What does Veteran’s Day mean to you as a yogi or yogini, as a member of your faith community or as a world citizen and human being?

In addition to being a yogi and studying Advaita Vedanta, I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. I am also a father.

Most of us have veterans in our ancestry; some may also have peace activists, war resisters and conscientious objectors. Do you have family members or friends serving in the military today?  What does Veteran’s Day mean to you as a yogi or yogini, as a member of your faith community or as a world citizen and human being?

Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for non-harming. It not only refers to not harming others, but ourselves. It is a concept not limited to physical harm, but emotional harm and cruelty. It is often described as “non-harming in thought, word or deed.” That is a tall order! Most of us are accustomed to thinking in terms of Us versus Them. Of being fearful of the The Other. Our brains are wired that way, according to Robert Ornstein and James Burke’s book The Axemaker’s Gift which says our brain development is also the reason for our societal development. Learning to chop bits of stone to make axes–apparently to make way more axes than anyone would ever need for hunting purpose–develops and reinforces the same parts of the brain that help us DISCERN. It enables us to separate things into categories and hierarchies, subcultures, societal structures, government, specialties and subspecialties, military organization, college majors and minors, etc.

This skill also hard-wires us to be judgmental, not only of others but ourselves. This is contrary to a belief in Ahimsa. The way to practice Ahimsa is to practice love. One specific tool is to bless every situation and relationship. When so-called negative thoughts or negative emotions arise, we learn to heal ourselves by practicing self-love. Self love is not just navel gazing. How can we create peace in the world if we are not at peace with ourselves. Once we are at peace with ourselves we must also practice peace with our families. When you can practice peace in your family, it is appropriate to bring peace to your communities. It is a big stretch to get to “love your enemy.”

Stinking thinking is met with awareness, self-calming, acceptance and an appropriate response to the situation. One way to describe that appropriate response after blessing has taken place is to serve the situation. In Advaita, or non-dualism, there is no “other”–All is One. Service to “others” is by definition service to ourselves, and service to all. In Vedantism, service is called Seva. It is also part of the bond of union we recite at my church–“In the freedom of the truth and in the spirit of love, we unite for the worship of God and the service of all.” Unitarian Universalists have a pompous slogan, “Deeds not creeds.” My Catholic wife counters with “Creeds and deeds” pointing out that the Catholics as a group have probably done more service in the world than any other religious organization. This gets into an Us versus Them situation, so I am not going to get into a pissing match. Let’s leave this discussion to a future post!

I have to continually remind myself that when I engage in harmful thoughts about myself, I subsequently harm those around me–when I am self-loathing, I am grumpy, grouchy, cranky and generally a big annoyance to my family and friends. I find myself a little to rough when I swat the cat, or nudge the dog out of the way. (I love my pets.)

I don’t have any family or personal acquaintances in the military now. My father was 4F during the action in Korea. My uncle was a sergeant in the 8th Army stationed in London during the Blitz. My mother’s father was in the Engineers in World War I, but served with our enemy, the German Army. He had a miserable time hiking back home to Hanover at the end of the war, suffering abuse from Bolsheviks. My relatives never discussed their war experiences with me or my parents.

I came of age just as the Selective Service registration was reinstated. I frequently passed the War Resisters League office on Lafayette St. and Bleecker St. in Manhattan’s East Village. I met with a counselor there and learned about the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCC) http://www.objector.org/. I knew I was a pacifist. As someone who expected to rely on federal financial aid for college, I registered, and on the advice of the counselor, I wrote on the postcard that I was a conscientious objector. I also began to establish a record of my pacifist beliefs in case I needed to produce documentation and testimonials. In college I received war resistance training from a Quaker minister, and participated in anti-war rallies on the steps of the campus library and the federal building. Yes, I had my consciousness raised, and considered becoming a war resistance counselor myself.

The draft has not been reinstated, but the Selective Service System still registers young men. The system has not gone coed yet, so with a daughter entering college next year, it has not been a concern. I do feel a bit like a hypocrite by not having this discussion with my daughter. Instead, when my thirteen year old son asks me for permission to play Teen and Mature rated video war games, I have the talk with him about deciding what kind of person he is and what choices he wishes to make about violence and war. Frankly, our girls typically don’t need to engage in this ethical debate until they become mothers or have brothers or boyfriends considering military service.

If you wish to open a dialogue with your children, The Church of the Larger Fellowship has age appropriate links. When you explain your views to a child–on war and peace, the military and diplomacy, duty and conscience–you discover that you have to find creative ways to convey difficult concepts in a clear fashion.

In a few years your children may be considering military service. At the rate we are going, we may still have military personnel stationed in various countries in the Middle East and other hotspots where Al Queda operates. A friend of mine has a son who is a Navy Seal. A recent assignment was in the Philipines winning hearts and minds by building schools to counter the influence of anti-American terrorists linked to Al Queda. If they are using Navy Seals, this must be considered dangerous work. I consider myself a patriotic American, and I acknowledge that soldiers are necessary for the defense of our country. As a pacifist, and now a yogi practicing Ahimsa, I have an internal debate about how to reconcile my beliefs with “reality.” It is a fine debate and one that will continue to be important to me. This is a matter that concerns me every day when I read the news. I am sure I will be posting more on this.

Why not take this annual opportunity to open a dialogue with your child about what it means to serve your country?