By Suma Varughese
As much as we yearn for individual peace do we long for collective peace. Peace on earth and goodwill to men is probably one of mankind’s most powerful common dreams. Here’s how to make it a reality
Prince Andrei, as he lay wounded in the battlefield in Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace, is not the first to have been struck by the contrast between the majestic peace and harmony of nature and mankind’s own fatal impulse for strife and struggle.
The 20th century has been said to be the most violent in recorded history, notably for its two world wars and innumerable conflicts within and between nations.
We are barely into the 21st and already the world has witnessed first hand the full-scale horrors as well as drama of violence during the recent US-Iraq war.
So has anything changed? Is mankind going to be locked into a non-stop cycle of violence and retribution?
Can we hope for nothing other than the sad spectacle of nations at war, of children with truncated limbs waiting in vain for parents who will never return, of soldiers dying by the thousands, of whole cities reduced to rubble, and of the sheer pain and horror and waste of war?
It depends on who you ask.
Pragmatists shake their heads regretfully.
Asserts former police commissioner of Mumbai, Satish Sawhney: ‘I doubt if the world can achieve peace. The desire to dominate and the interests of realpolitik are too strong.’
Jayesh Shah, publisher of Humanscape, the voice of the Humanist movement started by the Argentinian philosopher, Silo, affirms: ‘One cannot see it in the immediate future, because society is moving in the opposite direction.’
But turn to the ardent voices of the world’s visionaries, both dead and alive, and one cannot but be heartened by their staunch messages of hope and faith.
Says Santosh Didi, Mumbai regional head of the Brahma Kumari movement: ‘Shanti can come into the world. The root cause of the world’s disquiet is the predominance of the ego, which spirituality dissolves.’
Mahatma Gandhi, whose every thought,
|What’s this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way under me,’ he thought and fell on his back… Above him there was nothing but the sky – the lofty sky, not clear but still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds creeping quietly over it. |
‘How quietly, peacefully and triumphantly, and not like us running, shouting and fighting, not like the Frenchmen and artillery-men dragging the mop from one another with frightened and frantic faces, how differently are these clouds creeping over that lofty, limitless sky…Yes! All is vanity, all is a cheat, except that infinite sky.’
– War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
word and deed emanated from an unfaltering commitment to non-violence and who crafted several practical strategies, including satyagraha, to create non-violent revolutions, said: ‘This I do say fearlessly and firmly, that every worthy object can be achieved by the use of satyagraha.’
Gandhi continues: ‘It is the highest and infallible means, the greatest force – satyagraha can rid society of all evils, political, economic and moral.’
And Martin Luther King Jr., that other great champion of human dignity and non-violent struggles for human rights, said: ‘Let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.’
He continues: ‘Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’
Many of us may agree with the pragmatists, but surely all of us must secretly hope that the visionaries will carry the day?
If there is one ideal that humanity has collectively dreamt of, it is of peace and harmony in the world.
From the early chanting of Om shanti, shanti by the Vedic seers in their forest lairs, and the Christian manifesto of peace on earth to the Hindu concept of Ram Rajya and Thomas Moore’s Utopia, all have envisioned the ideal society as a peaceful one, where the lion and the lamb lie together.
A peace that hinges on justice, freedom, equality, prosperity and the submergence of self-interest for the greater good. One may argue that such a powerful vision is in itself a self-fulfilling prophecy, but obviously no solution is as simple as that.
Sundeep Waslekar, founder, International Centre for Peace Initiatives, the oldest conflict resolution and peace-making institution in South Asia, says thoughtfully: ‘Peace within and in society, needs effort, ongoing effort. Peace can never be won once. One has to keep winning it over and over again.’
That, say many, is the bottomline. Peace is not an abstract concept, or a theoretical ideal to be spouted at conferences and seminars and relegated to the briefcase.
Peace has to be worked upon and wrought-moment by moment, piece by piece.
Activist and writer Dilip D’Souza has been escorting a group of 14-year-old Pakistani boys and girls to the USA on the invitation of an organization called Seeds of Peace, where he witnessed first hand the hard work involved in forging peace in the minds of children.
Says D’Souza: ‘They had such opposing perspectives on troubled issues. What Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) was to the Indians was Azad Kashmir to the Pakistanis.’
Continues D’SOuza: ‘Peace is complex, but by exploring differences and building bonds, one can make a breakthrough. Some came back saying they would question their perceptions and prejudices about the other.’
When it comes to peace efforts, mankind has traditionally favoured two ways.
One, which is external, focuses on creating political, economic, and social systems that favour peace, and establishing a network of checks and balances that discourage abuse of the systems.
The other, favoured by the Orient, is to go within and root out the disquiet there.
‘War begins in the minds of men,’ observed Victor Hugo.
Accordingly, the effort should be to eliminate the root cause of the malaise. Both efforts are necessary and mutually supporting.
Says Waslekar: ‘You may have the most progressive societal arrangement but if people are not peaceful, the systems won’t work. Likewise, even if every citizen attains peace, only a conducive social system can ensure lasting peace.’
To take the inner view first, let us understand on what basis it is possible to assert that individual peace can create world peace.
It’s hard to imagine that my loss of temper over the maid’s tardiness or your resentment at being a middle child could be the root cause of the Indo-Pak conflict, or the US-Iraq war, but that is precisely what many spiritual traditions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism, affirm.
Says Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Zen Buddhist monk: ‘If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.’
Both Hinduism and Buddhism affirm that all creation is one.
‘In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the true, that is the Self and thou, Svetaketu, art that,’ says the Chhandogya Upanishad.
Tat Tvam Asi, Aham Brahmasmi are the two mahamantrasthat affirm unity between the Creator and Man.
According to the Buddha, all manifestation has its basis in the Unmanifest, the Great Void, or Shunyata, to which we return on death. This being so, we are profoundly interconnected.
My state of mind influences the whole universe and so does your state of mind. The more the number of peaceful people on the planet, the greater the chances of world peace.
Indeed, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the TM guru, cites surveys that indicate that the level of crime and violence in a locality reduces when the number of meditators there reaches the 1 per cent mark.
Even science is acknowledging that the part can affect the whole as in catalysis.
US physician Dr Larry Dossey’s Era – 3 medicine is based on the fact that healing thoughts and attitudes of one individual can influence the physiology of another.
Many studies have proved the healing power of prayer on patients even if they don’t know they are being prayed over.
Many seekers have personally experienced the impact of their peace on the outside world.
Desiree Punwani, a housewife, is an ex-alcoholic who experienced a profound spiritual transformation. As her inner turbulence dissolved, her attitude towards life and people changed.
Says she: ‘For the last few days, I have been suffering from fever, and my daughter has had to undergo a small surgical procedure. Earlier, I would have been worked up about how I’d cope, but now I am calm. Today, problems are to be handled, not agonised over.’
Continues Desiree: ‘The atmosphere in our house is also peaceful. There’s hardly any shouting or conflicts, and this has seeped into the children as well. The biggest victory is that you don’t take things personally any more, not even praise.’
Nilima Patel, a part-time lecturer and counsellor, has also discovered that her inner peace radiates to others.
‘The other day, a young boy came to be counseled. A few days later, he returned. ‘There’s something about you that makes me want to talk to you,’ he told me. People are drawn to our house because the atmosphere is so peaceful.’
Nilima Patel continues: ‘My peace arises from my ability to give space to everyone, and also in actively furthering interests of others. Self-centredness is against the laws of nature.’
Her advice for attaining inner peace: ‘Accept people the way they are. They are perfect. They have been created by God. They cannot be wrong.’
What stops us from being peaceful and how do we attain it? According to the spiritual wisdom of the East, the root of suffering is desire.
Says the Bhagavad Gita: ‘If a man meditates on the object of sense, attachment to them arises; from attachment, desire is born; from desire, anger is produced. Through anger comes bewilderment, through bewilderment wandering of memory, through confusion of memory destruction of the intellect, through destruction of the intellect he is destroyed.’
It continues with the converse: ‘But he who with obedient self goes among the objects of sense with his senses detached from passion and aversion, and under the control of the self, attains serenity. In serenity the disappearance of his pains is produced; for the intellect of him whose mind is serene quickly becomes fixed.’ (ll, 62 – 65)
The Buddha too asserted that it is the swing between craving and aversion to the objects of the senses that creates attachment to life and the flowering of sorrow.
Meditation is the time-honoured solution to inner unhappiness. Our ignorance of mental states and, therefore, our inability to control them enslaves us to habits and reactions, creating unhappiness.
A clear-eyed awareness and acceptance of our motives and desires will dissolve the conditioning, allowing the emergence of our true Self, the embodiment of peace and tranquillity.
When we are at the level of tranquillity, we will still be aware of all the inequities and sorrows of the world, but they will not suck us into their vortex, for our mind is focused on the whole.
Writes Thich Nhat Hanh: ‘Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads… Yet the sunrise is beautiful and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practise meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.’
He offers sound advice on accepting our negative feelings: ‘I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with non-violence. Because anger is me, I have to tend to my anger as I would tend a younger brother or sister… We cannot destroy the energy; we can only convert it into a constructive energy. Forgiveness is a constructive energy. Understanding is a constructive energy.’
The constant practice of awareness and acceptance is rigorous and painful. But when we engage with it long enough, we realise that we are the cause of our suffering and mental torment. Sure, we may have an accident or lose our jobs or be trapped in a loveless marriage.
We may live in a dictatorship or a country gripped in a civil war. But the choice of suffering under these circumstances or accepting them with equanimity is ours alone.
When we take responsibility for our reactions and choose to favour peace and happiness, regardless of circumstances, we will have won the inner war.
We will then radiate peace, joy and love. When we do so, we exude a rare alchemy that converts the negativity around us to positivity. This is the stage when we can actually help transform the outer world.
Many spiritual geniuses and activists have advocated this alchemy as the only effective way to attain peace and social transformation.
The Buddha had said: ‘For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love.’
Jesus Christ supported the same approach when he said: ‘But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’
None has been more renowned for this approach in recent times than Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma single-handedly inspired a whole nation to struggle peacefully and successfully for independence through harnessing soul force.
His conception of satyagraha was based on asserting one’s rights through five non-violent methods: fasting; defiance of violence; self-imposed suffering other than fasting; non-cooperation; civil disobedience.
The core idea was to refuse to cooperate with the oppressor in forging one’s own oppression. If a tax is unjust, one does not pay it, and requests the authorities to jail you. When beaten, one accepts the beating joyfully for it gives you a chance to transform the other.
Such was Gandhi’s alchemical genius that he said: ‘We must widen the prison gates and enter them as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.’
According to Gandhi, satyagraha was a question of taking ‘suffering upon oneself in order to purify the other’.
In his book, Social and Political Thought of Gandhi, Gandhian scholar J Bandhopadhyaya defines satyagraha: ‘It presupposes, and tries to foster, a courage that transcends violence. It is the positive moral courage, which enables the satyagrahi to defy smilingly, without raising a finger, the grossest form of violence, to be exterminated physically but to remain unsubdued morally.’
What has remained etched in the minds of the whole world is the image of whole rows of Indians being bludgeoned and smashed by police batons without so much as a murmur of protest.
Writes Louis Fischer in his book, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi: ‘The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle butts. The Indians neither cringed nor complained nor retreated. That made England powerless and India invincible.’
Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian struggle for independence has inspired a number of leaders across the world, notably Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and has established the validity of the non-violent approach for all time.
Today, there are institutions across the world advocating this approach to attain goals. The Gujarat Vidyapeeth, a Gandhian university in Ahmedabad, offers M.Phil and PhDs in Science and Peace.
Says Dr Sadhana Vora, head of the department: ‘We teach approaches to peace, disarmament and human rights, environmental imbalance, armament and developmental problems all over the world.’
The Jain Vishwa Bharati at Ladnun in Rajasthan, set up by Acharya Tulsi, teaches courses in peace. Pierre Marchand, Nobel Peace Prize nominee for 2001, and founder of an NGO called Pargage in France, can testify to the transformative powers of Gandhian alchemy.
His life was once threatened by a guerrilla outfit in Bangladesh. He wrote to them and expressed a willingness to meet them alone and unarmed at a specific hotel at a specific time, and offer himself to be killed, but first they must explain the reason for his death.
Intrigued by his quixotic courage, a few members came to meet him. Why did he offer to be killed, they wanted to know. Marchand explained Gandhian principles of non-violence in a meeting that stretched from tea to dinner to the whole night.
The next day, the bandits departed, unable to kill one who had become their friend overnight. And for all we know, the seeds of peace Marchand sowed may have inspired them to leave the guerrilla band!
Jayaprakash Narayan, using the same principles, inspired the notorious dacoits of the Chambal valley to lay down their arms.
The Dalai Lama is currently the bearer of the non-violent mantle as he steadfastly sticks to inner transformation and the methods of dialogue and consensus to seek independence of his mountain kingdom, Tibet.
Looking now at the external method of procuring peace, one of the most popular alternatives to settling issues through force, is through dialogue and discussion.
Thich Nhat Hanh outlines seven principles through which the Buddhist monasteries settle disputes:
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disarming with love
Peace and tranquillity can be contagious. It begins with the seeds of forgiveness we sow in our own hearts.
When they take root and flower, the fragrance touches everyone around, transforming them. Lord Buddha would walk around radiating a serenity those around found irresistible.
Once the divine one was passing through a forest that was the abode of the murderer Angulimala. The latter was so called because around his neck hung a garland of fingers he’d chopped off from those he’d killed.
As he watched the Buddha advance towards him, his bravado melted, he was struck by the calm in the Buddha’s steady eyes.
Angulimala’s heart clouded over with remorse, at his deeds, at the vile life he’d been leading. He surrendered completely unto Buddha and the mass murderer went on to become one of the Buddha’s most respected disciples, finally experiencing the serenity that he never thought would be his.
The person who uses violence is not just; rather the just person learns and uses intelligence to distinguish right from wrong and to guide others, said the Buddha.
‘‘Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time, but ceases by love; this is an eternal truth.’’
The Buddha taught that one ought to give ungrudging love even to the man who foolishly does wrong to one. Such a man, hearing this about the Buddha, went to him and abused him.
The Buddha silently pitied his folly. When the man finished, the Buddha asked him to whom a present would belong if a person refused to accept it. The man replied that it will remain with the offerer.
‘‘The slanderer is like one who flings dust at another when the wind is contrary; the dust does but return on him who threw it. The virtuous man cannot be hurt, and the misery that the other would inflict comes back on himself,’’ the Buddha said to him.
‘‘Everyone trembles at punishment, everyone loves life; remember that you are like them, and do not kill nor cause slaughter.’’ Remember this and one can truly bring, as the Buddhist greeting goes: ‘‘Peace to all beings.’’
Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty came to the throne circa 268 B.C. and died approximately in 233 B.C.
After eight years of rule, he waged a fierce war against the kingdom of Kalinga, Orissa of today. But his victory brought him no joy. He was appalled at the carnage he had unleashed.
Over 100,000 had been killed and many more taken prisoners. Horrified by man’s capacity to wreak destruction, he renounced violence and turned to Buddhism.
Today, Ashoka is considered history’s most benevolent rulers. His inner revolution changed war cries to a symphony of humanism. He made serving his dharma.
In his efforts to propagate Buddhism, Ashoka built shrines and monasteries and inscribed Buddhist teachings on rocks and pillars in many places.
He sent missionaries to countries as remote as Greece and Egypt and himself undertook Dharma Yatras to preach the basic tenets of Buddhism: Dana (charity), Daya (compassion), Satyam (truth), Sancam (purity), Sadhuta (saintliness), Dama (self control), Kritajnata (gratitude), Dri Dhabhakita (steadfastness).
He undertook extensive public welfare projects—built roads and shelters for travellers, planted trees, provided improved medical aid even for animals and public sanitation. He also created a new position in his government to cater to women’s demands.
And while he himself believed in Buddhism, he respected all other religious thought. Ashoka’s Dharma technique was successful—the crime rate was low, peace and prosperity, courtesy, piety and charity prevailed in his kingdom.
How different is our century of regret, of mass murders and environmental crises, from Kalinga’s horrors? We’d do well to emulate the great king who when he could easily continue a policy of war, chose instead to conquer through peace.
Martin Luther King, Jr
weapon of affection
‘‘I refuse to accept the view… that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality,’’ was what Martin Luther King, Jr. firmly believed.
Growing up in America in the 1930s, King was no stranger to racial discrimination in schools, at lunch counters, and public facilities.
It was in an atmosphere of oppression and humiliation that he was raised, a witness to the schism in the promised democratic liberal values to all American citizens.
Blacks were denied the right to vote and many economic opportunities enjoyed by the whites. Once armed with a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston University, King encouraged his believers to participate in a non-violent mission to achieve those freedoms constitutionally guaranteed to each and every individual.
King believed that he had a social and moral responsibility to educate the nation about the evils of racism.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, he fought injustices with love, respect, and non-violent protest.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montegomery, Alabama, and refused to move to the back for a white passenger.
Her arrest rallied King and his followers to begin a surge of boycotts protesting racial discrimination.
His peace missions followed the footsteps of other peace heroes, particularly Gandhi, and used techniques of non-violent resistance, love, prayer, and speech as direct action against physical violence.
King taught love instead of hate, kindness instead of aggression, believing that the act of non-violent resistance displayed the protester’s courageous will. He believed in countering his oppressors with a higher conscience.
In 1964, at the young age of 35, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for wielding a weapon that in his own words ‘‘cuts without wounding and ennobles the man…’’
The Peace Pilgrim
On the first of January in 1953, a woman began walking in Los Angeles to spread her message of peace. Known only as the Peace Pilgrim, she carried with her few possessions: a comb, a folding toothbrush, a pen, and copies of her message.
It was the height of McCarthyism and the Korean War and the petitions she circulated read: ‘‘Let the killing in Korea cease! Then deal with this conflict according to the only principles which can solve it—overcome evil with good and falsehood with truth and hatred with love.’’
Throughout her pilgrimage, she relied on the kindness of others, fasting when no food was offered, sleeping outside when no shelter was provided, never accepting things that she did not need for her survival, money included.
She carried her message of peace over 25,000 miles. She spoke in churches and schools, for radio and television shows, and was written about in newspapers in numerous towns and cities across America.
She always emphasised the joys of living a simple life, and the fact that it was improper for one to have more than was necessary while others did not have enough.
A bizarre collision ended her life in 1981, yet her message lives on: ‘‘Be a sweet melody in the great orchestration, instead of a discordant note. The medicine this sick world needs is love.’’
The Dalai Lama
peace within, without
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has always been an advocate of the ‘human approach’ to world peace that begins at the most personal level—within yourself.
‘‘When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace
All we are saying is give peace a chance
Flower Power was at its peak, tie and dye were in vogue, Woodstock happened. Yes, we’re talking of the psychedelic 1960s.
Apart from the long-haired hippies and Timothy Leary’s famous one-liner (‘‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out’’), the turbulent ’60s symbolized an era of peace and love.
‘‘Peace is our religion and music is our food’’ was the recurring motif in the works of some of that era’s greatest musical names, such as:
Bob Dylan: Upheld as the spokesman of his generation, Dylan made a huge contribution in spreading the message of peace with songs such as Blowin’ in The Wind and The Times They Are A Changin’.
Today, these are the favourite anthems of peace marches.
John Lennon: The man who created the Beatles phenomenon was much more than a Beatle. Lennon created quite a stir on the political front in America with his infamous ‘Bed-In’ and ‘War is Over’ campaigns.
But this musician par excellence is best remembered for the immortal Imagine and Give Peace A Chance.
Joan Baez: She stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to lead a crowd of 2,50,000 in singing We Shall Overcome at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington DC.
A Vietnam War protestor and best known for her song Let Us Break Bread Together, Baez’s dulcet voice still champions the cause of peace.
Bob Marley: This Jamaican reggae singer with dreadlocks was awarded the UN Peace Medal in 1978. Marley’s Redemption Song and One Love/People Get Ready will always shine on as evocative paeans to freedom and peace.
Pete Seegar: Aged 81 today, Seegar hasn’t lost his passion for peace. He is a living musical legend, thanks to his lyrical songsWhere Have All The Flowers Gone and If I Had A Hammer.
Richie Havens: Havens sang the lead song in Woodstock ’69, called Freedom. Even now, he goes around preaching love and peace, inspiring a brand new generation of peaceniks.
– Sunit Bezbaroowa
A Unique Temple
The VGP Temple of World Peace in Chennai, built in 1998, is dedicated to the betterment of mankind by working towards the realization of world peace and religious harmony.
Located on the beachfront in the heart of Chennai, this symbol of the universal religion of love has become quite a draw in the city.
Its founder, Dr V.G. Santhosam, chairman of the VGP business group, has a story to tell about its origins. He hails from a Christian family of modest means.
In a small village, it was the only Roman Catholic family, where others were Hindus, Muslims and backward classes.
It was his mother who instilled in him respect for all religions.
Starting as a newspaper boy, and then entering hire-purchase business, he now heads a group of 20-odd companies engaged in diverse fields such as beach resorts, construction, finance, and education.
Seven years ago, he had a vision in which his mother appeared to pass on a light to him.
He consulted prominent people from different faiths about the message of the vision before deciding to build this temple of peace.
Built on three acres of land, the temple can accommodate 1,500 visitors at a time. There are 40 rooms where spiritual leaders can come and stay.
The temple has a unique meditation mandapam in a pyramid shape. The Gnana Oli (divine light) is worshipped three times a day to wish for world peace.
Passages from the Quran, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita are read during prayer sessions. Often Santhosam himself leads the service.
Religious functions of different faiths are celebrated here with equal fanfare.
The temple is unique, says Santhosam, as people of diverse religions and faiths can come together here on one platform.
Indeed, there are such congregations from time to time to propagate harmony among people.
Santhosam, now 66, plans to build branches of the temple in Tamil Nadu. One is already open in Tiruvannamalai.
As a part of its fifth anniversary celebrations, the temple is organising a seminar for world peace and religious harmony later this year.
Santhosam says that religion comes into play only after one is born.
Religious disharmony happens because everybody feels ‘my God is bigger than yours’.
It calls for an enlightened vision to discern that we are the same God’s creation.
Peace will come, he is certain. We just have to give its message to everybody on earth.