Desperately Seeking Shanti

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Shanti, Aman, Peace are inscribed in our scriptures, upheld dearly in our minds, but elusive like fragrance in the winds. Countless peace lovers have been fighting throughout the ages to attain peace on the planet earth.  Yet, all kinds of strategy, policy, technique and technology have failed to bring peace to mankind.  Sages, kings, priests and politicians have all taught and fought to salvage humanity from CONFLICT. We wish for peace but end up fighting or preparing for wars. We console ourselves that this habitual violence is ingrained in human psychology. Yet we try to convince ourselves that humans have evolved from the primitive and primate tendencies to civilized and creative traits. Perhaps, to be human means to be in conflict by consensus- both inner and outer. Let me begin with two episodes.

It was Gandhi Jayanti. About 20 years ago, more than 500 people had gathered to celebrate non-violence. I happened to be one of the speakers along with the Mahatma’s grandson Arun Gandhi. Toward the end of my talk, I asked the audience to make the following CHOICE. Assume there are two (auto) biographies just published. One by a terrorist or serial killer, containing his life history, actions, methods and motivations. The other is my own story from a village boy who traveled to 60 countries, learned from many masters, studied many peoples and cultures, taught and wrote about many subjects, and witnessed many wonderful events. Then I asked which book would you buy, or is likely to be a bestseller. The answer I got was a pensive, pin-drop silence. If I were rich and famous, the answer would probably be more difficult. Let’s extend this choice to two sets of values or personal qualities: (a) ego, aggression, greed, revenge, corruption and (b) love, compassion, forgiveness, service, responsibility. Question: do we gravitate more toward category A or B?  Now the other story… 

Music is deeply rooted in the Indian psyche. Music, dance, and other fine arts are peaceful, meditative endeavors. An artist is the least likely to be violent. Reality TV programs in India have become very popular. In recent years, most of those programs have embraced the spirit and language of violence. For example, a music competition there is called WORLD WAR – where musicians are warriors and commercial breaks are temporary pauses in the battlefield. In contrast, a group of NRI volunteers has set up a music and dance center with the underlying goal of promoting peace and creativity. In my own experience with music practice and recordings, I find it difficult to relate music with violence. I recall writing twice to the TV channel requesting it to reconsider putting music on a war footing. As expected, there was no reply. Instead, the music maestros (gurus), acting as ferocious warriors, began advertising for the programs, probably to further boost TRPs.

Such are the glimpses of the outer world thrust upon, or created by us. But recurrent terror attacks require immediate steps to protect life and property. However, throughout human history, more so in recent years, our MODERN societies have learned to expect perpetual violence – becoming increasingly insensitive to it. The violence we experience and tolerate is in fact worse than animalistic instinct, because even animals refrain from gratuitous killing of their own kind. Opinions converge on violence as a necessary evil, without examining why. One reason could be the blind pursuit of economic growth over all other goals of the human society- such as preservation of environment, survival of our specie, removal of poverty and the suffering associated with it, and human evolution to higher existence. Psychologically, we are broken up by our beliefs, religions, and socio-political systems. Consequently, we madly adhere to the methods and technologies (without assessing their impact) which disintegrate our environment and perpetuate destruction. We buy products which depict violence. Violence is profitable; peace is boring!  Perhaps, conflict and war is good for the economy!

We use LANGUAGE to express ourselves and communicate with others. Language is a link between our outer and the inner worlds – words are spoken out and their meanings absorbed within. We perceive ourselves to be in conflict with the world. We hear routine expressions such as: fighting traffic, fighting disease, fighting election, fighting for survival, fighting for peace, fighting to win, fighting to conquer nature, and so on. The emotional content of violent expressions settles down deep into the psyche and the lifespan (between birth and death) becomes a battlefield. Then we raise armies, invent and trade more destructive weapons, and reorient our intelligence to combat violence in order to attain peace. Imagine if the amount of resources devoted to fighting would far exceed what is required to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate all of humanity. Would that be inhuman?

The whole history of habitual violence in thought, action and speech is now a deep-rooted tendency (sanskara) of our COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS, which transmutes the human potential for evolution and enlightenment. A vertical shift to higher consciousness is needed, but how and by whom? The practice of Yoga and meditation can gradually transform the “autonomous” or involuntary physiological functions into “somatic” or voluntary functions – that is, the entire mind-body continuum becomes controllable by the individual. This would enable us to dissolve Karmic bondage and involuntary tendencies. The seeds of conflict would then dislodge from our collective unconscious. But this vision would take its own course. What do we do now to stamp our legacy for future generations?  

As in medicine so in violence – prevention is cheaper and better than cure. The key is EDUCATION from early childhood – at home and in schools. So far, we have put children under stress everywhere, harping on the great untruth “empty mind is devil’s workshop”. Children today have difficulty in resting and sleeping; they do not learn the creative potential of calmness. They grow up as extreme thinkers and doers, always looking for newer and higher peaks of excitement. At home, since birth, we keep them virtually untouched by nature, feed them processed foods, implant in their minds a set of unquestionable beliefs and rituals, and pressurize them to perform and conform. In schools, they are taught to compete ruthlessly, not necessarily to excel; they are given all the answers, not how to explore and discover; they are handed a history of knowledge not the imagination to create new knowledge. Let us consider designing a new education system where, in addition to academics, the students would learn creative imagination, positive human and life values, social responsibility, resource conservation, harmony with nature, respect for diversity, and consequences of their actions and negative emotions. About 10 years ago, I had written a detailed paper on this subject “Drive to Overcome Violence Through Education (DOVE)”. It was widely circulated, and appreciated by recipients. But courage and resources were lacking to develop the program for phased implementation. Meanwhile, violence by and among the youth has increased; some have even been drawn to terror. Can we imagine a whole generation being peace-loving by nature?  Perhaps we are afraid of peace, yet desperately seeking Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.

“People who are good with hammers, see every problem as a nail” – Abraham Maslow

“We will not have peace on this planet unless we have a spiritual renaissance” – U Thant

“The choice today is not between violence and non-violence; it either non-violence or non-existence” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Striving for peace and preparing for war are incompatible with each other” – Albert Einstein

Dhananjaya Kumar
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Dhananjaya Kumar is the Co-Founder and Trustee of India International School and Cultural Center (IIS).

IIS is a non-profit and equal-opportunity educational institution, serving the community since 1982. The main objective of IIS is to: provide quality education in the arts, culture, and languages of India; impart knowledge and skills to younger generations seeking personal growth and harmony with others; and sensitize the youth to basic human values and preservation of the environment. About 100 classes per week are taught by 35 teachers in core subjects including: vocal and instrumental music, classical and modern dances, fine arts, Yoga, and languages. IIS students frequently perform at national and local community festivals, theater, radio, and television.

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