The Buddhist Teaching For Peace

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The Buddhist Teaching For Peace

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Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BCE) was a prince of the Sakya clan in the southern regions of modern day Nepal. After giving up his throne and meditating on the vicissitudes of life and death he attained a state of Enlightenment. From then on, he began to teach the Buddhist doctrine in India.

Broadly speaking, Buddhism is not only areligion but is also a practical philosophy and a universal ethical guide because it is concerned not only spiritual faith but also with the cultivation of universal virtues such as peace, compassion and joy. People from different cultures, backgrounds and religions can find for themselves the most suitable way of practicing it in order to attain better lives for themselves.

Basics of Buddhism

The Buddhist teaching (Dharma) is based on the laws of the universe and of action (Karma). These operate eternally and in tandem helping us to grasp the real nature of life. To approach these laws, we need to explore two things: namely sufferings and a means of bringing about the end of suffering. In order to explain these laws, the Buddha provides us with two theories: the Four Noble Truths and the Dependent Origination.

The Four Noble Truths

These Truths have four parts and each of them is a step to follow, namely:

Suffering is a fact of life.

Humans suffer birth, aging, sickness and death. Other forms of sufferings include sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

There are three basic kinds of sufferings. The first deals with the physical and mental pain and may simply be perceived as distress and uneasiness. The second is connected to the suffering that is produced by change: for example, a happy state may suddenly change into a sorrowful one. The most distinctive feature of the Buddha´s teaching is the third samsara, meaning “he flows into himself” or “the realm of continuous going“. Buddhists believe that one continues to be born and re-born in various realms in human, animal or other form. The form depends entirely on causal karma.

Our delusions of self are the cause of our suffering.

Each human being consists of several selves that play various roles. The basic conflict in the self-concept may reveal itself via behaviour and our attachment to what we desire or hate is of primary importance. The root cause of suffering is, therefore, all types of desire and hatred. Due to the fundamental darkness, we come to believe that the self is permanent, and that self- concern and the conceit of „I“ are the most valuable things.

Moreover, we assume that we are best at deciding everything. Because of our attached identities and our limited faculties, we fail to see the world as it really is and to perceive the true nature of life: instead, we merely see it as we wish it were. As the result, these delusional tendencies, we are not always truly happy because the reality often contradicts our expectation of it; thus ego fixation is at the heart of conflict.

The way to cease our suffering is to extinguish our attachment To move away from delusional ideas, we have to grasp the true nature of things as well as the nature of ourselves. Buddhists consider this to be the ultimate human goal and refer to it as an attaining of a state of liberation or awakening, which is often called Nirvana, a concept of paradise or lasting peace.

Some Western scholars have mistakenly translated as state of extinction; it should rather be seen as a state of constant happiness after becoming a fully awakened Buddha.

There is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

It is necessary to cultivate an enlightened attitude. The last step towards overcoming human sufferings is practicing various methods of meditation; and more particularly, following the Eightfold Path. This path consists of having the correct understanding, the correct intentions, the correct speech, performing the correct action, pursuing the correct livelihood, making the correct effort, mindfulness and right concentration. Finally, only a fully awakened Buddha has the capacity to be free from suffering.

Dependent Origination

This term is an English translation of the Sanskrit word pratiya- samutpada. It refers to a situation in which the emergence and existence of certain phenomena  de-pends on other phenomena. It is an on-going story of the various causes and conditions of all phenomena. This evolving process explains why a new phenomenon completes the rise of a given phenomenon.

The logic behind the theory of complementarity is that the reality of the world is characterised by an inter-dependent timeless universe of interrelated causes and effects. Buddhists believe that there are four realms: human beings, animals, nature and cosmic space. They also believe that we are reciprocally interwoven with the existence of everything else. In other words, everything (including sentient and insentient beings) exists in relation to others and nothing can exist on its own.

The process of Buddhist analysis is used to look more deeply into ways of reuniting all of the interrelated spaces. As human being, we do not divide the world in which we live equally; rather we extend our human realm to include everybody in the human space, then downward to non-human nature, backwards and forwards in the time and through the principle of karma and rebirth. The anatta doctrine (no-self) is a means of perceiving this wisdom. Metaphorically, this means there is that of me in everybody else and that of everybody else in me. I am a process that is continuous with others. This is a way of cultivating our virtues in order to reunite this cosmic relationship.

The Meanings of Peace

To achieve perfect enlightenment, it is necessary to practice the Four Noble Truths and the Dependent Origination. The heart of this practice is to generate loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity as our moral faculties. Finally, a practitioner overcomes mental defilement and reaches a state of inner peace. Buddha described this as the  final destination of this spiritual journey.

In early Buddhist texts his teaching is often quoted as follows:

“All composite things are impermanent
All defiled things are unsatisfactory
All phenomena are empty of inherent existence Nirvara is peace.”

The Nirvara (paradise) illustrated here is a metaphor for the inner peace of a awakened practitioner. In fact, Buddhism highlights peace theory rather than the state of individual enlightenment

The original concept of Buddhist peace may be found in Sanskrit texts. The words samnipata, samgri and samgama refer to this peace. The root of these words is samvii, meaning that people do things together in the form a collective action. This means that peace is not only a sense of individual concern and responsibility for one´s own future, but is also an altruistic concern for the wellbeing of others.

Thus, there is no differentiation between the concepts of negative and positive peace, because both notions of peace serve the same ultimate goal. Put simply, peacemaking efforts involve not only the diplomatic services, but should also be a universal daily preoc-cupation for everybody. Most significantly, each human being and each level of the system has to cultivate moral virtues for this undertaking.

At this point, the Buddhists perspective explores the causes of violence at the level of human structures via the theories of conflict and peaceful resolution.

Theory of Conflict

Buddhist teachings distinguish internal and external domains of conflict. The former refers to the state of mind of a human individual. Thus a decisional dilemma, which reflects the deeper conflict of the self-concept, exists. The latter is tied to the contradictory situation of people in social relationships for which a solution is also necessary.

Whenever an individual or social field of conflict becomes problematic, a practitioner is required to first ask the question:”Is it something wrong with me?“ and “What is going on?“. The practitioner begins with a degree of self-examination identifying the cause and the possible interplay of these variables before determining the consequences.

Prior to exploring the structural cause of a conflict, the practitioner uncovers the elements that emerge at personal and social level.

Firstly, at the personal level, the key issues include prejudice, subjective views and preferences. These are inescapably associated with our human characteristics. It is often impossible to explain why people prefer certain foods, music and colours, and or become extremely annoyed by criticism. Without self-examina-tion, people tend to base most of their everyday choices on them not being significantly harmful to anyone else. This is just an individual decision in the preference-making process.

Secondly, the longing for home, affection, trust, wealth and peace is understandable, as is the need for in-creased material comfort (food, fashion, furniture and housing) and for better living (health, distinguished performance and social prestige) is rightly so. People are bound to deal with the varieties of need and desire all their lives as change in behaviour is a constant. Due to the changing living conditions, needs and desires do not remain the same over time.

However, it is difficult for people to rationally determine their desires and easy for them to go beyond the limi-tation of satisfying a need.

More substantively, people cannot see that the deeper layer of cause lies elsewhere; the difficulties with values  come from fear, dislike, resentment, anger and hate. A perception could possibly be unclear and biased because an event today is not the same as it was yesterday. They are symptoms of misperceptions. As long as we do not have the power to see ourselves, a decisional dilemma exists.

In order to overcome this, we need to reconsider our desires, cravings, greed, and attachments with critical care. This raises the following questions:

How does one alter one´s demands and acquire new expectations? How does one discover that one´s existing self-concept is inadequate?

At the social level, the consequences are not different, although the individual state of being that is entangled with social tension cannot be accurately predefined; society is filled with conflict and the causes thereof are varied: pleasure, property, economic dominance and political superiority. However, the nature of its external contradictions stems from our internal desires, as illustrated above.

In other words, the sense of having more possession is the most significant; what concerns us is doing the utmost to fulfill our desires without balancing the interests of others, although the tension doesn’t allow us to do so.

The key source of external conflict is that we can no longer control the inner contradictions and therefore externalise them. The result is harm to others, both physically and verbally. It is inevitable that a conflict takes places and that violence is used to defend conflicting interests. Therefore, what is required in order to reduce conflict?

The Way to a Peaceful Solution

The way forward requires inner reflection because  the  Buddhists begin to make peace within by themselves  first. The primary aim for the practice is to guard the mind carefully in order to develop wisdom and increase mindfulness. This is a prerequisite for a more compassionate world.

Looking back on his contemplative practice, the Buddha tells us that he has also difficulty when faced with conflicting views and a variety of opinions.

As a first step, people often argue around an issue, then focus on a particular concern before finally coming to conclusion that their interests must be protected at all costs. This is a question of “I” that thinks, dreams, talks, feels and believes, but the “I“ that no one knows fully. Thus, how we see ourselves determines what we do, how we react and how we behave. This ego centric preoccupation is the reason that we are incapable of choosing a course of action more accurately than an outsider may reasonably expect.

As discussed above, the conceptual basics of Buddhist teachings facilitate the cultivation of the moral faculties required for peace. Among its central values are those known as the Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination and the Noble Eightfold Path; they are the guidelines for inner reflection.

Of course, a practitioner does not only work on intellectual concepts. He needs more for his daily practices than contemplation. For this purpose, the Buddha suggested a guideline and called it the Five Precepts. These precepts are a list of things that we ought not to do, such as taking life, stealing, adultery, lying and consuming intoxicating drinks.

Moreover, the Buddha prescribes a list of actions that are moral obligations. It consists of five deeds: we should develop compassion, not to sell weapons or liquor, control our sexual desires, tell the truth, and reduce carelessness and increase the mindfulness.

Both the negative and the positive list outline prelimi-nary practices for beginners. However, a self-direction is not a helpful method to solving social conflict because the nature such conflict is more complex: thus a practitioner has to reach an under-standing of and co-operation with others. In Buddhist terminology, a practitioner should approach others in a spirit of social cordiality.

The Buddha tells us that the reasons for discord and strife in the social life are varied and that there are six typical features of disputes, as follows: people are often angry and resentful contemptuous and insolent envious and miserly deceitful and fraudulent; have evil wishes and wrong views and finally they adhere to their own views.

The list is not completed but it is widely believed that these are the main factors leading to social conflict. The Buddhist emphasis is on the Six Principles of Cordiality as a self-training method for social life. The wise thing to do is to put it into practice in order to avoid harming others.

In the practice of the Six Principles of Cordiality one generate love, respect, cohesion, non-dispute, concord, and unity. More specifically, person engages incaring behaviour,rather than only seeking achievement, power, and status. One should maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness toward one´s companions, maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness, maintains mental acts of loving-kindness, enjoys things in common without reservation, have unbroken virtues and finally possesses  a Right and Noble View in accordance with that of one´s compa-nions.

These principles are aimed at boosting pro-social motivation and at enhancing affective faculties like attention, compassion, empathy, understanding and cooperation. In so doing, a participant in the social conflict can be motivated by contributing to the develop-ment of a more peaceful society.


1.Buddhists ´contributions to the social peace have not always been successful. Buddhism will still have difficulty thinking and acting in terms of world peace because it does not cover a wide range of modern economic and political issues. World politics does not interest the monks; instead they pay more time to charity work and to going on retreat.

Behind the closed doors of the temples the monks and nuns care more about the monastic rule of self-contem-plation than they do to the techniques of the newly emerging field of global challenges. They have been often criticised for being pessimistic regarding for peace activism. Most peace researchers have drawn these negative lessons from Buddhists societies in Sri Lanka,  Myanmar and Thailand. Consequently, it is impossible to develop a vision of world peace from a Buddhists perspective.

2.By contrast, some argue that the positive impact of Buddhist ethics is far reaching because the Buddhist notion of peace aims to protect living beings from harm and to stop them from harming each other.

This begins with the individual battle for mind and heart. This type of thinking is a reasoning process that involves looking more deeply into self-examination, the concept of conflict management and communication within a small group. As the personal and social levels interact more symbiotically with each other, individual tranquility and social harmony could be attained. Some Western scholars have described this as “small is beautiful“. Face to face cordiality has often been referred as to the distinctive feature of traditional Asian society.

Evidently, the community life of Sangha (ordained monks and nuns) was a harmonious and exemplary setting for this kind of conflict resolution. After the Buddha passed away, the Buddhist Congregations tended to codify his teaching discourses systematically.

In three consecutive conferences in Rajagriha, Vaisali and Patna in India their efforts were unsuccessful because of the diversity and a lack  of a common approach to interpretation. Although some respectable scholars insisted on their own ways of teaching, others showed their openness and tolerance in the spirit of cordiality.

There were some Buddhist justifications of, and involvement in violence. In the early Buddhist texts, the Buddha was once said to have been engaged in politics. He became involved in conflict resolution between the Sakiya and the Koliya. The dispute concerned the use of water resources between two territories. With his mediating power, the Buddha‘s way of resolution was well respected. As a result, both conflicting parties agreed to desist from the misuse of water and the war came to an end.

In addition, there were so many historical examples of monks serving as top advisers to the king when negotiating the end to a war. In Viet Nam the involvement of Van Hanh Zen Master of political matters in the Ly dynasty (1009-1225) is a well-known example of the patriotism of Vietnamese Buddhists.

Another example of the legal effect of Buddhist teaching has been found in Japan. In the year 604 CE, the Buddhist Prince Shotoku adopted the principles of Buddhist cordiality in the Japanese constitution. Most of Japanese legal scholars contend that it was the first Japanese constitution that incorporated Buddhist democratic thinking and procedures.

In 20th century Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese Buddhists played not only the main role in protecting Buddhism during the civil war but also rebuilding the country in post- conflict. Over 600 monks engaged in the post-conflict mediation among the war-torn villages. By so doing, all the participants shared the Buddhist perceptions regarding the war and peace from the Buddhists perspective.

The same case was seen in the post-war reconstruction of Japan. The Soka Gakkai was one of the most successful Buddhist mass movements in peace education. Its objective was to motivate people to learn to work in the Buddhist harmony, not to repeat the mistake of the past and to ensure the re-building the country and the world as an interdependent network.

Today, the ethnic conflicts, disputes over self-determination and violent power struggles between the domestic groups have increased around the world. Most dramatically, terrorist activities are expanding to the four corners of the earth.

Given this, most peace researchers come to believe that the Buddhist perspective is a rich resource for global peace studies and practices. Five typical reasons are given as follows

Firstly, Buddhism has the cultural power to motivate and to hold people morally responsible for achieving peaceful ideals. Buddhism creates a common basis of values, virtues, rights and responsibilities for everyone in society by promoting a culture of non-violence, respect for others, solidarity and tolerance.

Whatever path one might take, individually or socially, people can develop the skillful means of Buddhist in awakening in achieving this insight as a new paradigm for peace. Therefore, peace can be seen as the fruit of the individual efforts as well as of collective actions.

Secondly, the next stage of this do-it-yourself thinking is that people will live in the same world space. This means that we will all have the same ethical budget and the same Buddhahood:the Buddha´s nature is in each of us and in every living thing. This principle is not only to be used in monasticism but for everyone on the global scale.

As we value this quality, we will do our utmost to practice it. This symbiotic thinking could easily be applied to the question of environmental protection and disarmament. The interconnectedness of the world is a common reason that self-examination, self- realisation and self-improvement are necessary as they endorses the more robust concept of desiring to live in a world where all people wish for peace and prosperity. 39

Thirdly, the theory of harmonious coexistence leads to an approach towards the holistic framework of peace. All of the four realms of life, as discussed above, are globally interrelated. People need to connect to all the boundaries of these areas. In fact, a holistic orientation concerning peace research could not be as easily applied to the wide range of the global scope as expected. The difficulty of dealing with empirical reality requires various adjustments.

Fourthly, it is not easyto guarantee that the designof the fundamental model of peace studies will succeed. According to Buddhism thought, the four spheres interact and change over  time. Such an effort is as difficult to achieve as it is desirable because human behaviour changes constantly.

Thus, self-examination is merely a preparation for an insight into peace. People must see themselves in relation to the environment, and must develop his concern in response to what they see around them. An individual must broaden his or her perception of peace and of him- or herself. That is to say individual effort is relative and is in relation to certain local conditions. It is important to realise that this is not enough because a mutual consensus is needed. The desire for peace must be dynamic. Therefore, individual striving must be continuous and a final state of peace is not to be expected.40

Fifthly and finally, Buddhist teaching gives us a strong basis for peace education as it concerns ultimate goals and peaceful means. The self-concept of examination, of expectation, the culture of non- violence, respect for others, solidarity and tolerance are necessary for this performance. Working towards peace means that two basic things are required: peace education and the realisation of peaceful methods.

After all, the Buddhist vision values peace both intrin-sically and instrumentally. By associating with the Buddhists, people around the world may feel powerful enough to deal with the contemporary world issues like interpersonal relations, animal welfare, human rights and the environmental protections, as well as with strategy of dialogue among religions and nations.

Note: This paper is a part of my research paper presented at the International Conference of Peace VESAK 2014, Ninh Bình Việt Nam.

For further reading: Con đường dẫn đến hoà bình thế giới, The Way to World Peace
Con Đường Dẫn Đến Hòa Bình Thế Giới

Gủi hàng từ MỸ về VIỆT NAM
Gủi hàng từ MỸ về VIỆT NAM
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