The Tree of Knowledge
Peace in Indian Tradition
— Vedika Hurdoyal-Chekhori
A discourse on peace has relevance to the world of humans. Taking into consideration the warlike l behaviour of man at times, there indeed arises a need to talk of peace and ways to maintain it for a harmonious social co-existence. Starting from the Vedas till date, Indian religious literature is full of ideas on peace. The Indian tradition is so rich that brilliant traits of peace can be found in many socio-philosophical, religious and literary sources.
The message that the Indian tradition conveys through its own inspiring examples is to show how one can be at peace with oneself and with the world around while being anchored in inner peace. The ancient spiritual wisdom may certainly reveal the proper way of living for a balanced modern life which would provide more space for development and sustenance, making life on earth more meaningful and fruitful.
Indians in the ancient period found it more meaningful to pay attention to matters of the spirit, meaning of life and in having contentment with whatever they had without entertaining the idea of subjugating others, as is the case in recent years.
However, the portrayal of peace in ancient India was somewhat different from its counterpart in India during the period of the Mughal and the British rule. In those days a monarch was not only supposed to protect his country during warfare but also to ensure the expansion of his kingdom. The Maurya kings who were experts in warfare soon came under the influence of Buddhism. Buddhism was a religion founded by Gautama who, being a f a prince, turned into a monk to preach the principles of compassion, friendly dispositions and the like, in which the killing of another being was unthinkable. In parallel, Gautama’s contemporary Vardhamana Mahavira spearheaded the Jaina religious movement and proclaimed the famous principle of non-violence (ahimsa). Much later Mahatma Gandhi followed the Buddhist and Jain non-violent precepts to fight against the Imperial oppression.
One of the most important examples of non-violence and peace in ancient India can be found in King Ashoka’s Rock Eddict XIII that reads thus:
‘The Kalinga country was conquered by King Priyadarsin, beloved of the Gods, when he had been consecrated for eight years. 150,000 persons were carried away as captives and 100,000 slain, and many times that number died. After that, the Kalingas now being secure, the beloved of the Gods is devoted to the protection of dharma, action according to dharma, and the imparting of instruction in dharma. The beloved of the Gods, the conqueror of Kalingas has now remorse, because of the thought that conquest is no conquest, for there was killing, death or banishment of the people in such a conquest. That is keenly felt with profound sorrow and regret by the beloved of the Gods… Now, even the loss of hundredth or even a thousandth part of all the lives that were killed or died or carried away captive at the time when the Kalingas were conquered is considered deplorable by the beloved of the Gods. He considers that even he who wrongs him is fit to be forgiven of wrongs that can be forgiven. And even the first inhabitants included in the dominions of the King, who submit, he pacifies and converts by kindly methods, duly informing them of his power to punish them, in spite of his compassion. And what for? In order that they may feel ashamed of their past conduct, and not be killed. Because the King desires that all beings should be left unhurt, should have self-control, have impartial treatment, and lead happy lives. To the King, dharma-conquest is the most important conquest. What has been obtained by this conquest everywhere creates satisfaction and affection. This affection is firmly established as it is won by conquest by dharma… This prescript on dharma has been written for the purpose that my sons and great grandsons who will hear about my new conquests should not consider that for their conquest is to be undertaken. If there has to be conquest through the weapon of war, let them take pleasure after their victory in peace (shanti) and light corrective measures. They should consider that the only true conquest is conquest by dharma.’
This is perhaps the most exalted declaration of peace that is found in any religion, be it Hinduism, Buddhism or any other. The Shantistupa (the Pillar of Peace) propagates the message that it is through peace that a man is human and not by war, which is opposed to any creation, development and sustenance.
The Concept of Peace in the Vedas
The Vedas are the most ancient available literature of the world, and they propose a model of peace based on empathy, compassion non-violence and peaceful co-existence with one’s self as well as with Nature.
In fact, from the Vedic perspective, every entity in the universe is viewed as invested with consciousness; nothing is inert. All natural forces are considered to be divine powers fulfilling their assigned functions in the vast cosmic organization. The Vedic landscape is all-nature and views everything to be pulsating with life. The Shanti Sukta prayer invoking peace enunciates that all the elements in nature including the herbs and plants should remain at peaceful equilibrium which is sustainable and eternal. In this light, it comes as no surprise to hear the following universal prayer from the Rig Veda that seeks peace and balance for all elements of nature and all living beings –
Let there be balance in the space
Let there be balance in the sky
Let there be peace in the earth
Let there be calmness in the water
Let there be growth in the plants
Let there be growth in the trees
Let there be grace in all Gods
Let there be bliss in Brahman
Let there be balance in everything
Let there be peace and peace
Let such peace be with everyone of us.
In the Vedas, we also come across the ways of sustenance of peace. The Vedas advocate that it is not only sufficient to have a peaceful society, but it is also important to nourish and maintain it. For this purpose, the Vedic rishis have devised Yajnas (sacrifice), Dana (charity) and Tapas (self-control and penance) as the three key principles that sustain peace. Yajna replenishes earth, Dana replenishes society and Tapas replenishes the soul, the internal spiritual environment. Together they lead to the replenishment of the total environment of peace. The utterance of Shanti Mantra three times as ‘Om Shanti Shanti Shanti’ as referring respectively to ecological peace (peace with nature), social peace (peace in society) and spiritual peace (peace within oneself), represents the holistic thought of Hinduism. In other words, Peace is a principle of balance, which underlies the idea of eco-sustenance and eco-culture.The ritual of Pancha Maha Yajnas (the Five Great Yajnas) enjoined in the Vedas, namely, (1) Brahma Yajna (instructing others in knowledge); (2) Pitr-Yajna (offerings to ancestors); (3) Deva Yajna (offerings to the Devas or Gods; (4) Bhuta Yajna (offerings to other creatutres); (5) Atithi Yajna (offerings to the guests), highlights the cosmic life chain, which connects humanity with the higher beings or macro-forces of nature on the one hand, and with the lesser creatures on the other, which in their own way facilitate the comfortable existence of human beings. The Vedas always stood by a concept of co-existence in which the man was the leader of the environment, not the master. The whole purpose of the Vedic hymns was to bring about an ideal of co-existence in which man can have a meaningful living in a harmonious society.
Hence the message that the Indian traditional models assume to reveal through their own inspiring examples is to show how we can be at peace with ourselves and with the world around while being anchored in inner peace. Undoubtedly, the Indian way of living may provide us a balanced living, which would give more space for growth and development, nurturing as it does a ground for fellow feeling and meaningful life on earth.
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