Thoughts on Syria

September 1, 2013

Thoughts on Syria

In light of the recent events in Syria and President Obama’s pushing for US military action in that region, I’ve had some thoughts I wanted to share. From the outset, let me say that the gas attack in Syria, intentional or accidental, is horrible. The lives lost and the terror and horror of a civil war is simply put, an unimaginably terrible thing. While we are all forming our personal opinions (such as this one) on what we as a nation should do, one thing to always remember is this; we, from our comfortable lives in this part of the world cannot ever begin to understand what it must be like to be immersed in such a struggle. We have no common denominator for what this experience must be like for the Syrian people, and our best and most well thought out pontification on this matter will always fall short of the reality they are experiencing.

With that said, let me state that I do not support US military involvement in this situation. I have several reasons for believing as I do, which I will discuss in the paragraphs that follow. You are welcome to disagree with me as this is my personal and admittedly limited perspective. However, I do want to share my thoughts based upon my training in both yoga and the martial arts to explain why I believe what I do.

First, as a student and teacher of yoga, one of the fundamental principles behind the yoga philosophy is the observance of non-violence. Yoga is the recognition of the union of all that is. Your individuality is woven into the fabric of life; we are all strands in the fabric of the universe, and when we recognize this we lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful of others. This may sound like a lofty and overly idealistic notion to hold in this day and age, but we as a society must be beginning to realize that the violent approach to national and personal relationships is ultimately doomed to failure in the long run. Can we not see that the notion of supposedly bringing peace by killing others will never be an option in a civilized society? If we are to be standing on the moral high ground, we must at least acknowledge that our current paradigm must be fundamentally re-written. Violence always begets violence. And just as we as individuals have our own karma, so to do we as a nation create karmic consequences with every choice we make on a global scale. No one will argue that there is an over abundance of violence in our world today. A “Limited Military Operation” creates more violence in the world as a whole and only adds to destabilize the coherence of the entire planet. Some might think such a non-violent approach to be a Pollyanna and naive attempt to ignore the reality of the world we live in. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we will realize that any approach that doesn’t put the value of life and its preservation at the highest level of importance has and will always fail to bring a lasting peace to a region, country, or the world.

Second, as a martial artist, I have always relied on my training, both physical and psychological, to help me realize that a physical action or confrontation should always be considered the very last option in the resolution of a conflict. There are several reasons for this. First, as mentioned earlier, every choice we make has unseen consequences, and acting with violence will always play out in ways that very often remain hidden until much later. We may end up causing ourselves or others unintended physical or emotional harm, or possibly end up in jail for taking the low road to winning. Second, the path of physical violence is quite simply, the easy way out. Our biological heritage has hard-wired our nervous system to make war much more easily than to make peace. Always on the lookout for threats, out primitive ancestors were on the verge of fight or flight and self defense to protect the tribe and the species. Being peaceful took a great effort to override the primitive conditioning that made hostility so natural. It’s not easy to choose the non-violent path. It takes effort and training to recondition the brain’s natural conditioning. As martial artists, this is what we can call “Self-Perfection”. We consciously rise above the basest, most primitive level of our awareness and make the most evolved choice, injuring the opponent only if necessary and if so, only to a reasonable degree. Lastly, as martial artists, we are expected to have trained our minds and bodies to be above average, to be warriors. As warriors we are meant to stand above the crowd, having the foresight to understand the implications of our actions and always using our skill to uphold what Jack Hoban calls the “Life Value”. This is the understanding that nothing, NOTHING, is more important than the protection of life. When this core value of the warrior is compromised, all subsequent values begin to decay. Even in the event when the taking of a life is necessary, it is a decision that is understood to support the overall order of the universe rather than to serve a personal advantage or primitive urge to destroy.

As a side note in regards to both yoga and the martial arts, students of yoga may be familiar with the epic tale of the Bhagavad Gita in which the forces of good and evil are about wage a bloody and terrible war. Observing the battle about to take place, Arjuna, the finest of all warriors, seeks council from his charioteer, Krishna. Arjuna is reluctant to do battle with the forces of evil as members of the opposing army consists of his beloved relatives and teachers. In a fit of self pity and cowardice, Arjuna begs Krishna for guidance. Krishna tells Arjuna to stand up, follow his Dharma, or duty and fight. But the war Krishna urges Arjuna to fight is one with ignorance. Krishna is actually an incarnation of God and teaches Arjuna the ways of yoga and transcendence and helps him realize that the true enemy is our own ignorance, our own divided nature and it is only through yoga or union that we are able to go beyond our own primitive nature. This is the true work of the warrior, and should inspire us to seek the highest good for all in all things.

To continue, related neither to martial arts or yoga, I wish to look at the Syrian crisis through what might seem to be an unrelated lens, that of Star Trek. For those unfamiliar with any of the multiple incarnations of the Star Trek franchise, the United Federation of Planets, or Starfleet has at it’s core a charter of peace for all civilizations it comes into contact with. Specifically, Starfleet’s General Order Number One is known as the Prime Directive, which dictates that that there can be no interference with the internal development of outside civilizations. And while we don’t live in the 23rd century and aren’t obligated to follow a fictitious rule of intergalactic relations, understanding the Prime Directive can shed some valuable insight into our current foreign policy.

Why the Prime Directive? Why would this be so important? Well it all comes down to honoring the natural growth (and dare I say) evolution of a culture or society. Ultimately, in the greater scheme of things, we all have the right to be as wise or stupid as we choose. And more often than not it is through our stupidity that we gain wisdom. But this entire process would be thrown off entirely if an outside force attempted to interfere with our choice to be stupid at a given point in time, even if that force thought it had your best interests at heart. Sometimes we have to learn to fall down before we can get up. This applies both to individuals and nations. When we interfere with the development of others, we’re messing with their karma, their chance to learn from their mistakes.

This brings us to another point in which we believe we know what’s best for another. We assume (always risky) that our way of life is what another wants for themselves and then attempt to impose our values, beliefs, government upon the other, thinking that we’re lifting them up. But are we? Are we really helping them in the long run. And what’s more, who died and left us in charge of making the choices for another? It’s one thing if they are asking for help, but even if they are, we have a responsibility to make the most skillful choice. Sometimes that choice involves giving someone the space they need to make and learn from their own mistakes.

The Syrian people are fighting a civil war. It is an internal conflict (at least for now) and as painful as it is to witness from the international sidelines, would our interference be the most evolutionary, helpful, and compassionate choice at this time? What if the Syrian people need to get through this war on their own terms to recognize how horrible such a conflict can be and emerge stronger and more evolved than they were before? How can we know if we’re helping or hurting them in the long run? Consider this: if an outside force had interfered with our own Civil War, would we have really learned the lessons we had to learn as a nation? What if General Lee’s Confederate forces had been bombed out of existence by a “benevolent” third party who wanted to dictate how our war should be fought?

We can play “what if” all day and never arrive at a feasible conclusion and that’s not my ultimate point. I do however want to show that this is clearly not a black and white issue. We can point out that women and children have been killed in this conflict and it’s our duty as world citizens to bring an end to the bloodshed, but once again, who has the ultimate 60,000 foot view to fully understand the consequences of our actions in the long run if we do?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a diplomat an expert in the development of nation-states, politics, or foreign policy. But I do think we should tread extraordinarily carefully in this situation. Another nation’s long term development is at stake here, along with the lives of countless soldiers, rebels, and civilians. Not to mention the unforeseen consequences of our actions should we decide to use military force. What this all comes down to is a word I’ve already mentioned – Karma. In Sanskrit karma simply means “action,” but it also implies the consequences of that action. Conscious choice-making is what karma is all about. To make a conscious choice means acting only when we know that our choice will generate the most peace, harmony and compassion for not only ourselves, but for anyone affected by that choice. To our leaders making this decision: there’s no doubt this is a difficult choice, but that’s a part of the role you’ve chosen to play. And if you ask you heart for guidance, the answer will become clear.

Om Kriyam Namah – My Actions are Aligned with Cosmic Law.