April  1994   2537   Number 28 

The Resolution of Conflict; Ajahn Jagaro
Child's Play; Ven Sunnato
Images of Sri Lanka; Sister Siripanya
Luang Por Chah's Relics; Ajahn Attapemo
Nourishing the Roots; Aj's Sucitto & Ajahn Amaro
Turning the Wheel in the West; Ajahn Amaro
Alone Together; Ajahn Sucitto

The Resolution of Conflict
Virtue and compassion are essentials in the world today if we are to move beyond our differences. Ajahn Jagaro, senior incumbent of Bodhinyana Monastery, Western Australia, discusses how religion can be a vehicle to enable people to move beyond their belief systems towards a commonality of experience.

Nowadays there is a lot of interest in peace, and yet peace is difficult to achieve, both on a personal level and on a social, national and international level. There seem to be so many forces, so many conditions that cause friction and conflict, that this ideal of peace seems to continually evade us. We attain some degree of peace for a little while and then it's gone.

On a personal level, those of us who have been on a meditation retreat and had quite a successful time may then get the idea that: 'Well, maybe I've learned at last how to be peaceful.' Then we go home, and very shortly we 'blow it', as they say, and the peace escapes us and all the irritations and interpersonal tensions, or the feeling of somehow not being treated properly creep in on the mind, making us feel rather disturbed.

Buddhism, of course, is very concerned and interested in peace, and the teachings of the Buddha are guidelines in order to help us achieve peace at every level. In Buddhism we don't set up that conflict: 'Should I develop something within myself or should I help others?' because whatever I develop within myself benefits everybody else. I cannot develop something peaceful and good within myself by exploiting others. So the cultivation of peace is a whole - the path to it involves the external and the internal. We cannot achieve something at the expense of others, ignoring the world and how we are living, and still expect to develop something good within our hearts and minds.

Just the way we speak to each other, gently, and kindly, giving a hand, helping out, sharing what we've got with others.
Today we see in our society so many causes of possible friction and conflict between people. We see it in our families. We see it between husband and wife. We see it between groups of people at work, or belonging to some organisation, or living together in a city, in a society or in a country. Differences in appearance - physical differences, mental differences, beliefs, attitudes, preferences - all these can be the basis for conflict or lack of peace between people.

Today we talk about 'the global village' and 'the human family'. So now we can't remain at a very limited tribal level or nationalistic level or individual religious level because that is no longer viable. That sets up too many factions, and factions lead to wars. There is no room for this any longer in the history of humanity because it's too dangerous and destructive to the human quest for peace. Unless we want to degenerate, we'd better open the mind to include the global view that can allow for all the differences that exist, not only in appearance, but also belief and political attitude. Somehow, we have to awaken and open the mind to allow for the variety. We can do it, but there has to be a foundation for trust. Without trust it cannot be possible.

How can people with different views, opinions and beliefs live side by side with trust? Those differences themselves set up the conditions for lack of trust, and yet unless you can allow and live side by side together, how can you accomplish peace and harmony? Therefore, the conditions for trust are so important, in particular the conditions of virtue, wherein we are all committed to goodness, regardless of political persuasion, religious belief, or ethnic background. Whatever the differences, if we are at least committed to this standard called virtue - that we won't exploit, we won't kill, we won't hurt, we won't lie and cheat - if we are committed to this, then there is a basis for trust. At least you can trust that far.

So we are committed to this virtue which is the basis, the first step, to compassion. Not hurting, not killing, not exploiting, not cheating, not lying. If you could manage to be committed to that, it's much better than being committed to all these high-minded ideas about God and heavens and hells and philosophies; much better, because that one agreement, that one commitment to virtue, brings a great deal of harmony, a great deal of peace and trust amongst people. Much more than 'religions' will, if those religions don't have that foundation.

But it's only the start. We need to build on that through goodwill, loving-kindness and compassion - which is the active form of relating. Just the way we speak to each other, gently, and kindly, giving a hand, helping out, sharing what we've got with others. It doesn't matter that they are a different colour, or a different race, or a different belief, a different religion. We can leave that aside for now. We can bring up this ability of the human being to share, to be kind, to be friendly. We can recognise the common humanity.

These two aspects - the passive, refraining from that which is hurtful (virtue); the active, which we call loving-kindness and compassion - this is what will provide the basis for harmony and peace within society and within this world. And that's why these qualities are so important in our society and in the world today. Even though the differences are there, we can live together if we are committed to virtue and compassion, and therefore we are patient, we are giving, we allow failings and differences. If we could instill more virtue and compassion in the minds of our young people today, in our children, our society would be a lot more peaceful and harmonious. We would not need so many locks and double locks, and triple locks and bars, and all the things that we have to have now.

However, there's no doubt about it, the differences are still there. When we relate at this level of virtue and compassion, then, although they are of no great consequence, the differences are still there. And as soon as you move into the intellectual area and start talking, moving away from the heart, from the feeling of compassion, and you move into the realm of intellect, discussion and beliefs, the differences manifest again. This is what happens to anyone. Even if the Dalai Lama has a conversation with the Pope, he is going to disagree on many things.

How is this to be resolved? Does this mean that we just live together being kind to each other but we don't discuss things? If we want to start relating on the intellectual level and sharing at that level and trying to come to an agreement, how do we resolve this?

There are so many ideas and beliefs about God. Somebody gave me a book the other day. It's a book by the sect of another religious group and it analyses every other religion in a very critical way. The person asked me, 'Is what they have written here about Buddhism correct?' And I said, 'No, it's not right,' without even looking at it. And I said, 'If what they wrote there is right, those people would be Buddhists by now!' It's true also that if you really understood Christianity, you would be a Christian. One of the last sentences in the book was something like: 'Obviously the search for enlightenment without God is impossible,' or 'meaningless', or something to that effect. I actually agree with that, but I would use different terminology. I would say that any religion is meaningless unless it has reference to an ultimate reality, an ultimate truth beyond duality, and it offers the means to realise it or to be with it. So yes, the search for enlightenment would be absolutely meaningless if there were not the Unconditioned, the Immortal, the Uncreated - Nibbana, if you wish to use Buddhist terminology. Because that's what enlightenment means: coming to realise that which is beyond mortality, beyond duality, beyond concept and thought, beyond creation. It there wasn't that, there would be no enlightenment. There would be nothing to be enlightened to.

Ajahn Jagaro
What is the point of a religion if it does not point to something beyond concept and thought? - Because all concept and all thought is a creation of the mind, is mortal and limited. And if one begins to understand this, one then begins to understand how foolish some of the ideas that religions present to people are, because all of those descriptions and ideas are mortal, all limited, all dual. The first images or the first symbols used for God were very crude ones; as the intellect developed, then there was more abstract terminology, still created by man. That's why there is such a variety of symbols and terminologies. That's why there will never be agreement between religions when they just talk and think and try to understand with thinking. Then, of course, the differences remain and those differences will always be potential cause for conflict.

So this is why in Buddhism we stress very much the need for the human being to realise Truth, not to think about Truth; to realise the Unconditioned, not to think about the Unconditioned, because in Buddhism, not only are we very aware of the limitation of the material, physical idols and symbols, we are also critically aware of the limitations of the mental symbols, in other words, of thought itself. Thought is a very, very limited area of human experience. If you want to know the taste of honey, you don't think. You could spend a lifetime thinking about the taste of honey and not know the taste of honey. You've got to stop thinking in order to know the taste of honey.

Also, those areas of human experience which are actually very crucial to our lives don't require so much thinking. Thinking has to stop for that moment in order to allow for the experience of Truth. But because thinking is always there, interfering all the time, we don't experience life. There's continually thought, thought, thought. Every thought is limited in that it is created, it arises and ceases. It's always relative, thought about something. Thought is always relative, thought is always dual, thought is always created, thought is always mortal. All these words mean that thinking cannot either reach or describe the Unconditioned, the Immortal, the Ultimate Reality, the Ultimate Truth. And that is why in Buddhism we stress the need for meditation, because through meditation we begin to experience a different level of consciousness. We begin to see there is something beyond thought, that the mind can be above thought, beyond thought. That is already a very big step towards some broader, grander notion of reality. So that through meditation we train the mind step by step to withdraw from the sensory distractions and to withdraw from the mental dialogues of images and words, to incline towards that peace that is still and silent yet fully awake, fully aware. Aware of what? Aware of that silence, aware of that stillness, aware of that peacefulness. And then we recognise clearly what thought is and how limited it is, and how inept it is in the field of Truth and Absolute Reality.

This is why in Buddhism we say that for insight or realisation of Truth to happen, the mind has to be trained in some degree of concentration and tranquillity, because the realisation of the Unconditioned is not a thought. It can never be done by thought. It's got nothing to do with belief. It is when the mind has attained to a particular level of preparedness, which here, primarily, means the degree of concentration, silence and awareness, that the mind can experience things directly.

This is possible for every human being to do, but they must leave behind all that clutters the mind. And you can see why there is so little understanding between people of different religions because they are all bringing along their whole storehouse of idols. I don't mean they bring their Buddha statue and their various statues along to compare which one is the best, but they all bring their ideas and beliefs, and make comparisons.Obviously there's only going to be differences.

If we speak of a Christian God, it's obviously a very limited God. A Christian God is obviously not a Buddhist one. Or if we said the Buddhist Truth - well that's very limited too. The Buddhist Truth obviously is not the Christian Truth, is it? But the Unconditioned cannot be anybody, it cannot have any limitation, cannot have any shades or colouring. This is why we say the Unconditioned: it means no conditions, no limitations, no colour, no form. Therefore it's not Christian, not Moslem, not Hindu, no-one, but it is something that human beings can realise. And the realisation of this brings true peace, because once this is realised, then all those things that normally cause conflict become meaningless. The purpose of religion is to help facilitate this realisation.

So I think that religion is an extremely valuable thing for humanity if it is used in the right way. All religions begin, at least, by emphasising the virtue and compassion that enable us to live together peacefully. And then if we want to transcent, we have to attain to the Unconditioned and realise it, and religion is supposed to help us. And whether the religion is a good one or not so good, well that depends on how well it points. That's for each person to find out for themselves. I don't think it is for one religion to judge another. It's up to the followers of any religion to validate that religion.

If I want to validate whether Buddhism is a true Path to enlightenment, how can I do it? By becoming enlightened. I can't validate the Islamic path because I don't know much about it. If someone following that path wants to prove that that is the path to enlightenment, or liberation, or whatever they want to call it, they have to follow it to its limits. Its up to each individual to validate their path by taking it to the limit and realising. In Buddhism this is of crucial importance because, in the end, what have we got? What is our refuge? Unless we have some direct experience of the Unconditioned, then it is very difficult, because all we have is just the conditioned things, all those things that are so variable, in which are so many areas of differences, problems and conflicts.

So for us it is important to train the mind, to become aloof or secluded, to withdraw beyond experience of the six senses and realise that there is still awareness and peace and clarity. That mind is then fit to realise something beyond these conditions, these mortal experiences. And that is how we validate religion - through realising the Unconditioned or the Immortal.