For as long as anyone can remember violence and conflict have been part of daily life: humanity appears incapable of living peacefully together. There are the brutal cries of war, the vile acts of terror, homicides, rapes and assaults of all kinds. People everywhere long for an end to such conflicts, and are crying out for peace and understanding, to live in a just world free from fear.
Creating a world at peace not only demands putting an end to all forms of armed brutality, it also entails building peace within communities, in the workplace, educational institutions and the home, in the natural environment and, most importantly, it requires the inculcation of harmony within all of us. Each of these areas of living are interconnected, the prevailing condition in each affecting the stability and atmosphere of the other.
The task before us is to identify and change the prevailing divisive modes of living for inclusive ways that facilitate peace and cultivate tolerance. Peace itself is part of our essential nature: when the conditions of conflict are removed, peace between groups and within individuals arises naturally.
We are Society
Society is not an abstraction; it is a reflection of the consciousness of the individuals that make up any given community. As such, the responsibility for the nature of a town, city, school, office, country, region, etc., rests largely with those who live within its boundaries. I say “largely” because the corporate and state bodies that fashion the structures and promote the ideals of the day bear a large part of the responsibility. Specific values and conclusions are daily poured into the minds of everyone, virtually from birth, conditioning the consciousness and behavior of people around the world; the media (including the internet), institutionalized education and organized religion being the main outlets for such propaganda.
Variations on the nature of such conditioning are determined by circumstances of birth and background: the religious, political, socio-economic belief systems, the values of the family, the region and/or the country. All ism’s are inhibiting and divisive, and as the Dalai Lama says in A Human Approach to World Peace, when they are adopted people lose “sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a single human family.” Freedom of thought and independent creative thinking is denied, conformity expected. And can there be peace when the mind is imprisoned within the confines of a doctrine, no matter how lofty?
Whilst it is true that a symbiotic relationship exists between society and the individual, fundamentally the external world in which we live is a reflection of the internal life of humanity. Violent, disharmonious societies are the external manifestation of the inner turmoil, discontent and fear that many people feel.
The business of War
The loudest, ugliest form of violence is war, the machinery of which is a huge global industry greatly valued by the corporate state. It is a business ostensibly like any other, the difference being its products are intended to kill people and destroy everything in their path.
Like all businesses, weapons manufacturers operate to generate profits: wars are big business for arms companies, and therefore highly profitable, desirable even. International arms sales (dominated by America, with 34% of the total) according to the BBC “is now worth about $100bn.” By contrast, to end world hunger, which currently crushes the lives of around a billion people globally, would cost a mere $30 billion per year. And we wonder why there is no peace – how can there be peace when such gross injustice and inhumanity persist?
Profit, whether financial remuneration, status or power, is the principle motivating force within the working methodology of the global economic system. It is an unjust model that promotes a range of divisive, therefore violent values, including selfishness, competition and ambition. It thrives on and continually engenders dissatisfaction, and can there be peace when there is discontent?
Enormous wealth and power for a handful of men flow from the Ideology of Consumerism, leading to unprecedented levels of inequality in income/wealth, influence, education, health care, employment opportunities, access to culture and freedom to travel. Inequality is a fundamental form of social injustice: peace will never be realized where social injustice exists. Nor can peace be known when hunger, poverty, and exploitation, flowing from (financial) vulnerability, stalk the land destroying the lives of millions throughout the world.
Removing the obstacles to peace
Extreme inequality is a vile stain on our common humanity; inequality between the hideously wealthy, who have everything but want more, and the desperately poor, who have nothing, can barely feed themselves and live lives stunted by suffering; inequality between the economically secure and habitually complacent, and those who work until they drop yet can barely pay the rent. The hierarchy of injustice is crude at the extremes, variable in the middle and toxic throughout. It feeds anger and resentment and crushes peace.
Together with a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality, global inequality fuels insecurity and fear, both psychological and physical, leading to tension, anxiety and depression. It fosters bitterness, crushes hope and strengthens false notions of superiority and inferiority. This in turn reinforces the prevailing fear and a strengthening spiral of suspicion, intolerance and unease is set in motion, thereby denying the quiet manifestation of peace.
The realization of peace is inextricably related to the introduction of a new socio-economic order based on values altogether different from the existing model. A socially just system that reduces inequality, encourages cooperation instead of competition, and facilitates equal access to well designed accommodation, good quality health care and stimulating education. Where social justice exists trust develops, relationships evolve, peace comes into being.
At the heart of any alternative system should be the inculcation of the Principle of Sharing; sharing not only of the food, water, land and other natural resources, but of knowledge, skills and opportunities. Sharing encourages cooperation between people from different backgrounds, allowing understanding and tolerance to grow. Tolerance of those who look different, pray and think differently, and understanding that humanity is one, that the human condition is universal no matter one’s circumstances or worldview. That we share one home, which we are all responsible for, and that in every corner of the world men, women and children want the same things: to live in peace free from fear, to build a decent life for themselves and their families and to be happy.
When we share, we acknowledge our common need, our shared humanity and our universal rights. Through sharing, a more equitable world can evolve; sharing, together with cooperation, tolerance and understanding are key elements of the time, and when expressed – individually and collectively – allow for peace to naturally come into being. Complementary to such Principles of Goodness, forgiveness and the absence of retaliation or retribution are essential in establishing peace. As is well documented, punishment without rehabilitation and compassion is a recipe for despondency, more violence and further acts of crime. Such actions have dogged humanity since records began, as has war, and while there have been tremendous advances in technology, medicine and science, the consciousness of humanity seems to have changed very little, we remain violent, selfish and fearful. As the Dalai Lama puts it, “there is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow this is not sufficient as we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness or in overcoming suffering…the basic human problems remain.”
The overcoming of these ‘basic problems’ and the realization of peace both flow from the same root: the recognition of mankind’s essential unity, and the cultivation of a sense of “universal responsibility”. Fragmentation and dishonesty of mind must be resolved, fear and desire understood. The current modes of living inflame these negative tendencies and make what already appears difficult, even more so. Discontent and desire are constantly agitated, social and national divisions inflamed, and an atmosphere of insecurity created. At the same time a reductive image of happiness and security is portrayed through mainstream films, TV and other media outlets. It is a hollow construct based on pleasure, the fulfillment of emotionally rooted desires and material satisfactions, none of which will ever create lasting happiness or inner peace. Peace does not lie inside walls of division, whether formed of concrete or constructed out of some ideological doctrine, but, like lasting happiness, reveals itself when there is total freedom from desire.