Buddhist Doctrine and the Culture of Peace by Pataraporn Sirikanchana
Peace is the essential teaching of Buddhism. As the means of practice, peace cultivated in a person’s mind is a source of an act of peace and a moral deed. Only a peaceful mind can originate a peaceful act. Many passages of the Buddhist teachings encourage a person to keep his/her mind in peace and demand peace from others. A passage here may illustrate the point:
All men tremble at punishment,
all men fear death;
remembering that thou art like unto them,
do not strike or slay.
He who, seeking his own happiness,
does not injure or kill beings
who also long for happiness,
will find happiness after death.
All phenomena (originating from a sentient being)
— dhamma — are preceded by (the activity of) the mind,
have as their chief agent the mind;
and are made up of the mind.
If one were to speak or act
with a pure mind,
happiness follows one as a consequence,
even as the shadow that never leaves one.
Like Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa, the Buddhist loving-kindness (metta) and altruistic practices should be cultivated internally. It is not proved to exist by means of a helpful act, white or yellow clothing, a smiling face, and so on. It is essentially the sincerity and purity of a person’s heart. It cannot exist without a peaceful mind.
A peaceful mind yields wisdom and all virtues. Thus, in Buddhism, meditation is a crucial means to attain a peaceful mind. The principle of meditation is the training of mindfulness. Whenever we pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds, we are conscious of ourselves and are aware of our movements. Being aware of our own selves, we feel ashamed of doing evil and thus do not let ourselves go wrong.
There are many places in Thailand which offer free courses in meditation to Thais and foreigners. For example, the meditation teaching at the Non Pah Pong Monastery and meditation lectures and training at the World Meditation of Buddhists headquarters are well known to a considerable number of meditators.
In the view of Ajahn Chah, the former abbot of the Non Pah Pong Monastery, meditation practices are the cultivation of mindfulness and insight. First, we must find a meditation subject which is suitable to our particular tendencies, a way of practice which is right for our character. For example, going over and over the parts of the body: hair of the head, of the body, nails, teeth, and skin, can be very calming. The mind can become very peaceful from this practice. If contemplating these five things leads to calm, it is because they are appropriate objects for contemplation according to our tendencies. Whatever we find to be appropriate in this way, we can consider to be our practice and use it to subdue defilements.
If such practice does not work, we may try again with another meditation subject, e.g. the recollection of death. For those who still have strong greed, aversion, and delusion, it is useful to take this subject of personal death for meditation. We shall see that everybody must die some day. Developing this practice, we find that an attitude of dispassion arises. The more we practise, the more we find peace. This is because it is a suitable and appropriate practice for us.
According to the Buddhist Scriptures, the tipitaka, the Buddha searched for peace and enlightenment in the forest. Thus, it is a tradition and preference for monks to go to the forest and live in solitude. There they practise meditation and find peace in their ascetic lives. In addition, the Buddhist discipline prescribes that monks should live not too close to and not too far from a village so that they can live a peaceful life, find some food, and preach the doctrine to lay people.
Since, in Buddhism, the meditation subject can be anything suitable for each meditator, the meditation practice is beneficial to all, even to non-Buddhists. It is the universal way of peace. Christians may concentrate on Jesus as their meditation subject. Hindus may meditate on Shiva or Vishnu and Muslims on Allah. If all human beings practise meditation everyday, the world will be free from wars.
Apart from being the means of practice, peace is also the goal and the ideal of Buddhist life. The final goal of Buddhist moral practices is the attainment of peace both worldly and other-worldly. The goal of the monastic life is nibbana or the ultimate peace as follows:
The bhikkhu (monk) who lives in loving-kindness,
and is pleased in the Buddha’s teaching,
attains the peaceful state (nibbana),
which is happiness at the allaying of conditioned things.
And the goal of everyone, monks and laity, in this world is nibbana.
Those whose minds are rightly trained in the factors of enlightenment, and who changing to nothing,
and delighting in such dissociation,
they — the resplendent ones — attain nibbana even in this world.
In order to form the habit of peace offering, Buddhists are taught to diffuse loving-kindness to all beings as often as they can everyday. For example, before they go to bed at night, Buddhists recite the verse from the Buddhist Scriptures as follows:
Let creatures all, all things that live,
All beings of whatever kind,
See nothing that will bode them ill!
May naught of evil come to them!
Having the habit of peace offering, one’s mind always rests in peaceful happiness and in peace with others. Buddhists who reject peace and do not try to live in peace with others are wayward followers of the Buddha and can hardly be called Buddhists.
Buddhadasa-bhikkhu (1906-93), an eminent monk of Thailand, once gave a lecture on the subject ‘Till the World Is With Peace’1 asserting that peace should be fulfilled through qualified peace-makers as follows:
Peace-makers should be well educated and moral people. Education here aims at spiritual growth and moral wisdom. On the contrary, education today emphasizes only academic knowledge, intellectual capacities, and technology. Thus, it rouses desire and selfishness and ignores the religious truth guiding human beings to right thought and right conduct. Ideally and properly, education should cultivate our basic human-ness in order to make humankind righteous and peaceful.
Peace-makers should be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. In order to be healthy physically, one should be free from all excessive enjoyments and indulgence. To be healthy mentally is to be free from all defilements and fetters. To be healthy spiritually is to be free from false conceptions and blind faith. The unhealthy are those who are slaves to their own selfishness, defilements, worldly enjoyments and other trivialities of worldly life. They disregard and dislike the Buddhist doctrine. They cannot form a good society. Indeed, only healthy social members can establish a peaceful society.
Peace-makers should come from righteous and peaceful families. Righteous and peaceful families know their duties and obligations to others. They act according to the Buddhist doctrine. Those who come from righteous and peaceful families are responsible social members. For example, if they are the superiors, they will treat inferiors with compassion; if they are children, they will respect and care for their parents. They can always secure peace in their society.
Peace-makers should live according to a dhammic economic plan that is moderate in living, in spending and in possessing, being neither too poor nor too rich. If we live moderately, we shall feel content with ourselves. We shall not struggle for anything more than we need to survive. If we are too poor and our morality is not strong enough, we may be trapped into misconduct and be harmful to ourselves and others in order to survive, e.g. stealing or even killing others for some money. On the other hand, if we are too rich, we many be indulgent and careless about others. In Thailand today, rich people are generally extravagant. The word sresthi in Thai means the rich. In Pali and Sanskrit, it originally and literally means the noblest. At the time of the Buddha, the Buddhist rich people were philanthropic and righteous. They built alms-houses to serve the poor, ascetics and all in need. Peace-makers should adopt the spirit and practices of the rich in the Buddha’s time so that all members of society can live happily and peacefully together.
Peace-makers should know and practise the dhamma, the life duty of all human beings. Such duty demands all human beings to work and live for the sake of all beings and in accordance with the law of nature. In order to fulfil one’s duty, one needs to get rid of one’s selfishness and cultivate concern and responsibility for the sake of the world.
Peace-makers should be unselfish and altruistic, realizing that all people are companions in the process of birth, old age, sickness, and death. They should try to cooperate with others in order to establish a peaceful and loving society.
Peace-makers should be moral in thoughts, words, and actions. Morality keeps the world in balance and equilibrium. Those who think, speak or act morally always keep themselves to this normative balance leading to peace and happiness of others. On the other hand, those who act against this equilibrium create disturbances. Thus, morality is indispensable for the realization of peace on earth.
Peace-makers should have the right view (samma-ditthi). The right view is the knowledge of morality in the fundamental sense. One cannot conduct oneself morally unless one understands the real meaning and value of morality. The right view is the only means to free oneself from all suffering and is crucial for overcoming one’s selfishness. It gives us the true knowledge of the world and thus asserts the necessity of world peace.
Peace-makers should have a ‘cooled’ life. Whenever all defilements are eliminated from our minds, our lives are ‘cooled down’ (nibbana). Nibbana, which can be experienced in this life, is generally understood as two stages of a peaceful life, ordinary and ultimate. The ordinary or worldly stage is the peaceful lives of ordinary people. The ultimate stage is absolute freedom from all pains and is exclusively experienced by holy people or the enlightened ones. If all people had ‘cooled’ lives, the world would certainly be in peace.
Apart from meditation and moral cultivation, peace can be attained through all religious arts, e.g. paintings, sculptures, images, and so on. In Thailand, Buddha images are intentionally made to inspire peace in the hearts of all who see them. The smiling face of a Buddha image and his eyes gazing downward seem to invite all sufferers to come and take merciful guidance from him. Entering the consecrated assembly hall of a Thai Buddhist temple, one finds the Buddha image presiding at the end of the hall. Looking around, one can see murals depicting the history of the Buddha’s life showing his moral activities and compassion for all beings. Going to a temple for an appreciation of religious arts is thus a way to create peace in one’s heart.
Besides, all Buddhist temples are sanctuaries. They are places of peace and protection of all lives. Formerly, those who had a death sentence and could escape to a temple and be ordained as monks were forgiven and freed. Nowadays, all kinds of people love to free animals, such as dogs, cats, birds and small turtles in a temple or a monastery compound. They know that the animals will be safe there since it is a Buddhist tradition not to harm any being in a temple.
It is important to call for peace education. All institutions should teach people to love peace. A proper educational system should be established to promote humaneness and moral wisdom. Since the word manussa (human being) in its original sense means ‘one of noble heart’, the right educational system should endow students with noble hearts and make them complete human beings. Once people become human beings, peace can be restored to the entire world.
1. Translated by Pataraporn Sirikanchana in Donald K.Swearer, ed., Me and Mine, New York: State University of New York, 1989.