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CULTURE OF PEACE
Buddhist Doctrine and the Culture of Peace
Peace is the essential teaching of Buddhism. As the means of practice, peace cultivated in a person’s mind is a source of an act of peace and a moral deed. Only a peaceful mind can originate a peaceful act. Many passages of the Buddhist teachings encourage a person to keep his/her mind in peace and demand peace from others. A passage here may illustrate the point:
Like Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa, the Buddhist loving-kindness (metta) and altruistic practices should be cultivated internally. It is not proved to exist by means of a helpful act, white or yellow clothing, a smiling face, and so on. It is essentially the sincerity and purity of a person’s heart. It cannot exist without a peaceful mind.
A peaceful mind yields wisdom and all virtues. Thus, in Buddhism, meditation is a crucial means to attain a peaceful mind. The principle of meditation is the training of mindfulness. Whenever we pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds, we are conscious of ourselves and are aware of our movements. Being aware of our own selves, we feel ashamed of doing evil and thus do not let ourselves go wrong.
There are many places in Thailand which offer free courses in meditation to Thais and foreigners. For example, the meditation teaching at the Non Pah Pong Monastery and meditation lectures and training at the World Meditation of Buddhists headquarters are well known to a considerable number of meditators.
In the view of Ajahn Chah, the former abbot of the Non Pah Pong Monastery, meditation practices are the cultivation of mindfulness and insight. First, we must find a meditation subject which is suitable to our particular tendencies, a way of practice which is right for our character. For example, going over and over the parts of the body: hair of the head, of the body, nails, teeth, and skin, can be very calming. The mind can become very peaceful from this practice. If contemplating these five things leads to calm, it is because they are appropriate objects for contemplation according to our tendencies. Whatever we find to be appropriate in this way, we can consider to be our practice and use it to subdue defilements.
If such practice does not work, we may try again with another meditation subject, e.g. the recollection of death. For those who still have strong greed, aversion, and delusion, it is useful to take this subject of personal death for meditation. We shall see that everybody must die some day. Developing this practice, we find that an attitude of dispassion arises. The more we practise, the more we find peace. This is because it is a suitable and appropriate practice for us.
According to the Buddhist Scriptures, the tipitaka, the Buddha searched for peace and enlightenment in the forest. Thus, it is a tradition and preference for monks to go to the forest and live in solitude. There they practise meditation and find peace in their ascetic lives. In addition, the Buddhist discipline prescribes that monks should live not too close to and not too far from a village so that they can live a peaceful life, find some food, and preach the doctrine to lay people.
Since, in Buddhism, the meditation subject can be anything suitable for each meditator, the meditation practice is beneficial to all, even to non-Buddhists. It is the universal way of peace. Christians may concentrate on Jesus as their meditation subject. Hindus may meditate on Shiva or Vishnu and Muslims on Allah. If all human beings practise meditation everyday, the world will be free from wars.
Apart from being the means of practice, peace is also the goal and the ideal of Buddhist life. The final goal of Buddhist moral practices is the attainment of peace both worldly and other-worldly. The goal of the monastic life is nibbana or the ultimate peace as follows:
In order to form the habit of peace offering, Buddhists are taught to diffuse loving-kindness to all beings as often as they can everyday. For example, before they go to bed at night, Buddhists recite the verse from the Buddhist Scriptures as follows:
Having the habit of peace offering, one’s mind always rests in peaceful happiness and in peace with others. Buddhists who reject peace and do not try to live in peace with others are wayward followers of the Buddha and can hardly be called Buddhists.
Buddhadasa-bhikkhu (1906-93), an eminent monk of Thailand, once gave a lecture on the subject ‘Till the World Is With Peace’1 asserting that peace should be fulfilled through qualified peace-makers as follows:
Apart from meditation and moral cultivation, peace can be attained through all religious arts, e.g. paintings, sculptures, images, and so on. In Thailand, Buddha images are intentionally made to inspire peace in the hearts of all who see them. The smiling face of a Buddha image and his eyes gazing downward seem to invite all sufferers to come and take merciful guidance from him. Entering the consecrated assembly hall of a Thai Buddhist temple, one finds the Buddha image presiding at the end of the hall. Looking around, one can see murals depicting the history of the Buddha’s life showing his moral activities and compassion for all beings. Going to a temple for an appreciation of religious arts is thus a way to create peace in one’s heart.
Besides, all Buddhist temples are sanctuaries. They are places of peace and protection of all lives. Formerly, those who had a death sentence and could escape to a temple and be ordained as monks were forgiven and freed. Nowadays, all kinds of people love to free animals, such as dogs, cats, birds and small turtles in a temple or a monastery compound. They know that the animals will be safe there since it is a Buddhist tradition not to harm any being in a temple.
It is important to call for peace education. All institutions should teach people to love peace. A proper educational system should be established to promote humaneness and moral wisdom. Since the word manussa (human being) in its original sense means ‘one of noble heart’, the right educational system should endow students with noble hearts and make them complete human beings. Once people become human beings, peace can be restored to the entire world.
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi