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Conflict Resolution:

The Buddha's way

"That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed; That ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war.

The above extract is from the Constitution of UNESCO, signed on 16 November 1945. For most westerners, the concept may appear as a novel proclamation in recent history. However, it was already enmeshed over 2,500 years ago in the teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha emphasised that the mind constitutes the foundation for both vice and virtue alike. The Buddha not only considered the material causes that bring about conflict, but emphasized and focussed his attention more on the psychological reasons of conflict. For example, in the Maha Nidana sutta the Buddha brings into light, in detail, many psychological causes leading to conflicts of varying intensity

At its core, Buddhism is a religion of peace. Dhammapada, makes this abundantly clear. Verse five of the text (of 423 verses) states: "Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal."

The Pali term for 'eternal law' here is Dhamma, or the Buddhist teachings. So, this verse on non-enmity has to do with a tenet of the Buddhist teaching that is fundamental, namely, peace and non-harm.

Ignorance

Buddhist teachings tell us that hatred and aversion spring from a fundamental ignorance. That ignorance is our mistaken notion of our own permanent, independent existence. In ignorance, we see ourselves as separate beings, unconnected with others by race, religion, caste, colour nationality and hundreds of other separations.

It is this basic ignorance that keeps us divided. Only by overcoming such ignorance will help to free us from the cellars we make for ourselves and for others.

In modern world, we all harbour prejudices of various sorts. There is no exception to this fact. We don't like certain colours or sounds; we're annoyed by certain circumstances, behaviour, or styles of doing things. We are harsh critics of others, and sometimes, even of ourselves. The practice of having likes and dislikes is taken for granted. Indeed, the ability to discriminate is considered an essential part of what makes us human beings. After all, human beings, unlike other living creatures, can form judgments and make choices. Today, free will and free choice are taken as fundamental rights of a citizen. So, one might ask, what's the problem?

The problem occurs when our own individual likes and dislikes become solidified and we take them as absolute truths. We form negative judgments about other human beings and about ourselves and these judgments become for us the lenses through which we view the world around us, and its inhabitants.

At this point, we have entered into the domain of prejudice of a quite deadly sort, the sort which causes harm and suffering both for ourselves and for others.

Ethnic and racial prejudices run rampant in today's global, multicultural society; our world is filled with conflict. Everywhere one looks, ancient hatreds are played out in the contemporary world with devastating consequences.

From the perspectives of Buddhist philosophy, harmony and conflict are two sides of the coin. Destructive conflicts result when they are in opposition and competitive disputes against each other. Coexistence and prosperity result when they cooperate with and tolerate each other. Buddhism advocates the teaching of dependent origination, according to which all phenomena in our lives and the universe arise and perish due to causes and conditions. All phenomena, be they natural, social, physical, as well as the biological and psychological phenomena of human beings, are filled with contradiction and conflict and, at the same time, compromise and coordination.

Wisdom

Based on Buddhist teaching, we should handle all matters with wisdom, and treat all people with compassion. Not creating troubles for oneself is wisdom; not causing harm to others is compassion.

To adjust one's attitude and look at the reality as it is, it is wisdom. To treat others with tolerance and empathy is compassion. With wisdom irritations do not arise; with compassion one will have no enemy.

Based on our perceptions, it is obvious that our feelings about contradiction and conflict, judgement about evil and injustice can all be subjective and differ from one person to the other, from place to place, and from one time period to the other.

Once one's attitude and viewpoint are adjusted, one's anger and sense of injustice will dissolve. With inner peace, there will be happiness and peace. Otherwise, while seeking satisfaction from the justice from the social environment, fairness from the different peoples and groups will yield some results, there will still be external conflicts and contradictions within oneself.

Due to differences in time and space and numerous other factors, it is impossible to attain absolute equality in economic life and social status for every individual or every ethnic group.

The only thing we can do to narrow the disparity between the rich and the poor and to lessen various forms of conflicts is to encourage those who are more affluent or more capable to commit more charitable acts for the humankind. We can also encourage those who are impoverished to acquire knowledge and skills to improve one's lot and to enjoy the wealth of one's inner peace.

Everybody wishes to live in peace. They talk of it publicly. Yet how far they are willing to go in that direction is a question. Buddhism cites craving as the root-cause for this. When personal benefits supersede that of the common, people got tempted sometimes to take up arms in competition.

Then the unarmed will have to do the same thing in defence. Thus conflicts begun at micro level could sometimes develop into genocidal wars.

Buddhism gives mental peace the pride of place. Peace can be established within oneself first, and then extended to the family. To this end, one should get rid of greed, ill-will and ignorance.

Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "We have only two choices: to peacefully coexist, or to destroy ourselves." Each and every day, we ourselves encounter - and generate - prejudicial attitudes and behaviours. If we are ultimately to survive at all on this tiny planet that is our mutual home, we must learn to appreciate, and to value, each other as human beings and thus to live together in peace. While a general disarming of all nation states would seem the ideal, this process cannot be begun until we have first disarmed our own, individual hearts.

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