Waging Peace

In January 2013, Academy Founder and President Aaron Stern presented the work of the Academy for the Love of Learning at a Mind & Life conference at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India. This landmark six-day event, convened at the special request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will brought together 20 of the world’s foremost scientists and philosophers with His Holiness and other senior Tibetan scholars. The following is a dispatch from the trip. Watch this space and our Facebook page for more news from this event.
People have told me over the years that my work and the work of the Academy is about waging peace. Lofty sounding stuff….

But what does that really mean, I’ve wondered? Though it rings true in certain ways, is that what we are doing?

I’m keenly aware that peace is not something we are likely ever fully to achieve – as a kind of outcome — a noun of some kind. Rather, I can see it as a moment by moment striving, situation by situation, choice by choice, or, ‘occurrence’ by ‘occurrence’, as Alfred North Whitehead called it. Surely this is what we are doing in our Leading by Being program – we are waging peace, moment by moment, in the choices that we make as we meet each other in that context, sorrow by sorrow, joy by joy, challenge by challenge, moment by moment by moment by moment, giving rise to a kind of grace. Perhaps that amounts to a state of peace – though impermanent. Perhaps what matters most is choosing peace each step of the way…. peaceful means…… Perhaps that is what is meant by waging peace. And then, eventually, the amalgam of all of those peaceful actions will come to define the ‘very atmosphere and medium through which we look’ as Thoreau called it – and we will be living in a kind of state of peace – a noun?

Here in Mumbai, I visited one of the places where Ghandi lived and worked, for some 17 years of his life. Surely he, if any one, understood what waging peace meant. I was especially moved by his library – these very precious books that he so loved and that so deeply shaped him.


I also spent time reading some of his letters, such as this one, that, quite astonishing, he wrote to Hitler:

How is it that Ghandi could begin his letter with “Dear Friend,” knowing who Hitler was and what he was setting out to do, I wondered? Who does that??!
Einstein summarized it well in his letter about Ghandi, which was framed and hung in Ghandi’s home. Waging Peace?

Call me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow

because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second

to be a bud on a spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.


I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

in order to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and

death of all that are alive.


I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,

and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time

to eat the mayfly.


I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,

and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,

feeds itself on the frog.


I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,

and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.


I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.


I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,

and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,

dying slowly in a forced labor camp.


My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.


Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.


Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart can be left open,

the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh 


What are your thoughts about ‘waging peace’?