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Dispelling the Mythmakers

Every Strategy Fails...
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Every Strategy Fails...

"You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
--Obi-Wan Kenobi
The most illuminating Christmas present I received this year was a book entitled "The Most Evil Men and Women in History." Catalogued were the usual suspects of despots and mass murderers, from tyrants who dominated through brute force and betrayal, to "democratically" elected rulers who used their power to destroy millions. Most were charismatic deceivers and manipulators, achieving and maintaining dominance through ingenious schemes and relying on cleverness to avoid the plots of enemies and "allies" alike.

It is ironic that many of these characters met their end in the very manner by which they acquired power -- through deception and violent betrayal. Many monarchs, dictators, and diabolical leaders have been overthrown, exiled, or murdered by the people on whom they most depended. Nero, the fifth Emperor of Rome, was betrayed by the praetorian guard and took his own life rather than submit to capture.
Ivan "The Terrible" (the 16th century Grand Prince of Moscow) is believed by historians to have been murdered by an advisor after allegedly attempting to rape the man's sister. And Pol Pot, the genocidal Prime Minister of Cambodia, is suspected to have committed suicide after the military he had ruled to murderous ends agreed to turn him over to an international tribunal.

In my opinion, it is both facile and immature to label these figures "evil." Certainly, a psychiatrist diagnosing such a person would find the term of no clinical use. It is perhaps more reasonable to interpret "evil" behavior as the extreme manifestation of various pathologies that exist to some extent in EVERY human being.

The desires to acquire, conquer, dominate and avenge seem to be hidden motives behind much human behavior. We see this in its most paradoxical form in so-called love relationships. The hallmarks of the tyrant are displayed by both sexes: possessiveness, manipulation, vengeance, and the deliberate infliction of emotional injury. And the spurned lover, like the tyrant whose kingdom is threatened, is prone to extreme violence to him/herself and others.

The human mind is largely addicted to plotting for gains that seem essential to both happiness and survival. This may be unavoidable in a world where death is possible at any given moment. As children, we quickly learn the necessity of self-preservation. An infant cries out first in biologic response, and rather soon, it learns that it MUST cry in order to get what it wants. This physical reality teaches that one’s needs must be reached for, seized, and desperately clung to.

Is it possible, then, that those we see as the most grotesque caricatures of evil are simply more resolute and talented than most at meeting the demands of a particular thought structure -- one on which their very survival seems to depend? The terrible reality of strategic plotting is that the fear that drives it seems continuously justified by events themselves. Tyrants and diabolical rulers spend their lives in endless games of intrigue and counter-intrigue, attack and defense.
Their betrayals and aggression eventually leave them without a soul to trust. Some succumb to such "paranoia" that they plot the deaths of even their closest allies (as in the case of Idi Amin, the "Butcher of East Africa.")

On a less sadistic scale, the world of politics is intrinsically conspiratorial. Competing political parties conspire to defeat their opposition by whatever means they can get away with. The art of politics is then reduced to misrepresenting one’s opponent as effectively as possible without explicitly lying.

Of course, deception and demagoguery arouse counterattacks. And the politician resorting to "good strategy" does not realize that he is also provoking an internal conflict that cannot be resolved within the framework of his own assumptions. He has created a reality for himself in which the truth has become his enemy.

Thomas Jefferson said: "He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time till at length it becomes habitual." In other words, to compromise integrity even once creates a circumstance where further compromises become increasingly necessary; the liar has no choice but to lie again in defense of a previous lie. None of societies' most powerful institutions are immune to this loss of principle: from multinational corporations, to the medical and scientific establishments, to religious officialdom, to every level of government, every deception and every cover-up will find its justification in a noble purpose.

It is easy to become enraged by the injustices and deceptions displayed in national and world affairs. Even those who have disowned political ideologies are appalled by the horrors of war, the abuse of power, and the misuse of force. The strong prey on the weak, and simple virtues go unrewarded. But to interpret these problems correctly is to find an alternative to outrage. We must first recognize a principle that is validated both collectively and in the lives of individuals. It can be summed up in just three words:

"Every strategy fails."

For devoted spiritual aspirants -- particularly those familiar with Eastern philosophies -- the phrase may deeply resonate. A strategy is an attempt to escape a momentary distress and/or seek an imagined future reward. The mind addicted to strategic plotting is never at peace, because the freedom inherent in the present moment is obscured by a conscious or unconscious complaint. Of course, this was a teaching of Buddha, who stated: "The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." Buddha also stated: "There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way."

The futility of strategies is demonstrated at every level of human experience. A gifted entrepreneur may imagine that financial success will provide him a sense of completion and fulfillment, after which he can finally rest. An existential crisis may occur when he realizes that the external success he sought could not deliver the happiness he envisioned. He may then realize he is addicted not to any success, but to the promise embedded in the SEEKING itself. Some who recognize this become charitable philanthropists, devoting their lives to the betterment of humanity. But many others simply rejuvenate the search by redefining or relocating it. If a career goal or financial reward or desired relationship has failed to deliver as promised, the world never ceases to provide new objects for the search. And in this, the credibility of the strategic approach is renewed.

What makes strategies so addictive is their seemingly reliable payoff.
In addition to the occasional material gains, short-term pleasure, euphoria, and a powerful sense of self come from anticipating and then briefly reveling in strategic "victories." But in the end, every strategy fails for two reasons: 1) the rewards reaped are inherently transient; 2) behind every strategy is the assumption that the truth can harm us.

The revelation of history's most powerful spiritual teachers is that strategies are unnecessary and harmful, because nothing exists that anyone must fear, defy, conspire to conquer, or gain vengeance against.
To follow these beliefs is to make them real -- a demonstration of simple cause and effect. In honesty, there is nothing to fear, but in dishonesty, strategies become essential to prevent one’s own "loss" or "destruction."

Jesus said: "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Notice this was not necessarily an instruction to condone or accept evil behavior. Rather, in my opinion, Jesus sought to introduce to mankind a thought structure that does not view reality itself as hostile. For millennia prior to Jesus' time, images of a wrathful God, eager to destroy and demanding of sacrifice, dominated civilization. But the Father of whom Jesus spoke does not know of vengeance, and never attacks His own creation.
When seen in these terms, the notion of evil becomes irrelevant.

Jesus spoke for the purest form of forgiveness, which recognizes that no human action can touch the truth that is alive in every person.
Certainly, he understood that human beings -- including many who dominate the world -- behave in a manner that creates suffering. But like Buddha, who said that ignorance is the source of all suffering, Jesus made clear that those who do evil are simply in the throes of
illusion: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And the illusion that drives evil behavior is the belief that one is threatened and must plot, avenge, and destroy for one’s own survival.

Jesus' teachings are timeless in that he had no concern for race, geography, or the politics of the moment. And again like Buddha, Jesus advised the individual to focus his attention inward; in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven is a gift that need not – and CANNOT – be "acquired" or "gained." It is the Home guaranteed by the intrinsic divinity of every child of God.

These teachings were so radical (and Jesus himself so fearless and
uncompromising) that religious zealots at the time viewed Jesus as an enemy. Although this ultimately led to his death, no one can reasonably claim that Jesus was defeated, or that his murderers won. Two thousand years after his crucifixion, the lessons of Jesus (too often distorted by self-serving religious interests) continue to transform lives. On the other hand, short-lived political regimes based on strategy, deception, and the resort to force have little or no long-term influence.

In the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi's struggle for peace and Indian independence inspired countless activists and spiritual aspirants.
Living only by principles of nonviolence, simplicity, and faith, Gandhi pleaded for a world where people of disparate racial and religious backgrounds could unite in pure allegiance to spirit. When asked if he was a Hindu, he replied: "Yes, I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew." Gandhi was considerably more involved in worldly affairs than Jesus, even offering his own flesh as a gesture toward peace. In a protest of violence between Muslims and Hindus, Gandhi engaged in a fast that would likely have cost him his life if others had not intervened. Perhaps inevitably, religious extremists assassinated Gandhi -- self-styled "holy warriors" have always been offended by principles of nonviolence and inclusiveness.

Gandhi lost his life, but HE did not lose. His only "loss" was the physical form that inevitably turns to dust for everyone. Again, it is useful to compare Gandhi's legacy with those left behind by the world’s tyrants. In most instances, the master strategists' legacies dissolved even before their bodies had decomposed. Strategies are limited to short-term gains and impermanent forms, and must continuously be defended through guile and deception. The truth within us, on the other hand, requires no defense and extends to everyone throughout all time.

This is why, despite the display of apparent "evil" throughout the world, we have nothing to fear. It is possible for everyone in this moment to do as history’s great teachers have encouraged -- to "live in the present moment wisely and earnestly," to "resist not one who is evil," to discover "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you." These teachings indeed call for an act of faith. In this world, to renounce all strategies is to seemingly risk annihilation. But in the end, every strategy fails and all that remains is the truth of life. The truth can be ignored, denied, and raged against, but it can neither change nor be destroyed. For those who have chosen to live in integrity, this is the happiest lesson life can offer.

Article received from: Michael Goodspeed


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