It's an Old, Old Story

Contemplations by Peter and Helen Evans

We find ourselves in an awkward position just now. We are shocked, saddened and outraged by the most recent acts of terrorism which killed thousands of innocents. At the same time, if we can lift ourselves above the red daze of vengeance, we are shocked, saddened and outraged by the prospect of the inevitable deaths of many more innocents in our equally inevitable attempt to "punish" the terrorists. We don't want terrorism and we don't want war, and one or the other or both seem inevitable. What to do!?

We find ourselves in much the same position as did Arjuna, the central figure of an ancient story, the Bhagavad Gita. He was a member of one branch of a royal family which was divided over who should rule the shared kingdom. The dispute between the opposing branches of the family had escalated to war. Arjuna asks Krishna, his charioteer, to take him to the middle of the battlefield to survey the two armies arrayed to clash. Even though he feels he is on the side of righteousness (and has God incarnated as Krishna "on his side"), he is totally dismayed at the prospect of going to war against his cousins, his beloved uncle, his revered teachers and countless other relatives. He is shocked, saddened and outraged at the evil that has brought things to this state, and at the carnage which will inevitably follow. Sound familiar?

Arjuna is a member of the 'Kshatrya' caste in his society. This is like the Samurai, the warrior or military class. It is his 'dharma' or duty to fight for righteousness. Yet he refuses. He drops his weapon and sadly says that neither for wealth or fame or kingship will he slaughter his kin. He would rather be killed himself. This is how the first of the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita ends.

In the remainder of this short, but dense little book, Krishna explains to Arjuna that he must act. But, that he must do so without fear of the consequences, and without desire for personal satisfaction or gain. He must consecrate his actions to the higher ideal of re-establishing Truth and righteousness in the world.

The Samurai operate according to the same code of honor, devotion to the will of their lord. It is said that, if you can anger a Samurai who is coming to kill you, he is honor- bound to desist in his attack, at least until he re-centers himself in selfless devotion. Then... you better run!

As we read reports of the thousands fleeing Afghanistan, we see in the disruption of those many lives, yet another aspect of the collateral damage of terrorism. We know that it is right to strive to rid the world of this evil, yet, if we are honest, we are dismayed that we must do so by more killing. We may recall the words of the grief-stricken Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along!?"

We may be tempted to fall into the too-easy duality of "us" and "them" and pretend that if we can get rid of the terrorists this time, then "everything will be all right" and we can go back to business as usual. It's not that simple, and, thankfully, most of us are not that simple- minded either. The "problem of violence" is not limited to a few "evil terrorists". It is an aspect of humanity, and that's the good news in this sorry scenario. We are all part of humanity, and every step we take to rid ourselves of the evil of violence moves all of humanity toward righteousness.

At one level, we are simply spectators to the events unfolding now on the world stage, and can only hope that our hired warriors will behave honorably. But at a deeper more personal level, a level where we CAN make a difference, we are in the chariot with Krishna, on our own battlefield.

It may not be easy, right away, to know what is the higher ideal, but we can all be easily aware of when we are acting for our own, personal satisfaction.

Let us be calm and listen to our higher guidance.