Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Sitting here in my dorm room in Bangkok, surrounded by the green trees, I wonder what inspired me to make this journey to Thailand. Why I am here, and what have I learned during my Rotary Peace fellowship? What will I take back with me and how will I use the knowledge to make this world a better place?
Looking back, I realize that my roots, my heritage, my parents, and my experiences in life all have contributed to my quest for peace and inspired me to come from US to Thailand. However, my peace journey began in India, where I was born; and where 5000 years ago a Yogic tradition of chanting Shanti (peace) mantras was initiated to create a peaceful environment. These seers of Vedas and Upanishads proclaimed that we should respect and love all living organisms because each living being is part of divinity, therefore we must live in harmony with all living beings in this universe.
India is also the land of Lord Krishna; who taught the lessons of love, devotion and selfless actions through Bhagavad Gita, and where Siddhartha (born circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE) became Buddha (the enlightened one). Buddha revealed the Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path that one can follow to end their suffering and attain Nirvana. This is also the land where Mahavira (599 BCE–527 BCE), known also as Verdhamana, introduced the concept of ahimsa (non-violence). Thus it is the land where world’s three oldest religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were formed and flourished. And here also was born Mahatma Gandhi, who adapted various religions’ message of non-violence and revolutionized the way we understand and think about world peace today.
My parents, who adapted Gandhian philosophy, raised me to believe that each religion professes the power of love, peace, non-violence, tolerance and truth. While growing up; each morning with my classmates, I chanted the following Shanti (peace) mantras (written in Sanskrit language thousands of centuries ago), for our school prayer:
AUM saha navavatu, saha nau bhunaktu
Saha veeryam karvaavahai
Tejasvi naa vadhita mastu
maa vid vishaa va hai
AUM shaantih, shaantih, shaantih.
Let us together be protected and
Let us together be nourished by the Supreme being’s blessings.
Let us together join our mental forces in strength for the benefit of humanity.
Let our efforts at learning be luminous and filled with joy,
and endowed with the force of purpose.
Let us never be poisoned with the seeds of hatred for anyone.
Let there be peace and serenity in all the three universes.
This mantra highlights the nature of the teacher-student relationship that produces ideal results for the student. The transference of mental, spiritual and intellectual energies from the teacher to the student can be achieved through a mutually nourishing relationship which is based on (mutual) respect, joy (of giving and receiving), and absence of malice or negative thoughts.
In India, the ancient tradition of recitation of shanti mantras known as Shanti Paat, carries on even today. There are various shanti mantras that people recite collectively; or individually, at the beginning of any auspicious day or before starting any new projects. It is believed that the vibrations of these mantras bring peace within one self and in the environment that surrounds us.
Each morning, while entering in our conference room in Bangkok with 19 other peace fellows (whom I now consider my dear friends), I think of the shanti mantras. I realize how this chants prepared me to receive the knowledge about peacebuilding here in Bangkok. It also reminds me that individually and collectively one has to keep on working to bring peace in the world. I feel so privileged to learn from the scholars that come from various parts of the world, and my new friends who make me realize how much more I have to learn to become a peacebuilder.
During our stay here we have visited many organizations that help the victims of human trafficking and many other societal ills. Like many of my peacebuilder friends, I too feel helpless when I see the injustice these victims endure. It shatters our faith in humanity at times, and make us wonder how this can be happening in 21st century? How can we achieve peace?
I try to remind myself that peace resides within us and we have to first make efforts to make peace within to help others achieve peace in the world. Since we are in Bangkok where we see Buddhist wats in different corners of the city, we can review some of the percepts of Buddhism, especially the Eight Fold Path, which may provide assistance in making peace within. The Eight Fold Path is:
• Right Resolve: People can and must change in order to end their suffering.
• Right Speech: Recognizing and speaking the truth without distortion from ego and without embroidering it with our own interests.
• Right Action: Striving to do no harm to other sentient beings.
• Right Livelihood: Ruling out work that harms or takes advantage of others or that in other ways hampers our spiritual progress.
• Right Effort: Learning to control our negative thoughts and encouraging and instilling positive thinking, especially loving-kindness, empathy and compassion.
• Right Mindfulness: Being fully present to what is happening around us, being attentive.
• Right Concentration: Using meditation techniques to calm our minds and be able to concentrate on a single object, subject or theme.
Prof. Chaiwat Satha- Anand, who gave an inspiring lecture on non-violence a few weeks ago, reminded us all that each religion sheds light on how to live in harmony and peace. He introduced the concept of empathy that Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism introduced thousands of years ago and is also a principle precept of Christianity, Islam and other religions of the world. In many Indian languages, empathy is known as “anukumpa.” It means yearning, grace, and compassion. In Thai it is described as Ao jai kyao ma sai jai rao, meaning bring the other’s heart to your own.
Review of the Nobel Eight Fold Path and Prof. Satha Anand’s lecture reminded me of Mary Anderson’s Do No Harm model. If we consciously work towards “doing no harm” to others, we will be at peace with ourselves. After all Jainism’s concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) also suggests the same: one must not even think ill, let alone do physical harm. When one adapts this “mindfulness” towards others, and brings other’s hearts in their own, there will be no ill will, and therefore no clashes. Thus by being empathetic and compassionate one can achieve inner peace. If each individual in the society strives to achieve inner peace, collectively it contributes to a harmonious world.
Off course, this is not an easy path to follow. I am sure we will falter, but we need to continually make efforts to achieve peace within. Only then we can help others in achieving peace in the world.
Vibhavari Jani, Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2013 Session