Monday, 1 April 2013

The Buddhist Tradition of Peace, Compatibility and Conflict Resolution

Kartikeya Misra

The rise and spread of different sectarian religions, notably Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism and Vaishnavism radically altered the religious landscape and outlook of India. The Vedic pantheon and the sacrificial from of worship gradually recede into the shade, and the lineaments of Vedic gods become dimmer and dimmer many of them are lost in oblivion, some are transformed beyond recognition and the remaining few evoke at best memories of respect and reverence rather than spiritual fervour or religious enthusiasm.1 Embedded ideas die hard, and some of these received the worship of a gradually dwindling count of orthodox votaries, but largely ceased to be the hubs of spiritual and religious activity. The religious activity moved forward, from the abstract to the concrete.
The sixth century B.C.E. may be regarded as an important landmark in the history of Indian culture. The old Vedic religion had gradually ceased to be a strong living force since the Upanishads had initiated freedom of speculation into the fundamental problems of life. Discontent with the existing state of things, a passionate desire arose that, through earnest endeavour, could find out a new mode of salvation. It created a ferment of new ideas and philosophical principles and four religious sects arose as a result of thought currents in the contemporary period. Buddhism and Jainism, heterodox and revolutionary in character and Vaishnavism & Saivism, which were largely Reformist movements.2
This sixth century B.C.E. was indeed one of the most remarkable in all history. Every where-including China; men’s minds were displaying a new boldness. Everywhere they were waking up out of the traditions of kingships and priests and blood sacrifices and asking the most penetrative questions. It is as if the race had reached a stage of adolescence- after a childhood of 20,000 years.3
This is our story about a great teacher who came near to revolutionising the religious thought and feeling of all Asia. This was Gautama, the Buddha, who taught his doctrine at Varanasi in India about the same time that Isaiah was prophesying among the Jews and Heraclitus was deep in his speculative inquiries into the nature of things at Ephesus. Siddhartha Gautama, son of an aristocratic family which ruled a small district on the Himalayan slopes, married, hunted and went about in his sunny world of gardens, groves and irrigated rice-fields. And it was amidst this life a great discontent fell upon him. It was rather a conflict with the self, a sense of unhappiness of a fine brain that seeks employment.4 He realized the futility of the life he was leading, a holiday that had gone too long. The sense of disease, mortality and insecurity descended upon his mind, making him aware of the conflicts of human existence- the unsatisfactoriness of all happiness. 
The Indian mind has always been disposed to believe that power and knowledge may be obtained by extreme asceticism, fasting, self-torment and sleeplessness, and these ideas Gautama now put to test. He observed terrible penances and soon reached a physically enfeebled state, fell unconscious, but, on recovering, the preposterousness of these semi-magical ways was plain to him.5
In a way, Gautama had overcome the first conflict of the self, which is reflected in the starting-point of his teaching at the King’s Deer. Park, Benaras (Varanasi)- “Why am I not completely happy”. It was an introspective question, very different from the externalized, self forgetful curiosity of Thales and Heraclitus. The Indian teacher realized the brooding conflicts of the self, which he concentrated upon and sought to destroy. Sensuousness, egotistic immortality, personal success, worldliness and avarice - all these forms of desire had to be overcome in order to escape from the distresses and chagrins of life: Buddha, at this juncture, suggested a code of conduct- he insisted upon mental uprightness, right aims & speech, right conduct and livelihood. All this appeared as modes of conflict- resolution, starting with the inherent self that involved quickening of the conscience and an appeal to generous and self- forgetful ends. It is not meant to ‘explain’ the basis of all the things, rather it only means that even in the world of objects which we believe to be rather static, there is an incessant flux, structurance and im-permanence.6
Conflicts are as real as life itself and the resolution of these, contemplates Buddha, starts with compassion; all ‘all round benevolence’ (samantabhadra) and loving Kindness (maitri), and elimination of error (bhrama). As long as conflicts are resolved, it is not very important that intuition, insight, instruction or inspiration, individually or collectively, play the role of mediators. The assimilative character of Buddhism explains its initial success which is that Buddhism never called for a ‘rejection’ of old traditions and customs that had deep roots in social and intellectual life of an ancient, conservative society. It shall be not out of place to mention that Buddha, even in his worst moods, could not have imagined what ‘rejection’ literally means in the globalised modern India. ‘Rejection’, to Buddha called for severance of relationships, and which was the preserve of a hopeful Bodhisattva and certainly not lay-men. Coming back to India, ‘rejection’ means a hurriedly assembled revolutionary character, who besides suffering from pre-mature maturity, believes in rejection of elder advice, has independent ideas about everything and is self centered beyond belief. When will India be able to socially and culturally re-evolve itself? Still remains an interesting object of inquiry. Old age homes are proliferating, female infanticide and honour killing are regular social norms; mobile phones have multiplied, not education. ‘Looking good’, nowadays in India, is more important and crucial than ‘Thinking’ or ‘Contemplating’ good. Buddha, in all his holiness, would have been shocked, that’s certain.
He rather attempted to come forward with a new interpretation, give his own explanation for many of the established norms. It is never prudent to create, of participate in conflicts. There should be no overt assertiveness of belief and progress based of peace contains the maximum truth. Again conflict arises, to be resolved amicably following the simple path of toleration and socio-cultural assimilation. Buddhism and Brahmanism stood as opponents, both  in terms of followers  and ideological beliefs. A ‘synthesis’ was initiated when these two merged. The similarities between Buddhism and Brahmanism can be put to various factors, however it is most significant that after the appearance of Buddhism and other reform schools of thought the traditional religion of the Indians that had been handed down over centuries did not undergo any very significant changes. Buddhism took over, like Jainism, the traditional Indian rituals that had been sanctified by Brahmanism, and realistically, it was for this reason the Vedic and Brahmanic pantheon was not anathematised.
The earlier mentioned ‘synthesis’ can be explained thus; that Buddhism did not reject the traditional Indian divinities, but instead a place was allotted to each within the system, to be absorped or eventually phased out. And also some were never accorded a place, like concrete forms of worship and indestructibility of the soul. Buddhism, to Shcherbatskoy is, “Being ….. is a continuous process subjects so the law of causality; Not only is there nothing eternal, but there is no lasting being at all, hence there are no substances either spiritual or material”.7 Buddha regarded everything in the world as being in a state of constant change. The Dharmas, basically as particles man cannot cognize, are results of combinations of various material and spiritual elements – blue - prints of social cohesion and progress and does not over- emphasize on any one aspect. Let’s again go real, not spiritual. Nowadays, in our society, genuine personal examples go un-noticed, the gory ones are glorified by the media, social cohesion remains a distant dream in a multi-ethnic society and in the end, money is over- emphasized upon and, which has, undisputedly, become a universal solvent. The right combination is still sought after. It can be excavated if we are able to give proper structurance to the material and spiritual aspects of basic human existence.   
Buddha represented life in terms of suffering, which results from desires and striving after earthly existence and its allied pleasures, and which can be countered and held in positive equilibrium by subduing the selfish ego and surmounting the dualism of body and spirit.8
Questions like “What I am” or “What is the world”, catch the intellectual interest of man.9 What the world is, ultimately interests man only in so far as it related to himself. Relativity of frames of reference is undeniably essential. Even in the Upanishads, which in their grandeur come nearest to the Buddhist doctrine, our essence is defined as “being, bliss and thought”. In other words, positive thought, stable being and resultant bliss. Applying this doctrine to our times, is simply being aware of own realities, indigenous peculiar essence and the sum of consequence arising from these. Cognizing is no simple process, but a closer inspection resolves itself into sensation, perception and thinking- one follows the other. A deeper introspection, juxtaposed with our world of today, yields an array of truths- “eternal stillness”, “the subtle”, “the secure”, “free from affliction”, “free from incitement” and “the refuge”. From these considerations, it clearly follows that the exercise of reason, by means of self- reflection, analyses what is perceived and registers it in concepts & words, to be followed by logical conclusions later.
Buddha and his followers presented a blue- print of the desired society and the essential conduct of man in the formation of the former. In their wanderings among the villages of India, they were constantly in touch with the ordinary strata of Indian society, peasants & farmers, holding private conversations and society, and carving out solutions. This was based on the assumption that beyond the immediate aim of individual peace of mind, or probably in essential connection with it, lays the objective of the happiness of the whole of human society and still the highest objective of the happiness of all living being. Compassion, benevolence and sympathy towards grief eradicate the obstacles of malevolence, vanity, uncertainty and conflict.10
The Buddhist tradition stresses upon evolution and involution. Evolution can be termed as progression in steps but involution is something more interesting- It is an act of involvement in complicated themes, or rather, findings solutions to various ills by removing complications through active participation and arresting the process of societal degeneration. Buddha, in his teachings, laments about the degeneration of self - inordinate desire (greed), unnatural (sexual) conduct, unfilial conduct towards parents, unlawful passion (incestuousness), wrong theories and nonsensical chatter push the human soul from the cliff. If we indulge in contemporary introspection, we can deduce that all of the above- mentioned misconduct plagues the present society; western or Indian. Inordinate desire, of greed breeds corruption which affects the ordinary populace the most. Unnatural (homosexual) conduct is gaining acceptance on the awry ground of individual choice and preference. Gay and lesbian activists are demanding provisions of law in support of their preperences. Unfilial conduct towards parents is not only disrespect; it is also ignoring them and leaving them alone & insecure in the lust of greener economic pastures. Wrong theories about so many things, especially in India are destroying the fabric of co-existence and human thinking. What is more disturbing is that these theories still exist while we talk of a postmodern society, global partnership and eradication of terror. Socially, the birth of a girl child is looked upon with disdain, widows are unholy, khaps are presenting violent and bloody treatises on personal conduct, in the name of preserving socio – cultural values or norms of collective moral behavior     Nonsensical chatter is best demonstrated in the glue- like loyalty to cell- phones and the unneeded glorification of personal views on the Twitter. Summing-up, as in the case of India, we are making missiles, forming a large market catering so all sections, constructing factories of large scale- production and opening new centers of academic excellence, but at the same time, we also follow ancient and medieval codes of conduct. Whether are we really modern?, still remains and astute introspective question. It is difficult to perceive a respite. New conflicts are emerging and the older ones are getting glorified, not eradicated.
The preceding centuries have witnessed a sustained inquiry into the inner concreteness of a man’s life. Brilliant minds, research insights and material resources have dwelved deeper into the dimensions of the human situations.11 New philosophies have emerged and scientific investigation have followed. Everywhere life is being studied with a great corpus of theories strung upon each other, so that everything might be made theoretically transparent. Like the Buddha, Kierkegaard carried on an intense encounter with the reality. Hegel’s influence prompted the establishment of parity between real and that rational- people were being induced to establish their lives upon a conviction.
Frued, more recently, spent a life time searching for the springs of human behavior, the ‘Id’, which was largely seen as the creative- destructive monitor of human behavior. The western genius for bringing life under the dominion of rational structures finds place in the philosophy of David Hume- Hume’s investigations drove him conclusions that resemble those of Buddha. The ethical inquiry of both concluded that non- logical, non- rational factors play an over- riding role in all matters of fact and value and that the fundamental character of human nature is dynamic interpersonal exchange and human life that is based on inter subjectivity.12
Modern man lives in a changing world that prompts him to strive for a continuous search for new paradigms and refute prevailing beliefs. This absence of permanent furniture in the mind of modern man equips him for a novel interest in Buddhist doctrines that banishes all permanency in intellectual concerns, and provides a new basis for rapprochement with Buddhism.
It becomes apparent that a high level of social effectiveness and creativity in all aspects of civilization can be sustained only if the human personality can be safeguarded in some way against in some way against the subtle coercions of social machinery, routinized forms of existence, over stimulation and fragmentation of interests which gives rise to various uncreative defensive strategies in the individual. We can call this the problem of authenticity. Human personality has a built in threshold of tolerance towards depersonalizing pressures, and beyond this threshold the individual resorts to protective devices which aggravate with discontent, ignorance & frustration. Unseen pressures of social coercion are difficult to detect, and the individual is reduced to an appendage of the machine.
The unitary social matrix of the long human past has become confused by the interpenetration of different racial and ethnic groups. Individuals are being driven back upon themselves in search of guidance and direction. The depersonalizing pressures of a competitive industrial order are producing weak, defensive, emotionally dependent and insensitve people. Buddhism in this dimension has a special contribution to make- not as a doctrine, but as method of analysis aimed at the restoration of individual equilibrium and dignity.
The modern man lives in the shadow of inescapable tensions, giving rise to anxiety and compulsive behavior. If he attempts to admit anxiety into consciousness, he discovers that no rationally formulated meaning is sufficiently secure and comprehensive so as save him from despair. The converging streams of Buddhism and modern inquiry suggest that the most creative periods in a man’s life come when illusions fall away and anxiety comes within the range of conscious controls. Frued, perhaps, is very clear, “It is not repression that creates anxiety; it is there first and creates repression”. Buddha was deeply into man’s restless preoccupation from within. We live today across a vastly enlarged emotional grid where the ravages of anxiety are fast becoming intolerable burdens, the removal of which stresses upon intellect unclouded by passion.
Today, research in behavioural and cognitive sciences is flooding this labyrinth with light. Identity formation without individual consent leads to basic formlessness and abstractions. The quest now is for an identity deeper than the perchance fusion of passing identifications; an identity not corrupted by the ambiguity of insulated traditions and cultures.  
Buddha himself was clear in his rendering- Rebellions and conflicts, if they occur, re-establish two truths; one, is the right to decide his identity for himself and the second; that the identity so established is enduring enough to withstand the illusory, transient identifications of his times.
Here, at this juncture, a cloud of doubt settles on some areas, or rather those unanswered questions, whose final settlement still eludes us. “Can Buddhism help the West to bolster the individual under the depersonalizing pressures of an advance industrial order, can it deepen subjective sensitivity, can it strengthen the individual’s power to act out of the deepest streams of his own experience, to choose what he will be and do, instead of drifting with the tide.”13
Whatever the unanswered questions, the traditions of Buddhism cannot be understood as an interpretation of life, it is a practical path to follow; Buddhism is no teaching at all, it is a technique for dealing with anxiety producing tensions of life. And most importantly, discussion gets one nowhere at all, each must work out his own salvation with diligence.    
1.        Munshi K.M. Majundar R. C., The History and Culture of the Indian people – The Classical Age, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Time Ed. 1970, P 372
2.        Majumdar R. C., Ancient Indian, Motilal Banarsidas Reprint (Delhi) 1987, P 160.
3.        Wells, H. G., A Short History of the World, Penguin Books, (Editon, by V. K. Krishna Menon) England, Revised Spring Edition, 1938, P 100 - 104.
4.        Guenther V. Herbert, Philosophy & Psychology of the Abhidharma, Shambala, Berkeley & London, 1976, P 163.
5.        Warder A. K. Indian Buddhism, Motilal Banarsidas, second Revised Ed. Delhi, 1980, - P 426,438.
6.        Antonova K., Levin Bongard G, Kotovsky G., A History of India, Book 1, Progress Publishes, Moscow, 1979, P- 109.
7.        Shcherbatskoy F. I. The Theory of Knowledge and Logic, as presented in the Teachings of Later Buddhists, St. Petersburg Pub., 1909, P. – 117-118, (English Translation)
8.        Grimm George, The Doctrine of the Buddha – the Religion on Reason, Offizim  W. Drugulin, Liepzig, 192 P- 503, 508, 524.
9.        Ibid.
10.      Jacobson N.P…, Buddhism; the Religion of Analysis, George, Allen & Unwin , 1966, P 58,
11.      Ibid.
12.      Ibid.
13.      Ibid.
 Dr. Kartikeya Mishra
Dept. of Political Science,
University of Allahabad,