Preventing Violent Conflict & Peace Building
The European Centre for Conflict Prevention and the Swedish Peace Team Forum, Stockholm, 2002
Solidarity and Security – Probing the Meaning of Non-violence and peace

The Personal and Spiritual Perspective on Non-violence and Peace

by BK Jayanti

I would like to thank the organisers here for their vision and courage in inviting us to share the personal and spiritual component within the subject of prevention of conflict, and to probe the meaning of non-violence.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge and appreciate the enormous effort that has been put into peacemaking and trying to create a culture of non-violence by all those gathered here. I will leave that side of the subject to all of you, the experts, and focus my remarks towards the spiritual dimension, for this is my particular area of experience. A spiritual truth which is a basic principle is that whatever is within is reflected without. The inner state of human beings creates the outer state of the world. When there is peace within; peace in the world is not impossible. However whilst there is aggression within, then even sticks and stones become weapons of war. So in order to establish a world of peace, it is essential to return to the state of peace within.

Today the norm for people seems to be a state of ‘peacelessness’. Yet, in fact, the natural state of the human being is that of peace. For those who belong to a faith tradition there will be the awareness of the teaching that human beings are created in the image of God. Recognizing that the Divine Creator is the embodiment of absolute peace, then surely the Creation also has this quality in its origin.

Interestingly, from the scientific point of view this also holds true. In 1986, UNESCO held a conference in Seville where experts presented research findings that showed aggression and violence were not inherent in the human species but rather were acquired later, and that peace and non-violence were the natural conditions of the human being.

This leads us to another question: Is the original nature of the human good or evil or a combination of both? Today we see a combination, we see divine and devilish traits functioning together in human life and yet so often it is the devilish traits that dominate. However, if we are the creation of the Divine then surely divine qualities are the original inherent state of the human being. We often too have this experience of the inherent goodness of the soul.

Given the conditions of violence today in every sphere and level of society in the world, the question arises, well, what has gone wrong? Globalisation is the reality of today’s world, with its pluses and minuses. Major factors of globalisation are materialism and consumerism. There has been a loss of the awareness of spiritual identity, being replaced with an identification only with the external material world. Television has been a major force in the globalisation of the culture of materialism. Research in the USA indicates that there is a direct correlation between the number of TV viewing hours and the individual’s violence. This fact is fairly well recognised. However another statistic that isn’t so well known is that there is also a direct correlation between the number of TV viewing hours and financial debt. The advertising and consumer culture of TV promotes spending money, which often leads to debt. In this materialistic culture, peace has been forgotten because the inner self has been forgotten.

A loss of awareness of that inner state of being and identification with the external material world leads to a loss of inner peace and the equilibrium of nonviolence. Into the emptiness of the spirit comes anger and violence. Just as darkness doesn’t have a reality of its own existence but is simply the absence of light, in the same way, when peace disappears, violence comes into its own. One doesn’t need to fight the darkness, rather one just has to light a candle, and the greater the power of the candle, or the greater the number of candles, the greater the intensity of the light. So too, when we become aware of our spiritual identity and come to the awareness of the inner being, there is peace and this peace can grow.

As people of peace gather together, just as we have done here, the power of peace multiplies. In fact if we wish to transform the world and create a world of peace this is truly the only way. There has never been a majority that has changed the world, it has always only been a handful. A small group of committed individuals have impacted history and made a difference. We come together as revolutionaries committed to positive change. The transformation of the minority reaching the point of critical mass will shift the majority and create a culture of peace.

Another aspect of violence has been the increase in discrimination of race, religion and culture. A UN event in Geneva in 1984 looked at the subject of discrimination in matters of belief; and there were such opposing views that the seminar did not come to any conclusion. However representatives from the University of Minnesota decided to research this subject. They interviewed young people in several countries and found that where an individual had self-respect, there was little discriminatory behaviour, and where there was lack of self-respect there was greater discriminatory behaviour.

In this 21st Century, we see a situation where humanity is trapped in a vicious circle. There is a general lack of value for the self, leading to cycles of dependency and addictive behaviour patterns to compensate. If there is no knowledge of the inner being, there is discontentment within and a search for happiness in temporary supports, people, possessions, places, position or even alcohol and drugs. Emotional addictions of ego and anger are part of this cycle of vicious behaviour patterns leading to the conditions we see around us on every continent.

There also seems to be a general state of helplessness in which many citizens feel disempowered. We often see that multinationals have even greater power than governments today and so we question whether the individual can have any power. The Charter of the United Nations begins with the declaration of ‘we the peoples’. The return to true self-awareness and self-dignity reminds us of the real value of the self. Respect for the self leads to respect for human life and value for the dignity of each human being around me.

Where there is violence there is usually fear born out of ignorance. When I don’t know my neighbour, and I am afraid because he or she looks different, smells different, eats differently and behaves differently, I am likely to be discriminatory in my dealings. When I take the time to know and understand my neighbour there will be respect. To know others with clarity, I need to give time to know myself first for only then will I learn about others.

Peace is very much linked with love, understanding, respect and truth. In fact we find that all positive values are interconnected and these form the basis of civilisation. The breakdown in society today is a direct result of the loss of values. To return to peace we need to return to a culture of values. The family structure used to be the vehicle for the transmission of values, where values were not ‘taught’ but rather ‘caught’ through the relationships within the family. Storytelling, time spent together as a family meant that a child grew up with a code of conduct and ethics, and with heroes and heroines to guide him or her along life’s journey.

I lived in India until the age of eight, before moving to London, and my family there consisted of my parents, grandmother and great grandmother, who was a great storyteller. Today it is common for parents to leave the child to be minded by the TV set and we see the influence that this has. To create a culture of values needs the support of both formal and informal Education—teachers and parents alike. I have been sharing the philosophy of the Brahma Kumaris to indicate the spiritual guidelines with which we are working for inner peace and peace in the world.

Let me now share some of the activities that the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University has co-ordinated to give you an idea of how this translates into the reality of today’s world. In 1986 the Brahma Kumaris co-ordinated the project Million Minutes of Peace, which reached 88 countries and became the largest non-fund raising project for the United Nations’ International Year of Peace. We were asking people for something more valuable than money—themselves—their time. We asked them to give a minute of their time for meditation, positive thoughts or prayers for peace. Over a billion minutes were collected within a month and presented to the UN Secretary General.

Following this the UN Peace Studies Unit requested us to do a follow up project and we initiated and coordinated Global Co-operation for a Better World. This took place in 129 countries across the globe, in which we asked people to share their vision of a better world. The project reached out across all levels of social strata—princes and prime ministers, aboriginal elders in central Australia, shoeshine boys in Brazil and leper colonies in the Philippines, to name just a few. Many ideas were generated yet the overwhelming response can be summed up in one word—values. People all over the world said that a better world was a world based on values such as peace, love, respect, joy and truth. In 1993, the book that documented the results of the project was published, ‘Visions for a Better World’.

In 1990 people of the world began to tell us that they were interested in values and since then the word `values’ has come into focus in business, politics, education, health care, in fact in all areas of life. Having seen the result of a world without values we are again recognizing the need for values. At the point when there is motivation to practise values we recognise the need for spiritual power to enable us to do this. The present discussion around the world on values seems to be a bridge to spirituality and the journey within.

In 1995 a book entitled ‘Living Values: a Guidebook’ was published by the Brahma Kumaris to honour the 50th anniversary of the UN, celebrating the dignity and worth of the human being. The values that we carry within the self and follow in our lives determine the quality of our own dignity and self esteem. The book describes twelve universal values, which are the bedrock of human life and civilization. This book became the basis for the Living Values: an Educational Programme which now operates in over 70 countries. Books for this have been published and contain activities to promote the development of values for children and young people of different ages: 3–7yrs, 7–14yrs and 15–22yrs.

Our next international project honoured the International Year for the Culture of Peace designated by the UN for the year 2000. UNESCO, which was given the mandate to implement this programme, created Manifesto 2000 and requested people’s signatures as a sign of their personal commitment to nonviolence and peace. During 2000, UNESCO collected 75 million signatures worldwide; of these 35 million were collected by the Brahma Kumaris, with a large proportion from India. The motivation and commitment of the organisation for these projects has come from the experience of personal inner peace and the desire to share this gift with all others. Each one of us has an impact on at least one hundred others that we are in contact with. There is a saying in India that 1+1 do not make 2 but rather 11, and 1+1+1 make 111, signifying that energy multiplies as we come together.

The project of Global Co-operation also underlined another important factor. The old paradigm for the world contended that conflict and competition were the modes necessary for survival and progress. Poignantly, we see in the world the critical conditions that have been created through this. It is now clear that the old paradigm is no longer functional and a new paradigm is necessary; that of co-operation. Co-operation requires letting go of ego and external differences and coming together recognizing the specialities of each and every one. In doing so we value each other so that our energies work together in constructing a better world of peace.