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The Culture of Peace 

Experiment and Expectation


Biswanarayan Shastri

The hymn from the Atharvaveda quoted in the preamble of the keynote paper of this seminar conveys the earnest desire of the human heart for peace of body and mind, peace in the environment, and beyond, in the space above. Here the desire for peace of body and mind has been taken as undivided. This may be achieved through yoga, and yoga literally means the combination of the two. In the search for peace for the individual in society and community this point should always be kept in mind. The want of peace of mind is called adhi, and a lack of ease in the body is known as disease, vyadhi. When an individual is free from adhi and vyadhi he may enjoy peace and beauty and can share his feeling with others. The culture of peace begins here, and a peaceful atmosphere should be all-pervading.

The hymn further states that thoughts, speech and activity generate violence, and it is absolutely necessary to turn these instruments to work for peace. Hence the desire expressed is: ‘May the mind which conceives violence be peaceful, may the speech which incites violence be peaceful, may the limbs of the body which are used for committing violence be peaceful’. It is evident that after experiencing violence, people in the remote past expressed their earnest desire for peace and believed that the instruments or agencies which create or are used to cause violence could be used for ushering in the cult of peace and for creating the conditions for enjoying beauty in nature and man.

yayaiva sasrje ghoram tayaiva santirastu nah.

May the sensory and gross organs which cause violence bring peace to us. Here the saints and poets played their role in the past and that role is expected to continue for ever. They not only expressed the fond hope for peace but wanted it as the dominating trend in life. This is evident from the fact that the dialogue for peace, the Gita, was carried on in the battlefield of Kurukshetra and the two interlocutors were face to face with enemies with raised weapons. The essence of this myth is that the desire for peace dominated the trend of violence. The warriors in the battlefield also wanted peace, and the ways and means for achieving it were discussed.

A critique of the Gita terms the work an incitement to violence and provocation for war. Krishna encouraged Arjuna to fight by marshalling arguments and citing reasons ranging from prestige to immortality of the soul, and finally succeeded in convincing him to fight. The critique terms those who advocate peace on the preaching of the Gita, frauds and hypocrites. This view is mentioned to illustrate the confusion and contradiction that prevails. The Bhagavad Gita states that when one withdraws one’s sense-organs from their objects one’s chitta (super intelligence) becomes prasanna (in pure state of equilibrium) and all one’s sufferings disappear. With the disappearance of suffering one enjoys peace. The Bhagavad Gita, however, cautions that such prasannata (purity of mind) cannot be achieved by mere forcible detachment of the sense-organs from their objects. It denounces the person who, while restraining his sense-organs from their objects, constantly longs for them as a hypocrite (mithyachara).

In common parlance also, a person who has something else in his mind from what he speaks, and who acts contrary to what he preaches, is a fraud and a wicked person. He who thinks what he speaks and acts accordingly is called a mahatma. Gautama Buddha, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and other great persons were mahatmas, because they preached what they believed in, and followed it in action. Buddha wanted to have peace for all by removing suffering, while Mahatma Gandhi wanted it by adhering to non-violence.

Is it a possible or probable proposition to strive for peace in a situation which is dominated by hypocrisy and hypocrites? Perhaps a very difficult proposition. The question posed in the preamble is, ‘Can we perceive an ideology of peace derived from practice?’ To answer this one may ask, is it not futile to work for peace without a set ideology? In other words, the riddle is: should we try to derive an ideology from practice vitiated by hypocrisy, or should we try to implement the set ideology of peace in the individual as well as the social sphere?

The hope for deriving ideology from practice is bound to be wishful thinking because ideology is regarded as dhruva (fixed) and practices vary. On the other hand, the ideology of peace remains idle without practice. In short, an ideology of peace not followed by practical action remains lame, and action without an ideology is blind. The lame ideology cannot move and the blind practice does not know the direction in which to proceed.

The question arises: Can there be a world without wars? The question of a warless world agitated the minds of the allied nations after the First World War and their efforts took shape in the form of the League of Nations, which, however, was a non-starter owing to insincerity on the part of some nations. Some powers had the apprehension of being overshadowed by others, and others wanted to be supreme. The second attempt was made after the Second World War and the United Nations Organization came into being. It is now a world organization of 185 nations, entrusted with the task of peace-keeping in the world.

Can anyone say that the lurking fear of war has disappeared? More than half a dozen wars have broken out after the UNO was established, though they did not assume the dimensions of a world war. In the present arms race who can say there will be no third world war? Jawaharlal Nehru conceived of panchasheela, which was accepted by India and China. In practice it was a still-born child and nobody now remembers it. The policy of non-alignment formulated and followed by a few developing countries has in the present context become irrelevant, and there is mutual suspicion among the non-aligned countries. M.K. Gandhi made an experiment with truth, which he called the other side of the coin, non-violence. His personal experiment with truth had become an extension programme when it was accepted both as an end and a means for attaining independence for India. This proved successful for a limited purpose, and the people at large did not follow it sincerely, though there is no dearth of people who speak eloquently on non-violence, in which they do not believe. This is another instance of hypocrisy. What is more, the apostle of non-violence himself fell victim to violence, which means that violence had overtaken non-violence.

Historically speaking, even centuries earlier the preachers of bhakti in medieval India went a step ahead of non-violence by preaching love for all living beings. Love is dynamic, non-violence is passive, it is said. Namdev, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Kanakdas, Raidas, Shri Chaitanya, Shankardeva and many others, though they exercised great influence over their followers, were only partially successful in changing the hearts of people. The concept of non-violence was carried to the supreme level by the Jains, who preached anekanta vada, that is, anyone who says, ‘Only this is right’ commits mental violence towards those who do not accept that as correct. This, in the modern world, may compare well with anti-fascist views.

We are now living in a global village, a gift of science and technology. Do we live like the inhabitants of a grama of the past? The seers in the remote past conceived of the world as one family, vasudhaiva kutumbakam, and of the entire world as a nest (yatra visvam bhavatyeka nidam). The conception never developed for obvious reasons.

Now we have the commanding heights of technology at our disposal and the world has been reduced to a small village. It is true that distances have almost vanished, but not mental differences. Why? The causes are to be investigated. There is a rise in suspicion, hatred, and conspiracy. The fear psyche of the people causes anxiety, leading them to take up weapons. This fear psyche is responsible for tribal uprisings and terrorism in the global village.

On the other hand, people have lost faith in values which they followed generation after generation. The unchecked greed for wealth and its acquisition by corrupt means tempted many. There is a race for it among individuals and nations. Again, people living in mental and social isolation, when suddenly exposed to the modern world dominated by people who have advanced technology and money power, become apprehensive of losing their identity and resort to violence. The lengthening shadow of the giant with command over purchasing power and attacking power frightens the poor and defenceless. Poverty, unemployment and underdeveloped conditions add fuel to the fire.

Violence and the consequential suffering are not confined to the people of developing and underdeveloped countries: the developed countries also have their share. However, the cause or causes are different and the effect is also not felt as in the poor countries. The main cause is excessive greed. This was succinctly stated by Mahatma Gandhi: the world has enough to meet the needs of all but not enough to satisfy their greed. For acquiring more one has to deprive others, and thus a country expands its sphere of dominance over others. It is interesting to note that all such nations declare a noble desire to protect the poor and develop the underdeveloped countries. This is one more instance of hypocrisy.

Another instance of greed is the race for capturing the money market. In the process confrontation becomes inevitable. Rabindranath Tagore has presented the situation in a poetic way. He says, ‘jekhane manus nijake barai, sekhane se anyake tarai ebam sekhane larai’ (when one expands his power, position, influence, etc., one drives away others, and war takes place). He puts his finger on the weakest point of human being and sums up the situation in the three words, barai, tarai and larai (expansion, eviction and fighting), the cause of hostility and war.

In this context one may remember the graphic description in the Mahabharata: ‘Without injuring others to the core, without taking recourse to terrible violence, and without killing people the way a fisherman kills fish, no one can amass huge wealth’.

sarve bhavantu sukhinah, the Indian ideology of peace and happiness, ‘may all be happy’, was modified to ‘may the great majority of people be benefited and happy’ (bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya). This compares well with the Western notion of the greatest good of the greatest number. Even in medieval India the Kalika Purana states, ‘the killing of one person for the welfare of many should not be called a murder’.

It may be summed up that the fear psyche of losing identity on the one hand, and excessive greed, crisis of faith and sky-high consumerism on the other, have created conditions for violence. This is to be contained by creating an atmosphere of peace. The road towards this is the sharing of the experience of peace and beauty, which may begin as sensual and be raised to intellectual and finally to the spiritual level.

The arts and literature teach us to love beauty in nature, and people appreciate this. The desire to live in peace, in an atmosphere of all-pervading peace, is the key to entering into the domain of the culture of peace.

One cannot expect to live in a culture of peace by shutting one’s eyes to the present stark reality. The reality of operation of democracy is not only a system of administration but a way of life. Experience tells us that it fails to deliver the goods. Despite its failure, and taking the form of plutocracy, we shall have to live with it because there is no better system. The remedy lies in the approach towards individual and collective perfection. Then only may one expect to share beauty in artistic creativity. The promotion of the culture of peace through a spiritual vision of shared human responsibility hints at discharging responsibility on a higher plane.

Shared responsibility ensures meeting the needs of every human being by society. Society may provide for the biological and economic needs of a person in consideration of his service to it and according to his capacity to produce wealth. This has been experimented with in socialist countries. It satisfies one’s day-to-day needs but does not and cannot give pleasure, satisfaction and peace, because in the system the mind and ego have been totally ignored. It has also an element of imposition and compulsion. This is resented by the subconscious mind. In view of this the sharing of human responsibility should be spontaneous, based on ideology — the ideology of accepting every human being as having the potential to become free, exercising his conscience without compulsion.

Lastly, how may the culture of peace continue? It may be under a totalitarian system, which seems to be an easy solution. Apparently this solution invites the most dangerous consequences of suppressing human beings, individuality and ego. Hence it should be in a climate of self-disciplined freedom.

A novel interpretation of the mythology of ancient India may throw light on this. Vishvamitra wanted to usher in universal peace by controlling intelligence with physical force. He failed, and tried to acquire intellectual power. Vashistha, the leader of the intellectuals, wanted to keep the world under control by intellectual power and failed. Rantakara, who felt the agony of the female bird when its mate was killed, appeared on the scene as the poet Valmiki and appealed to the heart of mankind to abjure violence and appreciate the beauty of mutual love. His message was received well by warriors, intellectuals and commoners alike. What I am trying to convey is that the appeal to the heart and its response with warmth of heart, may create not only peace but a sense of beauty. This is the poetic concept of the communion of hearts through a poetic message.

I conclude by quoting the Ramayana: ‘We desire friendship with all those who are for peace’ (sarvesam santikamanam sakhyamicchamahe vayam).


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