Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Sarah Hadmack : Diverse, Not Different

Posted: 26.10.2007
Updated on: 23.03.2017

JAINA Convention 2007
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

Diverse, Not Different

Sarah Hadmack Sarah Hadmack is an instructor of religious studies at Windward Community College and the University of Hawaii. She was among the first group of graduate students accepted into the International Summer School for Jain Studies (ISSJS) in 2005 held in Delhi, Jaipur, Ladnun, and Indore, India. She will return to India for ISSJS 2007 program as a visiting scholar. This upcoming fall semester she will be teaching Understanding Indian Religions with an emphasis on Jainism in addition to her other courses.

Peace means more than just non-violence. Peace is an active process, a conscious choice one makes. To establish lasting peace, the focus must be on how peace is created and maintained, not just curing any given current conflict in any geographical area. These conflicts are the symptoms of a deeper psychological lack of peace. Peace must be established as a meaningful value, a principle one cannot live without.

Living peacefully should be as natural as breathing air. Evolutionary biologists may argue that violence was important to the survival of a tribe. Although in ancient times it may have been viewed as necessary to go to war for food and land, we are now a world dependent upon each other. That dependence necessitates a revision of which values are more important to survival - learning to truly respect others and the land, or continuing to war with others and pollute the earth.

Fortunately, many people already do value peace to some degree. There is evidence of this within our religions. Whether we are Jain, Buddhist, Jew, or Christian, our values remain quite similar. The Jain Mahavrats, the Buddhist Panchasila, and the Jewish and Christian Commandments teach many of the same messages. The Mahavrats and the Panchasila encourage nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy for monks and nuns, and no sexual misconduct for the laity. They only differ over the last vrat, vow, or sila, precept. For the Jains it is non-attachment and for Buddhists it refers to refraining from intoxicants. Some of the Jewish and Christian commandments such as thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not commit adultery, are similar to the teachings of the Mahavrats and the Panchasila. Yes, religious adherents are diverse in that our practices may vary from one another, and yet, we are not all that different in what we value. If we make significant efforts to practice the religious values we hold so dear, then minimal conflict and the establishment of peace would be reflected in many areas of life.

"Of what use is fighting others? He who conquers himself by himself wins bliss." Uttaradyayan Sutra.

"A person who is without desires and does no harm unto any living beings in the whole world, is called by me 'unfettered.'" Acharanga Sutra 7.3.1

"Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" Romans 13.10

The Jain principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, to all jivas, or souls, is one of the best teachings on peace. Ahimsa is directed not only toward other humans, but also to act nonviolently toward all other animals and not only in action but also in speech and thought. I learned of many wonderful stories while a student of the International Summer School for Jain Studies in 2005. One particularly memorable one was given in response to a student's question. One of the scholars had asked what a Jain would do if asked a question in which the honest answer would result in violence.

She was answered by one of the lecturers with a story about a monk who was in meditation at a fork in a road. The monk observed a cow pass him. Shortly after, a butcher approached the monk and asked which direction the cow had gone. The monk sat quietly for a moment, then smiled at the butcher and returned to his meditation. If the monk had told the butcher where the cow had gone, it would have led to violence. If he had lied he would have broken a Mahavrat. The monk was able to elegantly avoid violence and lying by a powerful third option that most people forget is an ever-present option: silence.

The best place to start working toward peace is from a feeling of respect and acceptance. If we respect ourselves and others, then naturally peace will evolve. It does not matter if one is loving all beings for their jivas within, recognizing that each jiva at its finest is capable of liberation, or if we are loving each being because we view them as God's creation and thereby divine. Regardless of which specific viewpoint one subscribes to, the message remains the same. Coming from a place of respect, acceptance and love directs one toward peace. This also helps us deal with another concern, namely, the wounds of the environment. All of nature is also composed of jives, according to the Jains, or can be viewed as God's creations from the Jewish and Christian perspective. If we actually live our beliefs and extend love, we would not continue to hurt the environment in the multitude of ways it is currently being scarred. Protecting and restoring the environment loops us back toward the starting point, love of self. If we do not save the environment then we kill ourselves as well because we depend upon it for our very survival.

The majority of this short article has been using the model of interfaith dialogue, looking at the similarities of two faiths as a good mutual starting point for peace. Ideally, however, people should move beyond any need for that. Even where there are no commonalities, one hopefully can admire, appreciate, and treasure the diversity of the world's viewpoints, not merely tolerate it. Often people preach tolerance. However, tolerance only extends so far. Once a viewpoint begins to encroach on your own, many people will abandon tolerance. If we truly value diversity as so many people claim, then appreciation of differing views should become the norm, not the exception. It is in our diversity that this world is truly enriching, interesting, and meaningful.

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