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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Moving from conflict resolution to conflict avoidance on principles of Sanatan Dharma


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On the plains of Hastinapura, Arjuna stands in his chariot awaiting battle. He is blessed to have Lord Krishna, the incarnation of God, to be his charioteer. Arjuna asks Krishna to drive him to the center of the battlefield. When Krishna does so, Arjuna looks all around him and sees an ocean of soldiers, chariots, and armored elephants. As Arjuna looks closer, he sees that his entire family-brothers, cousins, uncles, and grandfathers-will be fighting against each other in this war.

Even though Arjuna is one of the world’s strongest warriors, he does not want to fight. Why would he want to kill his family members? Could not there be peace? Is not fighting a sin? Hundreds of doubts like these fill Arjuna’s heart to the point where he feels overwhelmed. He sits in his chariot, sinks his face in his hands, and sulks.

Seeing this, Lord Krishna is disappointed in Arjuna’s behavior. Krishna has a conversation with Arjuna, in which He tells Arjuna that it is his duty to fight the war and not to be weak-hearted.

Norwegian pioneer of peace research Johan Galtung distinguished between two types of peace. Negative peace is defined by the absence of war and violence, and positive peace, is defined by a more lasting peace, built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions as well as the societal attitudes that foster peace.

The root of any conflict is always a contradiction, an incompatibility, or a clash of beliefs which then easily translates into a class of parties, which then easily leads to discrimination, which then results in sporadic or predetermined acts of violence.

Peace researchers have been putting forth theories about structural and direct violence that act as deterrents to peace works. In 1990, Galtung introduced the concept of cultural violence. The flow of violence was from cultural violence via structural violence to direct violence.

Peace according to peace researchers is about violence resolution, sometimes conflict resolution but at most times it is not about conflict avoidance. Peace is often seen as the absence of violence in times of conflict. It, however, is not a resolution of a conflict or a plan charted out to avoid a conflict.

Galtung through most of his work sought to project positive peace as a higher ideal than negative peace. He believed that peace research should not be about ending or reducing violence whether cultural, structural, or direct but seek to understand conditions leading to violence in times of conflict.

Most western philosophers and peace researchers are focused on violence or conflict resolutions. Indian philosophers focus on conflict avoidance. Conflict avoidance will lead to avoidance of violence.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna agreed with Arjuna and said that making peace was consistent with the path of righteousness. The consensus that Krishna had, at least between the more important brothers of Arjuna, Bhima, and Yudhishthira, was that the Pandavas would be happy if the Kauravas gave them what they de- manded through peaceful negotiation; but if not, then they would “annihilate the Kshatriya race.

In the Upanishads it is written:

Yastu sarvani bhutani aatmanyebanupashyati. Sarvabhuteshu chatmanam tatona vijugupsate

if a person doesn’t hate anyone in life and perceives all the beings in his or her own self they won’t have a conflict with others but will live life in harmony and work towards the welfare of society. It is based on a simple principle that if you harm another being, man, woman, animal, or insect you are harming yourself.

The beliefs in Dharma, Karma, and Satyagraha are potent instruments for not just resolving conflicts but also avoiding conflicts. Dharma is a principle that binds us all, it maps our righteousness to our duties; Karma, emphasizes the inevitability of the consequences of one’s actions, tolerance, and non-violence; and Satyagraha is the force of truth.

India is predominantly a cultural ecosystem. The principle philosophy of Sanatan Dharma is not one body of thoughts and beliefs but a unique network of traditions and scientific reasoning. Dharma is a fundamental tenet of the Sanatani way of life. Karma simply means action there is good karma, which is in accordance with dharma, and bad karma, which is in accordance with adharma.

Sanatan Dharma teaches us to adopt a path of conciliation (attempting to compromise using pacifying language, sāma), dissension (attempting to create division in the enemy camp, bheda), and gift-giving or bribery (dāna). Once these have been exhausted, the only option left is force (daṇḍa, punishment). Yet one is called to engage in such combat with a poised mind, bereft of anger, malice, hatred, wrath, and vengeance.

Steven Rosen in his book ‘Holy War: Violence and the Bhagavad Gita’ elaborated on avoidance of war and conflict in the epic ‘Mahabharata’: “In the Indic tradition, the just war doctrine is reminiscent of the Caturopāyas, “the four means”, which include three methods of diplomacy that attempt to avoid war (the fourth and final alternative). If one observes the first three of these tactics and cannot find a peaceful solution, then war becomes inevitable and may even be deemed righteous (dharmayuddha). A righteous war, by this definition, is not necessarily religious but is based on principles of justice and self-defense, and is always engaged in as a last resort.”

Krishna believed that peace should be sought, even after its attainment appears impossible. Krishna believed that nobody can ever truly know what the consequences of their action will be, even after rational and expert deliberation. Thus, according to The Mahabharata, one should always attempt to secure one’s needs first by diligent peaceful negotiation or simply put, avoidance of conflict and violence, but if it fails, one should fearlessly try to secure one’s needs by war.

The concern for peace as expressed in the Indian scriptures puts a strong emphasis on moral regeneration. They express that peace and harmony are cardinal signs of civilized life. Without these two essential prerequisites, there cannot be achieved cooperation, equity, trust, and an inclusive society. Conflicts too are part of our existence. Conflicts threaten to disturb harmony and peace and often lead to violence. When gone too far, they even end up as wars and include acts of violence. It is imperative to follow a path of prevention rather than a cure. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on conflict avoidance and not only conflict resolution.


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