Bringing Peace Home With Our Troops
An interview with Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo
Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo is the founder and spiritual director of Sunray Meditation Society, 27th holder of the Ywahoo lineage and chief of the Green Mountain Aniyunwiwa (Tsalagi Cherokee). The Ywahoo lineage was established as the caretaker of the sacred crystal and teachings of the Pale One, a great teacher who rekindled the sacred wisdom of the original instructions at a time when the people had forgotten their spiritual nature and become warlike. These ceremonies and teachings ensure methods of stabilizing the mind in times of confusion and bringing all thoughts and actions to harmonious resolution. In 1969, Sunray Meditation Society in Vermont was founded as a vehicle for these teachings to be shared. For the past four decades as an author, organizer, teacher and ceremonial leader, Ven. Dhyani has been involved in training peacemakers and meditators and in designing effective methods of reconciliation so that even anger and fear can be recognized as opportunities to give light to a new day.
Carol Bedrosian: I am interested in the work you are doing around peace and families. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo: Our explosive planetary situation is an expansion of individuals’ and families’ unresolved issues that become national and international issues. I’m working with the heart of individuals and families in terms of pacifying the sense of conflict with their loving wisdom nature and purifying what appears as dissonant. Within the struggle for family and neighborly and international peace there is also some wisdom to be gleaned. I’m particularly interested in those who are returning from war. After conferring with many therapists who have worked with former prisoners of war or those affected by a war in some way in their lives we see that it doesn’t end when somebody comes home. There is inner pain.
CB: You mentioned the inner conflict that people and families are feeling gets reflected on a national scale.
VDY: Yes, I think the same dynamic of unresolved family issues also goes on internationally in terms of the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Turkish and the Greeks, the Creoles. If their people have not had an opportunity to bring to resolution their sense of despair, anger or powerlessness, then the same issues arise again and again. So we see that on an international level and certainly for many on a personal level.
CB: Can you speak a little bit about the time period in 2003 when there were certainly those who opposed the war, but obviously a greater number of people who supported going to war and, of course, re-electing that president in 2004?
VDY: I’m not so sure there were more people who supported going to war with Iraq than those who did not. I recognize that there was very skillful manipulation of ideas in the media to give the impression that Iraq was the source of the problem, particularly in the wake of horrendous loss of life during 9/11. So I don’t know that I agree that those were the real issues for going to war with Iraq. I do think that many people were left with questions and what I hear from many beings and what I see in terms of off-the-press investigations is that much of the information that led to the war in Iraq was not all based on facts. And so this creates another layer of dissonance in our national mind/heart, and that is “Who do we believe, what is truth, what is real?” And the deeper issue is for individuals to understand how to read between the lines and not to easily accept what is offered as the only analysis of the facts. I recognize that for many Americans an incredible distrust has arisen based on that incongruity of facts and reality, so we are at a point in our nation where I think it is the lowest trust level that Americans have had for their government. And so, in a sense, this is like a battered child that doesn’t know: “Can I trust the authority? Can I trust those I’ve asked, who are supposedly guiding me and giving good care? So this angst in the American public is a wound that is causing separation. It is rising more to the surface and the issues of honor, truth and mutual respect are just as important on the national level as they are on the family level. I think many people are a bit aghast that taxpayers are bailing out corporations and the cost of living rises, yet workers’ opportunities and rights are becoming less and less. So the family on a financial level is pushed to the corner and there’s an underlying current of dissatisfaction, and also in some places, hopelessness and anger. What occurs nationally is affecting people on an individual level when single working mothers find the cost of their food having risen in the past six months by 30-36%, that’s a stress on a family’s security. Parents have less time with their children; many families are working more than one job. The ideal of democracy bringing forth positive result is dissonant with the facts that individuals are facing. So we are at an incredible crossroad. What do we value of human beings? I see a connection between the present situation and the situation of people who are returning from war. There are inconsistencies and dissonance in the dream for those who come home from Iraq. First, they are returning to a situation where it is not appropriate to kill. They are looking for what opportunities are available for their families. Where is the work? Where is the education? This dissonance then affects the entire family. I was talking with my son and he pointed out to me that there seemed to be a rise in the murders of wives of the men who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, as if somehow the mental virus of hatred towards women in those countries was being expressed by increased spousal abuse among returning veterans. It is true wherever we go; we are affected by the culture, the environment, even its negativity. So the issues of a returning soldier, of the person who survived civil war, those issues then become the family’s. So the family is yoked, so to speak, with the dissonance carried by the returning soldier. And so I think about some of the ways in native culture that people cleansed and purified the returning warrior by addressing the spirits of those who died and making spiritual food offerings, giving closing to the families or the survivors of those who died.
CB: How does that work if the families are in a foreign country?
VDY: Basically it gives an opportunity to change the resonant field of the soldier. I recognize the view that we live in a field of consciousness and by making these amends on a spiritual level through ceremony one also touches the heart essence of those families with whom one has fought. And so in the Cherokee way, after the Korean war, I saw the change in people who had those ceremonies, how they were able to sleep through the night and have good relations with their families, and those who didn’t become alcoholics and rather angry people.
CB: If the returning soldiers were not of the native tradition, how would they be able to work with cleansing those spirits?
VDY: Very easily. First to acknowledge that they are soldiers, or in some cases may have been civilians, and that they have been moved by thought forms, forces, governments, and views larger than themselves, yet composed of themselves. And so on returning home, before returning to the family, spending time in nature and creating a spirit fire and offering prayers to those who have been lost on both sides, or all sides, and also offering prayers to the survivors on all sides that they may have what they need and find their way into a healthy life. In that everything begins as a thought, as mind, and we become evermore aware that even the electrons and the subatomic particles are an expression of consciousness, i.e., by observing electrons we affect their trajectories, with this knowledge it becomes clear that there is a connection of one individual with others in the field. So the first thing to avoid carrying anger, which is often the ghost of another, is to make offerings to those who have passed over. Here is water, here is fire, may you see your way into the light of understanding. May whatever the cause is of our meeting as warriors, may we meet again in a place of understanding. And so the water is to wash away the tears and to wash away the anger and the fire is to illuminate the path of reconciliation.
CB: Is this something that can be done in either country?
CB: I don’t believe we have any type of spiritual acknowledgement as part of our military tradition.
VDY: Actually I think there are many people in the military who are very aware of the spiritual aspects of war. And there are many who do have inner and perhaps private ceremony because many people also become warriors out of the ideal of protecting and caring. For some there is a spiritual inclination and understanding that they are part of a large system and sometimes it simplifies into the belief of my interpretation of God is better then yours and thus becomes also a basis of sectarian violence. And for others there is an understanding of a cause and effect. I learned this in working with Vietnam veterans. I would say how their spirituality is expressed is not often observable. Ultimately we’re all relatives in this dance and whatever energy is expressed towards another it echoes back into our own circle of relationships. I think this is really clear when you look at the prisoners of war who return home. The unresolved anger and the abuse they experienced is often beyond their control, which gets spewed into their family situation. So it becomes very clear the significance of pacifying, purifying one’s self and energizing the ideal of a healthy nation, healthy families, healthy individuals, to know that it is a loop.
CB: At this time when there will be many returning veterans, what solutions do you see for these soldiers and their families?
VDY: The ideal solution is for the returning veterans to be encircled in love by their families, their neighbors, and also deep spiritual counseling because many of the returning soldiers have not grown up in a warrior culture with the full circle of support and resolution. In fact, the majority have joined the military because they had no other options out of poverty or to get money for college or money to live. And so for them a recognition, first, that we can all return to the circle of love, whether we call it God or mystery or Christ or Buddha. This field of energy, we are inseparable from it. So what are the reasons that one joins in the military? For some it is a challenge, for some it is an opportunity to learn, for some it’s the only viable option. Then what is the nation’s responsibility in sending people off to fight wars that are not necessarily related to the initial motivation of serving and protecting? This is where the dissonance gets horrendously loud, when you review the inconsistencies of fact and actuality. So what does a young person do when they return home? First, they take inventory of their physical health to be sure they are not bringing home any diseases from another region. Then they go through the process of spiritual ceremony of purifying, washing away the ghosts and making prayers that the ghosts find their way into the light of understanding. They are also looking at their mindset because very often the returning soldiers have not worked on a battlefield; they have worked in neighborhoods. That mnemonic train of walking through neighborhoods needs to be dismantled so one’s neighborhood is recognized as a sacred home and one’s neighbors are not potential enemies, and that one’s family can be the warmth and the support that transforms the echoes of war and clarifies a vision so that the soldier recognizes, “Here I am now.”
CB: But what about all the veterans who return to neighborhoods which are violent themselves?
VDY: The neighborhood level is a very important spiritual connection. Where there are churches or synagogues or spirit fires in an area, these are places that would benefit the entire neighborhood and the nation by inviting veterans to come and share in ceremony. What stands out in my mind is how old women would surround and hold hands around a veteran and just stand there all surrounding and holding him in their arms.
CB: Is this a Cherokee tradition?
VDY: Yes, this is something I saw as a young person, and that somehow to be received again in the arms of the community by the elders seemed very significant. In my child mind it appeared that these people were being made new.
CB: In the absence of these traditions in our own neighborhoods and towns now, what else can we do?
VDY: It is incumbent upon us as a nation to create situations that are welcoming and loving and transforming. Because when certain patterns are broken, particularly fighting in neighborhoods, you really want to reclaim those people back to the bosom of the community in a way that they know there is love and this is not a hostile situation. As human beings we have our work cut out for us and we all have the tools. We have the tools of discernment, most importantly, to recognize what is true and what is not and to call for clarity and truth and to name it when something is inconsistent or dissonant. It looks like Americans have, as many elders would say, abdicated their spiritual sovereignty. We’re all responsible for direct relationship with the field of mind, Creator, God, mystery, however we name this energy that we are all part of. It’s within us. Each time we accept an opinion that is not based on truth, or without investigating the facts, we are making that line of communication to the wisdom within us narrower and narrower and narrower. So we all have a spiritual responsibility, first with our family, to be kind and support the wisdom potential within one another, sharing food, warmth, shelter. We also have a spiritual responsibility to consider what are the ideals of our family, our clan, our nation and if we are congruent with those ideals. It doesn’t mean people need to become political activists; it means that each one of us needs to question carefully, and when necessary write a letter to our congressmen, our senators on the state and federal levels when we are not in agreement. At what point do we take responsibility for those we put in office? An old Cherokee clan law was if someone in your clan did something that caused hardships to another then your clan was responsible to sustain that other person. So when our elected officials are not responding to the calls and needs of the people, then let someone else come forward. It requires energy. You can’t sit back and watch TV and think it’s going to be all right. We each need to discuss and attend meetings and educate ourselves about what is happening behind the sound bites that are passed to the media. In a sense, Americans are suffering like they’ve been to war. So many believed their pensions would be there, then they are not. Companies have disappeared, jobs and benefits are gone. So many believed their home was their castle and now some are living in tent cities. So we see the incongruity of the ideal and the expression of that ideal and wonder how did it happen. It happened a little bit every day when people decided not to speak. It is one planet and what happens in one part of the world does indeed affect the entire planet, so there is this reminder to work collaboratively. What common dreams do we share? We know that all people want a safe place to live, clean water, work that is meaningful and good relationships. So as human beings we’re facing an opportunity to choose how we will continue. All form arises from thought, from more subtle energy. What we choose to energize about the future is what comes about, so it is important not to be fearful and to bring forth that message of reconciliation and cooperation, the wisdom of the people. Most importantly to understand that aggression begins in our own hearts. Aggression arises when people do not speak and walk in truth and harmony and when people feel that the authority and the power to experience joy and harmony is outside. It’s within each of us to conceptualize, visualize and energize what the future shall be.
Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo and Sunray Meditation Society sponsor the Native American Elder’s Gathering each year. All are welcome to attend. Please visit www.sunray.org for information about Ven. Dhyani or the gathering.
Interviewer Carol Bedrosian is the publisher of Spirit of Change Magazine. Visit www.spiritofchange.org.