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How Can an Individual be Instrumental in Creating a Peaceful Society?

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*((Lecture prepared for the 8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action (ICPNA), Jaipur, India 5-8 January 2014.))

A peaceful society consists of peaceful people. All of those present here are in some way in their own position working for peace. Some do that by heading or helping peace movements, by living according to their religion, by giving courses, classes or therapies, by being school or university teachers or by working in government positions or by interacting with children. Those present here all agree on this point: the world should be more peaceful, more in harmony with Nature and the Universe, more friendly. The economy should become sustainable and should respect the possibilities and challenges offered by the planet on which we are living.

So far I have never been on a peace conference where any of the speakers came from Al Qaeda or from this or that liberation army, or from a political direction that believes in gaining power by force to wipe out capitalism, socialism or some other ideology. If such people came, a peace conference would be many times more effective as it is now. Such people look at people like us as very unrealistic and they would call us softies.

Violence supporting philosophies exist, and can take dangerous forms, as we have seen when people like Adolph Hitler or Pol Pot came to power, and also in Liberation armies. Even for them the ultimate aim is to create a better world (at least for those who survive). Such people do not understand the higher ethics as taught by all religions, or they simply reject. Often such people hold power positions. That has been the case since Mahabharatan times and long before.

When we travel around the world and meet people, virtually everyone agrees to the non-violent ideal. Nobody wants a lawless society where rape, theft and murder are the order of the day. Nobody wants war and terrorism, perhaps even some terrorists themselves abhor their ways of doing. Apart from the really psychologically frustrated souls, they think to serve an ideal: there country, religion, dignity. They are prepared their most precious possion, their life, i.e. everything. Are they good or bad from a god’s point of view? Often out of ignorance or by brainwashing they may really think that they have something good to bring to the world. This can be done by killing the evil, they think. This is a result of a very fundamental dualistic philosophy, which emphasizes opposites and differences rather than ultimate oneness and brotherhood. Talking in conferences does not solve problems, they will say.

In our modern times with instant worldwide communication we can no longer sell the message that we are the good ones and others are the bad ones. We are all one people on one planet, and dependent on each other. Still, good and evil, violence and nonviolence, compassion and cruelty exist the world over, no country excepted. There is no country that is wholly noble or wholly evil, nor one that acts unbiased and without emotional impulses for the benefit of friend and enemy alike. In a non-dualistic approach, all living beings are one in essence, and therefore brothers in their manifestation.

Peacefulness is the dominating character of the human psychology, not violence. But sometimes we explode into the opposite. We do not always maintain our self-control. The reason for not maintaining our self-control may be the inner tension we have about unsolved problems. Sometimes we do not know which way to choose even in the most crucial situations, and we feel we miss the wisdom we would need in order to make responsible decisions; we can no longer handle the paradoxes or seeming contradictions in our own, still so imperfect, mental understanding; life itself seems to be full of contradictions and conflicts. Than, our of despair to find a way out, we may explode into anger and violence. This is natural for evolving people. A complacent psychology is the wrong type of peacefulness. Anger destroys much and one should damage much in onself at once that has been painstakingly build up. But we should never blaim and always understand why it haappens, and feel friendship and sympathy for the one who has to go through such ordeals. We all go through such ordeals, more or less, sooner or later, or continuously. Remember that the greater the soul, the greater the spiritualfire which the personal psychology and body has to bear. Therefore, great souls do not always have easy and cozy personalities. Still they should practice kindness and harmlessness under all circumstances. Every pain caused to some conscious being by word, action or thought, by karmic logic brings an obstruction on the actor’s path. Honesty towards ourselves itself brings tension, if we are adamant not to compromise on matters we regards as spiritually essential. We need courage, sometimes to the limit. All of us know this; we all fighting in that field, that Kurukshetre-Dharmakshetre, the field of battle between psychology and inner awareness of duty. We all have this problem in common and will continue our struggle until nirvana, probably thousands or millions of years in the future. Even pilgrims, monks, religious leaders and ascetics m/f are in no way different. Instead of opposing each other in an always failing effort to put the cause of conflict outside ourselves, we should be aware that we are all of the same essence, that we are all sparks from the same fire, and that we all have our own pathway of duty to fulfill in the existing world.

Every country keeps laws based on a “thou shalt not kill, steal, harbor unacceptable desires,” etc. But then there is the territorial instinct, and the belief that our country – an extension of our ego – should dominate, have a larger territory and more nukes that others. We call it safety or security. We feel that our national or religious honor is hurt. In fact our only honor should be love for all humans and others and understand that there is but one religion in many forms: that all religions are aimed to lead us from humanhood to godhood. But due to this false territorial instinct – which no doubt is useful on a small scale and for animals – in practice it is a fact that many countries maintain an allowance for themselves to kill and steal when the other country can be called ‘the enemy.’ But there are no true enemies in a global brotherhood. The brotherhood of humankind is not a sentimental idea, but a fact. If we succumb, we will succumb together, if we live, we will live together.

Then what is the problem? On one side it is the people who abhor conferences like this and non-violent thinking and attitudes. They laugh about it. They are either not developed as yet to understand the reality of our ideas and ideals; they may lack the education because their environment and schools did not teach them nonsectarian ethics of nonviolence, nor the fact that all conscious beings have the ability to suffer and thus need compassion or at least kindness – not knowing that younger brothers are as much our brothers as the gods themselves. Or they are have become skeptic by history or personal experience. While they are listening to our lofty sermons, at the same time they may look through our skin and below it see our hidden imperfections, perhaps even haughtiness. No attendant to this conference will tomorrow take up a gun, siege power or suppress fellow human beings or even animals. But all such beautiful meetings like this one, do not change the fact that elsewhere there are other people who will do just that. They too have their conferences, though in secret of course. I remember, for example, that a female presidential candidate of Pakistan was murdered while I was attending a peace conference full of smiling people. The truth is that there are and always have been terrorists, plunderers, weapons producers, power passionates and war-loving presidents or kings. The world is greatly ruled by materialists – basically almost the total commercial section of the society – and we all know the consequences of it; and by those who think that the world will be good only when they themselves are in power. These facts are undeniable. I don’t think we we ever be able to erase crime, frustration, violence and their consequences completely in near future. There are always these ‘others’ who think and feel differently. If they didn’t exist, a conference like this wouldn’t be necessary. So then the question becomes: how do we change them? The answer is: slowly, patiently, and by our example, while enduring many failures in our efforts – the patience of thousands upon thousands of years. We have to accept that there will be wars and violent attacks, cheating, stealing and rape. It will take time to change the moods and viewpoints of every single human being. Not everyone started their human journey at the same time. In the past we may have made the same mistakes as the people we now tend to call spiritually ignorant. And we are still making mistakes, day in, day out, isn’t it? Imagine how you would think and act when you were a god! Each individual ego has a long, long history, taking birth upon birth, experiencing death upon death. It doesn’t matter, it is a natural part of our journey. Looking at this, humanity will still have a long time to go until utter peace, spiritual knowledge and wisdom rule the earth. However the near future can soon become much better – though still far from perfect, if the responsible part of the world thinks and works in a spiritual direction and conquers illusions and delusions.

To be instrumental as an individual in creating a peaceful society means that each of us becomes an instrument for something higher. Something noble, truly human or divine inside us that uses the instrument that we are. The instrument that we all are consists of a practical mind and a stable psychology as well as of action through our body. We are doing this noble work because something within us tells us and directs us to do so. Some feeling has been born some day in the past in each of us here that can be called compassion, love, concern about others. We also understand that ethics as taught throughout the ages by religions is the true basis of our understanding. As Muzzammil Cader said yesterday, the very origin of non-violence is brought to us by religion. Religion is there to implant fundamental and universal but as yet unrealized ideas into humanity, to guide humankind and to guide its individuals. If truly understood, religion helps, first to awaken and then further develop the higher, the more divine side of our nature. Naturally we discover an inherent pleasant or blissful feeling within ourselves – a feeling that has been latent or suppressed due to social and psychological influences, but in fact it was always there. Because our soul was always there. It finds expression in nonviolence, compassion, helpfulness etc. Our inner divinity was always there and religions help us to realize these, as long as they have not become dogmatized and crystallized.

Inner divinity exists and is the true essence of every living being – as witness the beauty of flowers, the complexity of nature’s biochemistry, the physical and psychological skills of animals. Modern science studies the physiology and psychology of human and other beings, but religion and sacred science study and practice and bring about the most beautiful qualities within each of them. In the case of plants this inherent divinity is visible in their expressions of beauty and purity and their unconscious unselfishness: they purify the air, provide oxygen and all products needed to sustain their own and others’ bodies. In animals the desire aspect is developed, and that is why the animal kingdom is so rich in form and variation. The human purpose is to become truly human, that is, gods or godlike humans, expressing the subtlest and noblest qualities of mind. Nonviolence, compassion, impersonal love, feeling of oneness with all that exists, are such qualities. Throughout evolution such qualities will become more refined and we will become more and more skillful in helping others and pointing the right direction by our living example. In other words, we become ever better instruments for the expression of our innate divinity.

You may have noticed here at this place, where some true spiritual practitioners are present, that from such peaceful people radiates a natural peaceful atmosphere. We feel a respect for them even though they don’t talk and socialize very much.

Our mental consciousness knows our aspirations towards more peace, towards deeper understanding, towards a better and pleasantly livable world that is more conducive to spiritual development, but we are also greatly aware of our shortcomings and clumsinesses.

How to become a good and useful instrument? It is not in the first place what you do. Even a butcher who fulfills the duty of his karma may have a golden heart, whereas someone who devoutly goes to church or temple or mosque may at home beat his wife and deprive his children. A wise general may, in the given situation of war, do everything in his might to prevent even worse for both fighting parties and their future.

The instrument that we are is a vehicle and reflection for our inner development. So to refine our instrument we should refine our mind and feelings. We can do so by studying great philosophies and religions to refine our thinking and then contemplating on what they try to convey. And we do so by contemplating in silence upon the experiences in our life, accompanied by the wish to hurt no creature, even the humblest, and when we try to feel into their feelings of joy and sorrow and their innate good desires and when we contemplate the service we can render to them. Most often the best service is to be silent and pure – even plants are then helped in the evolution of their souls – by just being your better self. Then, one day, no sorrow and joy can escape our awareness. There is no illusion that can not be taken away by insight. Due to our ever refining consciousness we will develop an unmistakable vision for what is right. We become ever better instruments. Thus is the dharma, the duty, of humankind.

To gain wisdom there are many seed ideas. One of them is reincarnation. It means that our inner beings exists for ever, only leaving behind old bodies and psychological tendencies, to build new ones later. Our challenge and growth is eternal. Our good and bad deeds give us some karma, some good and bad luck in this and future lifetimes. But the idea of eternal reincarnation for all living beings gives us eternal patience and hope for ourselves and for all. It gives us the possibility to be helpful, to become better and better people. A religious path without dogmas and dead rules and rituals, and philosophy studied with the heart and without an obstructively skeptic guarantee that we always move upwards, inwards, that we become knowledgeable in more refined ways, and make less errors. Understanding the interdependence and innate oneness of all beings which are so much emphasize by receptively Jainism and Buddhism make us aware of the fact that when we hurt others, we hurt all other beings, including ourselves. Every developing being is connected to the network of interconnectedness, which is a manifested reflection of Oneness. Because of this interconnectedness, our inner being helps the world even when it ‘does nothing concrete’ but meditates while keeping universal well-being and interconnectedness constantly in view. Not only ourselves, but the whole world is benefited by our spiritual development, provided that no hidden selfishness rules under the surface. Ultimately, the self itself is a mind-created illusion, so selfishness is no better than a lie. Ponder the vastness of the Cosmos and within that your own insignificant smallness and at the same time your universal responsibility and immortality. These things will, better than any method or prescribed meditation, help to become peaceful inside. Peaceful then means: no waist of energy, no pursuit of emotional and mental illusions and thus it gives dauntless energy to do work with love. Even without outward activity we will spread peacefulness around us and be an instrument. However when involved in outward activity, however busy we are with it, our inner peace remains continuous and permeates all our actions and decisions.

These were a few thought that occurred to me as helpful to the question: “How can an individual be instrumental in creating a peaceful society?”

– Rajasthani