Which Will You Seek: The Peace of the World or the Peace of Christ?
The self-defense sketch by Monty Python is so good, so funny, because of its apparent absurdity. While, in the infinite realm of possibility, fruit could, in theory, be used as a weapon, the response to such an attack should be proportionate to the threat. It becomes clear that the teacher believes that the best defense is a good offense; even when teaching his students, telling them to attack him with some fruit, he responds with force, killing them in the process. Again, the humor lies in the absurdity of the sketch, not only in the attack, but in the means of defense the teacher creates for himself from what he fears most: being attacked by fruit. In it we see his paranoia – he believes, even after taking out his own students, more people are there ready to attack him with fruit, and in the end, his solution is to blow himself up (believing he is taking everyone else with him, even if there is no one there). However funny the sketch is, in reality, there is a lesson to be learned from it: the never-ending paranoia which follows the cycle of violence, the paranoia which finally leads one not only to take out one’s friends and allies, but oneself, if the violence is not put into check. This can explain why terrorists, in the end, are willing to take themselves out: they believe in salvation through violence, where one must be annihilated before one can be saved. It is pure nihilism, but that is exactly what one is to expect with violence; it cannot save, it can only destroy.
While the sketch is absurd, when one looks at history, one notes the underlying premises behind it are not so absurd. Even though we can look at how other nations have embraced the path of violence, because I live in the United States, I think it is important to show the truth of its insights in relation to our recent history. What is said here, however, must not be taken as exclusive to the situation with the United States, but rather, indicated by it.
During the Cold War, and now during our “war on terrorism,” the United States has trained and continues to train many in the “fight” against the “enemy.” We claim to teach them how to preserve themselves in the process. However, what is also clear, we have, after taking out the clear enemy, turned on those allies we have trained, and turned them into threats against our own existence. We drop bombs on them, and, then we send in our corporations to consume them, all for the sake of “disarming them.” An yet, after each former ally is taken out, we find more enemies, more fights to engage for the sake of “self-defense.” We are even beginning to turn in on ourselves, all because we find the enemy is “within” seeking to “transform us from within.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9 RSV), for they shall be in the image of Christ, the Prince of Peace. He is the Prince of Peace and he has told us to be peacemakers, not warmongers. Raimon Panikkar reminds us that if we want peace, we must work for it through the means of peace (and not the means of war). Conflict and violence only bring reactionary conflict and violence in return, ending only with the peace of the grave. True peace requires overcoming the path of violence and following, instead, the path of peace:
What this comes down to is this: despite all obstacles, the road to peace consists in wanting to walk it. The desire for peace is pacifying in itself. The desire for peace is equivalent to a desire for dialogue, and the desire for dialogue arises when we think that we can learn something from others, along with converting them to our point of view where possible. Fanaticisms and absolutisms prevent persons from traveling together, because they make us believe ourselves self-sufficient or in full possession of the truth. “Si vis pacem, para teipsum” (Would you have peace? Prepare yourself).
There are many root causes for the conflicts in the world. To deal with them we must be willing to open up and dialogue, to overcome confusion and ignorance through wisdom and knowledge. We often see secondary, even if more immediate, causes for violence, especially when we look at the other, the one who we have vilified. We rarely look at how the cycle reproduces the violence and creates reasons for both sides to fear each other and fight. And yet, that is what must be done; the cycle has to be broken from within, from one side or another; certainly such an action will be risky, because it is quite possible the paranoia in the other will prevent them from engaging us properly, but it is even riskier to let the cycle of violence continue, because if followed to the end, it can only lead to mutual annihilation.
Asanga, as a good Buddhist, believes the three root causes of conflict are the three major poisons of craving, hatred and delusion. However, knowing those roots, he believes they can help lead us out of violence:
If, because of craving, hatred, or delusion, there occur wars with weapons and sticks, quarrels, fights, disputes and confrontation, everything that is contentious should be understood in its nature, in its connection, in its bond, in its consequences, in its conformity, and in its succession.
Those that are contentious are as numerous as those that are associated with outflow.
[They are investigated] with the aim of abandoning attachment to a self endowed with [the spirit of] contention.
What Asanga is telling us is that we should understand how our attachment to our the image of the self we have made for ourselves, a self which we try to make real but will never be found in reality, leads to conflicts with others. We view ourselves, and others, under false concepts, using those concepts to “wag the dog,” so as to reduce each other into independent entities which must fight with one another. We ignore our proper interdependent relationship which sustains our real person, and instead, prop up a fallen self in mutual abhorrence. We desire something they have, or we desire to keep something to ourselves, fearing they want to take it away from us. This conflict is reinforced through the way our mind creates a delusional construct in which it views and understands the real: it reifies our mental constructions and demands them to be true. What would destroy it or take away from it we hate, while what we think would prop it up we crave. We must continuously convert the world into our reified version of the world, consuming the world and turning out what is left over as waste. The way forward is to see through our conventions and to see why we must not reify them, especially the conventions we create which place ourselves in opposition to others. We must open ourselves to them, we must learn why our mental construct of them is not really them. We must see that we are fundamentally united with them; to love them is to love ourselves, and to hate them, fundamentally, is to hate ourselves (and this is why, in the end, we end up consuming ourselves if we continue the path of violence, because our real foe is ourselves).
Ficino, likewise, reminds us that such peace requires us to move beyond ourselves, to die to the self, to be “weak” if need be, so that the strength of God can hold and preserve us, wherein we will find real peace:
When God Himself is our strength, we cannot be entirely weak. For then the strength of spirit is achieved by infirmity of body. Indeed, it is good for me to cleave to God; since, as St. Augustine says, if I will not abide in Him, I shall not be able to abide in myself.
Therefore, stand firm, O friends, stand firm in God, who is not moved, and you will stay firm. Find peace in that which is not trouble and in peace you will live.
This is the peace which Christ gives to us, the peace which is not the peace of the world, because of the peace of the world is the false peace created by violence. This is the true peace; blessed are they who shall find it, for they will indeed be the sons of God!
 Raimon Panikkar, Cultural Disarmament (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 102-3.
 Asanga, Abhidarhmasamuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. Trans. Sara Boin Webb (Fremont, California: Asian Humanities Press, 2001), 36. Transliterations of Sanskrit terms have been removed here.
 Marsilio Ficino, Letter To Friends, in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino Volume 3. trans. Language Department of the School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985), 27.