All human beings do not think alike or feel alike. They have therefore no escape from having to encounter differences. Differences can lead to
intolerance, intolerance can lead to confrontation, and hostile confrontation can, does often, lead to conflict. The objects that set
one on the path of confrontation and conflict are therefore very important in
understanding 'conflict'. So are the means - tactics and instruments that
one uses to engage in conflict. Both these affect the individual as well as
the group or society in which, or on behalf of which he or she wants to engage in conflict. They act and interact on the individual as well as the
institutions that he fashions or lives under, and the "forces" that they
generate and employ for bringing about change or resisting change. The problems that arise from these inter-relationships cannot be solved by
saying that conflicts are inevitable in the life of the individual and society.
Science and technology have given us weapons that individuals or groups
can use to cause mass destruction, wipe out vast populations and inflict
death and suffering on generations that may survive or succeed nuclear
holocausts. In fact it will be truer to say that we have used science and
technology to invent such weapons to enforce our views and our will on those who differ,
and expose the human species to the threat of extinction. We
have done so because we have inherited the belief that disputes can be
settled only by violence, war in the case of nations, and violent conflict
or upheavals in the case of sub sovereign groups or individuals. But the
world has now seen the magnitude and duration of the effects of the
destruction that violence can cause, to the one who initiates as well as
the one who responds, and to the vast mass of innocent people who are not
responsible for these decisions, but live in areas controlled by the one who
initiates or the one who responds.
The ordinary human being everywhere has therefore become far more conscious and concerned about the
risks and the ruin that conflict brings in its train. He has therefore become
aware of the stake that he has in avoiding and resolving conflict. He is
no longer satisfied with the academic adage that conflicts are inevitable.
He does not want conflicts because conflicts are prone to become violent, and
competitive violence can lead to the destruction of all mankind including
themselves. The demonstrations that one sees today from Turkey to Los Angeles
bear testimony to the new awareness of the futility and dangers of violent
conflict, and the revulsion to war as a weapon to settle disputes. Today we do
not therefore want differences to precipitate into violent conflict or war.
Conflicts in perceptions easily become prone to violent conflicts because of:
(1) the ferocity of feelings built up through intense and clever propaganda
(2) the easy availability of arms for combat
(3) the inherited belief in war or violence as the most efficient way of settling disputes
(4) the romantic appeal of secret societies and conspiratorial action and
(5) the appeal of martyrdom and eternal glory that is associated with it.
Conflict is not an instant occurrence - something that occurs without a warning, without building up - without gestation.
It is therefore necessary to take a deeper look at:
(a) how conflicts build up and precipitate into violent conflicts
(b) the areas in which or the issues on which conflicts are most likely to arise and
(c) the action that we can take to to resolve, defuse or control conflicts.
We have already observed that conflicts are not instant occurrences. They build up. From where
then do they commence? We observe many conflicts around us, in the world of
sentient beings as well as in the world beyond what we regard as sentient. But
in this analysis we are confining ourselves only to conflicts that arise between
human beings or institutions fashioned by human beings.
All these conflicts originate from differences in perceptions about likes or dislikes,
truth or justice or rights or interests. These perceptions arise, or are
formulated, in the mind; the desire or determination, to establish the
ascendancy of, or to secure the acceptance of one's perception also arises in
the mind. It is the mind that lights upon or chooses or fashions the means by
which one decides to assert one's perception. It is for these reasons that we
say conflicts originate in the minds of human beings. If it is in the minds that
they originate, and it is the human mind that chooses and fashions the means
that are employed in conflicts, it is in the human mind that one has to grapple
with problems relating to the precipitation of conflicts.
It is the mind that reconciles with a different perception, decides that it is not worth a conflict,
or necessary or profitable to engage in conflict to defend one's perception of another's mind.
Any study of conflicts therefore has to begin by observing that:
(1) conflicts are not instant occurrences
(2) that they commence from the perception of differences
(3) that there is a perceptible process of progression which leads one from the
perception of difference to intolerance; to the desire to eliminate what one
cannot tolerate, to engage in conflict to secure the elimination of what one
cannot tolerate, to use any means - including violence - to achieve victory in the
conflict, to create a psychosis that justifies conflict as inevitable and
necessary for the defence or victory of something that one considers sacrosanct.
Thus, if conflict or violent conflict occurs as a result of conscious or
unconscious escalation from differences that can be considered natural, it
follows that events or changes in attitudes can intercede between one stage and
another thus stalling or preventing escalation. It is this possibility which
gives us the opportunity to prevent the precipitation of violent conflict, and
the responsibility to discover effective methods of intercession.
The purpose of intervention must be to decelerate feelings and promote introspection on:
(1) how the difference affects oneself or one's interests or 'rights'
(2) whether escalation will bring a solution
(3) what the cost of escalation will be - to the two sides, and to society at large - in the short
term and in the long term
(4) whether there is a position, - perhaps an intermediate position, - that safeguards the rights
or interests or views of both
(5) whether one can explore and locate such a position - through dialogue - which reviews facts,
and methods that have been used to arrive at conclusions
(6) whether such a position can be found through mediation or arbitration, (even with a
provision to review the results of arbitration after a specific period has
passed, to assess effects or changes in the preparedness of both sides to engage
in or resume conflict)
(7) whether the nonviolent means of Satyagraha based on truth, love and awareness of the
paradigms of interdependence can result in a peaceful resolution of the conflict
or the creation of a new balance of forces that support different positions,
accepting nonviolent methods for reconciliation of views or interests.
The agents of intercession can be:
(a) a concerned individual with credibility held in respect by both sides;
(b) a group or organization that wants to take the initiative to protect peace and justice and
to promote reconciliation;
(c) a group of persons that represents a judicial initiative for intercession;
(d) a governmental or inter-governmental group or organisation, depending on the grounds, and the
potential scales of conflicts. Any one who wants to intervene must have
the requisite credibility.
Now let us examine the question whether all conflicts can be resolved or
eliminated. In as much as conflicts arise from differences, and differences
are natural, the potential for conflict can not be totally eliminated till
all human beings have learnt to "digest" differences and abide by
the modus vivendi that flows from the paradigms of interdependence, confining
themselves to ends as well as means, including institutions and sanctions,
that are consistent with interdependence. It may take quite some time
before such a state of mind becomes universal. While the creation of such a
state of mind and institutions and sanctions that go with it should undoubtedly
be our long term objective, in the immediate future we should begin by:
(1) abjuring violence as an instrument of conflict;
(2) progressively de-escalating, and confining ourselves to methods of dialogue, mediation,
arbitration, nonviolent means that can promote introspection and logical
examination of issues, paralyzing the perpetrator of injustice through massive
There will certainly be no dearth of people who scoff at the plea for
abjuring violence, especially when it comes to conflicts between nations.
But with a little thought, one may see that the plea is not senseless.
Firstly, it cannot be gainsaid that weapons of mass destruction have created
the very real fear that war may result in the ruin, if not the extinction of
the human species; that the destruction that a war might cause will not respect
frontiers, will not discriminate between combatant and
non-combatant, between the one who initiates and the one who responds. No
one - no master of the science of warfare can predict the shape of things
'on the morning after', who survives, and whose interests or perceptions
would be upheld by the corpses and ruins that will remain. Who in his
senses will want to launch an enterprise - which will demand the highest
price ever paid by humanity in lives and assets of all kinds - without being
sure of what can be gained from the enterprise? The time has therefore come
for us to look at what we can save by abjuring war, to see that we can save
what we want to save only by abjuring war.
Secondly, changes in weaponry and delivery systems have radically
changed the nature of wars. Enormous disparities in the quantum and quality
of deployable destructive power available to contending forces have resulted
in revolutionary changes in tactics and strategy. Old objectives for
military action have given place to new. The defence of frontiers and
territories have become less important. Aggression can take place without
fighting at the frontiers. All frontiers have become porous for some kinds
of aggression. Infiltration, terrorism, guerilla warfare, biological and
chemical warfare from secret launching pads within the country and from
distant launching pads, and assassination have become the characteristics of
international hostilities and warfare. Chemical and biological weapons,
even nuclear weapons have become accessible to many, and the mightiest of
mighty nations are finding that there is no certain or satisfactory way of
overcoming their vulnerability to such attacks. The USA has seen how
difficult it is to assure the safety of its citizens and installations with
the most powerful weapon systems it has at its command. If the objective of
the armed forces is to ensure safety and security from external aggression,
the post-September 11 scenario has exposed the near-ineffectiveness of old
systems. New systems of defence will have to be evolved.
President Bush talked of the way the nature of war has changed after
September the 11th.
Thirdly, no military system in the world today is in a position to offer
a military answer or blue print to meet the demands of the new types of
aggression that we are witnessing or experiencing. If the old system cannot
offer an answer to the new menace or to what war has become, a new system
must be found.
That new system cannot be based on the notion that annihilation of the
body or the infliction of vicarious suffering on those who are not guilty
will lead to transformation of the mind of those who differ or end conflicts
that originate and linger in the mind.
The new way or system has to be able to deal with the mind itself, and
that can only happen through dialogue and persuasion.
Though all minds do not think and feel alike, the best way to understand
another man's mind is through observing one's own mind. When one watches
one's mind, one sees that the emotions that arise in one's mind are not
permanent. They do not always have the same intensity. Sometimes, we can
be in the grip of an emotion, and at the same time see how the emotion has
gripped our mind and is twirling our mind around as a storm twirls a tree
around. We can also see how the storm passes, and the mind or the tree
slowly - sometimes quickly - settles down and experiences the calm that
follows the storm. We thus see that emotions arise in our mind, but are not
part of our mind. If they were part of our mind, there would have been no
variations in the intensity of our emotions, no changes, no arising and no
disappearance. We should learn from this that the intolerance, anger and
aggressiveness that we encounter from other minds are also capable of waxing
and waning, arising and disappearing. The collective mind of groups of
human beings also shares the same nature; it can be roused to a high pitch
of fury, but it can also respond with equal intensity to pity or love or
compassion or loyalty or devotion to ideals or to God. It may be argued
that the psyche of the individual and the psyche of the collective do not
always react in an identical fashion. But it is also true and we have
many instances that show how they both react and can react similarly. The
Indian struggle for independence under Mahatma Gandhi is replete with
instances that show how similar emotions arose and worked in the mind of
individuals and groups, the readiness to overcome hatred, the readiness to
sacrifice one's possessions or happiness, the readiness to suffer for a
cause, etc. There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the similarity of
responses to similar stimuli or to the same appeal. It is therefore
possible to believe that similar stimuli and appeals may help to decelerate
the momentum of negative and divisive emotions and bring it below the level
of the threshold of active confrontation or conflict.
One of the major reasons why Gandhi was able to do this was Gandhi's
success in making people distinguish between evil and the evil doer, or the
mind that holds wrong views and the views themselves, which as we have seen,
are not an inherent and irremovable part of the mind. If this is a valid
and verifiable distinction, we can also see the consequences of holding the
two as one. Firstly, if they are the same, there is hardly any way of
changing or transforming views or emotions. The problems that arise from
differences can only be resolved by the physical isolation or annihilation
of the other person. Given the fact that human beings think and feel
differently, this would have led to a perpetual desire or effort to
eliminate or contain the other. Such an attitude of mind would be
inconsistent with the gregariousness or interdependence that characterize
the human species. It is therefore clear that the mind of the human being,
as it has evolved in the species, has to be treated and approached as
distinct from the views and emotions that arise, transit, and disappear, and
the distinction has to be used to deal with problems that arise from
differences in views and emotions. If this is a necessity to bring about
changes or compromises in the short term, it is also a necessity to preserve
the integrity of human society and to protect it from the violent and
destructive effects of frequent fission. Secondly, if views are unalterable
and there is no way of achieving (eliciting) consent or acquiescence through
persuasion and consent, social changes can be brought about, and social
systems can be sustained only through 'force', and not reason. Dictatorship
then will be the natural way of governance, and suppression will be the
natural way of dealing with a mind that dares to think for itself.
Democracy education, bases itself on the belief that the human mind can be
transformed, that views can be transformed, if not to the point of wholesale
acceptance of other views and the abandonment of one's earlier views, at
least to the point of acquiescence and tolerance.
The next question we have to address is why is it that we insist that
our views be accepted, and why do we resist the views of others? One of the
most powerful factors that influences the views that we hold is our ego or
the ego aspect (?) of our mind. In fact, it is very difficult to
disentangle our thoughts and views from our ego. The difficulty is all the
greater, and hard to overcome because the ego is subtle, and knows how to
conceal itself or defend itself when challenged. It hardly ever comes into
the open, and yet it can manipulate our attitudes and views effectively.
Considerations of prestige, self-interest, acquisitiveness, greed, the
desire to possess, possessiveness, aggrandizement, the desire to be
different, etc. are all intertwined with the ego. Yet, the ego has to learn
to reconcile with the egos of others if it is to be at peace with itself and
others. One of the fundamental requisites of peace and harmony,
therefore, is the balance between the egos and the self-perceived interests of
egos in a society.
How then do we explore this field and work for such a balance? Very little of the
ego is accessible to empirical observation and analysis. One cannot detect
the ego - the workings of the ego without looking inward. It is here that
the science that enquires into the inner world - religion or spiritual
disciplines have helped us most and can help us. Perhaps that is why all
religions have posited peace as the paramount goal of the human being and
society, and talked of the relation between peace and the conquest or taming of
the ego or the discovery that there is no inherent existence for the ego.
That is why they have formulated ways of overcoming the distortions in the
comprehension of reality that the ego manages to create.
Those who want to prevent the precipitation of differences into conflicts, and
those who want to intercede to find ways of reconciliation have therefore
much to learn from what religions and spiritual exercises have taught us, of how
to tame the mind and make it an abode of peace, and orient it towards peace and
Buddha Dharma talks of wisdom and loving compassion. Gandhi talks of
Truth, Love and Compassion.
The very first sermon that the Buddha delivered after his Enlightenment
was on suffering: the fact of suffering: the cause of suffering: the way to
end suffering by ending the cause of suffering. Conflict is suffering. It
is caused by suffering. It is engaged in with the hope or objective of
ending suffering. The Buddha saw that the wrong understanding of reality
was the cause of suffering. He therefore wanted sentient beings (human
beings) to work for the correct understanding of reality. In the
profoundest and subtlest sense this meant the understanding of Shunyata;
that all phenomena including the self are void of inherent existence; that
they exist only by imputation, and originate and appear only in dependence
on other phenomena (Pratityasamutpada). In the field of action, he
therefore wanted us to base ourselves on a clear understanding of the law of
cause and effect, or Karma. As positive aids that could help in eliminating
negativities that stood in the way, he recommended the Four Immeasurables or
the Brahma Vihara, Maitri, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha. As the means or
methods for giving battle to negativities, he recommended antidotes.
Akkodhena jine kodham, asadhum sadhuna jine, jine kadariyam danena,
sachenālikavadinam. (Let a man overcome anger by non-anger (gentleness), let
him overcome evil by good, let him overcome the liar by truth) (Dhammapada-kodhavaggo)
He underlined the principle that one finds in the physical
universe, and pointed out that negativities could be combated and eliminated
only by antidotes and not by further or more refined doses of the (same)
negativity that one was wanting to eliminate.
To Gandhi Truth is reality; is the core of reality; the Law that governs
the Universe and gives it its form: Dharma or the force of cohesion that
sustains an entity. Love is a reflection of this force of cohesion among
the sentient, as the law of gravitation is its reflection in the realm of
the inanimate. He therefore looked upon Truth and Love as two sides of the
same coin, and declared that as a votary of Truth or Satyagraha, it was his
duty and his Sadhana to serve all creation. "All creation" includes not
only the sentient but also the non-sentient; and the sentient as Gandhi
explained includes the "creepy-crawlies" or the "meanest" of creations. To
Gandhi, therefore, the purpose of individual and social life was the pursuit
of Dharma (Dharmamaya) through means consistent with Dharma or the force of
cohesion, viz. Love.
Gandhi too believed that Truth manifested in itself, and was accessible
only, through the 'inexorable law of cause and effect'. A cause could
create only the effect that was inherent in it. Conversely, a desired
effect could be brought about only by creating the cause that could produce
the effect (that contained the seeds of the effect). Means and ends
therefore become almost indistinguishably interwoven. An evil effect or
negativity can be removed only by the power of its antithesis or antidote.
So to him too, love or cohesion was the only force that could overcome
hatred and conflict.
Gandhi pointed out that since conflict took birth in the mind, it could
be resolved only through a mental process or mental force, not through the
deployment of physical force. He saw Satyagraha as a mental, moral or
spiritual force that the mind used to work on other minds and to correct
attitudes and acts that were inconsistent with Truth, justice or the
principle of cohesion that is the essence of Dharma.
Both the Buddha and Gandhi were men of action. The Buddha is a remote
figure in history and the interventions he made to preempt or resolve
social conflicts or ensure justice to sentient beings are not remembered or
recounted. But Gandhi lived in the recent past, and his interventions and
struggles are still remembered and studied.
Gandhi has explained why he became a man of "direct action". He had
found that human beings were sometimes (often) impervious to the appeal of
reason when their interests or views were involved, and only direct action
could shock them out of selfishness or intransigence, into introspection and
self-correction. He answered the charge that such direct action could
become divisive and cause confrontation or conflict in society, and said
that men of peace, persons of undoubted spiritual eminence like the Buddha
and Jesus were men of direct action.
According to Gandhi, "Never has anything been done on this earth without
direct action. I reject the word 'passive resistance', because of its
insufficiency and its being interpreted as a way of the weak."
What was the larger symbiosis that Buddha and Jesus preached? Gentleness and love.
Buddha fearlessly carried war into the enemy's camp, and brought down on its
knees an arrogant priesthood. Christ drove out the money chargers from the
temple of Jerusalem and drew down curses from heaven upon the hypocrites and the
Pharisees. Both were for intensely direct action. "But even as Buddha and
Jesus chastised, they showed immeasurable love and gentleness behind every act
of theirs." (Young India 12.05.1920)
Thus Gandhi's recipe for the resolution of conflicts was Satyagraha, the
desire to discover Truth, to insist on Truth, and abandon all that dilutes
Truth or deviated ever so slightly from Truth. This could be achieved
through joint review of facts and issues; mediation or arbitration;
introspection; direct action that promoted introspection and reminded one of
the need for reconciliation in a society that comes into being, survives and
prospers through interdependence; and tolerance for the residual differences
that might remain on peripheral matters.
It can be said that up to now we have been talking primarily of the mind
and attitudes of the individual, and not about the psychology and
motivations of groups that engage in conflict or about the specific issues
that become the epicenters of conflict. Yet, we have talked of (some)
similarities in the attitudes and responses of the psyches of individuals
and groups. We have also made some reference to the internal conflicts that
one experiences and the projections and manifestation of these or similar
conflicts in the external world - perhaps sufficient to show the similarity
and relationship between conflicts in the mind, micro conflicts and macro
conflicts, internal conflicts and external conflicts, attitudinal conflicts
and institutional conflicts.
Groups and institutions too have their own egos; and all the problems
that arise from ways in which egos intervene and distort the comprehension
of truth or the formulation of views. Where the group is one into which
one is born, one is brainwashed, subtly and overtly, right from one's birth.
This applies not only to taboos and rituals, but also to the "ego" of the
group, ethnic, racial, religious, territorial etc; the identity of the
group; its superiority or purity; its heritage, its interests; what it needs
to preserve its uniqueness or heritage and so on. As in the case of the
individual, one talks of the self-interest of the group, the legitimacy of
the use of force to protect it, the sovereignty or sub-sovereign autonomy of
the group and so on. One creates fierce loyalty to the group and wants to
sustain it through exclusivism. One not only renders loyalty (and feels
guilty when one is accused of lack of loyalty) but concedes to the group the
right to demand unquestioning loyalty and to enforce severe penalties -
including the death penalty in the case of the state. All these become
causes of conflict within the group and between groups. How can we deal
with these conflicts or potential conflicts if we look upon groups as
watertight entities with sovereign or near-sovereign rights? The individual
has learnt that he is not sovereign - cannot be sovereign in an
interdependent society. Groups cannot have unlimited and sovereign powers
in an interdependent world where science, technology and historical
movements of populations have brought different communities and groups
together, often living and working together. Walls seem to have become
anachronisms. Yet we have not cultivated the courage or skill necessary to
live together to encounter difference with tolerance or understanding, and
to produce the warmth of love to melt frigidity, suspicion or intolerance on
the other side. When walls have collapsed we have to learn the ethics and
dynamics of an open society. Neither the ethics nor the dynamics of an open
society can countenance conflict. They can only prescribe coexistence and
transparency, transparency of motivation, and transparency in the means or
methods we employ to pursue transparent motives.
Humanity sets up institutions to protect interests or to prescribe
procedures for ensuring justice. But when institutions do not provide equal
protection to the rights of all or procedures become channels of
manipulation, conflicts arise. They take the form of conflicts between
vested interests and those who seek to grapple with 'structural violence'
that can be as cruel and as lethal as gross or covert violence. This is an
area with a wide precipitation of conflicts. They are frequent and often
fierce, because the status quo is entrenched, and has the support of the
coercive apparatus of the State behind it, whereas those who are compelled
to fight for justice are weak, vulnerable, mostly unarmed and often unorganised.
It often seems impossible to secure redress without recourse
to militancy and conflict. Those who want to intercede in such situations
must have the vision to see the conflict as a quest for justice and not as a
challenge to law and order. They should have the ability to trigger
introspection on the issues of social justice that have precipitated
situations, and on the social consequences of the means that those who seek
justice are employing. In this analysis, up to now, I have not made any reference to means and
measures that are employed to limit or contain the damage from war, to forgo
or abjure the use of weapons of mass destruction, to bring about a limited
or prolonged and unlimited ceasefire, to supervise ceasefires, disarmament,
demilitarized zones etc; to recruit and deploy peace keeping forces, and
international armed forces, to use unarmed and neutral forces to keep peace,
to augment the powers and jurisdiction of the International Court of
Justice, to expand its powers to entertain disputes from international
non-governmental organisations and groups, to make the verdicts or
arbitration of the Court legally binding on all parties to disputes, to form
and deploy non-governmental or UN unarmed forces for preventive action and
deceleration of tension, for intercession at every stage of escalation etc.
I have not done so since these are all measures or steps that are designed
to prevent armed conflict, not necessarily to seek reconciliation or
resolution of the causes of conflict.
I believe that all these are very important, and are steps that we have to
take in our progress towards a peaceful or nonviolent society. They are
immediate and preliminary steps that we have to take to change our attitude
to conflicts and acquire the tolerance that interdependence demands, to find
the fundamental requisites that are essential for the control, sanitization
and transformation of the causes of conflict.