We Americans see terrorism as a symptom of problems within the Islamic religion and the Arab and Islamic cultures generally. We have become fairly expert about what is wrong with them, and have yet to ask ourselves, 'Is their culture and their religion the only one that has gone wrong?' It is time we do ask ' for so long as we persist in seeing the problem as theirs alone, the solution will elude us.
America and Islam are convulsed today in a Jihad of unprecedented proportions. But it has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism or the arrogant exercise of American power. Underneath all that is a Jihad that is real. It's not making headlines or entering into the calculations of either side. Yet it will carry the day.
Quietly, one person at a time, a wave is building that started at a glacial pace before the dawn of recorded history and picked up momentum several thousand years ago. It's documented in the ancient Hindu epics, the Buddhist sutras, the Bible, and the Koran. Lau Tzu wrote about it in China; Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts. One man at a time, over the millennia, has taken on his self in battle.
To take on the self in battle ('Jihad') is to enter the domain of the sacred. The images and language describing the process and its outcome, like in dreams and poetry, are necessarily metaphorical ' fatally misunderstood if taken literally. There is no other way than metaphor to express what cannot be grasped by the mind or expressed directly in language. The moment we open our mouths to speak this truth, we miss it. The instant we think we have it, it's gone. This is the stuff of which religions are built.
Each religious tradition comes from a specific people who lived in a specific place at a specific time and uses images familiar in that context to convey a truth that is the same across all religious traditions. Only the metaphors used to describe the truth are different, not the truth. The truth is one. Everything is connected. Everything is sacred. We don't, any of us, individually or collectively ' Islam or America ' exist apart from that whole; but are interwoven in it by a billion, billion strands. Each is sacred and each must somehow be honored. We neglect any single one at our peril.
Yet because each religion expresses this same truth in its own language, with its own examples, and in a way congruent with its own culture ' those who know religion only at its surface, as a belief system, and who have not undergone the arduous self-confrontation (Jihad) necessary to actually experience its inner reality and be transformed by that ' see conflict between traditions where there is none, and plant discord where it doesn't exist.
The Taliban zealot may wear one robe while riding his steed through the hills and another at the wedding, sipping coffee in the tent. It's not a different man who wears the two different robes. Nor is it a different truth just because some culture from the past carved it into a huge Buddha statue on the rock, while his own would build it instead into a graceful mosque with minarets. Yet he destroyed the rock carving thinking he was doing a service to the mosque.
Those who have only tasted the surface of religion, and not its depths stir up all manner of trouble. Because of the financial muscle of American Jewish campaign contributors, the President of the United States is hostage to a tiny handful of die-hard fundamentalist religious zealots in Israel, hell-bent on settling Arab lands. The wrath of Islam strikes out at America.
Yet, in ways the terrorists could not fathom, Jihad ' not their fake campaigns of slaughter, but the real life-and-death struggle with one's own soul ' is already well underway in America today, and throughout the West; happening from within, as a natural and organic process of the creatively evolving modern society and its vibrant and diverse sacred and secular traditions.
One by one, individuals in every civilized nation are breaking out of the shell of conditioned religious ideas and beliefs and winning their souls back. One by one, the realization is dawning on people all over the world that the holy lands are not geographical places at all but the way any place looks when seen through the compassionate eyes of enlightenment. The holy war has nothing to do with killing but is more akin to the arduous struggle of a hatching chick with its shell. Jihad is a confrontation with the conditioned self and a breaking through that false identification into a direct experience of the sacred, the eternal. This direct experience of joy and love for all things is the paradise or heaven of all the religions. The death we have to undergo to get to this heaven is a death of the ego. It happens while we're still alive, as does our rebirth as a completely new person, with a much deeper and truer sense of our interconnection with everything and everyone. Religion is not about what's different between peoples, but about what's shared in common. It's the place where we touch, not where we fight. This is the emerging paradigm.
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