STUDENT – Master, there are so many wars and natural disasters caused by storms recently? What’s going on? As a young person, I feel scared for the future? Are we doomed? How can we prevent wars and global warming?

MASTER – Here’s a quote by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche that addresses your question: “The fundamental cause of violence is when one is fixated on an extreme idea, such as justice or morality. This fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One’s inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost. Understanding that all these views or values are compounded and impermanent, as is the person who holds them, violence is averted. When you have no ego, no clinging to the self, there is never a reason to be violent. When one understands that one’s enemies are held under a powerful influence of their own ignorance and aggression, that they are trapped by their habits, it is easier to forgive them for their irritating behaviour and actions. Similarly, if someone from the insane asylum insults you, there is no point in getting angry. When we transcend believing in the extremes of dualistic phenomena, we have transcended the causes of violence.”

So, Rinpoche clearly identifies dualistic views as the underlying cause of violence. What are these views and why are they the root cause of violence? Well, a dualistic view is based on the mistaken understanding that we are truly existing entities that are separate from other truly existing entities. In turn, this incorrect belief creates extreme opinions regarding what is right and wrong or moral and immoral. Under analysis, however, all these arguments fall apart. 

With regard the issue of truly existing entities, think about our body. We give it a name, such as, say, Tashi, but if we look for a truly existing thing called Tashi, we will not find one. To prove the point, Tashi could imagine removing his organs and limbs one by one. After he removes his arms and a few organs, he may ask himself where Tashi is located, and he may conclude that he is in the remaining, larger part of the body. However, as he continues to remove more organs and limbs, the body decreases in size and he’ll realize that this thing called Tashi has disappeared, but where did it go? In which organ or limb did it exist? Was it in the heart, the lungs, or perhaps the right arm? In reality, it was nowhere. There was merely a temporary joining together of components that we designated as Tashi.  

How does this view create problems? Well, let’s think of a person’s body as an example. It has various organs, which like Tashi are each given a name, such as heart, liver, kidneys, etc, but do they truly exist as permanent, separate entities? As a point of analysis, let’s look at the kidneys. We will not find any inherent thing called a kidney, but as in the above example of Tashi, we will just find a number of components that have joined together, in this case, flesh, blood, arteries, and tissue, which come together to form an entity that we call a kidney. The heart is similarly formed. 

Furthermore, the blood from the heart is in the kidneys and the fluid from the kidneys is in the heart. Simply put, the organs exist interdependently and are not individual, separate entities. If the organs recognize this fact, they will co-operate with each other and the body, which includes the individual organs, will flourish. However, if they mistakenly believe that they are truly existing and separate entities, then they are likely to work only for their own benefit and be unwilling to share the spoils of their labour with the body or the other organs. Now, if this occurs, the heart may keep the blood for itself, while the kidneys will refuse to share the fluids. The result is obvious: a sick and weak body that will likely die unless the organs correct their wrong view and begin to co-operate. This is the dualistic mind of ‘us and other’ that Rinpoche referred to, and it is the root cause of disputes and wars, and also the destruction of the environment.

As I mentioned, this mistaken view of a truly existing self is also responsible for creating solidified ideas, which are a further source of conflict. Take a broken cup as an example. To someone who thinks cups as just containers for liquid, it is an imperfect item. To an artist, it may be a perfect piece for art work, whereas an insect that lands on the rim will likely see both as equally perfect. Who is right? As another example, take gold. In countries with developed economies, it is a highly prized metal that people even die for. In contrast an indigenous person in the Amazon jungle will see it as nothing more than a shiny pebble, with no specific value.       

From these simple examples, we can understand that assessments of right and wrong and moral and immoral are merely based on shifting circumstances and viewpoints and are not inherent to the objects themselves. However, we forget this point and so we argue, fight, and even go to war over such issues. This is what Rinpoche termed as extreme views. They are extreme because we believe them to be permanent universal laws instead of opinions and ideals that are merely formed based on our culture, education, and life experiences.    

When we view things with a dualistic mind or, put in another way, as a truly existing and permanent entity, there is no room for nuances, and this is a source of animosity. Think about it. When we are angry at a person, we see them as totally bad. It is as if we put on dark glasses and everything is seen as pure black with no shades of grey, and we use this evaluation to justify hurting them. However, under analysis, this is impossible as every person is merely a composition of a number of shifting parts and changing characteristics. So, if even a single person cannot be identified as totally and permanently bad, then how could an entire race or nation of people be considered so. It’s impossible. Yet, it is this belief that creates the hatred and anger that drives people to commit genocide and engage in heinous crimes. If we deeply understand this point, the roots of aggression are cut at the source.

Rinpoche also notes that if we are aware that others’ character is merely formed as the result of their circumstances and that their attitude is created based on the mistaken view of an independent and separate self, we can be more forgiving of their negative emotions or bad habits. Perhaps we can describe it as similar to being disturbed and annoyed at a person who shouts at you on the street, but then relaxing with the situation once you realize that he is mad and shouts at everyone.  

So, yes, there is hope that the world can avoid a meltdown, but it will require people to recognize, at least intellectually, that we live interdependently.