Providing people with physical well-being and wealth does not necessarily lead to peace. Lewis Lapham recently wrote:
Apparently it is not poverty that causes crime, but rather the resentment of poverty. This latter condition is as likely to embitter the ‘subjectively deprived’ in a rich society as the ‘objectively deprived’ in a poor society.
Mental attitudes and the actions to which they lead are the key.
Buddhists believe that the minds of all living beings are totally interconnected and interrelated, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. To use a simple analogy for the interconnection, each being has his or her own transmitting and receiving station and is constantly broadcasting to all others his or her state of mind and is constantly receiving broadcasts from all others.
Even the most insignificant thoughts in our minds have some effect on all other beings. How much the more so do our strong negative emotions and our acting out of them in direct or indirect forms of physical violence! In other words, each thought in the mind of each and every one of us brings the world either a little closer to the brink of global disaster or helps to move the world a little farther away from the brink. If each time we feel irritated, annoyed, thwarted, outraged, or just plain frustrated, we reflect on the consequences of our thoughts, words and actions, perhaps that reflection in itself will help to lead us to behave in a way that will contribute to global peace. If every time we get angry at our wife or husband, girl friend or boy friend, parents or children, we are aware that we are driving the entire world toward the brink of war, maybe we will think twice and wonder whether our anger is worth the consequences. Even if we feel our cause is just, if we in thought, word, and deed make war against injustice, we are still part of the problem and not contributing to the solution. On the other hand, if we concentrate on putting our own minds at peace, then we can broadcast peace mentally and generate peace through our actions. We should use a peaceful mind to act for peace in the world.
As to the interrelations between the minds of beings, the being we may be about to harm or even kill, from a Buddhist point of view, may well be our own parents, children, wives or husbands, or dearest friends from former lives.
Because Buddhists see the problem of war as a karmic one, the solution is seen as the practicing and teaching of correct ethical behavior. Good deeds lead to good consequences, bad deeds to bad. If you plant bean seeds, you get beans; if you plant melon seeds, you get melons. If you plant the seeds of war, you get war; if you plant the seeds of peace, you get peace.
The most fundamental moral precept in Buddhist teaching is respect for life and the prohibition against taking life. Generally speaking, all living beings want to live and are afraid of death. The strongest desire is for life, and when that desire is thwarted, the response is unbelievably powerful anger. Unlike almost all other religions, Buddhism teaches that there are no exceptions to this prohibition and no expedient arguments are admitted. The taking of life not only covers human life but all sentient beings.
Reducing the karma of killing is equivalent to putting out the fire under the pot of boiling soup. If we end killing, the world will be at peace.
The prohibition against stealing says, more literally, that one must not take what is not given. Stealing, whether it is by individuals, corporations, or nations, occurs because of selfish greed. From the time of the Trojan War, sexual misconduct has also been a cause of war, as has been lying. National leaders whose minds have been clouded by drugs are not rare in history either–their conduct is rarely just and peaceful. The international drug trade in itself has become a major impediment to peace in most parts of the world. The taking of intoxicating substances is also prohibited by fundamental Buddhist teachings.
The Buddhist vision is a world in which all life is sacred, in which selfishness, in the guise of greed, anger and foolishness, does not interfere with the basic interconnectedness of all living beings. That interconnectedness, when freed from the distortion of selfishness, is based upon the potential for enlightenment that every being shares.
BUDDHIST IDEAS FOR ATTAINING WORLD PEACE
(Lectures for the Global Peace Studies Program, San Francisco State University, November 7 & 9, 1988)