Teachings

Focus Of The Month

Focus of the Month

July, 2015

Why We Like War

O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.

Krishna, BG II.37

Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.” — George S Patton

What we mean when we say “war” can be different things to different people. But just the mention of it gets our collective blood boiling. War on Crime, Culture Wars, War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, War on Terror - everybody knows that if you want to get people excited about something use the War word.

Governments start most wars, but populations are very quick to jump on the bandwagon - why? From a government’s point of view most wars are fought to protect or expand territory and resources. From the viewpoint of the general population it means a lot of suffering and not a lot to gain. There is an obvious downside to war in the death of so many people, mostly young. Why do people agree to exterminate a large portion of their children for something that interests them little? There must be something that people really like about war.

It is not difficult to perceive that the reason humans cannot live in peace is because they like war. Conflict seems to give humans a zesty feeling of being alive. Waving the flags, putting on the uniforms, and loading up the guns have global appeal. Our normal humdrum existence has new meaning as we choose up sides and start shooting. People rally around the flag and become part of something larger than themselves. Their usually boring lives will now be filled with duty, drama, melodrama, death, sacrifice, and heroics (this is an important one, because through war the common man can make heroic actions and become recognized as a hero.) A list of wars, decade-by-decade, dead hero by dead hero often indexes our experience of history. In the parts of the world where people have been disenfranchised, war gives them a voice and empowerment to express their social, political, and religious views.

It is estimated that 362 days each year humans are waging “big” war (the UN decided that “big” war is 1000+ casualties/year). Those “big” wars provide the spice to the 365 days each year that we wage inner psychic war, medium to small wars with the others we live near, and universal war on the Earth and her resources and all nonhuman species.

The first step to harm another being is to see them as separate from you. If they are “other” then they can be harmed without any harm to the protagonist. When countries are at war with each other they spend time and energy propagandizing their population about the “inhuman” nature of the enemy, in order to justify their demise.

Animals raised or hunted for food or sport, are not considered to have the right to life, or even decent treatment while alive. Today 3.7 billion/yr animals are slaughtered in gulag style for “food.” That figure does not count sea creatures, experimental animals, hunting, fur industry, and many other ways that this insidious war is waged.

The War against Mother Nature marches on continuously as resources and species are exploited with no regard for consequences. Each year people who live in places that are blessed to live without what the U.N. calls “big” war, go out into the forest and field to wage a big war on the animals (100 million+/yr hunted), nature, and each other in the pursuit of entertainment, bonding, and ill-got self-esteem. In the countryside the sounds of gunshots, earthmovers and chainsaws are a daily reminder of the state of war that we all live in. This atmosphere of War-thought nurtures school shootings, suicides, bombings, and general mayhem.

Common ground is the key to changing this warring nature. If we experience commonality, the same desires rights, and needs - in others, then they are less “other” and more “like” us. In a yoga asana practice we move through many forms…tree, mountain, sage, dog, snake, but our identification is rooted in the breath that is equally present in each new form or shape. At the end of a practice the feeling of integration is a direct result of the experience of commonality. Regular yoga practice allows each of us to become a “hero” for a few minutes each day, and to have the unusual experience of bliss. Make Yoga not War!

July 2015 — David Life

Teaching notes: 

 

  • Mantras to bring peace and disrupt War-thought: (In Jivamukti Chant Book #s 2, 10, 11, 18)

    Shantih Shantih Shantih
    Peace Peace Peace

    Sarvesham svasti bhavatu, sarvesham shantir bhavatu,
    Sarvesham purnam bhavatu, sarvesham mangalam bhavatu

    May auspiciousness be unto all, May peace be unto all, May fullness be unto all, May prosperity be unto all.

    Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah,
    Sarve bhadrani pasyantu, ma kashcid dukhabhag bhavet

    May all be happy, May all be free from disabilities, May all look to the good of others, May none suffer from sorrow.

    Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu, saha viryam karavavahai,
    Tejasvi navadhitam astu, ma vidvishavahai, Om Shantiih Shantih Shantih

    Accept us both together, Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase, May we not resent one another.

  • Discuss techniques for nonviolent actions like Public Speeches, Letters of opposition or support, Declarations by organizations and institutions, signed public statements, Declarations of indictment and intention, Group or mass petitions. Your yoga class could Display of flags and symbolic colors, Wearing of symbols, Prayer and worship, Delivering symbolic objects, Symbolic lights, Displays of portraits, New signs and names, Symbolic sounds, Symbolic reclamations, even Rude gestures.
    Find lots more on: 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.
  • Discuss the background of war used in the Bhagavad-Gita and how useful and realistic that background is for all of us to read. Since my birth the US has been involved in almost continuous major military conflict somewhere in the world. Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all provided the background for my daily life for 65 years and for that reason it is really helpful to listen carefully to Krishna’s advice about life during wartime.
  • Discuss nonviolent conflict resolution. You could do role-playing with teacher/student volunteers. It might be interesting to stage a conflict at the beginning of class and then resolve the conflict with the group using non-violent conflict resolution guidelines:

    • Power in societies comes from the consent and obedience of people in those societies. In nonviolent conflict, people change their patterns of consent and obedience, and therefore change their behavior, as a way of exercising power.
    • All oppressors rely on the support of key societal groups in order to maintain their system of control. Nonviolent action shifts the loyalties and undermines the reliability of those key groups.
    • Like other forms of struggle, nonviolent conflict requires analysis of one's situation and strategic planning in order to be carried out effectively.
    • Nonviolent conflict is a pragmatic choice for most oppressed groups. They choose it because they feel that it is the most effective means available for them to wage their struggle.

    From: Nonviolent Conflict: Basic Concepts

Download audio (mp3) files of David Life reading the Focus of the Month
  1. The War Word
  2. People Like War
  3. Big War
  4. War on the Other
  5. War on Nature
  6. Make Yoga not War!

Kali Empl

5 July, 2015 - 22:32

Thank you David-ji for this Focus. I am reminded of dvesha, all of the ongoing aversion we suffer from, and how this creates such deeply-rooted feelings of separateness. Apparently all beings are suffering from this... as I type this, the sweet soul I live with is barking in a manner that sounds like aversion! better go calm her down :)

David L Platzer

1 July, 2015 - 17:12

Not to be overly scholastic, but interpreting the Gita on the subject of war becomes a bit more ambiguous than might be suggested here. Indeed, during the Indian nationalist movements of the early 20th century, many interpreted Krishna's discourse to Arjuna as advocating something like a "just war" perspective against the British, in effect endorsing violence of various kinds (after all, Krishna is not instructing Arjuna, a Kshatriya, to drop his weapons, but in fact precisely the opposite: to pick them up with vigor and courage). Ghandi's reading, which "we" have largely inherited, is not the only one, and even he was forced to admit that the principle of "non-violence" (ahimsa) is not directly endorsed by the Krishna of the Gita.

I guess my question is this. Do we need to have a "strict" reading of an Indic text, one that closes off the ultimately indeterminate nature of interpretation, in order to endorse an ethical affirmation of non-violence? Why do we need to ground our ethics in limited readings of ambiguous, ancient textual and oral traditions, rather than in our own personal convictions? Do we promote orientalist tendencies that carry their own violence, albeit one of a hermeneutic variety?