ComCenterDisclaimer / NoResponsabilidadBKA

Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Congress, Bilbao-2005

@Jinwol Lee
Peace of Buddhist Tradition

1. Concept of Peace in Buddhism

We in these days know that concerns of 'peace' are universal around the world. It is really serious and urgent to solve the problems of unpeaceful situation of the world as well as to create the culture of peace in global community. There are many religions around the world and we need their wisdom to cooperate each other for common good, world peace. However, “shanti” in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, "shalom" in Judeo-Christian tradition, and many other words of peace in different traditions have been widely used depending on situations of various contexts. Nowadays, "peace" denotes so much complex concept covering every fields of our lives, such as political, economic, social and cultural aspects. I think that nothing has not related with peace because everything could not be well without peace. Let me review and share some Buddhist ideas and introduce some historical examples of peace advocators in the traditional context.

Considering local situation, I would like to inform how Koreans understand peace in their own language. The English term "peace" in Korean, as well as Chinese and Japanese, has been usually referred to "pyeonghwa ??.” In fact, "pyeonghwa" is consisted by two characters, "pyeong" and "hwa". "Pyeong" literally means even, level, tranquil, ordinary, equal and universal. "Hwa" means harmony, concord, unity and peace. Therefore, we understand "pyeonghwa" connotes tranquil harmony and denotes universal peace. It is noticeable that "pyeonghwa" emphasizes tranquility and harmony. The opposite word of "pyeonghwa" in Korean is "bulhwa ??" and its means "no harmony" or "no peace" We can assume that "pyeonghwa" and "bulhwa" are related to a state between or among existents including all sentient beings and environment. The terms are used between or among individual persons, peoples, nations, religions, cultures as well as elements of body, spirituality and materials, sentient beings and environmental nature.

Regarding "peace" of Buddhism in terms of harmonious coexistence in tranquility, we should pay attention to the state of one's mind and relation between and among existents, since Buddhism lead people to nirvana and emphasizes the state of whatever beings exist interdependently. The Sanskrit word 'nirvana' literally means 'blown out' and is variously translated as extinction, emancipation, cessation and quiescence, as well as enlightenment in the context. Nirvana was originally regarded as the state in which all illusions, desires, cycle of birth and death itself are extinguished as they are kinds of flames of defilement and sufferings of transmigration. Beyond various regional and cultural traditions, nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice and indicates peace in mind, life and the world.

2. The Basic Doctrinal Sources of Peace Related in Buddhism

1). Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada)
It is known that 'dependent origination' is a core teaching of Buddha. It is also used as 'dependent causation,' 'conditioned co-arising.' It is a fundamental Buddhist doctrine of interdependence of things. It teaches that all beings and phenomena exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena. Therefore, nothing can exist in absolute independence from other things or arise of its own accord. We should know that to make peace is first to understand the condition of existence and to take responsibility of harmonious coexistence among personal, communal, social, national, global and environmental relations. It is clear that peace is depended on us how we think of and act for all beings.

2). The Three Clear Conceptions (Trividya)
The three principal doctrines of Buddhism have been taught as: all is impermanent (anitya), all is non-self (anatman), and nirvana is peaceful. It is known that sutra without these is spurious in Theravada tradition. If one understood the teaching of impermanence and non-self, one would not attach everything as well as oneself and one's own. Most conflicts occur when self-centered one (or group) indulge oneself or themselves without consideration for others. If one could understand that there is no self in reality and could overcome selfish or egoistic thinking and acting in the world, there would be peace. To seek or attain Nirvana means to seek or attain peace in one's mind, one's life, and one's world. Therefore, we can say that Buddhism is for peace since Buddhists seek nirvana as their ultimate goal.

3). Four Novel Truths (chatur-arya-satya)
The truths of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. It is said that teaching of the four truths is a fundamental doctrine of Buddhism clarifying the cause of suffering and the way of emancipation. It is known that Buddha Shakyamuni had expounded the four novel truths in the Deer Park in Varanasi during his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya: all existence is suffering; suffering is caused by selfish craving; the eradication of selfish craving brings about the cessation of suffering and enables one to attain nirvana; and there is a path by which this eradication can be achieved, namely the discipline of the Eightfold Right Path (Right views, right thinking, right speech, right action, right way of life, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right meditation). To attain Nirvana of oneself means the cessation of suffering oneself and to be extended to one's community or society, which could contribute to make peace in the world. It can be said that eightfold path is the best way to attain peace in one's life and the world.

4). Karma
The Sanskrit word karma originally meant action, which in Buddhism was interpreted to mean mental, verbal and physical actions, that is, thoughts, words and deeds. It works as potential energies residing in the inner realm of life which manifest themselves as various results in the future. Every action, no matter whatever good or evil, imprints a latent influence in one's life. The karma, when activated by an external stimulus, produces a corresponding effect. According to this concept, one's actions in the past have shaped one's reality at present, and one's actions in the present in turn determine one's future. In the same way, we can understand that our society reflects our common or collective karma. Therefore, we can make a peaceful society and world by our peaceful karma. Consequently it is clear that world peace depends upon our collective karma. We should keep in mind that our peaceful thoughts, peaceful words and peaceful deeds could make peaceful world.

5). Precepts (Sila)
The word precept in Buddhism has the connotation of stemming injustice and stopping evil. In fact, Buddhist precepts are various depending on receiver's status such as the five precepts and eight precepts for lay Buddhists and two hundred fifty precepts for Buddhist monk. However, the most fundamental of these are the five precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit unlawful sexual intercourse, not to lie, and not to drink intoxicants. From these precepts we understand Buddhist ideas that respecting and protecting living beings, sound economic life, and faithful and truthful relations with the partners and others. We also recognize Buddhist characteristics of nonviolence and peace in our lives and the world.

6). Buddha Nature (Buddhadhatu)
It refers to the internal cause or potential for attaining Buddhahood. Also called the seed of Buddhahood or Matrix of the Tathagata (tathagata-garbha). It is known that all sentient beings (sometimes including insentient beings) have the Buddha nature inherently, though it may be obscured by illusions and evil karma. It means that we all equally have the seed of peace which could be grown up and flowered, since attaining Buddhahood and nirvana means attaining peace. We are supposed to respect and take care of all sentient beings as potential or future Buddha. We should also recognize our nature as Buddha and try to act like Buddha who takes care all sentient beings compassionately. We should do our best to work as peace maker as the Buddha.

7). Flower Ornament (Avatamsaka)
A thought of Avatamsaka-sutra has been symbolized as a garden of flower ornament. It suggests that a garden is better to be ornamented by many different flowers. We can imagine and compare with two gardens in which a garden is filled by one species of flower and the other garden is ornamented by many different flowers. It is obvious that the garden of many different flowers looks more beautiful because it is more colorful and various of shape. The sutra also shows that all things are inter-connected as a net. It teaches us that our minds should be opened and inclusive to make enlarge, enrich and more beautiful world. We should respect differences of others to make harmonious and peaceful world.

8). Wisdom (Prajna) and Compassion (Karuna)
Wisdom and compassion are two key terms in Buddhism. Wisdom of Buddhism means to know truth and reality of oneself and the world as well as to use knowledge wisely. Buddhist compassion means to sympathize with others in any circumstances: to be joyful with other's joy and to be sad with other's sadness. Ideal compassion is known that one feel oneness with others and take care of other as oneself. It could be said that wisdom is meaningless without compassion and compassion is useless without wisdom. We should understand reality and use wisely our resources for goodness of all. We should also try to save others who are suffering. Buddhist wisdom and compassion are actually needed for world peace.

9). Three Types of Learning
Buddhist practitioners should learn and master the three aspects of the path to attain Buddhahood: Precepts, Meditation (dhyana), and Wisdom refer to Tripitaka as discipline of vinaya, meditation on sutras, and wisdom of shastras. These three could encompass all aspects of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Precepts are intended to stem injustice and stop evil in thought, word and deed. Meditation is designed to focus one's mind and cause it to become tranquil. The function of wisdom is to rid oneself of illusions and cause one to realize the truth. Through these leaning and disciplines one could manage one's life well in terms of morality, mentality and intelligence. If everyone's life could be perfect and peaceful, the world could also be peaceful. Therefore, one should do one's best in the three learning not only for oneself but also for the world peace.

10). Two Ultimate Goals of Buddhists
It is said that attaining Buddhahood with nirvana for oneself and achieving Pure Land are two ultimate goals of all Buddhists. It can be understood that attaining Buddhahood means attaining peace in one's life; achieving Pure Land means achieving peaceful world. In this sense the goals or aims of Buddhism is meaningful and useful not only for Buddhists but also for all sentient being no matter what they have been related with any other religions or not. These two goals should be considered in harmony and balance as the two wheels of one vehicle or two wings of one bird. An ideal personality of Buddhist practice is Bodhisattva who is enlightening oneself and others as well as benefiting oneself and others. One should live the Bodhisattva's life which is good not only for oneself but also for others and the world. It can be said that if the world could be full of Bodhisattvas, then the world would be peaceful.

As reviewed above, we understand that Buddhism has taught people peace in person and the world, as a major and ultimate goal of it. Then, let us see some examples of Buddhist peace workers who practiced Buddhism and tried to realize their goals in the world, and actually achieved it with remarkable influence to the future. I would like to introduce a representative figure from India, China and Korea.

3. Examples of Peace Advocator in Buddhist Tradition

1). Ashoka the Great
Ashoka (r.c.268-232 BCE), the third ruler of Maurya dynasty and the first emperor to unify India, has been known as an ideal leader of the state and the world, considering his political, administrative, economic and social philosophy and achievements. He began as a tyrant but later governed compassionately in keeping with the ideals of Buddhism. In 259 BCE, he conquered Kalinga, where he is reputed to have killed about 100,000 people and imprisoned 150,000 more. However, Ashoka had converted to Buddhism two years earlier, but it was only at this point, when he saw the misery of the war that he awoke to his own cruelty and took faith in Buddhism in earnest. He renounced conquest by force and established a peaceful reign, devoting considerable energy to public works as social welfare. He founded hospitals for peoples and animals, and planted trees, dug wells and built necessary facilities along major trade routes. He often dispatched officials to outlying areas to inform him of the people's condition. He sent Buddhist missionaries to out of India as far away as Sri Lanka, Egypt and Macedonia. Although himself a Buddhist, he did not enforce Buddhism as a state religion but protected the religious freedom of the Jains, Brahmans and others. It has been known as a model of Buddhist tradition of social activities for peace and welfare that Ashoka's Buddhist way of serving the world recognized as Wheel-turning King (Chakravarti-raja), who rule the world by peaceful Dharma (truth, justice and Buddha's teaching), rather than force.

2). Emperor Wu
Emperor Wu (r. 502-549), founder of the Liang Dynasty in China, embarked on a varied career as a Buddhist monarch, taking as his model the great Indian emperor Ashoka. He adopted the practice of giving up wine and meat on the imperial table. He issued a decree to forbid the use of living things for medicinal purposes and as sacrificial objects. For such purposes he advocated the use of flour, fruits, and vegetables. During his reign Emperor Wu built many Buddhist temples and convened Dharma assemblies which he personally attended. Sometimes he practiced serving temple as a menial. He persisted in following the Buddhist precept against killing and pardoned many who should have been punished. Since he devoted himself to the Dharma, Emperor Wu was sometimes called the Imperial Bodhisattva. He could be counted as a peace advocator in terms of nonviolence and compassion.

3). King Jinheung
King Jinheung (r. 504-536), 24th king of the Silla Kingdom, made the immense impact on Buddhism and culture of Korea. He devoted his life to Buddhism and eventually became a monk in his old age, named Beobun (Dharma Cloud). During his reign, King Jinheung achieved many works to promote Buddhism. He built many temples, supported Sangha, established many Buddhist assemblies, and so on. One of the most remarkable achievements was establishing Pungwoldo or Hwarangdo, which was an organization for training youth. It provided much of morality and leadership necessary for the nation in her drive to unify Korean peninsula. It was said that there were two main influence on Pungwoldo. One was the idea of the Cakravartin, the universal monarch. The other was the belief in Maitreya, the Buddha of future, related with King Jinheung. However, it seems that he tried to be a Cakravartin or a Bodhisattva, modeling Ashoka and Maitreya. It can be said that he sought and contributed to build a Buddhist country where peace prevails on.

4. Conclusion

It is known that Buddhists are a kind of peace workes or peace advocators in terms of practitioners of nonviolence, tolerance and compassion, as they have not only sought Nirvana and taught Interdependence of our existence but also tried to actualize it, since Buddhism and its tradition originally had been generated in India about 2,500 years ago and spreaded around the world. Buddhists have been contributing to the world peace by their traditional wisdom and compassion, including mental and environmental situations in the individual and global context. We have reviewed some doctrinal bases for peace, such as Dependent Origination, Four Novel Truths and Eightfold Right Path, Buddhist Precepts, Buddha Nature, Flower Ornament, and Two Ultimate Goals of Buddhists. We have also appreciated and recognized the historical figures of peace advocators as a role model in India, China and Korea, respectively Ashoka the great, Emperor Wu and King Jinheung. From the traditions above, we could say in short that Buddhism has been peaceful religion as well as Buddhists have been peaceful people. Therefore, it is obvious that Buddhism has always been needed for world peace and Buddhists have been called to take their responsibility to promote peace not simply for themselves but also for the world. It seems remarkable and hopeful that during the recent years Buddhists have been actively taking parts in the interfaith peace movement such as the URI (United Religions Initiative) for the world peace.

ComCenter  •  Home