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Buddhism and Conflict Resolution

By Tsering Dhondup, The Times of Tibet, Jan 20, 2005

Toronto, Canada -- After nearly four decades of exploration of the human sociology, the concepts of peace, conflict and non-violence have attained success as distinct fields of study. Underlying it is the clamor to use peaceful measures and non-violent approaches to make the world a better place to live in. This has led to an extensive focus on the establishment of various centers to adopt research on such issues.

One such centre is the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution which for the first time introduced their concept of "Conflict Resolution, Mediation & Democratic Processes" in the Tibetan society. Former European Parliament member Else Hammerich played an instrumental role in setting up in Dharamsala the Tibetan Centre for Conflict Resolution.

Conflicts are not necessarily negative. As Else Hammerich put it: "Conflicts are not negative, but life's challenges to us; they are part of the challenges of life. They can lead to social progress, more wisdom, frankness and understanding among people."

Obstacles to mental liberation like misunderstanding, hatred, delusion, and lust are inherent in the ignorant mind. The equivalent Tibetan Buddhist term for "ignorance" is dag-zin or egoistic mind. And the term conflict is equivalent to suffering in the sense that suffering causes emotional disruption. But while conflict is part of suffering, suffering itself is not conflict. For example, the sufferings of birth, old age, illness and death are not conflicts.

We live in a vicious world, as Buddhism explains. The social experiences of divorce, emotional separation between best friends, organizational misunderstanding, etc, and, on a broader horizon, conflict between nations, show that the world is itself a source of suffering. Tibetan Buddhism sums it up as Khor-ba, meaning "cyclic existence". This means life is impermanent and the events in this life and our fate in the life hereafter are uncertain, for we do not know what we will be born as next. Instances of cyclic existence occur even within one's present life. The uncertainty governing this life makes conflict a part of our existence, or one among many "schedules" of our life, on this world. To realize this is to accept conflict positively due to the fact that the serenity and mindfulness accompanying it ensures that we are not hurt emotionally.

Accepting conflicts inherent in life in a negative way, such as by criticism yields harmful results both to oneself and others. It reflects inferior thinking. "As we think, so we are." We must accept life as it is and relate with other from the "heart" than from the "head".

While speaking to the trainees on 29 November 2000, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said: "According to the Buddhist philosophy, the main source of conflict is hatred and attachment, and the root cause of these conflicting emotions is ignorance."

The modern thinking about "negligence" as the cause of suffering is somewhat similar to that of Buddhism. But the Buddhist concept extends to events beyond this life and connects an individual to his or her past actions, called Karma. As Buddha said: "Karma creates all, like an artist; Karma composes, like a dancer.

Thus, Buddhists believe that certain unbearable and unavoidable conflicts that we confront in this life can be due to our past negative actions. They also believe that potentiality to minimize or pacify these conflicts always exists. Among the six types of beings that Buddhism talks about, human beings have the highest opportunity to attain enlightenment. We have the power to practice Dharma, which can lead to the path of liberation. Realizing and thinking about the significance of our existence as a human being is itself an invaluable asset. The concept of impermanence in Buddhist philosophy also explains that nothing in action is an established phenomenon, rather they are all entities liable to variation. Our successes and downfalls, happiness and sadness and, more deeply, life and death are common issues of our life depicted by the word "impermanent" known in Tibetan as Mi-tag-pa.

Modern thinking on conflict resolution is a constant process of learning and experimentation. The progresses achieved fit in with the changes occurring in the world, enabling resolutions of issues with exact antidotes. The four principles of Action, Reflection, Learning and Strategies in conflict resolution propounded by the Danish Centre provide useful diversion for converting non-beneficial action into beneficial action. However, the centre felt that it was in dire need to incorporate humane qualities of compassion, love and generosity, the quest for which led them to explore the Buddhist philosophy.

The Danish Centre has now come up with three main ways by which to face a conflict, known as "three ways of meeting a conflict." The first one says opening the issue in question with a suitable discussion using non-violent communication or compassionate communication and taking into consideration the needs and intentions of the concerned individual is the most suitable way to resolve a conflict. Flight and Fight, the other two possibilities, are not suitable approaches or practices for resolving a conflict in a peaceful and non-violent way.

The Buddhist approach to eliminating suffering lies in the "four noble truths." These approaches emphasize the realization of the nature of suffering, its impermanent nature, emptiness, selflessness, causes and conditions leading to suffering, chances of cessation of suffering, and the path to liberation. Buddhism says that the origin of all suffering is embedded in the cyclic nature of our existence through the influences of emotions and one's karma.

Desire, hatred and other negative emotions are the true causes of suffering of living beings. Cessation of suffering refers to addressing the causes of suffering, like desire and hatred and other non-virtuous actions. True path to eliminating suffering lies in holding a correct view of life and understanding and practicing the existence of the path leading to enlightenment.

Tsering Dhondup is author of 'Tibetan Medicine: A Unique & Comprehensive Amalgamation of Science, Art & Philosophy' (available from Paljor Publications Pvt Ltd). He lives in Toronto.

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