By K.H.J. Wijayadasa History of humanity the history of war The world today is in turmoil. Human beings are killing human beings for political, economic, ethnic or religious reasons. They are losing their sensitivity day by day. There is no wisdom in their decision making. Fear, anxiety, mistrust and conflict prevail in society. Uncertainty of [...]

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Buddhism as a catalyst for world peace


By K.H.J. Wijayadasa
History of humanity the history of war
The world today is in turmoil. Human beings are killing human beings for political, economic, ethnic or religious reasons. They are losing their sensitivity day by day. There is no wisdom in their decision making. Fear, anxiety, mistrust and conflict prevail in society. Uncertainty of life has become the order of the day. From the Buddhist point of view all these manifestations are due to insatiable desire, greed, hatred, conceit and ignorance. Consequently, peace of the individual, peace of society and peace of the world look like mere illusions; just a mirage after all!

A Buddha statue under a Bo tree in Anuradhapura: Peace is the essential teaching of Buddhism.

The world today has embarked on a path of destruction in which an unending build up of armaments holds sway. It is also a fact that all of us have experienced to a lesser or greater degree the horrors of warfare, the hatred that divides different peoples and the cruelty that degrades humanity. Not so long ago the world was divided on dogmatic and ideological differences. The capitalists and socialists were eternally at loggerheads unable to mix like oil and water. However, over the years common sense has prevailed over pig-headedness. Now, there is an intermingling of capitalist free enterprise and open economy with socialist equity and social justice.

The free, open and competitive world of today has generated a society where the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer. Poverty breeds jealousy, contempt, hatred, hopelessness and environmental destruction. Poverty does not automatically imply environmental degradation. It is exacerbated by inequitable distribution and lack of access to resources. The poor and environmental damage are often caught up in a downward spiral. People in poverty have no alternative other than to deplete resources and this further impoverishes them while causing irreparable harm to the environment. This downward spiral eventually nose dives leading to crime, violence and civil unrest as seen in several countries recently. Today, our understanding of human development is materialistic. It is said that there is enough to satisfy human need but not human greed. This makes it imperative that we change the direction of our thinking to higher realms of moral and spiritual upliftment.

Everyone born to this world has the right to utilize natural resources. This is common to humans as well as to all other living beings. But we find that people who have an abundance of resources not only utilize them to satisfy their selfish needs but also deprive other people engaged in the struggle for existence from having access to them. This has resulted in the eternal conflict between the haves and the have nots. Man by nature is peace loving and peaceful. However, various disparities, inequalities and injustices have driven man to the confrontational path. Unfortunately the history of humanity has been the history of war. Leaders of every society proclaim publicly that they aspire to live in peace and harmony. Yet, at the same time they prepare for war. To them scientific advancement is necessary for refining the instruments of war. But, they do not advocate that science should develop such tools that can bring organic oneness of the human family. Wrong perceptions about development have created a limited external world for human beings and most of their time is spent battling it.

Suffering is caused by mental anguish
Unending inner desires and the unceasing quest for power have led to substantial inequities and conflicts in the world. Turmoil and conflict within have engendered ill will among people, triggered angry outbursts and motivated selfish attainment of one’s own desires even at the cost of others agony. The greatest tragedies human society has faced including the two world wars are classic examples of how conflict within men triggered disastrous consequences for the entire humanity. Even the great Indian epic Mahabharata and the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey are symbols of man’s inner turmoil which surfaced as violent battles causing mayhem, death and destruction to millions of people.

It is universally accepted that every human being desires peace. Whenever one is faced with an inner conflict the remedy prescribed is to perform acts of morality or seek assistance from the sacred scriptures. But, the solution lies within. Delving within one realizes that the truth does not lie in outer support systems. The dawn of such wisdom about the truth of reality is the first step towards surfacing from the troubled waters of inner turmoil. In his quest for universal peace Shri Jawaharlal Nehru extolled the virtues enshrined in Buddhist teachings as follows. “We live in an age of conflict and war, of hatred, violence, all over the world. Never before has the need been greater for all of us to remember that immortal message of peace which Lord Buddha, the greatest and the noblest of the sons of India gave us, and you, and the world. That message of two thousand five hundred years ago is a living message today, enshrined in our hearts and we draw inspiration from it to face the troubles and difficulties that threaten to overwhelm us”.

Westerners assume that suffering is caused by the vagaries of the natural environment and the injustices prevalent in society. So they attempt to create a perfect natural environment, a perfect society with all the material benefits and all the securities that the government could provide for its citizens. And even though there has been a fair amount of success in those endeavours, the people are still very unhappy. They suffer enormously not so much because of poverty and hunger but through mental anguish and despair; a feeling of hopelessness.

There is peace where there is no self
Today, the common cry in the western world and for that matter all over the world is the cry for peace. There is a great desire to find peace of mind of the individual and also have world peace. Yet, peace is something that most people do not know anything about because you can only know peace when you know the true nature of your mind. The true nature of the mind is peaceful. If you let go of those evil conditionings you will find that inner peace.

Beggars line the road side: The eternal conflict between the haves and the have nots.

There is peace where there is no self; where there is no selfish desires, no delusions about oneself or belief in oneself as a memory or as a feeling or as a personality. There is peace where we can truly feel compassion. There will never be peace in any family, community, country or in the world as long as human beings remain immature, selfish, demanding, competitive and unreasonable. The UNESCO constitution of 1945, reflects this fundamental truth in its first clause as follows. “Since wars begin in the human minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed”. It is not possible to have any kind of peace; personal peace, communal peace, national peace or universal peace unless one is willing and able to access the path to peace. In this regard all over the world people are beginning to realise that there is something each one of us has to do by himself. We cannot expect governments to do that. We cannot wait for the Messiah or the Maithriya Buddha to come along and make us happy and grant peace. Each one of us must take on that responsibility and start living according to the Dhamma.

Impressions of the mind have the strongest influence on acts and deeds of human beings. The very first twin verses of the Dhammapada reflect the essence of this central teaching of the Buddha. “The mind precedes all phenomena, mind is supreme and everything is mind made. If one speaks or acts with an impure mind suffering follows him like the wheel following the hoof of the draught animal”. “The mind precedes all phenomena, mind is supreme and everything is mind made. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind happiness follows him like the shadow that never leaves”.

To establish world peace the individual is the key. For society to change for the better the individual has to change. When the entire forest has withered, each tree has to be nurtured, its roots cleared of disease and then watered. Then the entire forest will bloom again. Similarly, for the betterment of the world, each individual has to improve. Consequently, world peace will be established by the assimilation of the peace of mind of millions of individuals. Therefore inevitably peace of mind of the individual is the source of world peace.

Inner awareness; pathway to world peace
Peace is the essential teaching of Buddhism. As a means of practice, peace cultivated in a person’s mind is the source of an act of peace; hence a moral deed. Only a peaceful mind can originate a peaceful act. The Buddha’s teachings enable a person to keep his mind at peace and demand peace from others. Fellowship, amity and peaceful living have been the salient features of the Buddha’s teachings.

Lord Buddha was the first person in the world who proclaimed that one is indeed one’s own master. He said that one’s mind is the forerunner of one’s actions. Thus a person can acquire not only peace of mind but also a peaceful life by following the Buddhist teachings of meditation and moral cultivation. Morality keeps the world in balance and equilibrium. Those who think, speak and act morally always find the balance of equilibrium leading to peace and happiness. Those who act against this equilibrium create disturbances and unrest. Therefore, morality is indispensable for the realisation of peace on earth.

Buddhist teachings of the four Brahma Viharas and the five precepts are ways to peace. The word Brahma Viharas signify a sublime or divine state of the mind. The four Brahma Viharas are intended to trigger the cultivation of the four feelings of maithri or loving kindness, karuna or compassion, muditha or sympathetic joy and upeksha or equanimity. These four are the supreme states of consciousness. Brahma means supreme or the great. These are the supreme sources of the purification of the mind. The person who practises the four divine states of mind acquires internal peace and wishes for the welfare of all beings. A peaceful mind yields wisdom and all virtues.

The first sublime state is maithri or loving kindness not only for all mankind but for the whole of the animate creation. Maithri has been defined as the sincere will for the genuine welfare of all living beings without exception. Maithri is the most powerful force in the world but it is a neutral force. All war like nations could be prevailed upon to substitute spiritual maithri for destructive weapons of materialism and govern the world not with might and force but with right and love. Then only, will real peace and happiness ensue in the world.

The second sublime state is karuna or compassion which entails relieving all living beings of suffering. A truly compassionate person lives not for himself but for others. He seeks opportunities to serve others expecting nothing in return, not even gratitude. The feeling of violence disappears when the feeling of compassion arises. Compassion should be extended without limits towards all suffering and helpless creatures including dumb animals.

The third sublime virtue is muditha or sympathetic joy. Sympathetic joy destroys jealousy; its direct enemy. Jealousy pervades each and every facet of life. The poor are jealous of the rich; the uneducated are jealous of the educated. One religion is jealous of the other religion. Sympathetic joy or appreciative joy destroys jealousy; its direct enemy.

The fourth sublime state is upeksha or equanimity. It means the maintenance of a balanced mind when faced with the ups and downs of life. Loss and gain, fame and infamy, praise and blame, pain and happiness are the eight worldly conditions that affect all humanity. Most people are affected by favourable states and likewise perturbed when confronted by unfavourable states. The Buddha has said that only the wise person would stay unmoved, like a solid and firm rock exercising perfect equanimity. All these qualities convey a universal message. They point to the most satisfactory way of living in harmony with one’s fellow human beings, the path to true happiness; to everlasting world peace.

The first and foremost and the common and fundamental presentation of Buddhist ethics is represented by the five precepts or “Panca Sila”. Panca Sila is a unit of measurement which enables a person to evaluate his day to day acts of good or bad conduct. The five ingredients of the panca sila are to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, adultery and intoxication and gambling. They form the foundation for the development of loving kindness and compassion. The observance of panca sila enables communities and nations to live peacefully with mutual goodwill and friendship and appreciative understanding of each other. The five precepts are the compendium of Buddhist virtue. They are called the treasure truth. Their observance lays the foundation for success in morality. Leading a life in accordance with these precepts would bring forth the satisfaction, happiness, progress and peace in life. These precepts certainly help safe and contented living in this world which is otherwise riddled with hatred, instability and uncertainties. It is said that little drops of water make the mighty ocean. Likewise, millions of individuals fortified by morality would make the mighty fortress of world peace.

Other prerequisites of world peace
For the realisation of world peace, economic justice and social equity are essential. No one should be deprived of a fair standard of living. Schumacher has said that “to live peacefully we must live with a reasonable degree of equity or fairness, for it is unrealistic to think that in a communications rich world a billion or more persons will accept living in absolute poverty while another billion live in conspicuous excess. Only with greater fairness in consumption of the world’s resources can we live peacefully and sustainably as a human family.

Well documented scientific studies have now clearly established that each living creature has its place in the biosphere, whereby it plays its unique role in maintaining the collective ecological balance. The egalitarianism of right to life is therefore based on scientific realities such as the unity of the living world, its vast diversity and the complementary nature of its different components. Therefore, it is important that we marry economic growth and resource conservation with spiritual and religious values. The current global financial crisis that has changed the economic landscape of the entire world can be traced back to the fallacy of maximizing greed and over indulgence in the limited physical resources. The right to have humanizing work that is dignified and meaningful described in Buddhism as right livelihood or samma-ajiva should be adopted.

The biggest lacuna in our education system today, is the lack of peace education. We educate our children on language, literature, mathematics, science, technology and even sex but not on peace. All institutions and agencies responsible for education should teach ways and means of achieving peace of mind individually and living in peace collectively. Education should be restructured to give pride of place to the promotion of humanness and morality which would make humankind both righteous and peaceful. The word “manussa” or human being in its original sense means “one of noble heart”. Therefore, the right education system should endow students with noble hearts and make them peaceful and peace loving complete human beings.

(K.H.J Wijayadasa was a former secretary to President R Premadasa.)

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