May 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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A Buddhist Justpeace Maker

Ngamsuk Ruttanasatian

Being in the Buddhist world for 40 years and relating to the social work world for more than 20 years has taught me how to deal with both outside and inside suffering. I have been thinking about and observing people who get involved in so-called peacebuilding. Many of these people are living contradictions between their life and work. They do not link inner and outer peace together. People focus more on the outer peace but ignore the inner peace. That is why I wonder about the meaning and value of peace for the peacebuilder. From my perspective, it is important for people to pay attention to inner peace. I also believe that if we do not practice inner peace we can easily harm the other, also a human being full of emotions—love, hatred, anger and illusion. We all have the ability, however, to tap into the self.

I remember when I worked with the organization Burma Issues in Bangkok. We analyzed the conflict in Burma and concluded that it was the result of chauvinism. The Burmese military thinks they are better than the ethnic groups, like the Karen, Shan, Mon, etc. From my observations, I saw that some of the peacebuilders though had actions sometimes similar to those of the Burmese military. They thought that the work they were doing was special and better than what the other was doing. The sense of “better than the other” can devalue the other and will lead to disrespect.

The teaching of Lord Buddha can help us develop inner peace so we can work more effectively for outer peace. The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism describes the way to end suffering. It is a practical guide to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions. It finally leads to understanding the truth about all things; and through this process, we can find inner peace. Loving kindness, tolerance and forgiveness are needed for the peacebuilder to grow inside themselves and develop a balanced mind.

The Noble Eightfold Path teaches us to develop our wisdom by learning right views and right intentions. It helps us develop our ethical conduct by learning right speech, right action and right livelihood. Finally, it helps us in our mental development through learning right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Justpeace work needs this Noble Eightfold Path so that through right understanding and thinking we can develop inner peace. It seems simple in words, but it is difficult to follow. It requires serious self-reflection and also mindfulness.

I understand the target of justpeace to be the negative structures in society and not individual persons. It means we have to fight to transform the structure. The question that comes to my mind is: How can one overcome a violent person who is a victim of structural oppression when all of us are included in the same structural oppression? Thus, we should not see an individual as the enemy but rather view systems and structures as the enemy. We might argue that people create the systems and structures. This is true. In my view, a human being exists equally as good and bad. That is why we always have to be mindful of the self. If we ignore mindfulness, we will easily lose control of our emotions and can do harm to others. To be mindful also can help us to understand and think deeply towards others.

From my experience, I used to hate the Thai authorities and Burmese soldiers. They are violent to civilians. But the way that I thought toward them was even more violent. How can a person who believes in peace not respect other people as the humans they are? After I discovered this about myself, I tried to understand why the authorities, both Thai and Burmese, use violence. To understand people when we see them as an enemy, we need to be mindful and have right understanding. We cannot work only with people that we love but must work also with the enemy. Both of these groups of people are human and exist in our world.