Peace Through Freedom and Happiness

20 December 2537

Peace Through Freedom and Happiness1

Forty-nine years ago, in 1945, with the end of World War II, the world witnessed the close of the greatest calamity ever experienced by mankind.

In an effort to avoid the recurrence of such a catastrophe, the United Nations was established immediately after the war, with the primary objective of maintaining international peace and security. But almost as soon as it was founded, the Cold War began.

Although the Cold War is now over, racial and religious conflicts have flared up in many areas of the planet, and environmental degeneration presents a major threat to human survival.

Despite the resolution of some of the world’s conflicts, genuine world peace and security are still far from being realized.

Human beings seem to be more inclined to conflict and violence than to peace: to break peace is evidently easier than to keep it. Conflict and war appear to be the norm and peace simply a temporary respite.

However, this is not the inevitable state of affairs. Conflict arises in the mind, and it is there that it can be resolved.

In reality, we are our minds. When we allow our desire for material gains to grow unchecked, our fellow beings become adversaries and nature becomes an object to be exploited.

In the wake of the belief that true happiness can only be attained through sensual gratification, we have developed extremely materialistic ways: competition and consumption have become the very rules of life and the dominant energies of our societies.

We have become “consumers,” devoted to a life-style of competition for consumption. But competition leads us into a state of permanent “cold war” with our neighbours, and a life of consumption puts us at odds with the environment.

Lacking happiness within, we try to find it outside in sense pleasures. Lacking inner peace and security, we try to establish them through controlling and dominating others. Ethnic biases and sectarianism only intensify the conflict.

But human beings can be and need to be trained through education. It is this potential for development and creativity that is the real gift of being human.

However, when education is out of balance, it only promotes our abilities to acquire material possessions and gratify the senses: ignoring our true potential, it fails to develop our ability to be happy. Despite an increasing supply of pleasure-objects, happiness is on the wane.

The search for external happiness is contentious. It not only brings us into conflict with our neighbours but also wreaks havoc on the environment. Our efforts to obtain the external happiness have already begun to reduce the overall quality of our lives.

Moreover, since such happiness is based solely on gratification, it increases our dependence on external pleasures, thereby depriving us of our freedom.

Conversely, a skilful and balanced education will train people to develop not only the skills to seek external objects to make them happy but also the ability to be happy within themselves.

As they find it easier to be happy, so will their need for material wealth decrease, resulting in less exploitative attitudes.

People who are happy within themselves tend to make others happy. Because their material gains are no longer the sole source of their happiness, they are able to share their gains with others. What was initially contentious happiness becomes a sharing and harmonious kind of happiness.

Our current moral education, perceiving the problems and conflicts caused by the unbridled struggle for happiness, teaches restraint based on awareness of human rights. We therefore live in societies where peace is enforced through restraint. But any ethic based on fear and obligation is negative and unreliable – its prohibitive nature is inadequate.

A genuine ethic, in contrast, is based on harmony and happiness. For those who experience inner peace and independent happiness, wealth and power lose their mere pleasure-giving or prestige value and become instead means to bring about well-being and happiness to fellow beings. Our time calls for such a positive ethic.

Much of our education tends to encourage a sense of taking and getting: children learn to see material things as objects to be attained.

To counterbalance this trend, education, both at home and in school, should instill an appreciation of giving. The practice of giving tangibly teaches a happiness through giving and generates loving-kindness.

Love means the desire for others to be happy. We learn to look at others as fellow beings, subject to the same joys and sorrows and the same laws of nature as we are. As giving satisfies our desire for the happiness of others, both parties will benefit and become happy. In this way, giving, which otherwise might be seen as a loss, becomes a gain, a cause for happiness.

Only through such a harmonious happiness will our demands for other, more exploitative forms of happiness be mitigated, resulting in a reduction in social tensions.

There is a great difference between positive and negative ethics. Under a positive ethical system based on harmony and happiness, human ways of thinking will be changed.

When we think of acquiring, all our interest is focused on the objects of our aspiration and other people are seen as obstacles or means – as competitors or prey. But when we think of giving, our interest is focused on other people and we see them with understanding and compassion.

Concepts central to the human condition such as equality and happiness are seen in a new light.

In the competitive system which is based on acquiring, people see equality in terms of self-protection and they demand equal rights and opportunity to pursue personal interests. In a righteous democratic system, equality gives us the maximum opportunity to cooperate in realizing social unity and well-being.

Just as contentious happiness turns into harmonious happiness, so contentious equality changes to harmonious equality.

On a higher level, human beings can be trained to generate an inner happiness independent of external material pleasures.

The tacit assumption of improperly educated people that they can only be happy when they have material wealth causes them to direct their efforts outwards. This pursuit inevitably entails some stress and suffering.

By directing our efforts more inward through practices such as skilful reflection and meditation, it is possible to find a subtler and more independent kind of happiness, born from calmness and understanding, which allows us to rise above exploitative actions.

Ultimately, human development leads to the full realization of truth and complete understanding of the interdependence of all things: our lives, society and physical environment.

When the flow of our understanding is in harmony with the flow of reality, there is freedom. The characteristics of impermanence, conflict and conditionality – all common signs of this world – will no longer lead to stress, tension and suffering. The true nature of all things is realized and, by recognizing the interrelatedness of the individual, society and the ecosystem, we harmonize their interests.

While we are struggling for happiness, we fail to care and take time for others. Suddenly happiness becomes something lacking in our immediate present, something that’s always waiting to be found in the future. In the family, in schools, at the work place – throughout society – a feeling of hunger prevails. Unhappy people spread unhappiness everywhere. The unhappiness of the human mind can be seen all too clearly in the general state of our societies.

Peace, quite literally, begins at home. We need to bring love and happiness back into the family, and bring care and mutual happiness back into the schoolroom, by teaching the harmonious happiness that all can share. Happy people will spread their happiness and so help to allay contention and conflict.

We should ask ourselves less what we could be getting and instead ask more what we could be doing for others.

In the same way, we should become aware of what nature has given to us rather than relentlessly asking for more and more of its resources. We need to learn appreciation of how nature and those around us contribute to our well-being.

By developing these appreciative ways of thinking we will see care and mutual happiness giving rise to peace in our minds and in society. Such care and happiness coincide with a deeper understanding of the kinship of all beings before the law of nature. Thus, peace is ultimately realized through compassionate wisdom.

In any human relationship, we can make compromises with one another, and even go beyond compromises to harmony through love and friendship. But truth cannot be compromised. We can relate to truth only through knowledge and wisdom.

Therefore, in dealing with truth, discussion and freedom of thought should be encouraged. A culture should be developed in which loving-kindness and cooperation are the standards for human relationship, while freedom and an uncompromising search for knowledge are the standards for our relationship with truth.

The human relationship with nature has in recent times largely been defined by a science which, under the influence of Western religion and philosophy, views man as separate from nature.

The aim of such a science has long been to conquer and dominate nature and to manipulate it to our profit-oriented ends. Such an essentially hostile attitude, translated into actual exploitative practices through technology, has led to the serious environmental consequences we are facing today.

Science must now take a turn for the better and lead civilization in a new direction. Knowledge must be sought not for its exploitative value but for its ability to show us how to benefit from nature without damaging it.

Technology must be given a more clearly defined role, in which the harmonious and sustainable coexistence of people, society and the environment are the goal.

All such changes must begin in the mind. They can only be achieved by the mind that enjoys inner peace, freedom and happiness.

If we are to establish peace on this planet, we must develop inner peace by freeing ourselves from craving, lust for power and all contentious views. This entails the development of the individual – which brings us back to the task of education.

In initiating the Prize for Peace Education, UNESCO has taken a step forward in the cause of peace. It is a commendable effort.

I understand that the prize is not merely in recognition of what certain individuals or organizations have done to bring forth peace.

Let us be honest – such peace has not yet been achieved in our world. I see it rather as an incentive and encouragement for a concerted effort to achieve genuine peace. It is a call for further action towards winning the real prize: a truly peaceful world for mankind.

The prize here awarded will really be won only when that goal has been realized.

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  1. Speech by Ven. P. A. Payutto, Laureate of the 1994 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education at the ceremony for the presentation of the Prize in Paris, December 20, 1994

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