Practicing meditation for well-being and peace


-By Ven. Ashin Nyanavara

The goal of Vipassanā meditation is to become a peaceful, harmonious citizen, who is at ease with him or herself, and who brings some harmony and well-being into the society and culture.

The Buddha himself gives a glimpse of such a harmony in the Brahman Jatābhāradvāja. When addressed thus,

“A tangle inside, a tangle outside,
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
I ask you this, O Gotama,
Who can disentangle this tangle?
(The Buddha answered)
“A man established on virtue, wise,
Developing the mind and wisdom,
A bhikkhu ardent and discreet:
He can disentangle this tangle”.1

Conflict can open avenues for change and provide challenges. Conflict resolution skills do not guarantee a solution every time, but they can turn conflict into an open opportunity for learning more about oneself and others. We can sometimes alter the course of a conflict simply by viewing it differently. Transforming conflict this way is an art, requiring special skills. John A McConnell has recently written an excellent manual, Mindful Mediation: A Handbook for Buddhist Peace Makers, in which he applies the Buddhist Four Noble Truths to conflict very clearly, by explaining (1) the truth of suffering or conflict as part of the human condition; (2) the truth of the rise of suffering as the root of conflict, i.e., greed, hatred and delusion. The challenge of the Second Noble Truth is to be aware of these psychological roots of conflict. This is more difficult than it might seem, because we do not normally experience delusion, greed and hatred merely as mental phenomena, but as emotions already bound up with objects–often other people. In everyday unmindful existence, we experience a particular object as desirable, beautiful, repulsive, etc. We do not discriminate between the object, the feeling, the desire, and the process by which the desire has been cultivated, for example, through advertising and fantasy. Similarly, if we are involved in conflict, we perceive the other person as selfish and contemptible.

We do not clearly distinguish between observations, interpretations, feelings, desires and assertions of identity, which may make up our own perception of the other person.

Once we understand the Second Truth, we can then embark on the Third Truth of cessation–that peace can emerge from conflict. It is essential to see conflict, with all its messiness and pain, as an opportunity for peace-making. It challenges us to develop a peace process that engages with the roots of conflict. Then we can proceed to the Fourth Truth of the cessation of suffering–peace is the way of life.

The Buddha teaches that the way to extinguish suffering is to remove the roots that sustain it. In order to achieve true peace, conflict resolution must undermine the roots of conflict. The challenge is to identify, and engage with, greed, hatred and delusion as they happen to be manifested on all sides of the conflict. Meditation can be an excellent tool for this. It helps in understanding ourselves, and developing compassion for those with whom we are in conflict. For example, we can begin our contemplation with the person we hate or despise the most. We contemplate the image of the person who has caused us the most suffering. Contemplate the bodily form, feelings, perceptions, mind and consciousness of this person.

We contemplate this way until we feel compassion rise in our heart like a well filling with fresh water, and our anger and resentment disappear. We can practise this exercise many times on the same person. We can also practise this exercise on ourselves, to understand our own greed, hatred and delusion more clearly. With a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings, will be able to see the similarities and connections between us. This in turn can serve as an invaluable tool in conflict prevention and resolution. Thus, we can cultivate seeds of peace.

We can apply this technique not only at personal levels, but also to society and nation, to structural violence. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an example of a person who has inspired many of us to love our enemy by cultivating seeds of peace. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does the same in Burma, as does the Venerable Maha Gosananda in Cambodia. Of course, we can learn not only from Buddhists, but also from the other religious traditions. I am sure that all of these spiritual paths, including those of the indigenous people, can help us to enrich our understanding and our practice in facing conflicts mindfully and overcoming them non-violently.

1 Bhikkhu Bodhi (Trans), The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Samyutta Nikāya, Wisdom Publications, Boston in USA, Verse-625-626, P-259.

About the author: Ven. Ashin Nyanavara is a monk from Myanmar, who is also a scholar with the School of Buddhist Studies & Civilization, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida.