Resources on Buddhism and mediation – CSS Blog Network

The author and Buddhist leaders from different schools gather at the White House in 2016 for a celebration of Vesak Day.

Mediation perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by CSS ‘ Mediation support team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to emphasize the usefulness of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To stay up to date with the Mediation Support team, you can subscribe to their newsletter here.

As part of the CSS Mediation Perspectives blog mini-series on the use of religious resources in peace mediation (part one on criteria and part two on Christianity), I look at how, across the Buddhist world, the practitioners of peace were inspired by the ideas of religion. , stories and practices to shape, legitimize and motivate their efforts to resolve disputes and build peace more broadly. The 2,500-year-old tradition, born in India and now practiced around the world, is replete with materials to support such efforts. Indeed, any attempt to distill such a large and diverse corpus into key points for blogging purposes is a challenge. After all, the Buddhist tradition lacks a basic canon considered authoritative for all Buddhists. Rather, thousands of Buddhist scriptures circulate in continuous conversation. A large number of commentaries on these texts are also considered influential, including those written by the 5e century CE Buddhagosa. In addition, chronicles such as the 6e century AD Mahavamsa, stories about key historical figures such as the 3e century BC, Emperor Ashoka, the jataka the tales that tell of the myriad of past lives of the Buddha before his incarnation as a historical Buddha, and the local stories and teachings that have been incorporated into the Buddhist imagination are all wells from which to draw Buddhist teachings that could apply to mediation. Finally, different teachings, practices and ideas resonate within different schools of Buddhism – from the Zen of Japan to the Vajrayana of Tibet to the tradition of the Theravada forest of Thailand.

With the above caveat in mind, this blog will attempt to highlight some particular teachings, stories, values ​​and practices that are commonly used by Buddhist peacemakers to support or shape mediation processes between people. conflicting parties. Since my effort should not be considered exhaustive, I have included other resources at the end of this text.

Buddhist understandings of the conflict: Many Buddhists, when asked, will indicate the three poisons (klesas) as the root of all conflict. It is the universal human dispositions towards greed, anger and misunderstanding that the Buddha taught are responsible for all forms of misery, including those that are individual, social and, as many Buddhists today argue. socially engaged, structural. Because all sentient beings – except those who have attained enlightenment – are guided by klesas, conflicts are an inevitable part of human life. Solving it in the ultimate sense is to eradicate one’s ability to succumb to the three poisons by practicing generosity (to fight greed), loving kindness (to fight anger) and a good understanding of the reality of things (for fight illusion). In the immediate term, one can help resolve conflicts by 1) recognizing how the above poisons specifically created the current situation, and 2) seeking to bring generosity, kindness and understanding just to find a solution. In the search for a “correct understanding” of a conflict, one must critically examine competing assertions and view the situation with equanimity or non-attachment in order to discern the truth of various assertions (Kalama Sutta).

Buddhist support for the intervention of a third party: The First and Second Noble Truths of Buddhism teach that suffering is an inevitable part of life, brought about by human desires. The third and fourth Noble Truths go on to say that suffering and conflict can be transformed by taking action, by anyone, to create peace. In other words, Buddhists see suffering / conflict as simultaneous opportunities to understand and engage in dynamic processes of change – processes that individuals, societies and nations are constantly undergoing – in order to push all the latter towards peace. Buddhist thought, in short, has an optimistic view of the potential for positive change, even in the most seemingly protracted conflict situations. This conflict is an inevitable part of human society is demonstrated by Buddhists themselves. In fact, even the Buddha struggled with a permanent conflict with his cousin, Devadatta. Buddha also intervened countless times in disputes between his disciples, often over problems of correct practice (orthopraxy). In many cases, he served as an arbiter. He listened intently to the dispute, decided on the right course of action, and then made sure his decision was recorded for future reference. At other times, the Buddha acted more as a mediator. He asked questions of those who were in conflict with each other in order to better understand what was driving the dispute and thus find a way forward. In these and other cases, the Buddha demonstrated “right speech” – an important practice in the Eightfold Path of Buddhist practices which helps to move towards enlightenment. (Righteous speech is understood as speech that does not cause discord, but rather helps bring people together. It is described as gentle, honest, and compassionate.)

Characteristics of an effective mediator: Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote the famous book Be peace in 1987. In this book, Hanh emphasized that in order to advance peace, one must first embody it. This means when responding to others – in conflict, anger, etc. – one must act with serenity, compassion and firmness. John McConnell, a Buddhist peacemaker, pointed out that Buddhists can approach the practice of mediation as a way to practice mindfulness – a spiritual state of being fully present to reality and to others – which is particularly difficult in the midst of conflict where his emotions are often strong and self-awareness clouded. These dangers require the mediator to be 1) a careful listener; 2) able to respond to people’s position in a conflict; and 3) see the opportunities that present themselves for better mutual understanding. This kind of attentive listening and support in mediation can help ensure that those involved in a conflict have their individual dignity recognized and taken seriously in mediation, which, according to academic Donna Hicks, can then help them “lift off” from their entrenched positions and deep grievances and move forward. This approach can also help transform the mediation process into a form of spiritual development for the Buddhist mediator. Through deep listening and caring for others, one can develop a better understanding of the inherent nature of the world as an interdependent (paticca samuppadda), dynamic and capable of positive transformation.

Rely on specific Buddhist teachings to bring conflicting parties to a resolution: The teachings I have described here can help mediators maintain their 1) broader perspective; 2) equanimity (or impartial treatment and a balanced response to conflicting parties); 3) constructive speech; and 4) optimism. Mediators may also refer to the above teachings to help conflicting Buddhist parties (and perhaps others) to move away from their hard-line positions. Essentially, Buddhist philosophy and practice seeks to move away from egocentric attitudes and behaviors. When a mediator tries to help different parties in a conflict to hear and understand the interests and needs of the other, and to reformulate self-oriented / needs-rooted positions that are considerate of others, Buddhist ideas can fuel the process. For example, cultivating non-attachment (“letting go”) helps reduce the influence of the poison of greed and is considered particularly important in Buddhist practice. Questions such as “What are you willing to give up to help us move towards a solution?” Can trigger the Buddhist ecosystem of thought around attachment ideas and the value of non-attachment, without being brutal. Reminders of the need for each party to try to listen to the other while silencing their own inner voice, and observing but not necessarily succumbing to their own emotional responses, will resonate with the meditation practices with which they can be. familiar. When things get particularly hot or difficult, it may also be appropriate to request a quiet moment of meditation to allow everyone to calm their minds. And the four central values ​​of kindness, compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy (the brahmaviharas) can serve as appropriate ground rules for a mediation session, especially when time is taken to discuss what it might mean to put these values ​​into practice throughout the process.

Again, this blog was only intended to provide a rough overview of some Buddhist ideas that have been and can be applied to traditional (Western) mediation theory and practice, and thus support and even shape them in ways. new and more efficient. For those who want to learn more, I recommend the following resources.

John A. McConnell. Mindful Mediation: A Handbook for Buddhist Peacemakers. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Cultural Center, 1995.

Thich Nhat Hanh. Be peace. California: Paralax Press, 1987.

Theresa Der-lan Yeh. “The Path to Peace: A Buddhist Perspective”. International Journal of Peace Studies. Vol 11, No 1. Spring / Summer 2006. Pp 91-112.

Sivaraksa, Sulak. Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for the Renewal of Society. Berkeley, Calif .: Parallax Press, 1992.

About the Author

Susan hayward is Senior Advisor for Religion and Inclusive Societies at the American Institute of Peace. Hayward leads the Institute’s efforts to advance conflict prevention, resolution and reconciliation projects involving the religious sector. Hayward studied Buddhism in Nepal and is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. She holds a BA in Comparative Religions from Tufts University and an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard Divinity School. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Theology and Religious Studies at Georgetown University, focusing on Buddhist and Christian theological responses to authoritarianism and conflict in Myanmar.

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