Exactly nine years ago today, the IRA announced a formal end to its armed campaign, promising to decommission all its weapons and pursue its goals by purely peaceful means. Despite widespread scepticism, it was a turning point in the Northern Ireland peace process. In the same week in 1991, the USA and USSR voted to cut their stocks of nuclear warheads by one third, and in 1998 the UK government outlawed the use of landmines. By any standards, the last week of July has a good record for peace and goodwill.
Many people would agree that the fewer guns, nuclear warheads and landmines in the world the better. However from a Buddhist point of view, this doesn’t solve the problem of people being mean and violent towards each other, because the actual cause of violence is not the weapon itself, but the person who chooses to press the button or pull the trigger. As one of my Bhuddist teachers says, if negative thoughts could be eliminated, then all the weapons in the world would be useless.
This is why so many Buddhist teachings emphasise the development of patience. It’s a quality that deserves a better press. True patience isn’t about being meek and mild, but about learning to tame whatever angry thoughts arise in our minds before they turn into hurtful speech or actions that will cause harm to someone else. The rationale, as ever with Buddhism, is grounded in logic. Anger and violence undermine our health, corrupt our judgement, and ruin our relationships. They’re an own goal that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Each time one of us chooses to turn away from anger and violence, we protect another being from harm. And we don’t need to be politicians, statesmen or military leaders to achieve this: let peace begin with us.