Photo Credit: Sarvodaya Media
Context & Experience:
Trincomalee, North East Sri Lanka, February 2006. A war zone. One year after the tsunami and its traumatic impact, another attempt a peacemaking starts in Geneva where the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as well as Norwegians and Swiss diplomats gather. But the situation is still extremely tense in the North East.
Meanwhile, in Trincomalee, 650 young leaders representing the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslims communities are gathering, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan Sarvodaya Movement, for a special event called ‘Compassionate Youth Gathering’. Trincomalee was chosen because it has been at the heart of the conflict and is still a place of great tension. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, executive director of the movement, addresses the crowd: “The taproot of peace is Consciousness. Conflict is seeded in the mind of the individual, grows in the family and flowers in the community. Until we see into these roots in our own minds we will not have peace. So we prepare for peace just as thoroughly as we prepare for war, by practicing it, moment to moment, day after day, in our hearts and in our lives. And yet this is not enough to make peace stick.
“The second root of peace is Power. Power too begins in the mind. When I understand my own power to think and act, when we understand our power to think and act together we co-create new realities. We transform the world with our thoughts. We learn that peace is not in the gift of one man or woman, one group, one block but that the power for peace is shared by all, awakened by all in every moment.”
In the following hours, they talk of their shared humanity across the imaginary boundaries of language, ethnicity, and religion, celebrate together, go through ceremonies, sing, and dance.
The following day an army of umbrellas and a regiment of T-shirts and baseball caps, bearing the Gandhian slogan ‘Ahimsa’ to remind them of non-violence, braves the heat of the tropical sun to walk three miles, then sit surrounded by banners of peace in a football field to practice loving kindness meditation – Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims together.
On 21st of September 2007, to mark the United Nations International Day of Peace, a large peace meditation and a peace walk were organized again in Trincomalee. Around 5,000 people belonging to Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim communities participated at the gathering.
The Sarvodaya Movement (“the awakening of us all”) was founded in 1958 by Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne. It has grown to be one of the world’s most longest-lasting and influential holistic human development movements, spreading beyond the borders of Sri Lanka. In addition to its regular economic programs, of which human development is a big part, Sarvodaya sponsors public meditations in which tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians meditate together on each other’s welfare. At the beginning of 2018, communal violence erupted again in parts of the country at the instigation of extremist leaders, igniting and escalating inter-religious tensions. Sarvadoya worked hard on helping prevent the spread of communal violence, and then help rebuilding trust between communities.
There are certain spiritual or transcendent values, commonly held by all human beings, across traditions, religions and cultures that can motivate a person to choose peace and directly influence their behavior. Schwartz has found that benevolence (as an inherent desire to do good, and to hold good intentions toward all living beings, including oneself) is a value that has been found present and most endorsed across cultures. In the majority of the literature, however, benevolence as a value has been researched so far through the lens of compassion (and, in a more limited way, through loving-kindness), which has been the object of an increasing number of neuroscience studies, mostly focusing on the impact of compassion meditation on emotional and cognitive processes. Compassion can be understood as a natural sense of concern that arises in us when confronted with another’s suffering and feeling motivated to see that suffering relieved. This definition implies the presence of three elements: a sense of understanding (cognitive empathy); a feeling for / emotional connection with the situation (emotional empathy); and a motivation and driven wish to do something about it. Without empathy, it is impossible to have compassion. Different neuroscientific experiences have started to document the neural processes involved in empathy, as an emotional trait, and more importantly on compassion as a more complex mental process that also includes an active component (see White Paper).
5.1. Benevolence, compassion, and forgiveness are powerful values that can motivate a person to choose peace
Similar experiences and practices in this database:
Dhikr is a common self-care practice for many Syrian refugees, yet has been barely studied as a form of stress and PTSD relief. Yet, the repetition of prayers, and at times movements, shares many characteristics with other studied practices, including for potential effect on intra-group synchrony.
Similar experiences and practices outside this database:
The Dhammayietra (“pilgrimage” in Khmer) annual peace walk in Cambodia that originated during the historic repatriation of refugees along the Thai border camps during the United Nations monitored peace process in 1992. For years, the peace walk was taking place in early May and involved an assemblage of Buddhist monks and lay persons who traveled various routes in Cambodia. They were greeting by villagers along the route who were expecting a blessing. Those walks were also a form of protest against communal violence.
Monique Skidmore, “IN THE SHADE OF THE BODHI TREE: Dhammayietra and the Re-awakening of Community in Cambodia,” Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 10, no. 1 (1996): 1-32.