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Lama Surya Das

God and Conflict: A Search for Peace in a Time of Crisis

It is not news that our world is in crisis — environmental, economic, political, and conflict over resources; the list goes on and on. It is clear there is a need for collective as well as individual action guided by discriminating wisdom and skillful, creative intelligence. We need to awaken together and go beyond partisanship, isms and schisms and explore new ways to solve these problems. If we cannot pull together, we will be pulled apart.

All of the major spiritual traditions of our world offer contemplative practices — such as prayer and meditation, yoga, attitude transformation techniques and the like — which systematically guide an individual into the deeper inner realms where self-realization, innate wisdom-awareness and profound intuition can be accessed, cultivated, and further developed. Yet, as a spiritual teacher, I am often asked: “How do I bridge the gap between my meditation-cushion and yoga-mat experiences in confronting and striving to meet the seemingly overwhelming challenges facing the world today?” I always say that integration is our greatest spiritual challenge today, bringing deep spirituality into every nook and cranny of our daily lives. This means going deep inside ourselves and finding the water table or universal level, that united state which we all share, and then coming forth from that/there into the world.

This centering and penetration to the vital core can allow us to be in the world but not entirely of it, and remain uncaught up with the dream-like enticements and values of worldliness and immature egocentricism which lead to so much mischief along with even nastier trouble. I believe that each of us must find and express fully our own true vocation in this way — our true work, gift, and raison d’être — and thus gift ourselves through that avenue to the better world, present and future, that we all long for. There is simply no easy answer or simplistic one-size-fits-all way to do so, though some people might very well offer some.

 One of my friends likes to tell her students and mentees: “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” For the journey of a thousand miles begins beneath ones feet. A Zen master of old, when he overheard two monks arguing about whether to eat their tofu with chopsticks or a spoon, shouted: “The only way to eat is with your mouth! The rest is detail.” Like those argumentative monks, we too often get lost in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. We need to make at least a single step in a new direction, perhaps even the right direction, and start being a provider, steward and guardian rather than just one more avaricious consumer.

I’ve found the uniquely efficacious antidote to ignorance, confusion and delusion is awakened awareness-wisdom — the ability to see things clearly and just as they are, not as we would like them to be or as we are, with all our projections and interpretations. This human capacity for insight and discernment can act as a panacea in helping us understand both causation and the ultimate nature of reality, directly relieving us of weltschmerz, the felt pain and sorrow of the human condition. When oneself becomes clear, everything becomes clearer: this is the truth. Turning the searchlight, the spotlight, inwards for some time — through contemplative practice, through re-mindfulness and awareness — definitely goes a long way in helping to rebalance our extreme modern outer-directedness. This is a jewel beyond price, in the palm of your own hand, and it is freely available.

Philip Hellmich has taken on the timeless and yet so timely challenge of applying that contemplative nowness-awareness called mindfulness and applying it compassionately to one of the harshest realities seen in modern times — deadly conflict that involves children as weapons of war. This is an awesome undertaking, audacious, ambitious and I believe quite significant. I myself have worked in refugee camps in Asia and on strife-torn borders, and I assure that such situations are hell on earth worse than can be imagined or grasped from afar, and the children often bear the worst of it. This can make me see red, and I’m usually a pretty equanimous guy.

I have sat in circles with Philip several times at retreat-like conference gatherings with the Global Peace Initiative of Women in California and also the Aspen Grove Project and inter-spiritual dialogue meetings in Colorado. What has stood out is his deep commitment to his meditation practice and a passion for trying to link the wisdom from that tradition with altruistic compassion in action Bodhisattva-activities as unselfish service in daily life and the world at large. Like myself and the many who are awakening together today, Philip thinks globally while acting locally, beginning within himself.

In God and Conflict Philip reveals the roots of his passion as stemming from a profound wounding that came from being exposed to the impact of Westernization and deadly violence on loved ones in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It is difficult to face such realities, and, at the same time, it is imperative that the world wake up to how our unconscious pursuit of happiness is impacting the lives of millions, if not billions, of people around the world.

As Philip reveals, the combination of witnessing the suffering of others and diving deeper into a meditation practice takes him into the heart of questions that have haunted humanity from the dawn of time, including how can any God allow such atrocities? If we don’t work to better comprehend what’s involved in the notion implied by the placeholder words we use for Higher Power, how can we meaningfully begin to see our way through such existential questions?

Philip takes us on a journey that is raw, powerful and transparent. He shares glimpses of the invisible hand that guides him without getting side tracked by spiritual phenomena. While Philip fully commits himself to one spiritual tradition, he consistently honors the universal wisdom of all traditions.

What lifts God and Conflict is that it takes the reader through the shadows and then focuses on the power of transformation. It reveals the tremendous positivity that is arising from the hearts and souls of men, women and youth around the world. Philip artfully highlights the parallels between the inner search for peace and the emerging practices of peacebuilding across what he and colleagues call the peace continuum from inner to international levels. He has looked into the very heart of the maelstrom and integrated both the terror and the joy, embraces it fully, and is a better man and spiritually centered and motivated social activist for it.

God and Conflict is a real gift, especially for any spiritual seeker wanting to bridge his or her practice with practical action in the world today. Enjoy meeting Philip and his numerous friends around the world. I have.

–Lama Surya Das

Author of Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World, and founder of the Dzogchen Center and Dzogchen Retreats

Valentine’s Day, February 2012