I’m watching Of Gods and Men. It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war. They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained. Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt. The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic. When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks. When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection. The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists. This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace. It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our mostly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom. But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility. The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture. They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.
Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist. Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all. We are not singular and cut off from one another. We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving. We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion. Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.
Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed. I’m no longer angry. I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation. My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury. As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture. He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent. He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people. They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.
My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world. It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being. This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.” As he wrote,
Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,
Like the winter just gone by.
Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.
Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.
Be and know at that time the state of non-being,
The infinite ground of our deepest vibration
So that you may wholly complete it this one time.
Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.