As the philosophical and ethical divide has increased in my country in recent weeks, I am finding myself being tossed about in a sea of emotional responses and ideas about what must be done now. There is a passage from the Bhagavad Gita that has called to me again and again, and this morning I pulled out my translation (Stephen Mitchell), to refer to it directly. In the first chapter, Arjuna, the warrior, has found himself in the midst of a very difficult battle, and overwhelmed with uncertainty, sits down in his chariot, refusing to go any further. He meets the holy Krishna on the battlefield, who with his powers as a divine being, freezes the unfolding of time in order to have a serious conversation.
Arjuna asks Krishna to take him to the battlefield between the two armies, one the army of the good, the other of evil, and says “I want to look at the men gathered here ready to do battle service for Dhritarashtra’s evil-minded son.” Who did Arjuna see in the frontlines? “Fathers, grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, fathers-in-law, and friends, kinsmen on both sides, each side arrayed against the other.” Arjuna, filled with grief, offers the following response: “As I see my own kinsmen, gathered here, eager to fight, my legs weaken, my mouth dries, my body trembles, my hair stands on end, my skin burns… I am beside myself, my mind reels… no good can come from killing my own kinsmen in battle.” The scene is, of course, symbolic in nature, acknowledging the familiarity of the demons that each one of us carries within us, creating the landscape of our personality and the lens through which we see the world. Each time I have read this amazing holy text, I have been challenged to see deeper within myself, considering the ways that I refuse to fight the darkness and delusion that I carry within, with the ever present battle of awakening to true understanding and compassion. However, as things have been escalating, and as the new leader of this country has continued to find ways to begin attacking all that is perceived as “other,” it is clear to me that these words are quite relevant externally as well right now.
The context in which these words have come to me again and again is very much connected to the divide that so many of us are experiencing at this time. When members of the same family have such vastly differing perspectives, a painful and seemingly difficult to resolve chasm develops. I have seen this in my own family, as in recent months, two distinct people from my own bloodline have said in direct terms that if I don’t like the way the new administration is doing things, to go ahead and get out of their country. I have experienced a similar divide between a number of those people from my childhood world, classmates primarily, who have held fast and strong to the homogenous ideas of the poor, Christian, conservative, blue collar town that we all grew up in, and though so much development and change has taken place there in the name of economics, so little has changed in the way of progress. The mentality of what is “right” and “wrong” is largely dictated by the dominant, and fairly extreme, religious perspective, with little care about anything beyond its scope. If what is perceived as “other” cannot be converted to the one true right way, it must be suppressed or destroyed, by whatever means available. Hence, the battle scenario I’ve shared above – seeing familiar faces on the front lines of a battle that is heartbreaking.
For those with little exposure to the world beyond, including other religious and spiritual beliefs, other cultural traditions, other ways of life, I can easily see how difference could be perceived as a threat. A small child with his or her own way of playing a certain game might attempt to enforce unjust rules on those who come to play, unconscious and ego driven rules that tip the game in his/her favor, and make him/her the righteous victor in the process. However, as any good parent or teacher would correct that child, teaching him/her fairness, justice, and how to do the right thing, we must find an effective way to help those people to see the bigger picture. Allowing religious freedom for ALL – including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Pagans, Indigenous Peoples, and Athiests, among others – in no way challenges Christians and their ability to practice their faith. However, when the immature ego perspective becomes twisted, allowing the “other” to live alongside them and practice whatever they wish DOES pose a threat to the little child who wants it always to be his/her way, and wants that to be reflected from all sides as the “right” way – all others should be punished and stopped. This, my friends, is one significant piece of what we are facing right now in the US. The child-mind shadow underbelly of a nation whose tenets have included the nice idea of “liberty and justice for ALL,” but who actually doesn’t want that ALL to include anyone but who they perceive as “their own.” And by extension, also shouldn’t include anyone who would side with those who threaten that homogeny.
America is not a white nation. It is not a Christian nation. It is not a nation of intolerance of diversity and difference. It is, however, a nation that was built upon ethnic injustice, opportunism, and questionable ethics. It is a nation whose original blood was red, indigenous, diverse, and as in all human things, imperfect. It is a nation built upon the deception of those indigenous ancestors, and a nation like SO many in the world, who was created through white European colonialism, in which the original peoples were considered savage and inhuman, in need of becoming civilized, in the name of Christianity. So essential to note, too, that those who fled Europe because of religious persecution now have descendants who want to push out those who ALSO refuse to accept the preferred religious doctrine. For a nation of people whose ancestors shipped in Africans to do their bidding as slaves, which was considered acceptable to many “good Christian” people, as well as having invited the cheap labor of Mexicans in times of need, paying them far less than an acceptable wage for American citizens, it seems that there is still a deep rage, a fundamental superiority, that drives the inequality and injustice in this nation.
As we have evolved to understand that all humans have the right to live side by side as equals, and that all humans have the right to practice whatever beliefs they choose so long as they harm no one, the deeply repressed temper tantrum has finally surfaced, carrying the real child-mind belief: “we are right, we want what we want, and we don’t care what we have to do to get it!!” This is being expressed by the current administration with a vehemence and boldness that makes my stomach turn, and inspires both fear in my heart for so many people that I truly love, as well as a deep and abiding determination to do as Krishna commanded Arjuna: “Why this timidity, Arjuna, at a time of crisis? It is unworthy of a noble mind; it is shameful and does not lead to heaven. This cowardice is beneath you, Arjuna; do not give in to it. Shake off your weakness. Stand up now like a man… Therefore you must fight, Arjuna.” Friends, we must stand in our hearts, in our power at this time. We must embrace our truth as nonviolent warriors, fierce and determined to disallow the injustices that are being tossed around right now. We have been waiting for this time for all of our lives – a time when all we have learned, all we have healed, all we have transformed within ourselves to bring us into conscious leadership in order to stand in the face of these horrors with courage, for the good of all. Are you with me?