Ahimsa – the ultimate winner
CONFLICT RESOLUTION THROUGH NON-VIOLENCE IN ACTION —
THE JAIN APPROACH
[Major Presentation at the Millennium Peace Summit of Religions and Spiritual Leaders, at United Nations, New York (USA) - August 28-31, 2000]
World’s religious and spiritual leaders coming together at the Millennium Peace Summit at the United Nations signals a welcome opportunity for initiating a collective politico-spiritual endeavour to move towards world peace, inter-faith harmony, healthier ecology and more compassionate interdependence among humanity and other living beings.
The task of implementing a global agenda for peace through Non-violence is, indeed, formidable given egocentric attitudes of nation states, play of power politics, unbridled arms race and continuing conflicts at global, regional, national and ethnic levels. Religions functioning largely within the narrow confines of orthodoxy and self-centred focus are being misused by fanatics to fuel religious and communal conflicts.
Exploitative violence and competitive struggle for control by humans has eroded, polluted and depleted nature’s resource base in land, water, forests and minerals. Global network of anti-development lobbies continue to block, delay or derail the process of growth developing countries thereby creating an environment of frustration and tension in the midst of poverty and backwardness.
The challenge before the Summit is not merely to adopt a unanimous Declaration on Tolerance and Non-violence, but even more to open the doors for a concerted and sustained worldwide synergic effort to replace conflict and confrontation by synthesis and conciliation, and exploitation by equity and fair play.
Need to usher in all-pervading Culture Of Non-Violence.
Patchwork solution would not do. Wars will only beget wars and durable peace – both inner and outer will remain elusive. What the world community needs is an all-pervading culture of non-violence for strengthening the foundation of peace and harmony and overcoming hostility, mistrust and greed.
2500 Years ago, Lord Mahavir, Jain Prophet (Tirthankar) called for practice of non-violence in action in all aspects of individual and community life. He emphasized:
“He who himself hurts the creatures or gets them hurt by others, augments the world’s hostility towards himself”
Late Acharya Sushil Kumarji, the renowned Jain monk while launching a Global Movement for Non-violence at the U.N. Earth Summit in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) observed:
“The dawn of non-violence shall usher in an era of peaceful coexistence where the oneness of all religions becomes the foundation stone of the oneness of humanity”.
Jain religion has enshrined AHIMSA (Non-Violence) at the summit of all virtues. Indeed Jain culture has become synonymous with Ahimsa Culture. Acharya Shubhachandra in his celebrated work “Jnanarnava” writes:
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All the scriptures regard non-violence as the core attribute of religion and the contrary as sin. Ahimsa is the fountain spring of all virtues like learning, meditation, compassion and charity, non-attachment, pursuit of truth and ethical conduct.
The first step for successful and effective programme of non-violence in action is attitudinal transformation at individual and collective levels in favour of lasting peace. In the very lucid interpretation of Jain philosophy given by Jain Muni Amitgati, this can be achieved by approach of friendliness towards all living beings, respect for the virtuous and the pious, compassion for the distressed and equanimity towards hostile elements.
It was a happy augury that Parliament of World’s Religions meeting in Chicago (U S A) in 1993 after an interval of a century unambiguously recognized “Non-violence as an irrevocable doctrine” in its declaration on a global ethic.
Now is the time to move further and initiate steps on following lines:
1. United Nation should give a lead by including in the preamble of its Charter the objective of spreading globally the culture of Non-violence among all living species and Nature. Mere prevention of war or peaceful settlement of disputes at the political level will not usher in peace in its fulsome content.
2. Such a reference to non-violence should not only be symbolic but also substantive. And to build up the momentum for it, religious and spiritual leaders should lend their full support. This summit should appeal to the U.N. to consider this proposal favorably and initiate required procedural formalities.
3. Worldwide education in the principles of non-violence and training in the practice of non-violent techniques and strategies is of paramount importance. Under the direction of Rev. Acharya Mahaprajna (successor of Acharya Tulsi) Head of the Terapanth sect of Jain community, Life science courses have been designed by Vishwa Bharti University for different age groups in school and colleges. It has turned out to be a popular and secular programme all over India for the orientation of teachers. Text Books have also been prepared.
UNESCO in collaboration with The Institute of Jainology, London and in consultation with institutions like Vishwa Bharti University, (Jaipur-India) or Kund Kund Jnana Peeth (Indore, India) could design similar training programmes in non-violent life ethics. Such programmes where tried have succeeded in inculcating among both teachers and pupils the spirit of dedication, devotion, discipline, tolerance, honesty, responsibility realization, broader outlook and vision. These qualities would develop a growing temper for peace and non-violence in the society.
Prior to each session of the U.N. General Assembly, which usually takes places between September to December, annually, it would be useful to organize summer seminars & workshop on non-violence in New York and Geneva for U.N. delegates. During U.N. General Assembly session also weekend seminars could be arranged for national delegates who include members of parliament as well. This has been tried out with encouraging results at Siddhachalam Jain Temple centre in New Jersey (U.S.A). Such seminars could be organized by all U.N. specialized agencies as well as regional organization like the ESCAP in Thailand. Such seminars will promote closer contact and interaction of diplomats with Jain and other like-minded faith leaders and workers. Along side, courses and workshops on meditation, voluntary self-abstinence and tolerance would prove enormously useful for stress-prone and tension-ridden diplomats.
Unesco could usefully bring out literature in all major world languages on the success stories of non-violence in action. Following are some illustrative examples, which show how a determined individual or a small-dedicated group of persons can build up a powerful movement of non-violence and peace.
I. When the Indian Emperor Ashoka the Great saw the horrors of war, he embraced Buddhism and became a total votary of non-violence. His enduring success in spreading Buddhist religion and its compassionate non-violent philosophy to Srilanka, China, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and other south east Asian countries proved his point that “victories of peace are more permanent than those of war”
II. Mahatma Gandhi symbolized the courage of non-violence, and he successfully used non-violence to organize an effective mass struggle to secure India’s freedom from British colonial rule without armed conflict and by using persuasive methods of peaceful resistance and non-cooperation (Satyagraha). Gandhi was deeply inspired ethically and spiritually by principles of Jainism in his adolescent years, which left a deep imprint on his mind and heart.
Simultaneously he brought in socio-economic changes in the Indian society in a non-violent manner. This earned him the title of ‘Mahatma’ (Saint). Khadi (hand spun and woven cloth) became the symbol of freedom from colonial economic exploitation as well as of self-reliance and self-determination. Earlier Gandhi had raised his voice with courage and resolve against racial discrimination in South Africa and stood his ground even when he was thrown out of a first class train compartment.
III. His associate Acharya Vinoba Bhave also achieved the miracle of “Bhudan Movement”(land gift movement) by persuading landlords to voluntarily pass the ownership of part of their lands to the landless farmers.
IV. Martin Luther King (Jr.) followed Gandhiji’s path and waged a peaceful struggle in U.S.A against racial discrimination. Dr. Martin Luther King (Jr.) observed:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war, that the bright day breaks of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their spirits. I still believe that we shall overcome”.
4. Let us practice and not merely preach -
I. U.N. support for spreading world-wide culture of non-violence would be worthwhile only if different faith communities start practicing it at grass root levels and make a success of inter-faith cooperation in this sphere. This would call for curbing inter-faith violence and settling religious differences through peaceful interaction, give and take, and conciliation. There are innumerable opportunities for such successful experiments to be taken up even within different sect of the same religion. National inter- faith committees could do a lot of useful work in this field.
II. Merely setting up Advisory Council of Religious & Spiritual Leaders at U.N. Head Quarters would not suffice. Religious Leaders need to come out more actively and courageously at national and local levels in the field of promoting social welfare, providing distress relief, mitigating ecological disasters, stimulating communal harmony and so on. There has been talk of as Inter-faith Saints brigade. This needs to be taken up more earnestly in all the continents as part of forging inter – faith unity and cooperation. Courage backed by concrete action shown by spiritual leaders would pay rich dividends in creating a climate of greater acceptability of the compassionate principles of non-violence, peace, tolerance and equanimity.
III. Mother Teresa’s work in different continents provides an example. She nursed the dying; she brought food with love to the poor; she practiced and advocated eliminating food wastage. Service to the needy became her faith.
IV. Social upliftment programs need to be taken up more and more at grass roots levels in rural and urban areas to cater to the basic needs of people. Peace cannot be built up on empty stomachs, ailing bodies or stressed minds. Charitable hospitals, schools, colleges, bird clinics, wild life sanctuaries, cow protection centres need to be started and run by philanthropic institutions at local levels. Their benefits should not be confined to one community only but should be open to all the needy sections of the society.
5. At Peace with Nature:
Conflict transformation would acquire firmer roots also when humanity looks at nature with respectful and friendly eyes. In this task all faiths have an important role to play. Instead of indiscriminate plundering of nature’s resource base, humankind should take to the path of farsighted conservation and judicious exploitation Jain scriptures put a lot of emphasis on it:
“Take from the earth only what you need:The Mother Earth will then be able to serve and support life longer”
After oil, water threatens to emerge as a crisis commodity in the 21st century creating more and more inter-state or inter country conflicts and irritants. There is a lot of water in oceans and rivers and yet there are grave shortages of drinking water, water for other uses and hydroelectric power. Around 75% water of rivers flows down to the sea unused. Water based development projects need priority handling.
Our religious and spiritual leaders have brought to the Summit waters of our holy rivers. Let this not become a mere tokenism. Let this arouse awareness in the world for taking both preventive and curative measures to protect our rivers, to regulate them, to conserve their water and use it for the benefit of the mankind.
Worshipping rivers is part of our religion, but steps are required to maintain water quality and protect rivers from pollution, to protect the people from flood damages and to harness river water for hydropower in order to meet growing need for power. Development goals are compatible with spiritual perceptions, as well as with environmental considerations. Pro-development approach alone would eliminate hostility and friction.
6. Tackling terrorism
Terrorism is becoming more and more dreadful, violent and tortuous. Innocent civilians are its victims. Religious and spiritual leaders need to join in the effort to curb & eliminate terrorism by going to affected areas and population with courage and openness. Bullets will never kill bullets. It is persuasive effort, which will bring home the futility of using bullets.
There are encouraging and inspiring examples. Mahatma Gandhi walked alone in riot-torn Noakhali area in Bengal to bring to the people message of love and harmony in 1947, Jain Saint Acharya Sushil Kumarji showed the courage to walk into riot-affected areas in India carrying the message of tolerance and non-violence in1980 and 1990. Howsoever difficult, such initiatives need to be multiplied. Only then the momentum would gather in favour of non-violence and peace.
In the ultimate analysis, world’s people must come on the centre stage and not leave peace to be attained at only government levels. As Dwight Eisenhower once observed-
“People in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than Governments, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days the governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”
Over 6 billion human beings inhabiting Planet Earth need to wake up to their responsibilities as enlightened beings and recognize what Jain Sutrakritanga says -
“As the Earth is the abode of all living beings so the Peace is the abode of all enlightened beings.
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