An Ethic of Peace

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The imperative of peace is more relevant in today's interdependent world than ever before. Any discussion of peace is a discussion of world peace.

What do we mean when we talk about peace — inner peace and world peace? How are inner peace and world peace related?

Although we often equate peace with an absence of war, the peace the Dalai Lama is urging us to aspire to is a state of contentment and calm that is based on compassion and empathy.

What is the relationship between afflictive emotions and peace?

Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments. These mental processes easily translate into actions, breeding belligerence as an obvious effect. Such processes have been going on in the human mind since time immemorial, but their execution has become more effective under modern conditions. What can we do to control and regulate these 'poisons' — delusion, greed, and aggression? For it is these poisons that are behind almost every trouble in the world.

If a country is not directly engaged in military conflict but is actively engaged in arming itself and attempting to intimidate others, is that country at peace? Was the cold war's fragile equilibrium based on mutual hostility a time of peace?

Real peace depends on the resolution of internal conflict. The fact of human interdependence is so fundamental and clear today that the only peace meaningful to speak about is global peace.

Peace starts with the individual

War and peace do not exist independently of us.  Peace in the world depends on peace in the hearts of individuals.  We must each discipline our responses to negative thoughts and emotions.  We need to develop basic spiritual qualities such as equanimity, patience and compassion.

War is like fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living people and which spreads like fire.

If this is so, why is it so difficult for people to turn away from violence and warfare?

We are conditioned to regard warfare as exciting, even glamorous. We have become oblivious to the fact that the very nature of war is callousness, malice and suffering.

Reflecting back on the previous lesson, what is the role of education and the media in creating a  society in which people have such a deluded conception of war?

But nowadays those who instigate war are far removed from the conflict. Now we often fight wars described as defensive and we fight them with "smart" weapons. We see and hear war described like a computer game; in fact children now "play" war on the computer. We become more and more disconnected from the reality that weapons exist solely to destroy human beings.

But weapons, the Dalai Lama reminds us, cannot act by themselves.  Someone has to push a button to launch a missile strike or pull a trigger to fire a bullet. We cannot enjoy true peace until we dismantle injustice in our own human hearts.

Achieving peace

Lasting peace is only possible when each of us makes an effort internally. This includes learning to avoid actions that contribute to the suffering of others.

Everyone needs peace of mind. The question, then, is how to achieve it. Through anger we cannot; through kindness, through love, through compassion, we can achieve one individual's peace of mind. The result of this is a peaceful family . . . Extended to the national level, this attitude can bring unity, harmony, and cooperation with genuine motivation. On  the international level, we need mutual trust, mutual respect, frank and friendly discussion with sincere motivation, and joint effort to solve world problems. All these are possible.

But first we must change within ourselves. Our national leaders try their best to solve our problems, but when one problem is solved, another one crops up; trying to solve that, again there is another somewhere else. The time has come to try a different approach. Of course it is very difficult to achieve such a worldwide movement for peace of mind, but it is the only alternative. If there were another method that was easier and more practical, it would be better, but there is none.

Although it is difficult to attempt to bring about peace through internal transformation, this is the only way to achieve lasting world peace.