To commemorate the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September, HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji discusses the true meaning of peace and ways through which it can be achieved
To truly work and plan for peace, we have to want it. This is not as easy or as obvious as it may sound. I believe that 100 per cent of the people in the world would say they want peace. Yet, ironically, our world is being violently battered.
How can we all want peace and yet perpetrate war? The answer is that we want peace, but only if it comes in the specific ‘peace-package’ that we deem appropriate. We do not want peace at all costs. To bring peace in the world, we have to be prepared to put peace first and our desires second. This does not mean that we have to calmly stand aside while nations invade and destroy us and our families and properties. It does mean, though, that we will not invade others, regardless of how much we want something they possess. Really wanting peace means that we have to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
One of the mistakes we make in the peace-building process is when we speak about ‘tolerating’ differences. However, implicit in the very word ‘tolerance’ is the underlying assumption that we do not approve of that which we are tolerating. Tolerance implies bearing something unpleasant.
Rather than tolerance, we should cultivate acceptance of differences. Let us not begin the peace-building process on a foundation of negativity. Let us switch from talk of tolerance to talk of acceptance. Let us lay a positive foundation of mutual respect and acceptance. Let us work to truly accept each other, despite differences in culture and creed, rather than simply tolerate each other.
Another tragic flaw in the current peace-building processes is the inherent sense of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ We believe that we are working for ‘good’ and ‘right.’ No one who picks up a gun or a grenade or fires a missile believes that he is in the wrong. Each believes God is on his side. We are so focussed on the differences between our cultures, nations, and religions that we forget we are all brothers and sisters on this Earth. The similarities between us far outweigh the differences, regardless of how deep or wide the chasm between us may appear.
Therefore, the goal of peacebuilding is not to ascertain who is right and who is wrong, or who is the holy one and who is the infidel. Rather, it is to break the boundaries that separate us and to work for solutions that address our basic human needs and aspirations.
The goal is to realise that every side in a war is ‘our side’ and that every bombed building is ‘our home.’ When we can truly cultivate this feeling of oneness in our heart, then and only then can we really begin working for lasting, unshakable peace in the world.
Swami Chidanand Saraswati is the president and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, a spiritual institution based in Rishikesh.