Since 9/11 there has been a pervasive sense of anxiety in the world, and at the same time a search for spiritual answers. Is violence an aspect of human nature that can be cured, or are we caught in an endless cycle of violence that will never end? One of the most optimistic answers to that dilemma came from Buddha more than two thousand years ago. In the light of what he taught, I wanted to share my thoughts about the Buddhist solution and what it means for you and me as we seek to live in a troubling world.

Anyone coming to spirituality from the outside asks the same question: “What can it do for me?” There is no universal key that unlocks the truth. However great the teaching, unless it can be made personal, it is sleeping. You and I seek spirituality one by one, on our own terms. We have our own specific suffering that we want to heal. As old traditions no longer bind us together, isolation – ironically enough – has become the new tradition for millions of modern people. Feeling alone, unwanted, unloved, weak, lost, and empty are the symptoms of the human disease today.

At no time in history have there been more stateless persons, refugees, overpopulation, and restless migration. Globalism makes the individual feel lost in the world and overwhelmed by its chaos, which always seems to be teetering between madness and catastrophe. Yet when people came to Buddha, they brought the same complaints. They felt helpless in the face of natural disasters, war, and poverty. They couldn’t comprehend a world on the edge of madness.

Waking up to Our True Identity

Buddha was famously practical. He told people to stop analyzing the world and its troubles. He also told them to stop relying on religious rituals and sacrifices, which are external. Buddha was the avatar of the situation we find ourselves in today, because he refused to rely on the traditional gods or God. He didn’t use the social safety net of the priestly caste, with its automatic connection to spiritual privilege. Above all, he accepted the inescapable fact that each person is ultimately alone in the world. This aloneness is the very disease Buddha set out to cure.

Buddha’s cure was a wakingup process, in which suffering came to be seen as rooted in false consciousness, and specifically in the dulled awareness that causes us to accept illusion for reality. The reason that people resort to violence, for example, is that the ego goes into a panic trying to defend itself and its attachment to the physical body. The answer to violence for both the aggressor and the victim is to see through the false claims of the ego and thus to come to a true understanding of who we are and why we are here. Buddha’s answer remains radical, but its truth offers a way out that may be our best hope for the future.

Observing how Buddhists follow his teaching, the steps of waking up include the following:

  • Meditating on the core of silence within the mind.
  • Observing the shifting contents of the mind carefully, separating out anything that sustains suffering and illusion.
  • Unraveling the ego’s version of reality and piercing through the ego’s claim that it knows how to live properly.
  • Facing the truth that everything in nature is impermanent.
  • Letting go of materialism in both its crude and subtle forms.
  • Becoming detached from the self and realizing that the individual self is an illusion.
  • Being mindful of one’s being, overcoming the distraction of thoughts and sensations.
  • Abiding by a set of higher ethics whose basis is compassion for other people and reverence for life.

– Deepak Chopra, M.D. (

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