Tuning In to Self-reflection for Peace’s Sake (Times of India, Oct. 29, 2022)
As the Ukrainian crisis escalates with dark clouds looming over the world, the UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace was held on September 6, 2022, in New York. Building the Culture of Peace has been a priority theme for the UN since 2000, based on the lessons learned from the last century beset by war and violence.
With armed conflict still continuing in different parts of the world, there is no doubt that the road ahead is long and winding. But we must make further efforts to turn around the situation. A breakthrough could be made by turning our gaze to the conditions of those affected by conflict and working together to eliminate existing and emerging threats to peace.
Here, I would like to cite an episode from the life of Gautama Buddha to illustrate the importance of such a perspective. Living in ancient India, he often witnessed violent confrontations over resources. When two tribal groups, one of which is considered to have been related to his family line, were in conflict over water, instead of focusing on their identities or confrontation, he turned his attention to the actual conditions in which people on both sides were suffering from a desperate shortage of water, saying that they were like fish writhing in shallow water.
He identified what he considered to be the essence of the problem: “I perceived a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.” Their minds were clouded, and they could not recognize that the other group shared their concerns over the lack of water or the constant fear of being attacked and overrun.
The tensions over water resources probably escalated because the members of both groups felt compelled to protect the lives of their loved ones and community. Once the minds of the conflicting groups are dominated by fear, however, there is not much that can stop tragedy from unfolding. The Buddha pointed out, “Look at those who fight, ready to kill. Fear arises from taking up arms and preparing to strike.”
Conflicts today remain the same in their essential nature. It is, therefore, crucially important to direct our attention to the plight of those affected most severely by lingering conflict and work to earnestly seek ways to remove their suffering.
As many people have understood through their experience of the pandemic, the terrible grief of suddenly losing family members is the same for people in any country, and such tragedies are in essence the same.
The Indian economist Amartya Sen has been a leading advocate of the idea that “the plurality of our identities” can play a key role in helping people resist the pull of mass psychology and the incitements to violence that provoke conflict.
In order to help the culture of peace take root the world over, it is necessary to patiently counteract any incidence of hatred and confrontation that may arise.
We are, by virtue of being human, endowed with the tools that we need for this pursuit: the tuning fork of self-reflection with which to imagine the pain of others as if it were our own; the bridge of dialogue over which to reach out to anyone, anywhere; and the shovel and hoe of friendship with which to cultivate even the most barren and desolate of wastelands.
Even if there are those within another group who are oriented toward violence and intolerance, the spiral of hatred is only accelerated when we view that entire group as our enemy. What we need to do is to unite across our differences to establish clear and universal opposition to all acts of intolerance or violence.