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Home : Essays : Buddhism & Peace

Buddhism and Peace

Dr. P.K. Sundaram
Prof. of Philosophy, University of Madras

The Buddha's feeling of torment was concerning the malady of mankind. This malady afflicts it in three directions:

  1. Man versus nature
  2. Man versus Man
  3. Man versus himself

The last is the first logically in so far as, once this predicament is settled, the other battles are automatically won. Buddhist ethics have come to be known as psychological only for this reason. The innermost depths of human personality are measured and the forces molding the thoughts and attitudes are laid bare by Buddhism so that moral behaviour could be mastered and perfected.

Knowledge and will are the twin sides of the same coin. False knowledge and perverse will are the sources of pain and suffering. Mind must be trained both in the matter of intuiting the truth and of the conquering the passions.

Impermanence is built into the very structure of the world. Change is the very stuff of reality. Nothing is an exception to this law. Holding onto things under the delusion that things will endure causes suffering when they pass away in spite of one's best wishes and efforts. Right knowledge and belief in impermanence save us from the delusion of permanence and consequent despair.

One direct consequence of such a knowledge is the practical outlook of compassion and tolerance. If suffering is due to false vision, the immediate task is to remove it by right understanding. But Buddha's concern was not merely this, but one of attending on the sufferers afflicted by the sorrow which is but a consequence, not the cause.

Before the radical cure could be administered, the immediate and urgent need of the moment is to alleviate the sore pain. Thus compassion takes precedence over contemplation.

Here the conflict of man against himself is resolved by the knowledge that his individuality is built by the concatenation of mental and bodily predicates and passes away when the elements break away and disintegrate. The other side of this knowledge is the will which is now chastened by acts of compassion and charity. Misery inwardly ceases. This is the well known Prajha and Mahakaruna. While Prajha is complete wisdom about the total emptiness of existence. Mahakaruna is the widest charity which comprehends all creatures under its umbrella. It has no idea of profit or respect as a return. It is exercised for its own dear sake.

Aryadeva says that it is thoroughly regardless of recompense: nalabha-satkara pratyupakaradi lipsaya.

The Mahayana Buddhists have erected this Karuna on the great pedestal of the unity of all things. Creatures are enveloped and gathered into a oneness. Buddhahood is not individual, but universal.

Atmanasca paresanica samata

The truth lies in oneself totally and completely. The spiritual seeker says: "l will transform myself, before I begin to transform others."

Sva cittani varayisyami

To contemplate changing the world before one corrects himself is like carpeting the whole earth to avoid the thorns. The better method will be to wear shoes.

Such a person as self-possessed and self-cultured alone will be able to wipe the tragic tears of the poor and the helpless. Such a person alone will be competent to generate happiness all around and weed out the seeds of pain.

jagad ananda bijasya duhkha ausadha-syach

The Bodhi-sattvas in Buddhism are the exalted persons who have established this rapport with all, pledging themselves to the service of the lonely and the lowly and the lost. He sacrifices all for the common welfare. His entire being is placed at the alter of Society to be used as it would. "Let this body of mine be dedicated to the service of others."

ayam eva Kayah Sarvasattvanani Kinkaraniyesu Ksapayitavyah

Maitri and Karuna (friendliness and charity) are the two pillars on which Buddhism has been raised.

The profound doctrine of love and non-violence thus emerges from the bosom of Buddhist doctrine. Sacrifice, non-aggression, non-attachment, non-possession, peace, not war will alone reduce the quantum of suffering.

Science and technology have given us mastery of the forces of nature where they are hostile and dangerous. There is no doubt that these two faculties of knowledge have reduced suffering on a mass scale, particularly when the suffering is caused by the brute nature like flood and epidemic, poverty and disease, viruses and germs. Pain is mercifully subdued by drugs, diseases are nipped in the bud by preventive and curative medicines. People are on the whole healthier and hence happier. There is a greater awareness today about the secrets of existence and about the oneness of humanity, thanks to the technology of communication.

Crimes are detected, culprits brought to books, justice dispensed. But these are only done in individual cases.

On the other hand, the same technology has generated and diffused powerful engines of destruction. It has a feedback of mistrust and suspicion, self-centredness and aggression. The misery of warfare with conventional weapons is nightmarish enough. But with unconventional nuclear warfare, the catastrophe will he total. The monstrosities of modern war disfigure entire civilizations. It seems then that what we gained at the roundabouts we are losing at the swing. Science stands bedevilled by its own destructive power. Its strength has become its weakness.

This plight has arisen because man has not heeded to the message of self-mastery delivered by Buddhism: nor has he listened to the sermon of the essential oneness of all beings. Modern man has failed on both counts of knowledge and will. Avalokitesvara looking down upon this state of affairs is still shedding tears.