India, since ancient times, has been a play ground for political and spiritual dialogue; with many philosophies and religions springing out from these lands. In this country it is very difficult to differentiate between philosophical and religious enquiry, but one could very carefully say that religious inquiries focused a little more on achieving internal enlightenment (samkya karika, dhammapada, etc.) while philosophical enquiries focused on understanding, explaining and improving our surroundings, very often by expounding the theory of social and political duties and rights and its relation to peace (bhagvat gita, athashastra, etc.).
Many times the scholarly and religious traditions of India have very different conceptions of the means to achieve enlightenments and peace; but what unites them is the understanding of how it is only after personal/internal peace is achieved that the society can be in a state of political peace and social harmony. In the study of peace research, the Indian philosophies that we mostly analyze for their contribution to the field, as we understand it today, are Buddhism, Jainism, Vedantic Hinduism; and their fusion found in Gandhi’s thoughts: the Jaina Anekantavada and Ahimsa, the Vendatic Atman and the Buddhist equality of all beings and middle path.
I will discuss the Gandhian and Buddhist contribution to the understanding of Peace. For both of them, the process of political peace starts with internal/spiritual peace, which will then enable community/social peace to then nourish and make political peace a plausible reality. I will elaborate each dimension starting from the end point and coming to the centre one.
Buddha’s Dhamma is not directly aimed at the creation of new political institutions but the true flourishing of the human person. It seeks to reform society by reforming the human person towards greater humanism. The Buddha thought non-violence and peace as important realizations towards attainment of Nirvana and understanding the Middle Path. “The victor breeds hatred, the defeated lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful”. There are three main conceptions in the Buddhist thought, which are important for us today are: (1) the equality of all human beings. (2) the importance of a middle path (negotiation) and (3) encouraged the spirit of consultation and democratic process (which were found in the way monks dealt with problems in their communities)
Buddha explained the evaluation of social institutions and their cause of violence as a gradual process. To change such institutions one must change the organization that founded it; we need to reconstruct the social dimension. The quality of humans and the acceptance of their interdependence is fundamental for peace – only when there is happiness in others can there be happiness in and around me.
The Buddha analyzed three defilements that can be considered as reasons for conflicts among human being: the gross, the middle and the subtle. The gross defilements are evil behaviors in body, word and mind. The middle defilements are thoughts of pleasures and senses, of injury and of malevolence. The subtle ones consist of thoughts of birth, country and those associated with dignity.
It is when we are capable of going beyond these dispositions, when we are capable having the humility to see the interconnectedness in people and nature that we start the process of peace in us and consequently around us. Peace begins from the mind of the individual. Nirvana is enlightenment in peace.
Buddha tried to explain spiritual freedom and in doing so also contributed to political freedom and peace. Gandhi instead explained political freedom though the achievement of real internal freedom – personal/spiritual freedom.
Gandhi’s understanding of politics is closely related to his epistemological argument of Satya (Truth). The government, the society, the person must struggle to achieve truth. He says “Where there is no truth there can not be true knowledge. And where there is true knowledge there is always bliss; sorrow has no place.”
Truth implies justice and justice implies non-violence. Truth became the goal, non-violence (ahimsa) the means to achieve that goal. However, if the means are not ethical, the goal can never be ethical, Gandhi believed. If we are to create a politically just government and a socially harmonious society, we cannot use violent means, for if we do then our political and social system will be always be violent.
Peace starts from within, and then only it is expressed outside. To achieve a free society we must be at first free human beings. To be free and to incorporate truth requires internal acceptance, humility, purity of the mind and heart. Both, the society and the individual achieve peace when the interdependence of all living beings is respected and when the purushashtras are in balance. When artha, kama, dharma and moksha can find their expression individually without one over shading the other.