what_did_I_really_have

First published at the Words of Peace Global blog, Dec 31, 2010.

In 1982, when the war broke out on the northern border of Israel, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the reserves were called in: me included.

As a citizen of Israel — which I was at the time — I was a reservist soldier. I had my uniform, my boots, and my weapon in the closet.

So, there I was, a young man pursuing a path of inner peace — who loved life and loved people — suddenly confronted with a crude reality: you need to go to war and fight for your country. And so I did.

I served in a special unit of M60 Patton tanks in Division 252 of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). We were trained to fight in mountainous terrain: quite difficult for a 50-ton vehicle. My buddies in my armored platoon were puzzled when they saw me coming to join them. ‘What are you doing here?’ they said. ‘Didn’t you join some strange group of people that meditate and speak about peace all day long?’ They thought I had lost my marbles, and were not reassured to see me there. After all, would you go to war with a person that had devoted himself to fostering peace and believed in the sanctity of life? Would you trust that person to protect your own life when push came to shove? I understood where they were coming from.

So, after three days of preparation, we were on our way to the border to spend what ended up being fifteen long days in the frontline.

These days are a blurred memory of little sleep, endless drives on moonless nights, huge precipices right and left, the unavoidable confusion over the radio during combat, the clanging noise of the 105-mm cartridges falling inside the tank turret after firing, and terrifying moments of absolute fear: fear of the kind that I could never have imagined experiencing. But what I remember vividly is that most of what I knew about myself or what I thought about myself — my concepts, my ideas, my beliefs — all left me within the first minutes of the first shelling we took. All gone, as fast as rats abandoning a sinking ship. And that included my beliefs and concepts about peace.

All gone, but one thing did not. It was not big, not impressive: no booming voice from the sky or sense of spiritual enlightenment. None of that. Just a tiny, itty-bitty thing that did not leave me. It was a small understanding — nothing too impressive. But it was there and I could feel it. It was a seed of understanding about my life. Not what I thought about myself. Not what others thought of me. But it was real, and it was in me, and I could feel it.

I then recognized that this seed of understanding had been planted a few years back, after I had been introduced to Maharaji’s message. I had learned the techniques of Knowledge, and I had watered that seed for a while. It hadn’t grown a lot, but nonetheless it had grown enough, if just barely, for me to actually see it.

Did that seed of understanding protect me from bullets and shells? Of course not. Did it remove my fear, so that I valiantly stood on the tank turret, wind on my face, defying death? Of course not. So what did I really have, then? I had Knowledge. A simple experience. A cornerstone. Something that would never abandon me. Doesn’t sound like much? It was for me. And apparently for my buddies in the platoon as well.

After the cease-fire, when we cleaned our tanks, had a long-awaited shower and then some hot grub back at the base, many of them came over to shake my hand — they wanted to thank me. I was very surprised when they did.

In particular I remember Koren, a burly mountain of a man with a shaved head, John Lennon-style glasses, and a handlebar mustache. He thanked me for my courage and strength throughout the ordeal, for my calmness, and for lifting his spirits. I was amazed: I thought I was as afraid and confused as they were. But that little seed of understanding must’ve been much more than I thought.

Even when everything seemed to be lost, that understanding — as small as it was — was still there. It shined on its own. It was real.

Illustration by Sara Shaffer.

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