One hundred years ago my generation’s grandparents woke to the news that the world was at war. Many of them, and their own children – our parents – perished in that conflict (the one that was meant to be “the war to end all wars” – remember?) Many more perished in the second, perhaps deadlier version, and there’s no end in sight to the many current conflicts that plague peace on our beautiful planet.
One hundred and one years ago today, my dad was born. It hadn’t happened yet, but Hiroshima Day would become a grisly marker for his birthday. When I asked him how it felt to share his birthday with the remembrance of that atrocity he was uncharacteristically quiet. He said, “It was the war, dear.” His tone implied that it was something I wouldn’t ever properly understand, not having lived through such times, and he was right. But the sense of his resignation fuelled my lifelong inquiry into the nature and causes of human conflict.
Today I want to take some quiet time to honour my dad, to thank him for all the ways he (usually unintentionally) helped to pave my path. I also want to honour the countless souls who perished in those global conflicts, and those who continue to be caught up in the outrageous and totally avoidable conflicts that are occurring right now, as I type…
I haven’t a magic wand that I can wave over the mayhem to restore sanity to a species gone mad, but I do have a question. To answer this age-old question for oneself takes courage; to live the truth of what is discovered is not an option but an imperative. It just might be the only chance we have – as a species – to survive the old story of separation that drives the war machine. And to change the course of history.
Who is this moment that is morphing, with every thought, into a ‘me’ with its skeleton of opinions, certitude and self-righteousness? This ‘me’ who is so programmed by received ideology that it would make of its siblings, parents or neighbours an enemy; that it would exterminate innocents intentionally or unintentionally? Who is this ‘me’-moment that believes itself to be separate from others, who can look into their eyes and fail to see its own Beingness looking back?
There is no one else, nothing else. There is nothing to be found outside yourself.
When the ego is dead, a new kind of life begins. This is why it is said that when you see the true nature of yourself, there is no way that you can live your life in the old way. It may take a long time to actualize it, but once you see it, it is like an itch that needs to be attended to.
Once we see what is real, it’s very difficult to hide from reality. Before we see it, we can plead ignorance and kind of bungle along, deluding ourselves about our existence. We can blame it on our parents or the president or any number of people, places, and things in order to avoid our responsibility. We can always be a victim, like the unfortunate soul caught in the “winds of circumstances.”
When you realize yourself, all of that self-deception is ended because you find out who is really responsible. It is you. You are the responsible party. There is no one else, nothing else. There is nothing to be found outside yourself.
At first, it is an awesome realization to be responsible, to have no one to blame anymore. It sounds silly if you try and say, “He made me angry,” or “He made me do it,” or “It’s her fault.” It sounds ridiculous, once you have realized yourself, to make the statement “I’m just a victim of circumstances.”
You realize that you are the circumstances, that you create what you experience, that what you do and what happens to you are identical. You realize that cause and effect are immediate and instantaneous; cause doesn’t precede effect, nor does effect follow cause.
If you want to know the past, look at this moment. If you want to know the future, look at this moment. This moment is the future and the past. Where will you find this moment? Who is this moment? What is this moment?
– John Diado Loori, in Mountain Record of Zen Talks