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Lest We Forget

November 11, 2012

Today in the UK we had two minute’s silence, we do this every year at 11am, on the 11th Day of the 11th Month to remember the millions who have died in the service of their country since the First World War. The symbol of this remembrance is the poppy, which flourished on the fields of France as the wild offerings which mark the places where young men met their death at the hands of other young men.

It is quite right that we remember the courage and bravery of those who have given people like me so much freedom and opportunity. It is their quality of selfless sacrifice, of wishing to protect which is so inexpressibly admirable. But what is it that they were really trying to defeat? Other soldiers, most of whom were really no different in their hearts to one another, no matter which uniform they wore? No, the real enemy which caused those terrible wars, which led men like Hitler, was anger and a complete disrespect for the wishes and importance of others. If there were no anger, if the wishes of others were respected, then those brave souls we remember would not have had to fight.

As my wife pointed out to me whilst watching the tv coverage, seeing rows and rows of noble, kind faces dressed in their bright uniforms and shining medals parading before a widely loved and respected monarch, we should be careful not to admire war itself.


“Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible” Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.           Photo © Leonida 2012

We should never forget that war, the killing of one person by another person, is the lowest and most savage way to solve our human problems. I am quite sure that no soldier has any wish to kill others. However much courage and bravery, however important the cause, we should never forget that the need for war, and I know there sometimes is no choice, is nonetheless a betrayal of our common human potential. If each us take responsibility to solve our problems of anger and selfishness, and learn to develop patience and love for others, I think this would be the very best memorial with which to honour the dead and the sacrifices of so many.

What is our Human Potential

Normally, we say that animals like the fox are very clever because it is good at getting food, building its home or den, killing or avoiding its enemies, and raising its family. We should ask ourselves what differentiates us from animals such as the fox? I think there are two really significant things:

  1. Our capacity to consciously develop and improve our cherishing of others until we come to love all living beings equally
  2. Our ability to understand that nothing that happens in the world for which we don’t have some responsibility because we are part of a completely interdependent web connecting us to all other living beings and the natural world.

The Buddhist Master Shantideva asked,

Where do all the weapons come from, where do the torturers and enemies come from?

From angry, selfish minds.

In Transform Your Life (click the link for a great video), Geshe-la asks us to imagine a world where people put others’ happiness above their own and genuinely cherish others. And then asks, “What use would weapons be?”

Its very clear that war is the result of angry, selfish minds. It is also very clear that as humans, our unique and precious potential is to defeat these minds. Shantideva also says that normally we call people who kill their enemies in war “heroes” but points out that these enemies would have died anyway in time, whilst the minds that motivated them continue.  These real enemies of anger and selfishness will never die of their own accord, but once destroyed, will never come back. For this reason, Shantideva says that to destroy the inner enemies is to be a real hero.

Precious Human Life

The examples of the enormous difference that even just one person exercising their potential can make are plentiful. From Nelson Mandela to Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Ghandi, Muhamed Ali, Malcolm X, and one who has touched me and many thousands of others, of course, is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

The example of Geshe-la is very interesting: he came to the UK in 1977 with no money and since then he has given away every penny he has ever received. Yet the resources to fulfil his wish for flourishing dharma centres where people can learn methods to develop their human potential have grown and grown. Through his example, it is easy to see the power of a selfless mind and the truth that “From giving comes wealth.”

But people don’t have to be famous to be precious, every day in schools, in hospitals and offices small acts of kindness and wisdom transform the world and have knock on effects rippling far, far, far into the future, beyond even our own lives. My own parents,  both as employers and friends, have led a life of constantly cherishing others, helping them find work, education, self-respect. Think of all the subsequent generations this also affects. Also, my mum helped to establish Riding for the Disabled in the 1960’s and 70’s, something which has continued to help and benefit thousands even after her active involvement has finished.

Our Life is a Wishfulfilling Jewel

“All the happiness there is in the world arises from wishing others to be happy.

All the suffering arises from wishing ourself to be happy”


Geshe Langri Tangpa compared our human life to a wishfulfilling jewel because with it we have the potential to completely eradicate the causes of suffering for ourself (renunciation) and others (bodhichitta) as well as find lasting genuine happiness by practicing Dharma. No animal has the opportunity to do this; tragically millions, if not billions of humans also lack the basic freedom and resources to do this. Buddha’s attitude is that when you realise how precious your life is, whatever else you have materially, you should feel like a millionaire! Today I remember that my freedom to practice Dharma is partly thanks to those who lay down their lives to stop great evil. And my responsibility now is to use that freedom to repay them by working to abandon those same roots of evil from my own mind.


I recently heard some extracts from Tombstone by Yang Jishen about the great famine in China. He describes his book as the actual tombstone, the best memorial (in fact to his father), because as work of the mind it can never be desecrated or destroyed. And I thought, that developing my mind is the best memorial. We can encourage ourselves to develop and fulfil our maximum potential by thinking about the amazing good qualities we humans naturally show every day. This, I believe, is the very best way to remember and honour those who have died in war.

Here’s a favourite verse of my Grandpa, who lived through two World Wars:

“Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

Robert Burns, A Mans A Man for ‘A That

Your Thoughts

Please do share your thoughts and experiences on this topic. You don’t have to agree with me, in fact, I’d love to hear your point of view as discussion can be one of the best ways to help improve our understanding of a subject.

Thank you once again for taking the time to visit and read the blog. Please feel free to share!:)

From → Fundamental

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