestions. Though Ch’an was brought by Bodhidharma from India, the Ch’an Patriarchs who followed him were Chinese, imbued with their own mode of thinking and talking, and this may account for their abrupt and paradoxical manner of imparting instruction. The Chinese language in its very terseness is suggestive and evocative, often implying more than the words connote, thus leaving a wide margin for individual interpretation.
Their appeal was directed to the intuitive faculty of the student rather than to his analytical reasoning power. A mental shock was considered more valuable than a logical exposition if it could be administered so as to arouse creative imagination. Naturally such methods had an attraction to poets and painters to whom the phenomena of nature were but symbols of inner realities. To them the external world was filled with mirages of the mind. Nothing of it was real; all things change and shift as the mind is moving.
This point of view is graphically depicted in a story told of Hui-neng when he chanced upon some monks arguing over the fluttering of a pennant. One said, “The pennant is an inanimate object, and it is the wind that makes it move.” Another said, “Both wind and pennant are inanimate, and the flapping is an impossibility.” A third protested, “After all, there is no flapping pennant, it is the wind that is moving by itself.” Hui-neng interrupted them: “It is neither wind nor pennant but your own mind which flaps.”
This is characteristic of Ch’an, which holds that all appearances have no permanence or existence of their own, but simply form an ever-changing stream of transformations and would disappear altogether if the ceaseless operations of the mind and the senses could be stopped. If we want to obtain some knowledge about the reality behind all such phenomena, we must raise our consciousness beyond intellection to the great Void, sunyata. Yet this term by no means implies nothingness or absence of life; it signifies the very essence of universal life, a state of being which contains everything but which cannot be experienced by humans before they have become self-conscious in the highest part of their natures. Intuition in this context denotes a kind of inner illumination which manifests only when the thoughts and sense-impressions of the personal nature have been brought into silence. It has been called the deepest form of meditation or contemplation. Yet this does not necessarily require doing strict formal exercises, but may be attained just as well while the individual is talking or working. If the mind is unobstructed, one may have a sudden experience that lights the flame. It is the mysterious event called wu or kai wu (to become, to apprehend) in Chinese and satori in Japanese; it is the samadhi of Hindu philosophy and the very aim of all Ch’an training. The awakening of intuition cannot be forced by outward means, postures or the mere accumulation of intellectual knowledge, or by repetition of sacred formulas. It has to grow naturally as the flower and come into bloom when the season is ripe. At the same time, it has no gradations but occurs all of a sudden when the illusions of the mind have been brushed away.
One day Nan-yüeh Huai-jang saw a pupil sitting cross-legged all day in meditation and asked what his purpose was. The pupil replied: “My desire is to become a Buddha.” The master took up a brick and began to polish it on a stone. “What are you working on so hard?” the pupil asked. “I am trying to turn this into a mirror.” “No amount of polishing will make a mirror out of the brick, sir!” “If so, no amount of sitting cross-legged will make of you a Buddha. Ch’an does not consist in sitting or lying: the Buddha has no fixed forms. If you seek buddhahood by thus sitting cross-legged, you murder him. So long as you do not free yourself from sitting thus, you will never arrive at the truth.” In every aspect of life, the chief task is to make oneself interiorly free, to remove all obstacles and open the way for the light within to penetrate one’s whole being. The light is the same in all – it is the buddha-nature, by which each is potentially omniscient and through which he may see and comprehend reality.