“Original peace… a primordial state of non-aggression.”
—Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
The idea of responding to aggression with anything but more of the same is a challenging one. We exist in a world that has been shaped by the fallacy of might making right for centuries. Our society celebrates violence with parades and majestic statues. The tarnish that obscures our innate human beauty leads to vigorous clutching of non sequiturs such as “peace through superior firepower” and “mutually assured destruction.” Bravery has come to be dubiously associated with the act of meeting aggression with more aggression.
In such a day and age, it takes an immense amount of courage to even conceptualize peace, not to mention engage with non-aggression on a primordial level.
Yet as Tibetan lama Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche illuminated during his talk at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the opening night of the 2013 Imagining Peace Conference, possibility is the nature of bravery. When we are truly brave, infinite possibilities present themselves. Rather than being bound to no alternative but violence, peace and all of the experience that springs from it is the reward granted by the practice of bravery.
This truth was demonstrated throughout the weekend, when members of the Shambhala sangha community came together with youth and peace activists from all over Chicago and the Midwest. Human beings collaborating in an effort to cultivate the bravery necessary to imagine peace where it is most needed.
Representing Serve 2 Unite along with my brothers Rahul Dubey, Navi Gill, and Pardeep Kaleka, we were all deeply honored to work together with everyone to make the event at Malcolm X College happen. It was inspiring to see the practice of mindfulness put into action to empower our organization and all in attendance. Guided meditations by the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Acharya Fleet Maull engaged us all with our common human original peace as a foundation for peace in our society. As is the nature of practice, the theme of inner peace leading to outer peace was iterated and riffed upon throughout the event.
Meditation and compassion have been transformational in my life, as I travel a path from the misery of racism to the joy of humanity, so it is always a gift to deepen those practices with the guidance of such magnificent teachers. But what I found most inspirational was the profound basic goodness of the youth of Chicago.
Students from El Cuarto Año High School in Humboldt Park brought a zealous energy to the conference. Through art, music, and whatever form of fearless creativity their peers may engage with, these wonderful young people lead healthy practices of kindness that embody original peace. It was uplifting to see such genuine care defy the struggle that plagues the neighborhoods these brave brothers and sisters are set on transforming.
On Saturday, conference attendees were organized into breakout groups to discuss ways to envision and manifest peace. Feeling great fortune and gratitude, I took in the wisdom that the young leaders in my group were so gracious to share.
Jermaine Goss, a high school student from Chicago’s South Side, was dedicated to improving his community. He observed that people descended further into drugs and violence after recent economic breakdowns. To respond, he sought to bring people together by creating action teams and neighborhood recovery initiatives. He pointed out that food deserts—areas of many square miles where there is no access to healthy foods—were an example of a problem that people could collectively address by planting cooperative gardens, promoting nutrition education, and entrepreneurship. Jermaine understood the importance of positive role models and set about becoming one himself.
Whitney Smith, a Teaching Artist at Black Cinema House & Sullivan House, interned as a youth producer for Chicago’s Community TV Network in high school. She went on to complete her degree in Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts, and returned to Chicago to serve the community she came from. Whitney feels the importance of paying attention to history, to reveal it’s cyclical nature. Once this is understood, problems can be foreseen, and addressed with more effective solutions. Like many young Chicagoans at the Imagining Peace Conference, Whitney’s activism is rooted in compassion. When someone from her school was shot and killed, she challenged herself to help reduce situations where violence erupts.
As we broke the breakout into dyads—two-person conversation/meditation sessions—I was delighted to meet my partner Julio Rodriguez, a Senior from Prologue Early College High School who also helped MC the conference. The topic of our dyad was to think of one specific time when we felt at peace, describe it, what made it possible, and what gets in the way of peace.
I began, relating the recent joy and peace I felt as I talked with my daughter on the phone the day she finished her second 10-day Vipassana meditation session. To qualify the depth of this moment, I shared with Julio how my daughter had saved my life on many occasions; first by catalyzing my departure from white supremacist groups, next by inspiring me to quit selling drugs a few years later, and most recently by being my reason to survive a year of suicidal misery back in 2007. As happens every time I do a dyad, I ran out of time before being able to complete the thought. As Julio’s turn came up, he was very gracious to say how inspired he was by my story, then proceeded to share his.
Julio revealed that he had recently undergone a transformation of his own. Being a neglected middle child who grew up in poverty with an abusive father, he had taken to gangbanging, selling drugs, and bullying as a manifestation of his suffering. Last New Years Eve, his father apologized for not being the best dad he could be, and asked for his forgiveness. Julio was so moved that he found the courage to look at his life with open honesty. Deciding that he wanted to be an asset to the world around him rather than a liability, Julio left the gang, quit selling drugs, and began a quest to be an agent of positive change. He tracked down a girl who he had bullied to the point of being suicidal a few years ago. She was still suffering, but was amazed when Julio presented her with a genuine apology, just as his father had to him. Today former bully and former bullied are friends, and Julio seeks out every opportunity to practice kindness. In a beautiful understanding of continuance, this brilliant young man told me how he wants to live on through the positive impact of his actions after this life comes to its conclusion. We talked about how even if he dropped dead tomorrow, he would live on in the effect he had on one girl’s life, and all lives in her path.
As sublime as Julio’s story was, he managed to encapsulate the feeling of the entire group and the entire conference when he concluded our breakout with this simple truth:
“When you see someone smile, it reminds you that you have a reason to smile too.”
Wrapping up the Imagining Peace Conference Sunday afternoon, Shambhala President Richard Reoch shared a memory in which a cynical person called him “a dreamer” as he talked about bringing peace to the world. Admitting he was guilty as charged, Richard pointed out that we are all dreamers. Our society has chosen to dream a dream where violence solves problems. A dream of killing bringing about peace, in futile spite of the laws of cause and effect.
We are all dreamers. On the last weekend of April 2013, in Chicago Illinois USA, a common human dream was reiterated and amplified, to reverberate forward across an Earth in such dire need of it.
We Imagine Peace.