War and peace are the epic saga of humanity. They are all that our history books contain because they are what our hearts contain.
If you have ever read “Don Quixote”, you’ll remember that he was fighting windmills. Everybody is doing just that, fighting windmills. Don Quixote was the figment of a writer’s imagination, a man who believed himself to be a great warrior. He thought that every windmill he met was an enemy and started battling with it. That’s exactly what we are doing within our own hearts and that’s why this story has such an everlasting appeal. It tells us about ourselves. Writers and poets who have survived their own lifetimes have always told human beings about themselves. Mostly people don’t listen, because it doesn’t help when somebody else tells us what’s wrong with us and few care to hear it. One has to find out for oneself and most people don’t want to do that either.
What does it really mean to fight windmills? It means fighting nothing important or real, just imaginary enemies and battles. All quite trifling matters, which we build into something solid and formidable in our minds. We say: “I can’t stand that,” so we start fighting, and “I don’t like him,” and a battle ensues, and “I feel so unhappy,” and the inner war is raging. We hardly ever know what we’re so unhappy about. The weather, the food, the people, the work, the leisure, the country, anything at all will usually do. Why does this happen to us? Because of the resistance to actually letting go and becoming what we really are, namely nothing. Nobody cares to be that.
Everybody wants to be something or somebody even if it’s only Don Quixote fighting windmills. Somebody who knows and acts and will become something else, someone who has certain attributes, views, opinions and ideas. Even patently wrong views are held onto tightly, because it makes the “me” more solid. It seems negative and depressing to be nobody and have nothing. We have to find out for ourselves that it is the most exhilarating and liberating feeling we can ever have. But because we fear that windmills might attach, we don’t want to let go.
Why can’t we have peace in the world? Because nobody wants to disarm. Not a single country is ready to sign a disarmament pact, which all of us bemoan. But have we ever looked to see whether we, ourselves, have actually disarmed? When we haven’t done so, why wonder that nobody else is ready for it either? Nobody wants to be the first one without weapons; others might win. Does it really matter? If there is nobody there, who can be conquered? How can there be a victory over nobody? Let those who fight win every war, all that matters is to have peace in one’s own heart. As long as we are resisting and rejecting and continue to find all sorts of rational excuses to keep on doing that there has to be warfare.
War manifests externally in violence, aggression and killing. But how does it reveal itself internally? We have an arsenal within us, not of guns and atomic bombs, but having the same effect. And the one who gets hurt is always the one who is shooting, namely oneself. Sometimes another person comes within firing range and if he or she isn’t careful enough, he or she is wounded. That’s a regrettable accident. The main blasts are the bombs which go off in one’s own heart. Where they are detonated, that’s the disaster area.
The arsenal which we carry around within ourselves consists of our ill will and anger, our desires and cravings. The only criterion is that we don’t feel peaceful inside. We need not believe in anything, we can just find out whether there is peace and joy in our heart. If they are lacking, most people try to find them outside of themselves. That’s how all wars start. It is always the other country’s fault and if one can’t find anyone to blame then one needs more “Lebensraum,” more room for expansion, more territorial sovereignty. In personal terms, one needs more entertainment, more pleasure, more comfort, more distractions for the mind. If one can’t find anyone else to blame for one’s lack of peace, then one believes it to be an unfulfilled need.
Who is that person, who needs more? A figment of our own imagination, fighting windmills. That “more” is never ending. One can go from country to country, from person to person. There are billions of people on this globe; it’s hardly likely that we will want to see every one of them, or even one-hundredth, a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to do so. We may choose twenty or thirty people and then go from one to the next and back again, moving from one activity to another, from one idea to another. We are fighting against our own “dukkha” and don’t want to admit that the windmills in our heart are self-generated. We believe somebody put them up against us, and by moving we can escape from them.
Few people come to the final conclusion that these windmills are imaginary, that one can remove them by not endowing them with strength and importance. That we can open our hearts without fear and gently, gradually let go of our preconceived notions and opinions, views and ideas, suppressions and conditioned responses. When all that is removed, what does one have left? A large, open space, which one can fill with whatever one likes. If one has good sense, one will fill it with love, compassion and equanimity. Then there is nothing left to fight. Only joy and peacefulness remain, which cannot be found outside of oneself. It is quite impossible to take anything from outside and put it into oneself. There is no opening in us through which peace can enter. We have to start within and work outward. Unless that becomes clear to us, we will always find another crusade.
Imagine what it was like in the days of the crusades! There were those noble knights who spent all their wealth on equipping themselves with the most modern and advanced weapons, outfitting horses and followers, and then setting off to bring religion to the infidels. They died on the way because of hardships and battles and those who reached the end of the journey, the Holy Land, still did not get any results, only more warfare. When we look at this today, it seems utterly foolish, to the extent of being ridiculous.
Yet we do the same in our own lives. If, for instance, we wrote something in our diary that upset us three or four years ago and were to read it now, it would seem quite absurd. We wouldn’t be able to remember for what reason it could possibly have been important. We are constantly engaged in such foolishness with minor and unimportant trifles, and spend our energies trying to work them out to our ego-satisfaction. Wouldn’t it be much better to forget such mental formations and attend to what’s really important? There is only one thing that’s important to every being and that is a peaceful and happy heart. It cannot be bought, nor is it given away. Nobody can hand it to someone else and it cannot be found. Ramana Maharshi, a sage in southern India, said: “Peace and happiness are not our birthright. Whoever has attained them, has done so by continual effort.”
Some people have an idea that peace and happiness are synonymous with doing nothing, having no duties or responsibilities, being looked after by others. That’s rather a result of laziness. To gain peace and happiness one has to make unrelenting effort in one’s own heart. One can’t achieve it through proliferation, by trying to get more, only by wanting less. Becoming emptier and emptier, until there is just open space to be filled with peace and happiness. As long as our hearts are full of likes and dislikes, how can peace and happiness find any room?
One can find peace within oneself in any situation, any place, any circumstance, but only through effort, not through distraction. The world offers distractions and sense contacts, and they are often quite tempting. The more action there is, the more distracted the mind can be and the less one has to look at one’s own “dukkha”. When one has the time and opportunity to introspect, one finds one’s inner reality different from what one imagined. Many people quickly look away again, they don’t want to know about that. It’s nobody’s fault that there is “dukkha”. The only cure is letting go. It’s really quite simple, but few people believe this to the point of trying it out.
There is a well-known simile about a monkey trap. The kind used in Asia is a wooden funnel with a small opening. At the bigger end lies a sweet. The monkey, attracted by the sweet, puts his paw into the narrow opening and gets hold of the sweet. When he wants to draw his paw out again, he can’t get his fist with the sweet through the narrow opening. He is trapped and the hunter will come and capture him. He doesn’t realize that all he has to do to be free is to let go of the sweet.
That’s what our life is all about. A trap, because we want it nice and sweet. Not being able to let go, we’re caught in the ever recurring happiness-unhappiness, up-down, hoping-despairing cycle. Instead of trying it out for ourselves, whether we could let go and be free, we resist and reject such a notion. Yet we all agree that all that matters are peace and happiness, which can only exist in a free mind and heart.
There is a lovely story from Nazrudin, a Sufi Master, who was gifted in telling absurd tales. One day, the story goes, he sent one of his disciples to the market and asked him to buy him a bag of chilies. The disciple did as requested and brought the bag to Nazrudin, who began to eat the chilies, one after another. Soon his face turned red, his nose started running, his eyes began to water and he was choking. The disciple observed this for a while with awe and then said: “Sir, your face is turning red, your eyes are watering and you are choking. Why don’t you stop eating these chilies?” Nazrudin replied: “I am waiting for a sweet one.”
The teaching aid of chilies! We, too, are waiting for something, somewhere that will create peace and happiness for us. Meanwhile there is nothing but “dukkha”, the eyes are watering, the nose is running, but we won’t stop our own creations. There must be a sweet one at the bottom of the bag! It’s no use thinking, hearing or reading about it, the only effective way is to look inside one’s own heart and see with understanding. The more the heart is full of wanting and desiring, the harder and more difficult life becomes.
Why fight all these windmills? They are self-built and can also be self-removed. It’s a very rewarding experience to check what’s cluttering up one’s own heart and mind. As one finds emotion after emotion, not to create allowances and justifications for them, but to realize that they constitute the world’s battle-grounds and start dismantling the weapons so that disarmament becomes a reality.
~ Ayya Khema