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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