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
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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