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Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Dinesh Shah : Global Peace Starts With An Individual

Author:  Image of Dinesh ShahDinesh Shah
Published: 21.12.2007
Updated: 09.01.2009

Jaina Convention
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

Global Peace Starts With An Individual

Dinesh Shah

Many volumes are written about history's major wars - from Alexander's expansions to Vikings' invasions. During the Ancient period countries, kingdoms, and regions fought to expand their territories, power and seize more wealth. Then came the middle ages and battles were fought in the name of religion. And now, with our technological expertise, we build advanced and lethal weapons to unleash destructive power at the push of a button. Whether it's a world war or gang war, typically at the center of many of these conflicts is a megalomaniac, egotistic, self-centered personality. And when the beliefs are so strong and mistrust clouds the judgment of the whole community, the hatred is passed on from generation to generation, creating a breeding ground for strong personalities to rise to the top, riding the waves of strong ideological emotions. However, the crux of all human wars and annihilations lie in the self-centric, human ego. While peace rests within us, we are also capable of destroying it.

Ideology coupled with a strong desire to crush the opponent, allows leaders to dictate the energy of negative sentiments of the masses to unleash the wrath on opposing communities as well as to gain personal power. And innocent people suffer because they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, it is my belief that hatred at the individual level does not see race, religion or cast. Hatred is born when the human ego, fed by biased beliefs, greed and power, conspires to force others to comply or submit for its own gain. Greed and jealousy coupled with instigation fuels worry in the mind; eventually turning into uncontrollable anger.

Disputes occur at every walk of life such as the workplace, home, school, sports, organizations etc. Let's talk about a place of worship, where the human soul comes to seek peace, the ego should be left at the door. With people belonging to the same faith, you would expect that they work happily together towards the higher goal. However, there are many occasions where disagreement among them turns into aggression and this is vented through insulting speech or sometimes even physical actions. Ego gets tangled up in rituals and misses the end goal of a higher level of spirituality. Rituals become the goal instead of path to higher goal.

How many times have we personally witnessed close friends become archenemies? I'm sure you have heard the story of two mothers who were close friends, but became enemies because their children fought. Well, the children became friends again, but the mothers remained enemies long after the incident. What's the difference between the adult and children? The answer is the ego. The mothers remember the harsh words that were lashed out at each other, but the kids forgot the fight because their ego was not developed yet. Adult's mind keeps reliving the negative experience and wants to redefine the past and blame others. Enemy of the enemy become friends but later once the enemy is weakened; friends become enemies themselves at state level, community level, group level or at individual level.

When two parties are at odds and ready to destroy each other, both are under the spell of emotions, and their ability to think and act logically is lost. Traditional approach for conflict resolution such as mediation, arbitration, dispute management, and negotiation techniques don't always work and if they work they don't always accomplish long lasting peace. That's because most of the time the compromise does not come from within.

Krishna's teachings to Arjuna occur during the major battle of Kurukshetra. Battle among family members and friends is well depicted in Mahabharata. Krishna's teachings cover human goals of karma, duty, dharma, and moksha. The most famous one liner "Karm kiyeja, fal ki itchha mat kar" - meaning: "Just do your duty, don't set any expectation of results", urges one to live life without any expectation and follow the natural path. Mahavir, Buddha, Jesus and many other sages and saints have preached non-violence, non-aggression, forgiveness and compassion. At the philosophical level most accept and understand these concepts but fail to implement them. Why? Because the ego gets in the way of clear thinking. Our mind plays tricks with us by finding justifications for our actions. In the name of personal gain we get engaged in daily battles, some mundane and some intense. We label our drive, the drive to achieve something, "our karma". But when we don't achieve what we set out to do, what happens? We get angry. Our conscious mind understands philosophical concepts, but our mind is not in control. Is it?

All of us want peace and happiness, yet most strive to achieve it without success. At times we all experience difficulties, anger, and agitation. I understand that it is easier to preach than to follow. At some level, we all agree that peace begins and ends within ourselves, but how do we find it? And if we find it, how do we allow our ego to recognize it and accept it? To seek answers and navigate these intense questions, I attended a Vipassana meditation course conducted by Sri. S.N Goenka. And I learned, understood and gained first hand experience of the mind, body and ego at the micro-subatomic level. I would like to share this with you and perhaps help you with your questions.

Understanding the self is a four-step process that progresses at a lightning speed and repetition:

  1. Mind receives a sense input from one of the five sense, i.e. sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing.
  2. The intellect (subconscious mind) interprets the input as pleasant or unpleasant. For example if someone curses you in a language that you understand, it gets labeled as an unpleasant input. But if the person curses you in a language you don't understand, then there is no interpretation, they are just words.
  3. Sense input creates sensations at the subatomic level throughout the body. These sensations could be tingling, itching, dryness, wetness, heat, cold etc. These sensations rise, intensify, subside and eventually cease. They could be gross or subtle, short lived or prolonged, but they are all temporary. If you check the next time you are angry, you will notice that your breathing will be heavier and your body temperature will be higher - These sensations are noticeable but there are so many sensations that are at a subtle level that our mind does not recognize them yet they occur at every micro seconds throughout our body.
  4. Subconscious mind associates these sensations with a pleasant or un­pleasant label (step 2). It wants more of the pleasant sensations and tries to avoid unpleasant sensations. The desire to get more pleasant experience or aversion for unpleasant sensations turns into determination in the mind, building knots. These knots generate reaction, which comes in two forms, verbal or physical. Most of the time, the reaction takes shape in both verbal as well physical. Sometime an individual is successful in suppressing the reaction but its still building steam until it explodes like a volcano at a tipping point sometime in the future.

These steps are repeated at such a rapid speed at the subconscious level that our conscious mind does not even recognize what happened. Before you know it, one is angry if unpleasant sensations are experienced. If the experience is pleasant, it wants more of it. But sooner or later it will not get what it wanted and eventually leads to an unpleasant experience and hence agitation, and anger. When an individual doles out a negative reaction toward another person, that person receives an unpleasant input, which in turn produces negative reaction toward the originator. The ego of both parties ups the ante escalating the intensity of the reaction and the aggression eventually turning into hatred.

By the time a reaction is generated (step 4); it is too late to stop. An individual's ego and emotions take strong hold of the reaction and the subconscious mind takes control of the body like an autopilot. Individual is not in control of the mind, but the subconscious mind is in control of the body. The key is to stop the reaction in its tracks before it takes any form. Imagine you can experience these sensations at the subatomic level and learn to observe these temporary sensations whether pleasant or unpleasant. Imagine that you can train the mind to observe these sensations without indulging in the reaction. No matter how intense these sensations are or how long they last, recognize that they are just sensations either pleasant or unpleasant, observe them with equanimity. Then there is no craving or clinging for the pleasant sensations or no aversion for unpleasant sensations. They are just sensations, they rise and eventually they fall. Even if your opponent sends a negative reaction, which becomes a sense input (hearing or touch), your mind, which is in your control, observes the negative sensations generated at the subatomic level in perfect equanimity. There is no ill will generated in you towards the other person. The flow of negative reaction is turned into a positive energy in the form of compassion. Many have mastered this technique and gained from it, you could too!

Peace is one of the side benefits of Vipassana technique. Another side benefit is the cure from physical ailments. But the biggest benefit of all is the spiritual advancement. Mahavir, Gautam Buddha, and many others achieved the highest level - 'Keval Gyan" or "Nirvana". It may take more than a lifetime to reach much higher level of spiritual advancement but the path to that stage starts with small steps. To get the benefits of longer lasting peace along with peace of mind and riddance of physical ailment and negativity can be achieved in this lifetime.

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