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When Wisdom Is the Source of Our Power

08/25/2014 07:42 pm ET | Updated Oct 25, 2014

I heard ISIL described earlier today as "an international association of sadists." Whether one chooses to go that far or not, we clearly have a problem on our hands.

America is endangered, however, not just because there is a powerful, armed enemy arrayed against us; we are endangered also because our spiritual defenses are weak. Spiritually, we are unprepared. We need a "mantle of protection" that we do not now have.

America has undoubtedly been blessed, yet we have taken that blessing for granted in a way that has eroded its power. The blessing upon us was not due to some special dispensation from God, but to the fact that we claimed for ourselves the role of blessing unto the world. We set out to be a blessing, and as with all cause and effect, it was the blessing we were to others that magnetized so much blessing to us.

Over time, however, we have become much more concerned with enjoying our blessings than with adding to their storehouse. We have chosen the ways of war over the ways of peace, the ways of mean-spiritedness over the ways of compassion, the ways of separation over the ways of unity so many times, in such accumulated layers of hard-hearted, mercenary policies, as to dim the light that has so illuminated our past.

We need now, more than anything, to shore up our blessings by once again assuming for ourselves the role God has assigned to all people and all nations: that we be the change, that we demonstrate love, that we not be selfish, that we be the keepers of His kingdom rather than hoarders within our own. We cannot ultimately protect our worldly kingdom unless we tend to God's.

Some would argue that this would make us weak, that we cannot afford to put our defenses down. But spiritual defenselessness does not necessarily mean a lack of material defense. Indeed at this point, with elements such as ISIL active in the world today, questions as to what constitutes a just war are both relevant and appropriate. Still, no matter what we do -- how much war we fight, or even how successful we are at it -- until we come to understand the metaphysics of war and peace, we will doom not only ourselves, but also our children, to war without end. This will satisfy no one but those who make their fortunes upon it.

Whether we are sending guns or we are sending prayers, as a nation we must surround ourselves with a spiritual dome to stave off the arrows of hatred now coming our way. America needs enlightenment, not necessarily as a path to pacifism but as a path to power.

America has a lot of work to do in order to reclaim the mantle of mercy and protection that has previously been as a light around us. We need that light, or we will not prevail. God has not shone upon us because we're somehow special; He has shone upon us because we have shone. And now, we must atone for the dimming of our light. We need to atone for past mistakes -- from slavery to wars of aggression; we need to admit our character defects -- from racism to militarism; and we need to open our hearts to the poor among us -- from immigrants to our own children. Only when we once again embrace a true vision of brotherhood, justice and democracy -- not just in word, but in vibrant and vigorous deed -- will we replenish our storehouse of blessings so needed now.

At times such as these, understanding the powers of the spirit is as important as understanding the powers of the world. The meek shall inherit the earth because, in the end, they are smarter.

A tale from Buddhist mythology speaks to the power of the spirit in matters of war:

"Mara, the evil one, had arrayed a huge army to defeat Siddhartha. But according to Sarthavaha, one of Siddhartha's chroniclers, "Mere numbers do not make the strength of an army...If wisdom is the source of his power, a single hero can defeat countless soldiers.

He continued speaking to Siddhartha's enemies, "Fools! You think he is mad because he meditates; you think he is craven because he is calm. It is you who are madmen, it is you who are cowards. You do not know his power; because of his great wisdom he will defeat you all. Were your numbers as infinite as the grains of sand on the banks of the Ganges, you would not disturb a single hair of his head. And you believe you can kill him! Oh, turn back! Do not try to harm him; bow before him in reverence. His reign has come...."

But Mara, the Evil One, vowed to defeat the hero. And before attacking him, he sought to frighten him. Mara's army was a fearful sight. It bristled with pikes, with arrows and with swords; many carried enormous battle-axes and heavy clubs. Then the Evil One even summoned the rains. They fell with great violence, submerging cities and scarring the surface of the earth, but the hero never moved; not a single thread of his robe was wet.

Mara roused against him the fury of the winds. Fierce gales rushed toward him from the horizon, uprooting trees, devastating villages, shaking mountains, but the hero never moved; not a single fold of his robe was disturbed.

The Evil One made blazing rocks and hurled them at the hero. They sped through the air but changed when they came near the tree, and fell, not as rocks, but flowers. Mara then commanded his army to loose their arrows at his enemy, but the arrows, also, turned into flowers. The army rushed at the hero, but the light he diffused acted as a shield to protect him; swords were shivered, battle-axes were dented by it, and whenever a weapon fell to the ground, it, too, at once changed into a flower.

Suddenly, filled with terror at the sight of these prodigies, the soldiers of the Evil One fled.

Mara wrung his hands in anguish, and he cried:

"What have I done that this man should defeat me? For they are not a few, those whose desires I have granted! I have often been kind and generous! Those cowards who are fleeing could bear witness to that."

"And he," he said, pointing at Siddhartha, "what proof has he given of his generosity? What sacrifices has he made? Who will bear witness to his kindness?"

Whereupon a voice came out of the earth, and it said:

"I will bear witness to his generosity."

Mara was struck dumb with astonishment. The voice continued:

"Yes, I, the Earth, I, the mother of all beings, will bear witness to his generosity. A hundred times, a thousand times, in the course of his previous existences, his hands, his eyes, his head, his whole body have been at the service of others. And in the course of this existence, which will be the last, he will destroy old age, sickness and death. As he excels you in strength, Mara, even so does he surpass you in generosity."

And the Evil One saw a woman of great beauty emerge from the earth, up to her waist. She bowed before the hero, and clasping her hands, she said: "O most holy of men, I bear witness to your generosity."

Then she disappeared.

And Mara, the Evil One, wept because he had been defeated."

*

So whether or not the barbarians truly are at the gate -- and no matter what we do about it -- we must become an enlightened nation, or the problem that has now become all too familiar will remain with us and grow. The problem itself emerged from our minds; make no mistake about it, our misadventures contributed to the creation of the monstrous situation we now have on our hands. And it's in our minds, through the correction of our thinking and the purification of our hearts, that the problem will ultimately be solved. In the short term, it might be solved by armies. In the long term, it will only be solved by love.

* The Life of Buddha, by A. Ferdinand Herold, tr. by Paul C. Blum [1922]


Marianne Williamson is a bestselling author. www.Marianne.com