“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle,
Yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.”
The above quotation is one of my favorite sayings of the Buddha, recorded in the book The Dhammapada as Verse 103. Considering the various conflicts around the world that continue to keep the news media busy, this verse is as important and pertinent for our lives today as it was when first uttered millennia ago. America and her allies are fighting Muslim ‘insurgents’ in both Iraq and Afghanistan, while Muslims have attacked their fellow countrymen (as well as foreigners) in pursuit of self-rule. But, though they may defeat their enemies, have any of the combatants or their leaders conquered their own minds? Who or what are the real enemies of the West? Islamists? Communists? And who or what are the true foes of the Islamists? Westerners? Infidels? No, the real enemies of Westerners, Islamists, communists, religionists and atheists alike are the same. In Buddhism they are called lobha, dosa, and moha, or greed, hatred, and delusion.
It is greed (or raga, ‘lust’), that drives all humans to want this beautiful person, or that expensive car, or to gain and cling to positions of power and influence. We find someone attractive, physically, mentally, or perhaps both. We are friendly towards them, listening to their opinions and problems with an open heart, unlike those people that we aren’t very keen on. This is attaching to our likes, favoring those that make us feel good in some way. Perhaps the person that wasn’t so attractive to us might have been a positive influence in our lives, helping us with some worldly endeavor, or even assisting us to grow in the Dharma. But, being greedy for those that we like, we miss out on a chance for growth. Hatred repels us from those people, things, and situations that we don’t like. How many of us in the past few years have felt repulsion either at the actions of the foreign military against Muslim civilians or/and the bombings of other civilians by their ‘fellow’ countrymen? This is a form of hate, arising in our hearts in response to that which we do not like – and has this hate changed a thing in Iraq and Afghanistan, or has it simply caused unhealthy mind states to arise within ourselves? Similarly, intense dislike of those people and things that we must endure in our everyday existences are also the recipients of our negative emotions. And do they stop being the way they are, simply because we hate them for it? Of course not.
Both greed and hatred have their root in delusion, or more precisely, the delusion of self. The feeling of being a self (mana, or 'conceit') fuels the fires of desire and aversion: it’s all about what I like or what I don’t like. Living from the position of ego, we constantly judge the world around us and the people in it. Whether it’s a hostile neighbor, soldier, terrorist, or love rival, it’s this sense of I up against the other that is the root cause of all this hatred. Ditto, with regards to desire; this I-ness causes us to latch on to this person or that, desiring all kinds of contact with them! Suffering, whether on the personal or societal level, ultimately comes from the three unwholesome roots of greed, hatred, and delusion that every human on this planet is subject to, unless he or she becomes enlightened. A name for enlightenment in Buddhism is nirodha (cessation or ending). Some think that this refers to the cessation of the self, but this is incorrect. Ultimately, the self is a delusion, so therefore it cannot end for it never existed. Enlightenment is the ending of greed, hatred, and the delusion of being a separate self. True victory is therefore the defeat of the delusion of self; it is the final triumph, which no tyrant can deprive one of, no matter how much they abuse one.
According to many scholars and mystics, this realization is not limited to Buddhists. In the traditions of Christian mysticism, Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, and Sufi Islam (not to mention many, many others), there are records of those that have let go of all striving and transcended the limitations of the ego to realize that which lies beyond the self. This conquering of the self – or, to be more psychologically accurate, relinquishing of ego – emphasizes the bonds between people, not the differences; it produces peace rather than conflict in our hearts and lives; it is the result of the inner, or greater, jihad (‘struggle’) that many Muslims speak of as being superior to the outer, or lesser, jihad against the ‘infidel’ aggressors. In the practice of Buddhism, we work towards the awakening of this realization of selflessness that transforms our understanding of who and what we are. Living from this position of awakening to the Dharma (the way things are), we are less likely to be in conflict with each other. I hope and pray that those in the throws of outer conflict are able to listen to the Dharma (whether cloaked in Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, or any other language) and adjust their lives accordingly. Only then will the people of the beleaguered nations of the Earth begin to live in peace (both physically and mentally).
The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.