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Jivamukti Focus of the Month, July: Why We Like War

“O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.”

Krishna, BG II.37
Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood. George S Patton

What we mean when we say “war” can be different things to different people. But just the mention of it gets our collective blood boiling. War on Crime, Culture Wars, War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, War on Terror – everybody knows that if you want to get people excited about something use the War word.

Governments start most wars, but populations are very quick to jump on the bandwagon – why? From a government’s point of view most wars are fought to protect or expand territory and resources. From the viewpoint of the general population it means a lot of suffering and not a lot to gain. There is an obvious downside to war in the death of so many people, mostly young. Why do people agree to exterminate a large portion of their children for something that interests them little? There must be something that people really like about war.

It is not difficult to perceive that the reason humans cannot live in peace is because they like war. Conflict seems to give humans a zesty feeling of being alive. Waving the flags, putting on the uniforms, and loading up the guns have global appeal. Our normal humdrum existence has new meaning as we choose up sides and start shooting. People rally around the flag and become part of something larger than themselves. Their usually boring lives will now be filled with duty, drama, melodrama, death, sacrifice, and heroics (this is an important one, because through war the common man can make heroic actions and become recognized as a hero.) A list of wars, decade-by-decade, dead hero by dead hero often indexes our experience of history. In the parts of the world where people have been disenfranchised, war gives them a voice and empowerment to express their social, political, and religious views.

It is estimated that 362 days each year humans are waging “big” war (the UN decided that “big” war is 1000+ casualties/year). Those “big” wars provide the spice to the 365 days each year that we wage inner psychic war, medium to small wars with the others we live near, and universal war on the Earth and her resources and all nonhuman species.

The first step to harm another being is to see them as separate from you. If they are “other” then they can be harmed without any harm to the protagonist. When countries are at war with each other they spend time and energy propagandizing their population about the “inhuman” nature of the enemy, in order to justify their demise.

Animals raised or hunted for food or sport, are not considered to have the right to life, or even decent treatment while alive. Today 3.7 billion/yr animals are slaughtered in gulag style for “food.” That figure does not count sea creatures, experimental animals, hunting, fur industry, and many other ways that this insidious war is waged.

The War against Mother Nature marches on continuously as resources and species are exploited with no regard for consequences. Each year people who live in places that are blessed to live without what the U.N. calls “big” war, go out into the forest and field to wage a big war on the animals (100 million+/yr hunted), nature, and each other in the pursuit of entertainment, bonding, and ill-got self-esteem. In the countryside the sounds of gunshots, earthmovers and chainsaws are a daily reminder of the state of war that we all live in. This atmosphere of War-thought nurtures school shootings, suicides, bombings, and general mayhem.

Common ground is the key to changing this warring nature. If we experience commonality, the same desires rights, and needs – in others, then they are less “other” and more “like” us. In a yoga asana practice we move through many forms…tree, mountain, sage, dog, snake, but our identification is rooted in the breath that is equally present in each new form or shape. At the end of a practice the feeling of integration is a direct result of the experience of commonality. Regular yoga practice allows each of us to become a “hero” for a few minutes each day, and to have the unusual experience of bliss. Make Yoga not War!

July 2015 — David Life

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