By Anton Lysy
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2005 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Lysy, Anton. "March Last." Quest 93.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2005):140-142, 144
In 1991, Anton Lysy represented the Theosophical Society as a member of the Interfaith Dialogue Committee of the Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions. He witnessed the triumphalism of the first Gulf War as he prepared to meet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama; Mrs. Radha Burnier, international president of the Theosophical Society; and other major leaders from the world's religions and spiritual organizations. The dichotomous nature of the two efforts led to the following reflections, which are relevant, even urgent, today.
It is Friday evening, March 1st, 1991. "March first, think and suffer later!" comes through my exhausted mind as an ironic summary of the history of wars on this planet. And I'm once again forced to review my life. This time, I will rewind far past the unreasonable number of hours I've spent mourning the deaths of my fellow humans (innocent or not) while watching the CNN coverage of the war with Iraq. I will rewind far past the day I joined the Theosophical Society. I will rewind to a time before the day my son was born.
A reliable authority—my mother—told me I was conceived on December 7, 1941, before she and my father had heard the news about Pearl Harbor. I smile whenever I think of this amusing fact, which has given me an extra day to celebrate each year. And I laugh when I treat my "conception day" as a synchronicity that foreshadows some of the concerns I have had about war. But I feel deep sorrow when I remember myself as a preschooler near tears whenever I heard "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" on the old Zenith at the top of our refrigerator.
My parents lost the best man from their wedding to an artillery shell in France. And my father was always troubled that he "merely" worked back breaking hours for the war effort and had not served with his childhood friends who had gone off to war. I believe he feels to this day as though he deserted his masculinity as well as his country by being a machinist in the war effort rather than an infantryman on the front lines.
I didn't find out what a "caisson" was until years later and I certainly didn't fully understand what a war was. But I learned to fear war and to pray there would be no future wars for me to serve in to pray that I would never have to become a soldier and risk or lose my life. I knew that the energy of martial music was a prelude to the mournfulness of a dirge, and I felt sad each time John Philip Sousa blared through the radio. On my third birthday, September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered.
When I started studying philosophy years later, I was amused to discover that the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes loved to jest about the significance of his premature birth; he claimed it was triggered when his mother heard of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588. "Fear and I were born twins," he would say, a fitting beginning for a thinker who would later describe life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes argued for the benefits of security created by a sovereign state based on a social contract. This, though sovereign states are the units that launch and prosecute wars!
As a young adult, I enlisted in the service during the war in Viet Nam. I learned to respect the military, the courageous sense of unity and esprit de corps it developed, the excitement of seeing a complex plan unfold. But I also learned to mistrust the military and the sometimes hyper sensitive and arrogant nationalism that would unconsciously surface, totally oblivious to its lack of respect for the rights of humanity within or outside of the country. So, while still in the service, I sometimes joined the Sunday Peace Vigil wearing my uniform and cloaking with appropriate stealth the inner struggle of the military taking place in my heart and mind.
Deep concerns about war have thus always surfaced in me when the media has focused on the "latest" conflict. While teaching philosophy, I struggled with the very concept of war. I found that as much as I hated war to the depths of my being, I felt a deep gratitude for the many who had lost their lives while propelling revolutionary and evolutionary changes in consciousness, law, and our earthly institutions. Soldiers sometimes thrust themselves blindly into an overwhelming and awful process. Yet their sacrifices have had significance and meaning for humanity.
In the nineteenth century, H. P. Blavatsky looked at the phenomenon of war from a historical perspective, which noted the cyclic nature of the "destructive energy" released by nation against nation. the Theosophical Society, which she had co founded in 1875, was directed toward mobilizing a "constructive energy" to overcome the multi faceted pisiveness of human history through the experience of the unity of all being. the Theosophical Society's first Object is:
To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
Only ten years after the Civil War, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, the Theosophical Society's co founder, were able to focus the experience of the Ancient Wisdom into a vision of a planet where one's essence would be seen as human. One would not be judged by one's race. One would not be judged by one's religion or philosophy. One would not be judged by whether one was a woman or a man. Today, the network coverage of the Gulf War has provided us with a discomforting opportunity to take a severe look at those obstacles to world unity. We must consider how to negotiate the explosive "mind fields" of differing beliefs in order to reach the unity of Truth. The Theosophical Society's second Object is
To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
In 1888, only twenty three years after the painful struggle in the American psyche to live up to the ideals of its Constitution and Declaration of Independence, the Theosophical Society founders knew that a compassionate expression of human thought was crucial to the evolution of the species. Madame Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy was published and provided a basis for fragmented humanity to combine the careful observations of science, the reverence of religion, the penetrating analysis of philosophy, and the eternal wisdom of intuition into an important expression of mature altruism.
The contact I have had with the variety of inpiduals planning the Parliament of the World's Religions has been exhilarating. We do not try to camouflage the difficulties that faiths have had with each other throughout history. We are all aware of the suffering and persecution brought about by religious hatred both in the past and in the present. And yet the feeling of the inner force of our unity as a species stimulates us to respond to the challenge to be all that we can be—without having to join the U.S. Army. We are united in our appreciation for the many, many different groups throughout the world who are working to transcend the injustices and irresponsibilities of the past. And we feel the presence of many unknown comrades and allies in the struggle for tolerance and peace. The third Object of the Theosophical Society is
To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
As we explore our development as a species through the guidance of our theosophical traditions and the insights of kindred traditions, we find the well springs of compassion and altruism deep within each human. We have a great deal to learn about human development, but we have reached a point in history when the interdependence of all life on this planet and the interpenetration of all previous suffering have intersected to produce a deeply felt reverence for the past and a deeply felt responsibility for the future. The toxic smoke pouring out of the oil wells of Kuwait, for example, will be harmful to the environment for years to come. It must serve as a reminder to us all that we are tied together as "earthlings" by cords that are deeper and stronger than yellow ribbons. Many of us have learned we cannot afford to "march first" without giving serious and mature deliberation to the possible consequences of our actions.
I wrote this reflection over four days, and it is now March 4th. "March forth!" That blood stained command of Mars has been obeyed in a thoughtless and uncritical manner for far too long. I think of my Aries son, born the day before one mourns Hitler's birthday, the boy that has bruised me with his exuberant sense of playfulness ever since he could crawl. I see him (only yesterday) at age thirteen, wearing a sweatshirt from Chicago's Peace Museum. It shows the continents of our planet in one oval with the caption, "We're all on the same side." I imagine him in a military uniform. Will he see war and peace differently than either my father or I?
I feel the old, complex questions and feelings surface once again. Can one really work for peace in uniform? Can we as a people ever grasp that unity requires persity and not uniformity? Theosophy has taught through the centuries that "deep within, we know we are one." When we experience that unity and after we develop the foresight and patience it takes to restrain the impulse to "march first, think and suffer later;" will we learn to march only as the last resort? After we know how to march last, we may (May!) find we have had our last march.