Indigenous Peace Discourse
Dev Raj Dahal
The spell of peace is crucial expression for the start of any initiative in Nepal. The surge of scholarly inquiry about peace education began in Nepal in the late 1990s when violence became a tool of politics. Ending of Maoist ‘People’s War’ and ensuing penning of peace accord in 2006 added an impetus to this inquiry. This accord has set off institutional efforts to engage children, youth, women, conflict victims and educators in the web of peace. Peace building aims the conciliation of differences beyond power deal where each actor deems the other human being not an enemy. The regime, political actors, religious bodies, NGOs, civil society, women’s groups, conflict victims and donors, however, need to seek positive peace fulfilling basic necessities of life. Nepal’s cosmology of peace unifies many beliefs. Its education unfolds the links of causes, costs and effects of conflict, ways to resolve them and stabilise the national spirit.
The pursuit of peace by Nepali sages and statesmen is very old. Ashrams of sages radiated worldly wisdom and engaged them to analyse inter-personal and inter-societal conflicts by improving life-chances. Public discourse, free in the use of reason, provided an insight of peace as an eternal goal of human life to move to the higher order of justice and morality than stick to law’s rut. Nepal’s old treatises deem sociable nature of human beings. Freedom was vital to do good action through paths of knowledge, karma and devotion. They laid the duties of state to protect the people and asylum-seekers, provide them means of livelihood and moralise life through educational praxis. Shuva Lav (ethical business) and Niskam Karma (selfless service) ruled business and civil society and engaged them in alleviating chronic misery which chained people to a lower order and animated their link to nature and culture across generations.
Neatly epitomised in Shiva Gita, Nepali version of peace can be captured through satto guna (truth-seeking virtue) by controlling undue passion rajo guna and dark instinct tamo guna. The Upanishads seek the freedom of people from rituals to create value for their dignity. Peace is not discipline-bound; it is cross-cultural and cross spherical, allied with the cosmic web of life. The Vedic ethos of aham asmi (I am) echoes existentialist philosophy. It insists that individual has ultimate value and cannot be reduced to other identities such as class, caste, gender, ethnicity, region, religion and political parties. Use of one identity against other can easily pierce the veneer of social cohesion and deprive the people of their national and human duty. An insight into human condition can tend the attitude of sociability and motivate the leaders to astutely perform Rajdharma (statecraft) to aid the people which can set politics along normative path.
A positive peace rouses people to fight for freedom. Dynamic learning about human condition helps build contextual aplomb. Great Nepali sage Astavakra argues that fool thinks of self-interest only and breeds conflict while wise man thinks about others and makes amity and peace. Peace education is about assuming responsibility, not alienation and aggression. Rajarshi Janak sought the perfection of human life through atma gyan (inner vigilance) and clipped power’s intoxicating stuff. Buddha’s remarks appo deepo bhava (be a light unto yourself) and don't follow anybody has universal plea for Nirvana. The self-illumination instils inner peace and courage for just action.
For Buddha, outer peace requires the deconstruction of structural injustice, an idea upheld now by postmodernists for constructive change. The challenge to peace education in Nepal is not the conformation of archaic ideas and pattern of living but a lack of reflection on changing condition with apt canon of public morality. A strategy of de-culturation undergoing in Nepal now has decoupled feeling and faith from reason. Leaders’ lure for crass materialism, determinism and negation of opportunity for the ‘Other’ put the later in constant siege.
Awakened Conscience: Peace education aims to shape human cognition and character attuned to the dignity of their life common to all human beings and make them morally responsible for their action. Freedom of the will is not cost free. It requires sensibility to others. The great stream of Nepal’s national life springs now from the resilience of communities nourished by its spiritual heritage of tolerance of diversity and syncretic culture. Teaching leaders to adopt attitude conducive to this toleration is vital to adopt peace lenses and prevent the nation descending into chaos. True bliss can be equated with the attainment of wisdom, not only knowledge. So long as ordinary Nepalis encounter the moral and spiritual decay of their elites, education remains an ego-inflating exercise, not salvation. Technical education alone cannot lift people’s virtue if they are subordinated to robotized conformity to imposed power, interest, ideology and knowledge for the sake of material benefits. It presumes scientific, rational and moral education to foster communication and understanding by helping people to reconcile their differences. It can restore the culture of peace.
The use of rational faculty and respect for human rights that revolutionised intellectual thinking and delinked their bond with the theocratic worldview hit its climax. Enlightenment that removed all the fears of unknown is now laid to acid test as it has corrupted the use of power and created social polarisation. Now, Nepali people are rediscovering its own spiritual and rational resource for reconciliation, progress and nature’s resilience. The corruption of power, says Nepali sage Ved Byas, leads to violence, war and erosion of civilisation. Recent adoption of binary code of politics, economy and laws in Nepal are rooted less in the wisdom of society than ideology and policies that sapped the ability of people to acquire fullness of life. A stable peace excites, not interest but value-based social order as the basis of political authority. Nepal’s history has suggested a middle path between security and liberty, law and social justice, state and society and aspirations and organisations for the expression of good citizenship.
Peace educators of Nepal need right means suitable to common good and avoid the zero-sum politics that defines peace in terms of hegemony of powerful contesting it with other values - justice, human rights, democracy, progress, power equation and mediation of legitimate interests, etc. Gautam Buddha rightly said that peace can be achieved only through peaceful means and radiated his message to reach out to the mankind. Vicious means legitimises the culture of violence and tears the fabric of social harmony donned by human empathy. So long as Nepali people have moral right to rebel against unjust rule as described in Bhagbat Geeta, despicable form of imperial, muscular, hegemonic and power-equation based peace remain out-dated. Education about the economy of peace rests on cooperative potential of human virtues, not predation of surplus, colonisation of nature, capture of policy space and privatisation of public goods. Nepal’s diverse society provides resilience to the state. Stability of its core values of tolerance of diversity of life-forms needs surpassing partisan instinct of elites that feeds centrifugal forces, sieges the state and weakens the people.
The cosmology of peace cannot be animated by selective use of human rights politics or merits of market only. They individualise and depoliticise people’s consciousness, effect break with history and operate above the national self-determination. Nepal’s dialogical method of teaching peace reveals the flaws of neoliberal and radical indoctrination of captive fans for cross-purposes. They confuse sadism with science and chose theory over Nepali people’s life experience. Thinking outside the milieu of recoiling state is vital for the inclusive delight of all. A system that aligns humanity to one universal will of peace, Basudaiva Kutumbakam, arising from bodily need to survive, political need to collaborate and moral need to achieve a harmonious order.
Mindful society, articulated by Buddha, has universal resonance now. It is a society that controls the source of violence, impunity and evasion of justice. It rests on golden mean to restore ecological, social, gender and inter-generational justice, democratic balance and recover from elites’ belief that the legitimacy of conflict is on their side. Peace education seeks to transform the ‘grief of the past’ through a critical reflection on the life-world. Wise leaders need to invent policies in the legitimate interest of all sides and liberate Nepali people and the nation from the decadence of its historical dignity. Equal progress for all Nepali provides them a chance for shared nationality and common humanity. The spirit of peace embedded in the metaphysical roots of Nepali society has neither exhausted nor out-dated yet to shape its destiny in the comity of neighbours and global powers.