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Tibetan Buddhism and Classic Conflict Resolution

Sonam Dechen
Associate Director, TCCR

His holiness the Dalai Lama who we can say, is the epitome of Tibetan Buddhism says that, “Basic human nature is to be gentle”, and that, “the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion”. The basic understanding in conflict resolution training is based on this notion. All the skills and tools we have are basically means to achieve a compassionate state of mind or to retain the same in a trying situation. Thus we believe that, at the grassroots our ancient Buddhist philosophy and modern Western philosophy of Conflict Resolution are analogous in terms of understanding human nature and conflicts. Though there are different methods and tools used.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Although I personally believe that our human nature is fundamentally gentle and compassionate, I feel it is not enough that this is our underlying nature; we must also develop an appreciation and awareness of that fact. And changing how we perceive ourselves, through learning and understanding, can have a very real impact in how we interact with others and how we conduct our daily lives.” Conflict Resolution teaches us exactly this. It explores our underlying nature that of being compassionate and shows us ways to interact with others in this natural way which somehow, in many cases, has got tarnished by every day cares. We are inspired to have a realisation of our feelings, interests and needs and we are shown a way through which we can convey them to the other person. We are also inspired to give an empathetic listening to the other person’s feelings, interests and needs. We consider that this will bring about transformation of the issues at stake and the transformation of the relation between the two concerned people or parties after they undergo this process.

In Buddhism it is stated that minor incidences of violence accumulate relentlessly and multiply on a social level and become a source of a major violence that can surge upon us so suddenly. Buddhism also states that in contrast any act performed with full awareness, any gesture that fosters happiness in another person is credited as an expression of nonviolence. Here the punch line is that one need not wait until war is declared and people are fighting to work for peace. This brings to mind a very beautiful statement made by a peace and future researcher Dr. Jan Øberg, “We do not need to be conflict illiterates.” One doesn’t necessarily have to be in a conflict situation or be vulnerable to be aware of conflict resolution skills.

We consider that negative feelings, once they start to accumulate in a person, creates a conflict within him, though it may not be apparent exteriorly. Thus we are urged to understand our own minds and acknowledge the fact that we are harbouring conflicts within ourselves at a subconscious level. And this being done we are required to have the courage to communicate those conflicting thoughts to the concerned persons. At this point the skills that we have learned, like active listening, using opening language, nonviolent communication, basic conflict resolution etc. becomes an advantageous tool at hand. On similar lines Lama Yeshi (1935-84) says in one of his teachings, “When Lord Buddha spoke about suffering, he wasn’t referring simply to superficial problems like illness and injury, but to the fact that the dissatisfied nature of the mind itself is suffering.”

In the ancient times, the dominant Western notion was that human beings are all fundamentally selfish and aggressive.

Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, Santayana, and Frued described human race as being violent, in continual conflict, and concerned only with self-interest. They theorised that, “those generous and caring impulses, while they may exist, are generally weak and unstable in human nature but the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting, instinctual disposition.” The Western conventional belief has changed through these years and has given rise to a more liberal and optimistic picture of the human race. The doctrine of Conflict Resolution is one of the offshoots of these Modern Western beliefs. Which is much in harmony with Buddhist beliefs.

Buddhism dates back to more than 2500 years ago but Lord Buddha’s teachings are as relevant today as they were in the 5th century BC. It is such a wonder to know that what we are stressing on today, is so many centuries old and that much wiser if I may add. One day Lord Buddha said to Potaliya the wanderer, “There are these four persons found in the world. 1) One criticises that which deserves criticism at the right time, saying what is factual and true, but he does not praise that which deserves praise. 2) One speaks in praise of the praiseworthy at the right time, saying what is factual and true, but does not criticise that which deserves criticism. 3) One neither criticises that which deserves criticism, nor praises the praiseworthy. 4) And finally, one criticises that which deserves criticism and praises the praiseworthy, at the right time, saying what is factual and true. Now of these persons, which do you think is the most admirable and rare?” The Lord then gave him the reply, “Well I maintain that he who criticises that which deserves criticism and praises the praiseworthy, at the right time, saying what is factual and true – he is the best, because his timing is admirable.” (Anguttara Nik¬aya, II: 97) In this quotation we get to see an aspect of Buddhism which shows that even criticism, if it is factual and true and said at the right time would not be considered immoral. Similarly the modern Western approach though it might seem a bit passive and timid at first look involves a lot of courage and clarity of thoughts. It takes courage to reveal one’s feelings and needs to others, to empathetically hear criticism and to give a negative message without losing your compassionate nature.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the ocean of wisdom says, “Through inner peace, genuine world peace can be achieved. In this the importance if individual responsibility is quite clear; an atmosphere of peace must be created within ourselves, then gradually expanded to include our families, our communities, and ultimately the whole planet.” With the help of modern Western tools and skills that we learn in Zone III, we aspire to fulfil a goal that is identical to this very wise and astute conviction of His Holiness. We believe that the tools and skills we learn in Zone III which is a learning area, (workshops, seminars or study groups) are applicable in Zone II which is our immediate community where we have a direct influence, where we are the key factors in transforming conflicts into either a constructive or a destructive mode. And the changes that occur in Zone II have an impact on Zone I, which is the area of greater Society, Governments and world politics. Therefore, although we do not have any direct influence on conflicts at an international or higher level, our positive attempts at the community level can bring about positive changes at the greater community level or Zone I level as it is referred to in our context.

Thus I would like to conclude with a strong conviction that the knowledge of modern approach to Conflict Resolution as imparted by Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding workshops brings us closer to our roots, that of Tibetan Buddhism. In a nutshell, we are now able to apply modern methodologies and tools of conflict resolution to enhance and avail ourselves of the ancient Buddhist wisdom.

"It is important to recognise that if conflicts are created by misuse of human intelligence, we can also utilise our intelligence to find ways and means to overcome these conflicts."

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

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