|ISSUE 53 WINTER 2006-07
|positive response to contemporary violence
Adam Curle was a man of energy, and now the energy that was incarnated in him as an individual has rejoined the universal energy. In his prose-poem “Who Am I?” he wrote “Well, I am not to be confused with a particular body, the jobs it has carried out, its role in society, its appearance and behaviour good bad or indifferent, least of all the ego it thinks of as ‘I’ and the opinions that nourish it however wise or silly…But the proper function of this fusion is to form a dwelling for the real identity, the potential for enlightenment.”
His style was always linked to his experience as a teacher, as one involved in Third World development in Asia and Africa, and as a mediator. Although he directed one of the first peace studies programmes in Europe created at the University of Bradford, his approach gave little place to abstraction and theory — no game theory math for him. Both in reading and talking with Adam Curle one had the impression of listening to a sharing in a Quaker Meeting. The ideas had been long there, deepened by experience, but they always seemed spontaneous, as if guided at that moment by the Spirit. As he wrote “There is no box of magic peacemaking tricks. All depends on love and concern informed by experience and understanding.
Adam Curle began his experiences with the nature of energy — the continuum from psychic energy to the positive expressions of energy in healing, and the negative expressions in violence — as part of the circle in London of the Russian exile P.D. Ouspensky. Energy and its transformations are at the heart of Ouspensky’s work based on Central Asian Sufi and Mongolian-Tibetan Buddhist teaching. An analysis of Ouspensky’s views and their application to the study of peace would be too long a detour for this review, but readers who are interested will find a good overview in a recent book: In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff.
As Friedrich Nietzsche had Zarathustra say “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil.” Adam Curle moved beyond the Ouspensky circle and during most of his working life was active in the Society of Friends. In his prose-poem Quakers he wrote “ Of all the groups I know, the Quakers with whom I unworthily associate, can most be relied on for wise compassion, common sense and serious commitment to issues affecting spiritual and physical well being of virtually anyone anywhere in the world. Oh, yes, I know they sometimes get things wrong, or seem a bit conventional, but always, in the end, they turn up trumps as I well know experimentally (George Fox’s phrase). They don’t care much for dogmas, but believe in the essential divine goodness of our being, exploring its deeps together in their worship, then surfacing refreshed, illuminated by the Inner Light, strengthened for the work they see ahead” he wrote in Recognition of Reality: Reflections and Prose Poems.
In True Justice: Quaker Peace makers and Peace making he writes “ Virtually the sole dogma, if this word is not too emphatic of Friends, concerns ‘that of God in every one’ and this has, of course dominated our witness…I trust that all Friends and all people of insight and goodwill are in any case working for peace in their own ways, hoping to dry up the springs of violence in themselves and their communities. There is so much to be done at all levels and of every sort, and everyone’s potentiality is different. Any attempt to define and codify roles would merely constitute a limitation.”
Curle saw so much to be done at all levels because he had a broad vision of what is violence. He wrote “I now see peace as being very much more than the absence of war. An unpeaceful situation, to my mind, is one in which human beings are damaging each others’ potential for fulfilment and development in any of a number of ways: not merely by killing and maiming, cheating, making excessive demands on others, corrupting, enslaving, humiliating, deriding, frightening or deceiving. These are all forms of violence (the etymology of the word implies the ‘unlawful use of force’) of violating a person, of doing wanton damage. The fact that the damage need not be physical in no way affects the degree of potential harm for the victim and, albeit in a different way, the perpetrator.”
Working for peace in his own way, Adam Curle put his emphasis on mediation and the training of mediators. For Curle the development of ever deeper levels of awareness is crucial for mediation which is more than just a set of techniques. ,As he wrote “Certainly there are a number of techniques to be learned: how to listen, how to avoid forms of speech which are covertly aggressive (as many of ours are), how to negotiate; how to disagree without offending, how to state a case etc. However, the most important aspect of mediation, as of other forms of peacemaking, are attitudes of mind, particularly respect, concern and compassion for all other human beings…What is needed, and is always needed by all of us, is the fullest possible development of our humanity, our potential as human beings. This means becoming able to escape from the mindless automatism that governs so much of our lives, from senseless worries and fears, from prejudice, from ego cherishing and irritability, from vanity, from illusions of guilt and badness, from belief in separate existence. Ahead lies the vital question of how these largely inward developments can be reified within the framework of appropriate policies and structures: legal, social, economic and political.”
Facing the tidal wave, the Quakers’ emphasis on that of God in each person and the lack of teaching concerning systematic methods of meditation seemed to Adam as inadequate for the tasks facing peacemakers. Again he moved on, although never cutting his ties to the Quakers. He returned to what lay behind the Ouspensky-Gurdjieff teaching and techniques which was the Tibetan schools of Buddhism. In 1917 when Gurdjieff began teaching in Russia, it was not useful to put a label on ideas, and Tibet was far off and largely unknown. Today, thanks to the activity of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan approaches to Buddhism reach a wide public. Curle’s starting point is the well-known saying of the Buddha contained in the Dhammapada “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world”. Thus it should be possible with our thoughts to make a world of happiness, positive energy and joyful labour. But the Buddhist tradition stresses that our thinking is full of fear and anger, desperation and alienation. Our lives reflect these elements making our true nature of wisdom and compassion.
Curle uses the Tibetan Buddhist image of the three poisons: ignorance, yearning, and jealousy. These three drives are closely interrelated, and one leads to the other in a perpetual motion. In Tibetan thankas — the paintings which serve as one guide to meditation — these three drives are symbolized as the center, creating the motion of the world. In Tibetan teaching progress is made by first delinking the three drives and then reducing the power of each individually. As Curle notes “the crucial poison is ignorance —ignorance of the potential of our nature. However, ignorance can be overcome and with it the proclivity for violence.” Curle stresses two aspects of overcoming ignorance: the growth of awareness and overcoming the identity crisis.
To end this evocation, there is a prose poem which he felt (as I do) expressed his mature beliefs: From Recognition of Reality “The First Lesson”
The most important lesson but one that’s seldom adequately learned is that, like sub-atomic particles, everything with life exists within a field of force in which all affect and are affected by each one of the others; and that we, the individuals, and all other individuals like a blade of grass, whale or bacterium, are not self-existent, but the products of this unceasing reciprocity.
When this interaction favours growth and fruitful change we call it ecologically sound, understanding that death and demolition are part of the process of development —Kali is goddess both of creation and destruction .But when this interaction is impaired by false beliefs, illusions one might say, of personal supremacies and needs, elements within the field of force may be eliminated or suffer deadly damage.
We best can counter this by widening our vision of the truth and acting in accordance with it.