Last year, I was blessed to be part of Unity Church’s “One Peace, Many Paths” closing event.
From Sept. 11 through the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, Unity sponsored events in many different faith communities. These ranged from potlucks to religious services, but all were rooted in the goal of peace.
On the International Day of Peace, we gathered at Unity Church for a multi-faith event that featured diverse people speaking about peace, praying for peace and being in peace together. I was one of the speakers.
During the event, people from religious communities throughout the area spoke beautifully, from the heart, about peace. Choirs sang and encouraged us to dance. Strangers hugged each other.
There was exuberant drumming, chanting and prayers from 11 different religions. We were all there, together, for the same thing.
Throughout, we strove to learn about each other, and we approached one another with a sense of respect. Despite differences, we recognized that peace is something that unites us all. We regarded each other as brothers and sisters, part of a community, without even knowing each other.
As a Buddhist, I know that “peace” is sometimes used as a synonym for “Nirvana,” the state of enlightenment that is free from all suffering, aversion, greed, ignorance and delusion. This is the state achieved by the historical Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.
This complete peace fully realized in every heart is the aim of Buddhist practice, so it’s not surprising that Buddhism places great emphasis on nonviolence.
The first precept in Buddhism, the most essential vow of ethical conduct, is not to kill. This includes abstaining from killing even tiny insects. Though few of us practice this perfectly, we try our best.
We aren’t alone in striving for peace. As I listened to representatives of other religions speak, I was surprised by how similar our ideals are.
A young Hindu woman cheerfully explained the importance of applying the opposite view whenever a negative state of mind arises. She said that doing so changes the mind and brings about peace.
For example, if you’re feeling angry, cultivating feelings of compassion will soothe the mind. Buddhist meditation training teaches the same thing.
A Muslim told the audience that her five-times-daily prayers are a source of peace in her life. A religious Jewish friend of mine has told me something almost exactly like this about his daily prayers. It’s how I feel about my daily meditation practice as well.
Another young woman spoke as a Baha’i about her vision of peace in the world. She talked about equality among all people, a world where all prejudices are abolished. I was touched by how much I agreed with her.
An Episcopalian priest urged us to avoid any faith that tells us to kill. He reminded us that “enemies” and even “terrorists” are also human beings. He suggested that we rephrase “30 enemy combatants died” to “30 mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters died.” A Buddhist teacher of mine has told her students to do this, too.
A few years ago, a relative wrote to me, passionately denouncing religion as divisive, a source of wars, violence, discrimination and harm. I understand her opinions, though I disagree.
Religion certainly has played horrible roles in human history, but it doesn’t have to. I find that it’s hatred, not faith, which leads to violence. A mind filled with anger and hate will find any justification for harmful actions. Regardless of religion, spirituality or lack thereof, a heart devoted to peace will always find alternatives.
Let’s model the best parts of our beliefs in 2009 and create this new year as a time of understanding and unity. When we come together in a shared commitment to peace, being “right” doesn’t matter, how we disagree becomes insignificant, and we are able to embrace each other as family in our work for a better world.
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