Social Reconciliation through the teachings of Buddha by Fra Anil Sakya1 A theme paper for Symposium of The 25th

General Conference of the WFB, 16th General Conference of WFBY and 8th Meeting of the WBU at Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka 14-17 November 2010

-----o----Venerable members of the Sangha, Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Buddhist Fellowships and Ladies and Gentlemen, Firstly, let me congratulate the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) on its Diamond Jubilee Anniversary. There is a saying that ‗One starts to get young at the age of sixty.‘ Accordingly, I do hope that the WFB has just began its youth with many more noble works and projects to come which are conducive to Buddhism and mankind with 60 years of experience. I am also truly grateful to Mr. Phallop Thaiarry, the Secretary General of the WFB for having done me this honour by inviting me to deliver a speech today on this very significant topic on ‗Social Reconciliation through the Teachings of Buddha‘ in front of this learned gathering. Indeed, the theme is very broad and wide but certainly everyone present feels to be of immediate and pressing relevance not only as a Buddhist but a global citizen. I can only hope that what I have to say may justify my presumption. There is conflict almost everywhere in the world, unrest and rebellion, revolt against law and order and consequent unhappiness and misery. Moreover, there is war in the minds of many, even among those not actually engaged in fighting. This does not exclude Buddhist countries. Recently, Oxford University Press published a book entitled ‗Buddhist Warfare.‘ It is edited by two American professors of Religious Studies and Sociology. In the beginning of the book they give a reason of publishing this book as follows:
‗Violence is found in all religious traditions, and Buddhism is no exception. This may surprise those who think of Buddhism as a religion based solely on peace. Indeed, one of the principal reasons for producing this book was to address such a misconception. Within the various Buddhist traditions there is a long history of violence. Since the inception of Buddhist traditions 2,500 years ago, there have been numerous individual and structural cases of prolonged Buddhist violence. This book explores instances in which Buddhist ideas and religious leaders have been related to structural violence in one of its most destructive and public form: warfare….. The chapters in this volume investigate this dark underbelly of Buddhisms (all schools of Buddhism), with particular attention to the monastic interplay with warfare.‘2

As a Buddhist fellowship, how do you feel after reading this? Personally, I too often get similar questions about Buddhism and justification of civil war or ethnic war taking place in

Fra Anil Sakya, Assistant Secretary to His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, graduated MPhil from Cambridge University and PhD in Social Anthropology from Brunel University, United Kingdom with the royal scholarship from the King of Thailand. Currently, he is Deputy Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences in Mahamakut Buddhist University and Visiting Professor at Mahidol University, Kasetsart University in Thailand, Santa Clara University in USA and Oxford University in UK. 2 Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer (eds.) Buddhist Warfare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010: 3

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many Buddhist countries. This question is often raised when various events are examined in relation to the genocide of few million of Cambodian Buddhists in 1970s, the recently ended ethnic and terrorist conflict in Sri Lanka, crushing on Buddhist monks by Burmese military and very recently the civil unrest caused by the ‗war between red-and-yellow shirts‘ in Bangkok, Thailand which led to death of hundreds of Thai Buddhists some even in the monastic ground. All these countries are primarily Theravada Buddhist countries and in the last few decades these countries have witnessed a great deal of physical violence and abuse of human rights. Many attributed the cause for the turmoil and violent struggle to various political problems, civil unrest, corrupt politicians, poor economic infrastructures and ethnic prejudices. It is nothing to do with Buddhism per se. Really? As a Buddhist monk, I find it is truly an awkward question for someone who symbolizes the unconditional Buddhist peace and non-violence. True, it is hard to deny the fact of violence taking place in our countries but I always get away with a tongue-in-cheek answer saying that all those violence are politically motivated not religious one. Simply, there is no just war in Buddhism. While I answer that I do know deep in my heart that that is not the case. Many killings and violence are taking place among Buddhists themselves let alone with nonBuddhists. In the worst case, the violence is sometimes directly or indirectly blessed by members of the Sangha. When it is asked for an explanation it is always justified under the technical phrases like ‗for the sake of nation‘ or ‗for the greater benefit‘ or even ‗to alleviate suffering.‘ With these excuses we see that we tend to see importance of an abstract notion of a ‗nation‘ over precious human life. Seeing bad politics, some go to an extreme and say that Buddhism needs to be kept out of politics. Good suggestion but how possible it is to sever politics from a human life. There are politics everywhere, even within this WFB organization! Needless to say that everything in our life is politically motivated. Therefore, if Buddhism is not reducible to its socio-political and economic contexts, there may be something more disturbing in it. What if the discourse on mettā and karuĨā or loving-kindness and compassion turn out to be merely a form of lip service or wishful thinking? Therefore, I strongly believe that public life, all over the world, is in desperate need of the Buddha‘s wisdom. Regarding the Sangha and politics, Professor Richard Gombrich of Oxford University stated on one of his recent papers that: ‗The Sangha and politicians have quite different parts to play. From the very beginning it has been essential to Buddhism that the Sangha and the laity have roles that are complementary. Those who take the Buddha‘s message seriously are to renounce the world, giving up both the burdens and the pleasures of lay life, and devote themselves to Buddhist principles. It is the role of the Sangha to keep the Buddha‘s message alive, and that means to preserve Buddhist values and ethical principles. The Sangha are moral leaders, or they are nothing. Many things, from economics to sexology, they are to leave to the laity. Monks and nuns are no more expected to get into the rough and tumble of political detail than they are expected to carry arms and fight; but it is their duty to advise political leaders on the moral principles which must guide how they govern, and even how they make war, if that cannot be avoided. Why should Buddhist principles, under that name, be kept out of government and politics? Buddhism is not some kind of frivolous game or pastime: it is there to be applied to the whole of life.‘3 If political aspect of life is undeniable then how we can practice Buddha‘s teaching at the same time? For some who know little history may ask, ―How can this be done?‖ In the 3rd century BC the Emperor Asoka proved for all time that it can. He ruled almost the whole of

‗Buddhism as a Resource of Peace and Progress – but who is prepare to use it?‘ This lecture was given by Richard Gombrich at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London at Wesak, 26 May 2010

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the Indian subcontinent for thirty years. In the many edicts which survive to this day he showed how a ruler can follow Buddhist principles – in many ways, but above all in limiting the use of violence. 4 In his lecture Gombrich, concluded that ‗Let us be clear: Buddhism is not pacifist. Here the difference between the public and the private sphere becomes crucial. If someone attacks me, I may decide not to respond, even – in the words of Jesus Christ – to turn the other cheek. But if a population has chosen me to look after their interests, and they are attacked or threatened with attack, the situation is different: I have a responsibility to protect them, just as parents must do whatever they can to protect the lives of their children. Countries need defense forces to deter attack, and potential aggressors need to know that those forces may be used. So there is all the difference between aggression and defense, between initiating violence and responding to it. In his thirteenth major rock edict, Emperor Asoka told the world how much he regretted having waged war on the people of Kalinga (modern Orissa). He hoped never to have to do such a thing again. But he also warned his neighbours that while he would ―tolerate what could be tolerated‖ (his words), they should not provoke him. That surely is the right way for a government to minimise violence.‘5 Whenever we talk about non-violence and peace, we do talk in two different levels: doctrinal and practical. Unfortunately, we talk a lot on doctrinal approach. Indeed, the Buddha‘s dharma is ‗akāliko’ or timeless. It is the Noble Truth which means it was true then, it is true now and it will stay true forever. After all it is a universal truth or Noble Truth. Therefore, whenever we take refuge in teachings of Buddha we feel safe. For that reason, we always use teachings of Buddha as a point of reference just like reference books in a library. What we really need is not mere references but a practical road map, a path, a built-in way of life which leads to those dharmic virtues become a part of who we are. In old days, Buddhism was influential and resourceful because it had embedded in our thought process and our way of life. But these days we are seeing more gaps between theory and practice. We are getting better with theory but weakening in practice. Let me go straight to the heart of the matter. We can‘t deny that violence is not a part of human civilisation. As a noble human being the best we can do is to minimise the degree of violence. Surely, society with no violence at all will be an ideal society of Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism may name it as the Sukhāvati or Pure Land or Land of Bliss. When we have to live with the violence be a physical or verbal, individual or communal, severe or minimal what we really need to do is how to minimise it and if we can eliminate it totally. Here the teachings of Buddha become crucial. How can we lead our life to be a peaceful and harmonious one? Dear Buddhist Fellowships, Violence starts with an individual or a group‘s act. Once it started then the process of retaliation take place and it rolls endlessly. So how do we stop this retaliation spin? Here come the significance of Buddha‘s teachings of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the earliest corpus of Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon, the Buddha does not have a great deal to say directly about reconciliation; but what he does say deserves to be read and taken to heart by every citizen the world over. The most important principle is stated in the famous Dhammapada:6 ―Never in this world is hostility appeased by hostility; it is appeased by absence of hostility.‖
4 5

ibid ibid 6 Verse 5

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The word reconciliation derives from the Latin expression conciliatus, which means ―coming together.‖ Strictly speaking, reconciliation implies a process, that of restoring the shattered relationship between two actors. The adjective social simply indicates that the emphasis is on group, and not individual reconciliation. Reconciliation is sacrosanct in post-conflict societies. Such societies inherit a shattered political system, a fragmented society, and a devastated economy. A universal feature of post-conflict societies is the pervasive antagonism, mistrust, and hostility between the former adversaries, even though peace has been brokered. In any post-conflict societies everyone knows by their hearts that one simple way to reach reconciliation is by pardoning. As in Anguttara Nikaya7, Buddha clearly states pardoning as a quality of a wise:
‗These two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn‘t see his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn‘t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are fools. These two are wise. Which two? The one who sees his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are wise.‘

In Pali, the word for ‗forgiveness‘— khama—also means ‗the earth.‘ Thus having forgiveness means having a mind like the earth, nonreactive and unperturbed. When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge. You don‘t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep us spin in an ugly samsaric wrestling match. This is a gift you give us both, totally on your own, without my having to know or understand what you‘ve done.8 In practical term, to forgive is a crucial Buddhist practice. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to eradicate mental defilements: greed, aversion and illusion. The plain and simple antidote to those mental defilements are giving, forgiving and giving wisdom. Accordingly, we can witness the importance of generosity in most Buddhist societies. Sadly, we sometimes lost ourselves in the web of material giving and hardly proceed to give away our anger, hatred and retaliation, the true practice of ‗forgiveness.‘ Indeed, to forgive is not easy as giving materials but our ancestors have already laid down a habit with a ceremony of an asking for forgiveness as a part of our daily practices. For example, in many Theravada communities we have a saying like Ukāsa, dvāratayena katam, sabbam aparādham khamatha me bhante. ‗Please, I request that you forgive me for whatever wrong I have done with the three doors (of body, speech, and mind).‘ This is a culture of forgiveness we were taught by our ancestors from our childhood. It is embedded in many Buddhist ceremonies and thought process. Sadly, for many it becomes only a ritual. More difficult practice is to reconcile. Reconciliation means a return to amicability, and that requires more than forgiveness. It requires the re-establishing of trust. If I deny responsibility for my actions, or maintain that I did no wrong, there‘s no way we can be reconciled. Similarly, if I insist that your feelings don‘t matter, or that you have no right to hold me to your standards of right and wrong, you won‘t trust me not to hurt you again. To regain your trust, I have to show my respect for you and for our mutual standards of what is and is not acceptable behaviour. I have to admit that I hurt you, that I was wrong to do so, and promise to exercise restraint in the future. At the same time, you have to inspire my trust, too, in the
7 8

AN 2.21 Melvin McLeod (ed.) Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place, 2006:181

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respectful way you conduct the process of reconciliation. Only then can our friendship regain a solid footing.9 To encourage right reconciliation among his followers, the Buddha formulated detailed methods for achieving it, along with a culture of values that encourages putting those methods to use. These methods are contained in the Vinaya, the Buddha‘s code of monastic discipline. Vinaya instructs how monks should confess their offenses to one another, how they should seek reconciliation with lay people they have wronged, how they should settle protracted disputes, and how a full split in the Sangha the monastic community—should be healed. Although directed to monks, these instructions embody principles that apply to anyone seeking reconciliation of differences, whether personal or political. The first step in every case is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. When a monk confesses an offense, such as having insulted another monk, he first admits to having said the insult. Then he agrees that the insult really was an offense. Finally, he promises to restrain himself from repeating the offense in the future. A monk seeking reconciliation with a lay person follows a similar pattern, with another monk, on friendly terms with the lay person, acting as mediator. If a dispute has broken the Sangha into factions that have both behaved in unseemly ways, then when the factions seek reconciliation they are advised first to clear the air in a procedure called ‗tiĨavatthāraka’ or ‗covering over with grass.‘ Both sides make a blanket confession of wrongdoing and a promise not to dig up each other‘s minor offenses (one of seven setting the cases ‗adhikaraĨasamatha’). This frees them to focus on the major wrongdoings, if any, that caused the dispute. To heal a full split in the community, the two sides are instructed first to inquire into the root intentions on both sides that led to the split, for if those intentions were malicious or dishonest, reconciliation is impossible. If the group tries to patch things up without getting to the root of the split, nothing has really been healed. Only when the root intentions have been shown to be reconcilable and the differences resolved can the Sangha perform the brief ceremony that re-establishes harmony. Pervading these instructions is the realization that genuine reconciliation cannot be based simply on the desire for harmony. It requires a mutual understanding or ‗diĩĩhisāmaññatā’ of what actions served to create the disharmony and ‘sīla sāmaññatā’ a promise to try to avoid those actions in the future. The procedures for handling disputes were especially important. To prevent those in the right from abusing their position, the Buddha counselled that they reflect on themselves before they accuse another of wrongdoing. The checklist of questions he recommended boils down to this: ―Am I free from unreconciled offenses of my own? Am I motivated by kindness, rather than vengeance? Am I really clear on our mutual standards?‖ Only if they can answer ―Yes‖ to these questions should they bring up the issue. Furthermore, the Buddha recommended that they determine to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness. Their motivation should be compassion, solicitude for the welfare of all parties involved, and desire to see the wrong-doer rehabilitated, together with an overriding desire to hold to fair principles of right and wrong. Dear Dhamma friends, Therefore, I request everyone who always likes to point your finger at others and blame others please have a good look at your fingers. Where other three fingers are pointing at? This means when you blame others you are to blame for thrice.

Melvin McLeod (ed.) Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place, 2006:182

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To encourage a wrongdoer to see reconciliation as a winning rather than a losing proposition, the Buddha praised the honest acceptance of blame as an honourable rather than a shameful act: not just a means, but the means for progress in spiritual practice. As he told his son, Rahula, the ability to recognize one‘s mistakes and admit them to others is the essential factor in achieving purity in thought, word, and deed. Or, as he said in the Dhammapada, people who recognize their own mistakes and change their ways ―illumine the world like the moon when freed from a cloud.‖ Therefore, according to teaching of Buddha we can draw at least five strategies leading to reconciliation. They are: (1) We are always responsible for our conscious choices. (2) We should always put ourselves in the other person‘s place. (3) All beings are worthy of respect. (4) We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. And (5) There are no—repeat, no—higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behaviour. In setting out these standards, the Buddha created a context of values that encourages both parties entering into a reconciliation to employ right speech and to engage in the honest, responsible self-reflection basic to all Buddhist practice. In this way, standards of right and wrong behaviour, instead of being oppressive or petty, engender deep and long-lasting trust. In addition to creating the external harmony conducive to practice, the process of reconciliation thus also becomes an opportunity for inner growth. Although the Buddha designed this culture of reconciliation for his monastic community, its influence did not end there. Lay supporters of the Sangha adopted it for their own use— parliamentary procedure in Thailand, for instance, still uses terminology from the Vinaya. Moreover, ‗Niradosakarma‘ or legal procedure for pardoning the political crime is often used in Thailand to solve a political dispute. If Buddhist groups are to bring reconciliation to modern society, they have to master the hard work of reconciliation among themselves. Only then will their example be an inspiration to others. The Buddha admitted that not all disputes can be reconciled. There are times when one or both parties are unwilling to exercise the honesty and restraint that true reconciliation requires. Even then, though, forgiveness is still an option. This is why the distinction between reconciliation and forgiveness is so important. It encourages us not to settle for mere forgiveness when the genuine healing of right reconciliation is possible, and it allows us to be generous with our forgiveness even when it is not. Dear Reconcilers! I admire the effort made by Aung San Suu Kyi, when she had shown to the world what does it mean by a Buddhist approach of reconciliation. Day before yesterday (13 Nov 2010), after her release from the house imprisonment, a BBC reporter, John Simpson, asked her how she despised the military government for all the punishment she had received throughout many years. She calmly replied that she never despise any government personals. They have done their duties and it is not their faults. It is the system which went wrong. We can see clearly that she avoid taking things in person. This is a true Buddhist way of reconciliation. When it comes to a collective effort, the solution becomes psychologically different because of the strength which will find when we are united together for a common cause. Here are some key issues which need to feel responsible for the eventual achievement of social reconciliation. They are:
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Accountability for reconciliation: The wounds are fresh and deep in the hearts of those who have lost their loved ones in the war and violence. What would the terrorist say to the mother who has lost her son? What would the government say to the orphan who has lost her whole family? How would the head of the government address his people who are suffering? Let us not talk about who is to blame, or who to take revenge on. All sides should take responsibility for the atrocities that have happened and work towards ensuring that they do not happen again. Also, various programs should be introduced to heal the victims of war and violence from psychological to economic and politics. Self interest and reconciliation: It is no point to talk about reconciliation if personal interests are sacrosanct. The only thing that should be sacrificed in the name of reconciliation is self-interest, not lives. As long as people are working for their own selfinterest, then reconciliation will NOT be achieved. Relationship between Peace and Power: In most cases peace and power are two things closely linked like two facades of a coin. This relationship between peace and power can easily be seen amongst any marriage couple. A working marriage means the couple has agreed upon the equal share of respects to each others‘ rights by dispensing some of selfinterests for the bigger benefits of a union. Therefore, reconciliation is only possible when we can balance the urge of peace and power between parties concerned. Reconciliation promoting activities: As reconciliation is only achievable through determination of all members of the society there should be different kinds of reconciliation promoting activities in societies aiming for social harmony.




For many years, Sri Lanka has suffered the agony of civil war and we are all glad that at least that is over. Certainly, the wounds are still fresh and for some it is a bitter truth. Therefore, reconciliation is the only way in which Sri Lanka and other post-conflict societies can progress. The Buddha‘s lessons on how to treat all humans with respect and generosity, so that they will never feel impelled to take up arms in anger, need to be learnt and acted upon. ―Never in this world is hostility appeased by hostility; it is appeased by absence of hostility.‖ We all know it makes sense. The resource is at hand. But will anyone decide to use it? Thank you.

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