The Case for Pacifism

Wars Begin in the Minds of Men

In Praise of Pacifism

Buddhist Blueprint for World Peace

The Buddha Denounced the Destruction of Life

Wars Begin in the Minds of Men

One wonders whether the eloquent and noble words that form the epigraph to the UNESCO Constitution would ever be heeded: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

The pages of medieval history are stained by the ghastly accounts of religious wars or crusades that lasted for three centuries between zealous Christians and Muslims. War is essentially barbarous; it is intrinsically unholy. Hence can it ever be righteous? Therefore creeds that advocate retaliation, extol violence or belittle the sanctity of life do not deserve to be called religions at all.

Gone are the days when the ravages of war affected the lives and limbs of only those military personnel who were personally and directly engaged in military campaigns. Today, however, the injurious effects of war often extend to the entire civilian population of a country. It is a foregone conclusion that in a future world war nuclear weapons would be widely used. The radioactive contamination of the earth, water and atmosphere resulting from a nuclear holocaust can cause widespread cancerous diseases that are agonisingly painful and can even wipe out vast populations within a few minutes. The universal destruction that will surely follow such a catastrophe will be such that no surviving party, if such there be, can truthfully claim victory. Who wants to conquer and rule a contaminated world of ashes where even breathing the air or drinking water can be fatal? After a nuclear war there will be no winners but only losers; there will be no assets but only liabilities.

Seldom are we moved passionately enough to clamour from the housetops for the ending of a war except of course when it affects our own personal lives or interests. We have seen protests and demonstrations against particular wars but how often are there agitations for the ending of all wars?

Great destruction follows in the wake of cyclones or earthquakes: there is hardly anything that can be done to prevent their occurrence. Yet why have we resigned ourselves to the inevitability of war as though it were also a natural disaster?

Our hardened attitude to the suffering of others, this callous insensitivity, is attributable to our constant preoccupation with our own self-centred pursuits. Can a mind that is obsessed with its own pleasures and satisfactions ever notice a tear on the face of another? Besides, in the twentieth century we have lived through such devastating wars that we have grown accustomed to seeing pictures of soldiers with mutilated bodies or hordes of corpses in mass communal graves: the horror and ugliness of these terrible sights have ceased to shock us any more. Our passive acceptance of war also springs from the false assumption that there is very little that private individuals can do to prevent military conflicts between nations.

Every effort of man to eliminate war has hitherto failed for he has always tended to regard it as a purely social, political or economic phenomenon. Man has considered war as though it were something external to his inner psychological nature. Throughout history that has generally been the approach of statesmen, economists and other “peace makers” who unfortunately only concerned themselves with merely controlling, limiting and containing the blood conflicts without delving into their psychological origins. Therefore many who were striving to stamp out war were actually wasting their energies in so far as they were ignoring the truth that war is essentially and basically of psychological origin. In his celebrated Ends and Means Aldous Huxley prophesied: “If we want to get rid of war we must get rid first of all its psychological causes.”

Even the so-called ideological wars of the past, such as the American Civil War and the more recent Vietnam War, were never motivated wholly by ideological considerations. For these were largely generated by psychological factors such as fear, hatred, envy, insecurity and the like. Indeed the commitment of the mind to any ideology whatsoever, be it a religious dogma, a political creed or an economic doctrine, is itself a psychological malaise. A mind that is ideologically committed is by that very fact warped, distorted and conditioned; its responses to situations are mechanical and predictable; it invariably functions in a predetermined groove and is hence no longer free; it remains basically unteachable. Is such a mind capable of undistorted perception?

For countless centuries in various societies the elders have selfishly and cunningly implanted in the tender minds of their youth the ridiculous notion that it is somehow noble, courageous and even manly to wage war. They were made to believe that by their willingness or otherwise to fight their manhood was going to be tested!

When within an economic and educational system such as ours, the ugly spirit of competition, with all its attendant ruthlessness and aggression, is not only tolerated but positively encouraged, how can people be anything other than belligerent? There is always an element of belligerency in any form of competition. When those who control the mass media take pleasure in the reporting of crime, murder, terrorism and other acts of violence with all their sordid details, how can ordinary people, unless they are extraordinarily alert and careful, escape being influenced by these pernicious accounts? Born into such an ethos of violence and intrigue, children inevitably tend to view life in terms of an endless battlefield where success depends on the extent to which they become and remain domineering and soldierly. They soon realise that in our kind of society only those who are prepared to become tough fighters have any chance of winning the best prizes. Despite the Biblical prophecy, the meek and gentle never seem to inherit the earth!

The active and passive participation in war fills our empty, bored and monotonous lives with a sense of direction and purpose. War is a convenient means whereby people temporarily escape from the dullness of their humdrum existence. Suddenly the challenge of war activates the mind which thereby discovers for itself yet another means of evading its inner void. But since this void can never be filled we naturally enjoy fighting again and again.

Are we fully aware of the subtle means by which our instinctive pugnaciousness tries to find an outlet? We positively welcome the excitement and thrill of war; we favour the slackening of moral restraints, the atmosphere of permissiveness and the increased sexual freedom that characterise wartime; we value the recreation we derive from following the course of a protracted military campaign as though it were some kind of game involving elaborate strategy such as chess. Indeed the bloodier the battle the greater is our fiendish glee over the misfortunes and sufferings of our enemies. Only the superficial conscious layer of our mind is “civilised” but deep down in the unconscious we remain savage brutes who vicariously assuage our wicked impulses by the knowledge that all the butcheries of our armed forces are perpetrated on our behalf.

The collective unconscious of the entire human race, which each human being unfortunately inherits, consists of the recorded experiences of man's entire animal past with all his painful struggles for survival, tribal conflicts, greed and violence. This powerful current is so deeply embedded in the unconscious and is so much a part of our daily lives that we are hardly aware of its existence. It is this submerged layer of our minds that expresses itself through conflict and war, which explains why even supposedly civilised nations sometimes behave in a beastly manner. The origins of war are directly traceable to this sweeping undercurrent of primitiveness.

It is only the rare individual who steps aside from this stream who becomes a factor for the cessation of war.

The insidious role of the ego is a crucial link in the chain of events that eventually leads to any war. For in human affairs the ego is the source of all evil, be it the wickedness of individual aggression or the madness of nationalism.

In its unquenchable thirst for fulfilment the ego constantly craves recognition, fame, power, prestige and glory. Imperialism is only the outward and outrageous expression of the acquisitive greed of the ego; the collective belligerency of a nation is the aggregate of its individual members' self-assertiveness, self-importance and selfishness. Thus when the ego's compulsive drive for self-expression and self-fulfilment takes a violent turn, and is also directed against the outside world, it might result in either the crime of murder or the waging of war (the term “war” is after all an euphemism for organised mass murder); this very same drive when directed against oneself might end in suicide. Now, is it not statistically significant that the suicide rate tends to fall during wartime and rise during peacetime? Evidently, suicide becomes less attractive during wartime because there are greater opportunities then for people to give vent to their bloodthirsty homicidal instincts which get released either directly by their becoming soldiers themselves or indirectly by their hawkish and jingoistic encouragement and enjoyment of war.

Napoleon's political delusion that France could become the greatest power in Europe, if not in the world, was inextricably linked with his own private ambition of himself becoming a great and outstanding military and political leader. The pages of history are replete with examples of kings, emperors, dictators, presidents, prime ministers and the like who callously embroiled their countries in numerous wars chiefly because they were driven by personal vanity, greed for glory and hunger for power. Even in modern times the ego is the unseen hand that pulls a trigger or fires a missile.

The important part that nationalism plays in causing war deserves some detailed examination at this stage of our inquiry. In its crudest and most extreme form nationalism degenerates into chauvinism. Chauvinism may be described as a fanatical patriotism that has taken an annoyingly militant turn. We cannot truly understand the genesis of both nationalism and chauvinism without returning again to the question of the ego.

Being painfully conscious of its own inadequacy and incompleteness the shadowy ego starts seeking fulfilment by identifying itself with almost anything that seems strong or great. Hence it enjoys being associated with various groups such as clubs, societies, associations, tribes, castes, sects, religions, races, and of course, nations. By attaching itself to a nation the ego acquires an identity, a certain respectability and a degree of importance; besides, the impermanent ego mistakenly tries to secure its own permanency and security by becoming part and parcel of a nation which it regards as being very stable and permanent in contradistinction to its own flimsy existence. Rather than honestly acknowledge and face its essentially false character the ego derives a measure of recognition and satisfaction by enlarging its confines. The miserable ego which is really a nobody suddenly becomes a somebody the moment it gives itself a prestigious name, label or title. Thus the ego cannot but continually glorify itself. Let us consider the case of an insignificant clerk in an office who gives himself a certain psychological boost by categorising himself as, say, a “Greek” or an “Indian”. Immediately his ego starts thriving on the reflected grandeur of those ancient civilisations; his ego gets intoxicated by the prospect of being heir to a great heritage. The ego, in other words, feels safer and stronger through its membership of a nation.

From the standpoint of nature our earth is an indivisible whole. The artificial political fragmentation of land into ego-motivated nation states is surely contrary to nature. For there are neither races nor nations; these distinctions are not inherent in nature; these demarcations are the inventions of our perverted imagination; it was man who created the state out of the petty narrowness of his ego-centredness.

We don't mind supporting states that pursue policies of international brigandage and territorial aggrandisement although we refrain from stealing in our everyday lives; we shudder with revulsion at the thought of murdering a fellow human being but still we help the state to equip itself with weapons of mass destruction; we abhor spitefulness in individuals yet we like the state to revenge itself upon other nations that have wronged or dishonoured it; we deprecate selfishness in individuals yet we extol the virtues of nationalism and patriotism which express the collective selfishness of a nation. The reasons for the existence of these hypocritical double standards are matters that are worthy of investigation. By attributing to the state the sole responsibility for the criminality of what are actually our own personal misdeeds, the unconscious mind subtly and cunningly rids itself of guilt feelings. The state, in other words, is our convenient scapegoat for absolving ourselves of any lurking sense of sin or wrongdoing. The state is an institutionalised extension of our baser nature --- our hidden aggression, violence, fears, hopes, longings, ambitions and frustrations. The state is a symbolic representation of that side of our consciousness that we would rather not face. Therefore when the state acts revengefully or aggressively it is, after all, only accurately reflecting the manner in which we ourselves would behave individually if we were less inhibited and unrestrained. The state is not a body that is different from ourselves. We are the state and the state is ourselves. While continuing to remain inwardly bellicose in our attitudes and outlook we nevertheless foolishly hope for peace from outside agencies such as governments or the United Nations!


Why do we fail to realise that there will never be peace so long as the world is partitioned into separate nation states? The self-interest of one country must sooner or later clash with that of another, especially when it is pursued with ruthless militancy. Intermittent strife will always be an inevitable feature in the relationship between countries. When conflict is temporarily in abeyance, in the interval between two wars, we are supposed to have peace!

Ardent nationalist sentiment with its concomitant belief in the greatness or superiority of one's own country has been one of the principal causes of war. History is teeming with examples of how otherwise friendly peoples become alienated just because they happened to be worshipping at different nationalist altars. The word “worship” has been used advisedly because many who feel lost, lonely, depressed or miserable get their flagging spirits temporarily uplifted by their adoration and deification of the state. They find considerable solace by regarding the state as their god and impersonal guru. In fact, totalitarian doctrines go to the extent of investing the state with a certain mystique by declaring that the interests of the state take precedence over those of its citizens.

We who are fortunate to be living in democracies can never really disclaim our personal responsibility for the belligerent policies of our elected governments. I say this because a set of politicians are periodically either voted into office or out of it by us. Therefore the politicians who instigate or engage in war are merely expressing the wishes of the vast majority. This fact needs emphasising because whenever countries get entangled in armed conflicts it is their leaders who get blamed for it, especially when a people suffer humiliating defeat in war. Blame not the men in power for they were merely acting as our loyal agents; they were just being faithful to the warmongers who elected them; they were only fulfilling what we expected of them.

Every state is founded on the principle of force or coercion, which is frequently exercised through the police and armed forces. Without resorting to force the state cannot exercise its authority. Only through an elaborate system of punishments can the state ensure that its various laws are obeyed. The maintenance of law and order becomes possible only because its citizens fear the might of their state with all its power to cause pain, loss, confinement and death for violating its rules. This being the nature of the state, let us ask ourselves this question: since the state itself is committed to violence can we ever trust its efficacy as an agency for the banishment of war?

The advocates of strong-armed retaliation often argue thus: “You will be destroyed if you fail to defend your country when attacked by enemies”. But why belong to any country at all? The nationless person, who is constantly animated by the spirit of universal brotherhood and compassion, would surely have fewer enemies than the nationalist who feels impelled to defend his country at all times.

Mahatma Gandhi sincerely believed that the practice of non-violence was the only effective means of overcoming war. When viewed superficially such a doctrine has an undoubted fascination yet its psychological limitations become evident upon closer examination.

The pious resolution “I must become non-violent” can only emanate from a mind that is already besmirched and troubled by feelings of aggression, hate and ill will. Now is a mind so defiled ever capable of experiencing such fine sentiments as genuine non-violence, forgiveness, gentleness and tenderness? A violent person can admittedly intellectualise and speculate about a theoretical state of non-violence but he still remains basically violent in his behaviour, attitudes and outlook. For the concept of non-violence, which was born and nurtured in the womb of violence, is after all only an empty abstraction: it is a far cry from the authentic, pure, living state of actual non-violence. But a mind that is truly compassionate never has to struggle nor exercise its will to become non-violent for the simple reason that it is already in that exalted state of goodness. Indeed, any effort on the part of the mind to change consciousness from what is to what should be is itself a form of violence.

Those who eagerly care for world peace can do no better than delve deeper and deeper into their own unconscious. Let the revealing light of awareness lay bare the real roots of war. Let the hidden hurts and antagonisms that we harbour and the lurking envy of those who are better off than ourselves, surface to the conscious layer of the mind. Let us thereby cleanse ourselves psychologically. Let us especially purge the mind of each and every remaining trace of racial, national or ideological loyalty to which we still may happen to cling unknowingly.

When there were widespread rumours of a forthcoming world war, Jiddu Krishnamurti declared himself a pacifist: “I am a pacifist, and I would maintain that pacifism in spite of everything. I would say now that we must not kill --- that should be our motto”. Krishnamurti also declared that “War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday life, is it not? War is merely an outward expression of our inward state, an enlargement of our daily action”.

During peacetime how easy it is to make a pious parade of pacifism! But come war and we readily change our tune! A genuine pacifist does not merely turn the other cheek when attacked but accepts suffering and inconvenience willingly, even smilingly, without harbouring any feelings of bitterness or vengeance against his oppressors. Whilst living amidst the forces of hatred, he continuously radiates compassion on all, even his enemies; his attitude is impartial in the sense that he refuses to take the side of any combatant; he declares that he will condone neither the threats of violence nor the violence itself of any warring party. So like a mighty rock that is unaffected by a wild storm, his discerning mind remains uncontaminated by every form of war propaganda that extols the “virtue” of fighting for king and country. Thus in a welter of mass slaughter the true pacifist shines like a beacon of light and sanity to a neurotic world.

When a powerful government starts making preparations for war what indeed can its minority of peace-loving citizens do to restrain the wicked policies of their political leaders? They can register their protests by refusing to cooperate with the government in its war efforts; they can persuade people to oppose conscription; above all, they can appeal to the ethical and moral sense of the population by reiterating the obvious fact that war must necessarily result in bloodshed. On account of their total opposition to war pacifists may have to suffer the humiliation of imprisonment; they may never succeed in persuading the government of the day yet their noble efforts would have been eminently worthwhile, at least for the reason that they would have created in their opponents' minds some measure of doubt and uncertainty about the righteousness of war.

The moment every man, woman and child turns pacifistic then the arsenals of the world will become useless; then our sophisticated weapons of mass destruction can all be relegated to museums that illustrate the tragic story of man's savage past. With the plague of war wiped out from the face of the earth then at last we can surely live in peace. Then the colossal amounts of money and resources that even desperately poor nations are now wasting on either manufacturing or buying armaments, can at last be diverted to the total elimination of poverty and the economic, cultural and spiritual betterment of man.

---That Pathless Land

New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

click on the flowers to go up to the menu

In Praise of Pacifism

Whenever the world is on the brink of war the protests of pacifists are rarely taken seriously. The moral, ethical and religious standpoints are often ignored and even rejected by the vast majority.

We can ponder over the Buddha’s famous words:



Let us live in love

Among those who hate.

Let us live without hate

While others hate.’

In the Jetavana monastery several young monks were tidying a building wherein they wanted to stay. Then several elderly monks arrived at the scene and insisted that they alone had the right to stay there on account of their age and seniority. The senior monks argued that they were deserving of respect. But the younger monks refused to agree to their demand. In the ensuing conflict the elderly monks gave the younger ones a severe beating. The latter were in such great pain that they began to cry.

When he was informed of the violent attacks, the Buddha declared that a monk must never hurt another.


Everyone is afraid

Of the rod of punishment.

Everyone fears death.

Doing as one would be done by,

One should neither kill

Nor cause other persons to kill.’

Dhammapada, 129

Everyone is afraid

Of the rod of punishment.

Life is dear to everyone.

Doing as one would be done by,

One should neither kill

Nor cause other persons to kill.’

Dhammapada, 130

Two kingdoms were about to wage war for the possession of a certain embankment. Seeing that the kings and their armies were on the verge of fighting, the Buddha intervened and listened to the allegations and counter-allegations of the contending parties. The Buddha asked them whether the disputed embankment had any intrinsic value apart from its usefulness to people. The reply was that the embankment lacked any intrinsic value whatsoever. The Buddha indicated that in battle the men as well as the kings were liable to get killed. He then posed this question,



Is the blood of men

Of less intrinsic value

Than a mound of earth?’


The kings answered that the lives of the persons involved in the dispute were indeed priceless.



In that case,’ asked the Buddha,

Are you planning to stake

That which is priceless

Against something

Which has no intrinsic value at all’?


The kings soon came to their senses and a peaceful agreement was reached. The Buddha helped those who were blinded by passion to see the folly of their thoughts and deeds. He did this through friendly discussions in which he reasoned simply, coolly, clearly and logically.

In the teachings of the compassionate Buddha there is no place for the concepts of revenge and retaliation. He showed love to his adversaries. A foolish man once abused him. When the man had finished reviling him the Buddha asked,



If a person declined

To accept a gift made to him,

Then to whom would the gift belong?’

The man answered that the gift would then belong to the person who offered it. Then the Buddha said,


You have denounced me

But I decline to accept your abuse

And request you

To keep it yourself.’


The Buddha likened a wicked man who abuses a virtuous one to a person who looks up and spits at heaven. The spittle does not smear heaven but returns and soils himself. He also likened a slanderer to one who throws dust at another when the wind is blowing in a contrary direction: the dust returns to him who threw it. Whereas the virtuous man remains unhurt, the abuser cannot help suffering for his misdeeds. It is recorded that the abuser in this story went away ashamed of himself but returned later on to the Buddha, though this time it was to take refuge in him and his teachings.

Probably because of his great reputation as a philosopher and sage all manner of persons visited the Buddha and listened to his discourses. Not infrequently he encountered malicious adversaries who derived a perverted satisfaction by reviling and ridiculing him. On such occasions, as always, he acted with composure and dignity. Without losing his temper in even the most trying situations, he often took pains to correct and instruct his hostile adversaries out of compassion and concern for their ignorance and suffering.

Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of Satyagraha necessarily involved non-violence at all times and in all circumstances.

Because of my Buddhist upbringing I have been a lifelong pacifist. Needless to say, I am appalled by all the sabre-rattling of world leaders. Why is there such a dearth of articles on the importance of genuine peace that necessarily involves the avoidance of force? It is all very well to denounce terrorism, but how many realise that the use of military power by any state is also a form of terrorism? War is state terrorism. War is legalised murder.

Unfortunately we have been conditioned to think that state terrorism is respectable and justifiable, whereas private terrorism is reprehensible. The violent deeds of individual terrorists are considered morally wrong, but it is morally right for sovereign states to engage in useless wars that inevitably bring death and destruction in their wake! This double standard exists because our minds are confused. Many are suffering from a war psychosis. One wonders whether the eloquent and noble words that form the epigraph to the UNESCO Constitution would ever be heeded: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.’

It doesn’t make the slightest difference to someone who is killed, whether he was put to death by terrorists or by paid soldiers in the employ of a state. Life is our most precious possession. Has the state a moral right even to kill its foes?

Years ago I made a strong protest against the production and sale of arms. What I wrote in The European dated March 15th-17th 1991 is directly relevant to all militaristic crises:

The real winners of the Gulf War are not the Allies but the manufacturers and sellers of weapons of destruction that stand to make vast profits. Must they not render grateful thanks to their “peaceful” governments for having permitted this deadly trade? Have not these same governments financially gained by involvement in this dirty business? Weapons manufacture is beastly and unworthy of civilised nations. One of the best ways of discouraging future wars is the imposition of a worldwide ban on the arms trade which, like the slave trade, ought to be regarded as an anachronism. This is not a mere idealistic dream but a very practical means of preventing militarised conflicts.

Although I am not a Christian, I sometimes turn to the Bible whenever I feel the need for some interesting reading. Must we not take heed of Jesus’ advice that condemns all violence? ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ instructed Jesus, because ‘all who take the sword will die by the sword.’ Furthermore, Jesus asked his followers ‘not to take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.’ Does this not mean that retaliating against any attack is contrary to both the letter and spirit of Christianity? Now is the time to forgive and forget. Instead of tit-for-tat let us engage ourselves in intense self-searching, sitting quietly and trying to discover why our enemies hate us. We should first of all probe within and set our own houses in order.

Bloody conflicts can be avoided if the weaker and poorer states of the world are not forced into accepting the political and economic ideologies of the stronger and richer ones. Why are some states forced into accepting either the Marxist or the capitalist ideology? Will there ever be lasting peace if some countries take it upon themselves to impose fanatically their religious faith on those nations with different beliefs? Why are certain states bullied into accepting democracy as though democracy were a perfect system of government?

We must learn to respect different forms of government. In the same way that, whether we like them or not, we have to accept the existence of monarchical and authoritarian regimes, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that some countries have dictatorships. Not to accept such differences savours of intolerance and any manifestation of intolerance is contrary to the true spirit of democracy.


Several power-hungry, colonial and world-domineering superpowers seem to suffer from the pathological compulsion to wage wars from time to time. They feel fulfilled only when they are fighting. They are a military threat to countries without nuclear weapons. They create wars, then they enjoy the spoils of wars, next they like to present themselves to the world as peacemakers, and finally they proudly engage themselves in peacekeeping operations! So naturally throughout the world they have all gained notoriety as hypocrites.


How nice if across all the peoples of our planet there is a general consensus about the need for perpetual peace! When more and more people become aware of the horribly painful consequences of war, they will surely start detesting it. In recent times has there been any war without a steady flow of traumatised and homeless refugees? Has there been any war where thousands have not been maimed or massacred? So the question arises as to whether or not our hawkish politicians are sane. Do they deserve to be re-elected? Must we not oust from power all those lethal leaders, those callous killers, who take sadistic pleasure in the preparation for war and in war itself?


Peace is the sole raison d’être of the United Nations. The UN was not established to wage wars but to prevent them. Is it ethical for statesmen to use the UN as an instrument of war? Belligerent nations would want to use the UN to overthrow the rulers of countries who refuse to be subservient to them. Today the UN is imperilled by such imperialistic policies.


Unfortunately the UN is only a man-made organisation that will always reflect the selfish, aggressive and domineering nature of man. Therefore, instead of pinning our hopes on the UN, the sensible thing would be to purge the mind of its petty nationalism, distrust and hatred of foreigners, racist attitudes, religious fanaticism, violence and such traits that separate one human being from another. We can meditate on the timeless truth that wars begin in the minds of men. Let us therefore turn inwards and ask ourselves whether or not our minds and hearts are pure and conducive to peace.

---The First and Best Buddhist Teachings

Sutta Nipata Selections and Inspired Essays

New Delhi: New Age Books

click on the flowers to go up to the menu


Buddhist Blueprint for World Peace

War is evil.

War is immoral and unethical.

Wars are anachronisms that belong to man’s savage past.

A decent and civilised society will have no truck with war.

What actions are necessary to restore a spirit of goodwill in all international relations?

I suggest a blueprint for world peace. Please do not dismiss these proposals as being airy-fairy, for I am only stating the obvious. The world, alas, is becoming increasingly militaristic. Unless we go in the opposite direction our very survival will be at stake. We need a ten-pronged approach to the problem of war and violence:

1. Every country must unhesitatingly abolish her army, navy and air force. She must also stop the production and sale of arms for war and guns for use within the country. A policy of unilateral disarmament by the world’s superpowers will be an incentive for all the other nations to do likewise. Similarly, when one by one the rest of the world also start disarming, these countries will naturally and inevitably feel secure in the knowledge that they no longer need armed forces for their defence and security.

2. Each nation must destroy their arsenals. Nuclear energy, if needed at all, will be used solely for peaceful purposes, and never for the destruction of life.

3. All ex-servicemen and all ex-servicewomen in every country should be taught new skills so that they can become genuinely useful members of their communities. Hitherto they had been in the killing profession; henceforth they will lead creative lives in the sense that, instead of being destroyers of life, they will become preservers of it. Those who are too old can become the recipients of retirement pensions. All the scientists and technicians who had hitherto been prostituting their talents and skills by doing research for the creation of increasingly efficient weapons of war, would now, for the first time in their lives, start using their professional knowledge for the economic social, educational and cultural improvement of mankind.

4. All the scientific laboratories in various states that had up to now been devoted to weapons research will now onwards be used as libraries, galleries, museums and recreational centres.

Once the world is no longer cursed with war, human beings will have more time and energy to immerse themselves in cultural and intellectual pursuits and, above all, religious pursuits.

5. The United Nations Organisation, instead of being primarily a debating chamber wherein international military conflicts are discussed, will now have a new role. Rather than waste its precious time and energy on military matters, this body will become a platform for the consideration of diverse views relating to the preservation of the environment, flood control, ways and means of preventing droughts, measures for controlling the spread of epidemics and various ecological issues.

Now onwards there will never be a need to have a Security Council whereby one group of nations is more powerful than the rest. It will be a council of equals. Gone will be the days when the globe was divided into two sections --- the bullies and the bullied. Once the world has been purified of the current disease called militarism, a spirit of true friendliness will replace the childish rivalries that unfortunately characterise the UNO today. There will be co-operation in lieu of competition.

6. It would be very naive to believe that, once there are no more wars, human beings will suddenly become gentle and loving, and that they will coexist in a spirit of selfless brotherhood. The nature of man’s psyche is not going to undergo a fundamental change just because a new war-less era in world history has suddenly come into existence. It is not that such a radical change can never happen. Such a total transformation will surely occur only when there is a religious metamorphosis. But this question is beyond the scope of the present essay, although the attainment of Nirvana is one of the principal themes of this book.

Human beings will always remain human beings, even in a situation where there are no wars, in the sense that man will continue to be aggressive, envious, spiteful and lacking in compassion. Even so, these nasty traits will never find expression in the form of state-sponsored and state-organised wars, for wars are nothing more than legalised murder. Man, I suppose, in the absence of war, will increasingly resort to participating in various games and sports whereby he can find a release or an outlet for his pugnacity. Instead of having the right to use a gun, it is surely better if a person has the freedom to kick a football with all his might.

7. Freed of the fear of getting killed in war-generated crossfires when people are travelling in different countries, they will have an increased interest in tourism. More and more people will feel at ease when they travel in foreign territories. This practice will, needless to say, broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons of many. Every country will be interested in promoting tourism and cultural exchanges.

8. In a truly civilised world wherein there is lasting peace on earth, more and more students will feel inclined to study overseas. They will have the peace of mind to delve deeply into their special fields of study without the fear of becoming the victims of war and other forms of violence. How seldom do we see that what is called peace of mind is a sine qua non for intellectual excellence!

9. The world as a whole will become incalculably richer when there are no more wars. So much of the natural resources of the world, alas, are wantonly wasted at present because being strongly armed at all times has become a senseless obsession with us. There will be remarkable improvements in the standards of living everywhere. Increasingly, the poorer nations might not feel the need to go begging for money and machines. When nations become self-reliant they will naturally feel happier.

10. The former belligerent states of the world have a moral duty to rebuild lands that have had to bear, and still have to bear, the brunt of their ruthless invasions, bombings and terrorist attacks. Nothing can compensate the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Even so, these once militaristic states must generously help the war-ravaged nations in both cash and kind. When warmongering states finally give up waging wars, abandoning once and for all their pathological involvement in wars, their wealth will inevitably increase. Money that would normally have been spent on military actions will no longer be frittered away. This means that more than ever before, these countries will now be in a position to pay compensation for their war-inflicted damages.

---The First and Best Buddhist Teachings

Sutta Nipata Selections and Inspired Essays

New Delhi: New Age Books

click on the flowers to go up to the menu


The Buddha Denounced the Destruction of Life

A Brahmin student by the name of Subha went to meet the Buddha who was staying at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s Park. After exchanging greetings with him, the student asked Master Gotama, among other things, why human beings are short-lived or long-lived. He was keen on finding out the underlying cause or causes of this inequality. Long was the Buddha’s exposition of the subtle ways in which karma operates. The following excerpts from the Culakammavibhanga Sutta are confined solely to the consequences of killing:


Living beings cannot divest themselves

Of their actions.

They are responsible for their actions.

They come into existence because of their actions.

They cannot be separated from their actions.

They take refuge in their actions.

Actions determine one’s inferiority or superiority.’

A blood-thirsty and murderous

Man or woman,

Who is aggressive and prone to violence,

Causes the death of a living being.

After that person has passed away,

As a consequence of that misdeed

He will be reborn in a miserable state

With a lack of what is needed,

Indeed in hell.

But if that person is reborn in human form,

He will not enjoy longevity.’

A man or woman

Gives up the destruction of living beings;

Being kind and gentle,

Casts aside both rod and weapon,

And is filled with compassion

For all living beings.

As a result of such good deeds,

After his demise,

He will be reborn in a happy state,

Even in a celestial realm.

But if after death,

He does not reappear in a happy state,

Or in a celestial realm,

But is reborn in human form,

Then wherever he happens to be,

He will enjoy longevity.’



There is a remarkable verse that is not frequently quoted but it is worthy of reflection.


Whatever a hater might do to a hater,

Or whatever an enemy might do to an enemy,

Our wrongly-directed mind

Will do us greater harm’

Dhammapada 42



When is a mind wrongly directed? Whenever there is greed (Lobha) we become possessive. The nature of avariciousness is such that it is insatiable. The more we acquire the more we want. Greed is truly an unquenchable thirst.

When it becomes difficult or impossible to acquire the possessions that those who are richer than us have and enjoy, we become envious of them. We get jealous of their success. We start casting covetous eyes at almost anything that is theirs --- properties, posh cars, good looks and so forth. Many are jealous of the intelligence, power, prestige, achievements and the like of even their dearest friends and relations. The list of things craved is endless! We feel hate, anger or bitterness (Dosa) towards those who are relatively more affluent than us, especially when this unpleasant feeling is compounded by the realisation that we can never reach the same standards as that of our betters.

Soon there are feelings of depression and frustration. Finding oneself relegated to an inferior status is very hurtful. What is it in us that gets hurt? It is the ego. We have been nourishing the delusion (Moha) that there is an enduring entity called the ‘me’ or ‘I’, which endlessly seeks power, position and glory. Thus the three unwholesome roots of all our problems --- Greed, Hate and Delusion --- keep us in samsaric bondage.

There is no mistaking the cause of suffering --- Greed, Hate and Delusion. They are our real enemies, who reside within our minds!

We have long been conditioned to think that we must confront our foes in the external world. Therefore we support the military might of the state. Consequently thousands of human beings are slaughtered in needless wars. Anyone who supports war becomes a killer by proxy. Such a person inevitably accumulates bad karma.

Looking at the problem from the standpoint of Buddhist philosophy, there are no external enemies but only internal enemies. Our only enemies are ourselves. Our real enemies are ourselves. Our imagined enemies are other people who get the blame for our difficulties and problems. Our real enemies are no other than our stains, traits or tendencies that we carry over from one life to another. Therefore we have no choice but to become our best friends. At present we are our worst enemies. We can become our best friends by the inner purification of ourselves.

When men, women and children everywhere start divesting themselves of Greed, Hate and Selfishness (which originates in the delusion that the ‘self’ is real), hostilities between rival nation states will be seen as an anachronism of our savage past. In such a world there will be neither fierce rivalries between countries nor armed conflicts.

How the primitive love to fight

As though might were morally right!

People compassionate

Never assassinate.

---The First and Best Buddhist Teachings

Sutta Nipata Selections and Inspired Essays

New Delhi: New Age Books

click on the flowers to go up to the menu