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CULTURE OF PEACE

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Self-Organizing Centres and Networks of Peace 

Baidyanath Saraswati

 

I

It is all very well to talk about the ‘global village’. It is exciting to think of ‘global citizenship’, a ‘global civic society’, a ‘global ethic’, and a ‘global peace’. But what if this excitement were to rhyme with the darker side of the dawn — the globalization of war and violence?

Undoubtedly there is a growing global concern for peace. There is equally no doubt that the United Nations, Unesco and secular NGOs are working whole-heartedly towards the creation of a peaceful, equitable and sustainable future. Thousands of workshops and symposia are conducted around the world to find new concepts and actions for research. In spite of all these, acts of aggression have increased manifold. Doubts are now raised on the effectiveness of the worldwide network of development organizations. The question is not of abandoning them: rather, it is one of determining how much global organizations can really contribute to the culture of peace.

There is a difference between global awareness and cosmic consciousness. Modern man’s global awareness is best explained by unenlightened anthropology, whose primary concern is to usurp ‘time’ and space and to prove the claim that man is the measure of all. Traditional cultures are gifted. Ever conscious of divine origins and cosmic diversities, they live in the utmost harmony with time and space. Tradition allows all creatures and cultures to self-organize in the spirit of the Whole. It presents a markedly cosmic life-view. The Indian tradition is one such example.

II

There cannot be a world without war. The cosmogonic myth of creation reveals the mystery of existence: In the beginning there was the Self alone, in the form of a Man. He performed an act of self-immolation so that the universe might come into being. From this sacrifice were born gods, demons, the four human castes, the five elements, and all that exists. Churning the milk of the ocean, gods or deva (lit. shining ones) and demons or asura (lit. self-indulgent ones) fought each other to win immortality. Ultimately the gods succeeded in seizing the jar of nectar; but since then the strife continues eternally. Many a time the gods are defeated and the demons win. Humans, even animals, come to aid the gods. The war between gods, who are few in number, and demons, who are more numerous, is the war between good and evil, truth and untruth. To maintain the cosmic order, the gods must win and the humans must abide by truth and goodness.

The righteous war (dharmayuddha) is an ontological necessity. Call it real or imaginary, the Mahabharat war goes on without cease within one’s own body. The five Pandavas are the five sense-organs and the hundred Kauravas are the endless desires of all kinds. This is the war that man must fight.

III

There cannot be a world without peace. The ultimate goal of the righteous war is peace. But can this goal ever be achieved? Since the war continues without cease, one cannot admit the possibility of an all-time global peace. What the myth states is the reality of war and peace. The encompassing context of the myth is the war between gods and demons. Either we acquire the knowledge of the cosmic design as a theoretical construct, or we become deeply aware of the human responsibility of serving the gods, or we decide in favour of the demons, or else we adopt an attitude of holy indifference. There are different types of men, and different ways of war and peace.

All forms of religion use the power of prayer for human prosperity and peace. The ancient sages were concerned with peace for all, and in all the three worlds:

To the Heavens be peace, to the Sky and the Earth,

To the water be peace, to plants and all trees,

To the gods be peace, to Brahman be peace,

To all men be peace, again and again,

Peace also to me!

(Yajurveda, 36.17)

Peace cannot be achieved without freedom from fear. Hence there is a prayer for fearlessness.

May the atmosphere we breathe

Breathe fearlessness into us,

Fearlessness on earth

And fearlessness in heaven!

May fearlessness guard us

Behind and before!

(Atharvaveda, 19.15)

Peace and fearlessness bring happiness. In this prayer each element of the cosmos, the wind, the sun, and so on, is requested to be a conveyor of happiness.

The Vedic prayer reflects a dynamic world-view. What it shows is that there cannot be peace in the human heart if there is no peace in all the three worlds. The converse is also true. At the subtler plane, as already stated, both war and peace, evil and good, are within man’s own inner being. This is wholly consistent with the conception that man is the microcosm and his real roots are nourished by the cosmic order.

IV

The seers have seen the universe as an organic whole. If man is the microcosm, culture is what makes human existence cosmic and divine.

The imagery of the shining cosmic egg (hiranyagarbha) is applied to man’s cosmic constitution. Man is produced and processed within the womb of the ultimate. He has a fivefold constitution, each called a sheath (kosa) or envelope: namely, the beatific envelope (anandamayakosa), the poetic or intellectual envelope (vijnanmaya kosa), the mental envelope (manomaya kosa), the vital envelope (pranamayakosa), and the vegetative envelope (annamayakosa). These are hierarchical orders: the first and the highest is the beatific envelope.

The constitution of man is stated in yet another way. Man is made up of the five primordial elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth), the ego, the intellect, the mind, the ten organs and the five senses (sound, touch, colour, taste and smell). The human body is spoken of as the field (kshetra) and the one who lives in the field is called the knower of the field (kshetrajna), the Supreme Being.

Man moves upwards in the cosmic plane through the ritual process of transformation. From the moment of conception to the last rite of cremation, a number of body-cleansing rituals are required to be performed. Only then can he become a full-fledged member of society.

To make the material man capable of transforming himself into a cultural person, there are ways of establishing a correlation between the transcendent order of nature and the natural order of culture. Cultural activities are determined by body, mind and spirit. The satisfaction of bodily needs is a critical factor in survival. The mind responds to physical needs and creates an urge for satisfaction. The spirit, which transcends both body and mind, mediates and allows the satisfaction of needs to an extent to which the living physical world can be maintained. This has been the contexture of all traditional cultures, in and outside India.

V

The natural theory of culture creates an image of a self-organizing human world. In the tradition of India, human life is organized along a fourfold path of progressive complexity. Four is a conceptual number signifying totality: ‘All beings are one-fourth of Him (the infinite Brahman); three-fourths, the immortal in the sky’ (Chandogya Upanishad, 3.12.6).

There are four successive stages in life: brahmacharya, learning and practising; grahastha, performing household duties; vanaprastha, holy indifference; and, finally, samnyasa, complete withdrawal from the social life. Man moves from one stage to the next. Each stage is directed towards a specific goal. The first two are concerned with social life and the second two are aimed at a final cosmic goal.

There are four human castes, each having a hereditary, non-competitive occupation. Thus, minimum economic security is provided to each and every individual in society. The divine legislation lends powerful support to an equitable distribution of power and wealth. The all-powerful intellect, the highest brahman caste, has to live in holy poverty; the all-sovereign authority, the kshatriya caste, has to remain subordinate to those who live in poverty; and the producers of material wealth, the vaisya and the sudra castes of commerce and industry, have to serve with humility the first two.

Human desires are fourfold: dharma, the desire to uphold the divine ordinance; artha, the desire connected with wealth and power; kama, the desire pertaining to pleasure and procreation; and moksha, the desire to transcend all desires.

Human life carries with it a fourfold obligation on the part of every individual. The obligations that accompany one throughout life are the debts to the gods, the sages, to ancestors and to humanity. Accordingly, man moves from one station of life to another, sustains the human world, and establishes the link between the human and the divine.

All the four fundamental forces of human organization are predetermined by tradition. Both individually and collectively, each is drawn towards a predetermined goal. In the Indian scheme of life, man moves centrifugally. The individual self splits into two: male and female. The husband receives his wife from the gods. Their relationship is indissoluble: in so far as the two make a unit, each is only half the body of the other. The more perfect unit is formed of husband, wife and offspring — the trio (trivarga). The continuity of a trio depends, first, on maintaining the order of legitimacy, and secondly, on its extension in time through several generations of similar trios forming larger units. The family extends to lineage, to clan, to subcaste, to caste, to village, to subregion, to region and eventually to the organization of life called the ‘universe as family’ (vasudhaiva kutumbakam). The essential character of each of these units (centres) is to remain self-organized and yet functionally interdependent. No single individual is in the privileged position of claiming freedom without duties.

VI

The organizational complexity of the ancient Indian model creates the right conditions for a culture of peace.

Like Purusha, the Cosmic Person, who sacrificed Himself in the beginning, the man of matter performs sacrifice. It is by self-sacrifice that the individual lives. By sacrifice he links himself with the whole of existence. It is by sacrifice that he performs his duties of a householder (husband-wife, parent-child). By the elimination of his little self, the individual lives in peace and harmony. The four stages of life minimize the generational conflict within the family. Kinship is regulated by joking and avoidance relationships, as also by obligatory life-affirming rituals and festivals. The conflict between the four castes is reduced to a bare minimum, because each is culturally autonomous while they are functionally interdependent. Together they share an ordered spiritual value.

The ancient law-givers adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards all the members of society on purely family matters originating from regional customs and traditions.

VII

The creation of peace in the concretion of man’s living relationship with his world demands Faith. There is, in all traditional societies, an in-built complex of metaphoric actions of faith. The core of man is faith. Faith is the ‘inner source’ from which real human growth proceeds. There are three types of faith, each rooted in the human heart: acting faith, thinking faith and loving faith. The path of peace is the path of faith. It is paved by the virtue of unconditionally giving up all ego.

Prayer is the veneration of the highest value in the hierarchy of existence, not the adoration of a creature. Prayer is an expression of the deep desire for peace, personal and universal.

Pilgrimage is a path of devotion. It is an act of truth-seeing and truth-saying. It is imperative to use the hands and feet to move into the shrines of the gods and to let the wings of the soul fly. The human body is compared with the place of pilgrimage. Both are called kshetra, in which the gods reside. The presiding deity (the Self) is a point in the circle. All holy places and all gods and goddesses are believed to be present in the kshetra. Pilgrims are enjoined to circumambulate the kshetra clockwise. There are various types of pilgrimages in space and time. Pilgrimage offers peace and happiness.

Purity is a state of perfection. Purity of food produces purity of body and mind. With mind and heart purified, the body attains peace. Man attains perfection.

Patience is a virtue which combines with compassion and non-violence. With patience one achieves peace, and thereafter there is nothing left to be achieved.

Poverty is shining purity and the practice of loving faith. Holy poverty is a necessary good because, as Kabir says, ‘In pain everybody remembers Him whilst in enjoyment and pleasure He is forgotten.’ After the Mahabharat war Kunti, the mother of the victorious Pandavas, prayed to God Krishna:

O Teacher of the world, let calamities

Always overtake us, because we would then

Have Thy sight which prevents reincarnation.

The man whose pride is swelled by

Birth, power, learning and fortune

Is not worthy of taking Thy name,

Which is within the reach of only those

Who own nothing.

(Srimad Bhagavatam)

VIII

Peace is an unassailable, unagitated state of mind and body. It creates a spirit of dispassion, which is a requisite for the knowledge of Reality. The Sanskrit word for it is shanti. The dormant state of the body as in sleep or in death is called ‘lying in peace’ or ‘becoming peace’. Those who accept this life-view will say: Peace is inseparable from Reality. Truth is also inseparable from Reality. Hence, peace is none other than Truth. War, the opposite of peace, is untruth (unreal). Both are designed by the Gods and are independent of human cognizance.

Man is the actor (liladhar). He acts in war and in peace. What matters is his role in the cosmic play (lila). He plays a specific role in the course of living. His destiny lies in the role that he chooses for himself. Depending on the self-reflexivity with which he is gifted, he relates himself either to Truth (gods, light), or to untruth (demons, darkness). He is, thus, the maker of his destiny. He has an innate tendency to self-organize. Moving from one body to another he is re-made, renewed and re-organized again and again. In truth, he is without a centre. His roots are upward.

Peace is rendered visible in and through the tradition of faith and fidelity. The universe of a traditional society is criss-crossed by the human network of organizations that weave a culture of peace. It is designed as a collection of individuals, each independent in his self-making and yet functioning together with others as cogs in the wheel of life. The fundamental forces of the human organization operate centrifugally. Each centre is closely linked to the others by the cognizance of the divine ordinance of rights and duties. A pattern of peace emerges with prayer, pilgrimage, purity, patience and holy poverty. A geometrical structure (of fivefold man) is built around the triangle (of husband, wife and offspring) and the quadrangle (of the four human castes, the four stages and four orders of life, and the four obligations) in a circle (of birth-and-death), with multiple centres (of the individual self). This pattern of peace repeats itself in space-time.

The traditional model of human organization is diametrically opposed to the centripetal pattern of the modern ‘global village’, organizing itself in fear and tension.

References

Agrawal, Vasudeva S., Matsya Purana: A Study, Varanasi, All-India Kashiraj Trust, 1963.

Behari, Bankey, Sufis, Mystics and Yogis of India, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1991.

Hume, Robert Ernest, The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Panikkar, Raimundo, The Vedic Experience; Mantramanjari, London, Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977.

———, Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics: Cross-Cultural Studies, Bangalore, Asian Trading Corporation, 1983.

Pavitrananda, Swami, Hymns and Prayers to Gods and Goddesses, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1992.

Saraswati, Baidyanath, Brahmic Ritual Traditions in the Crucible of Time, Simla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1977.

———, ‘The Kashivasi Widows’, Man in India, 65, 2, 1985.

———, ‘Ksetra’, in Bettina Baumer, ed., Kalatattvakosa, vol. II, New Delhi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1992.

———, ‘Culture as Inverted Tree’, in The Contribution by Religions to the Culture of Peace, Barcelona, Unesco, 1993.

———, ‘Elements of Nature and the Order of Culture’, in Baidyanath Saraswati, ed., Prakriti: The Integral Vision, Vol. 5, New Delhi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and D.K. Printworld, 1995.

———, ‘Lifestyles in Traditional Cultures: A Conceptual Framework’, in Baidyanath Saraswati, ed., Computerizing Cultures, New Delhi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and New Age International, 1995.

 

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