The special address of His Excellency Dr Mohammed Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League on ‘Dialogue For Harmony Among Religions’ at the Vivekananda International Foundation touched upon pertinent points plaguing most humans in societies and nations across the world today – religion, conflict and peace.
In simple words, his messaged implied that whether you are a common person or a person with economic or political power, you will come face to face with religious and civilisational conflicts and acts of violence but we must pursue peace and harmony.
Religion, conflict and peace has been the objective of my studies over the last decade. Every human, soceity and nation seeks peace and harmony and wants to avoid conflict and violence not just resolve it.
Dyauh shantirantariksha shantih prithiwi shantirapah shantiropadhayah vanaspatyah shanti vishwedevah shantyirbrhama shantih shanti sarva shantih shantireva shantih samashantirodhi. (cf Atharvaveda XIX.19.4)
It’s English translation is:The Sun may be peaceful, the sky may be peaceful; Prithivi may be peaceful; water may be peaceful; the plant world may be peaceful; vishwedevas may be peaceful; Brahma may be peaceful; all beings may find peace; Peace too may be peaceful.
Peace is a pursuit. Every individual, every society, every religious community and every nation is in pursuit of a peaceful existence.
Rita is a central concept in Vedic philosophy, used to explain the principle that governs the order of the universe. Rita is responsible for the proper functioning of natural, moral and religious order. It is the founding principle for Dharma and Karma. it is also believed to be a divine power that provides balance and harmony in the world. Rita represents the sublime inviolable moral regularity of cosmos as also the inner harmony and order of a man‟s conduct
Norwegian theorist Johan Galtung – referred to as the ‘Father of Peace Studies’ developed the relationship between peace and violence, making this relationship the basic structure for resolving conflicts.
Peace is the opposite of violence is the often mooted correlation between peace and violence by philosophers and scholars of peace studies globally, but I must add, mostly in the Western world. Seldom is peace analyzed without correlating it to a violent act.
Galtung encapsulated his theories on peace, conflict, and violence in the statement that peace is not the absence of conflict but the absence of violence in times of conflict. But, one needs to raise a pertinent point of contention that peace is not only the absence of violence in times of conflict but the absence of conflict itself.
From the Vedic age to modern times, peace has been a constant virtue pursued by Indian philosophers and thought leaders, that has been passed on from one generation to another. The concern for peace as expressed in the religious scriptures such as the Vedas, Upanishads and even the Bhagwad Gita puts a strong emphasis on moral regeneration. Peace and harmony are of civilized people and nations. They are much indispensable to ensure peace and progress among people.
Western philosophers have for centuries focused on resolving conflicts instead of avoiding conflicts. Indian and Eastern philosophers have often believed that prevention is better than cure. Therefore, it focused on conflict avoidance not merely conflict resolution which often is resolving acts of direct, structural, and cultural violence on a society or ethnicity of people.
The Mahabharata most often to the uninitated is seen as a tale of conflict and violence, and yet its central message, if you study, analyse and meditate over it, is that, non-violence, compassion and pursuit of peace is the Dharma of mankind without it humanity will be obliterated.
Furthermore in the Mahabharata we learn that Dharma serves two purposes: it orients man to spiritual values and it makes him aware of the need to strengthen the foundation of the social order for promoting human welfare. The principles of order are violated when men fail in this, due primarily to a lone-sided pursuit of wealth and possessions, of power over the means of satisfying desires. A strong emphasis is laid on the need to create conditions, both spiritual and material, that ensure peace.
Peace is a condition in which people conduct the business of life normally. When normalcy is disturbed and conflict ensues, peace has to be re-established. The principal emphasis of the Vedic scriptures is that social order and peace are preserved when humans adhere to the principles of Dharma.
Vedic philosophies theorize that Dharma signifies obligations binding upon every person. If a person wishes for their actions to bear fruit, they must submit themselves to the laws which govern the universe; this essentially means that the pursuit of kama and artha, are within the limits set by Dharma.
Peace and harmony prevail when conflict is absent. The primary conflict is between the individual and the Absolute. The second nature of conflict is the conflict between the individual and the world of nature. Then comes the third nature of conflict within one’s own self. In social, economic, or political systems, actions taken by one party can have direct or indirect consequences for others, leading to conflicts of interest.
Understanding conflict is critical to the purusit of peace. A conflict does not mean a state of violence, it is a state when people, societies and nations have opposing objectives, interests, values, or beliefs that cannot be reconciled or fulfilled simultaneously; Or when people, societies and nations perceive scarcity in tangible resources like money, land, or commodities, or intangible resources such as power, recognition, or respect, competition and conflict arise.
Conflicts also stem from disparities in authority, influence, access to resources, or decision-making capabilities. Those who possess power may seek to maintain or expand their influence, while those who lack power may strive to challenge or change existing power structures.
Often conflicts are triggered by personal past experiences and histories, perceptions, biases. This shapes the intensity and violence that can emerge from a conflict. Emotional reactions often overshadow rational thinking and escalate conflicts, making conflict avoidance and conflict resolution more challenging.
Dialogue is the way of the civilised people and nation to avoid conflict. Absence of dialogue is promotion of conflict and at most times conflicts lead to violence.
For peace to prevail and conflict to cease it is important for religious leaders, spiritual teachers, politicians and people in government to lay strong emphasis on dialogue to avoid conflict. Those concern for peace must in their dialogue lay strong emphasis on moral regeneration because it is moral regeneration that can ensure peace and harmony, and endeavour to make the social order peaceful and free from violence and conflict.
In the Yajur Veda is written:
Let there be peace in heaven,
Let there be peace in the atmosphere,
Let there be Peace on Earth,
May the waters and medical herbs bring peace,
May the trees give peace to all beings,
May all the Gods be peaceful,
May the Vedas spread peace everywhere,
May all other objects everywhere give us peace,
And may that peace come to us and remain with us forever. (Shukla Yajur Veda, 36/17)
The Vedic idea of peace is not the absence of violence but rather it is a presence of something positive. Social harmony and peace will come when we discover our common unifying thread and that is to accept the prinicple of humanity.