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Director in Chief, Burma Buddhist World Mission

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Vol. III, No. 2, 1956

          Lao Tse, the Chinese sage, said "When the Way (of natural harmony) is lost, then arises virtue ; after virtue is lost, then arises justice ; after justice is lost, then arises ritualism". By this he meant that when people lose their natural love of the moral order they consciously abstain from vice, and call it virtue ; when this self-conscious virtue is lost they formulate a code of justice, and when this also fails, they turn to ritualism, and so on in descending order.

          He might have added that when peace is lost the people turn to pacifism. One of the symptoms of a world plunging madly from conflict to conflict is the number of pacifist movements that have come into being and the peace-conferences that are being held in various parts of the globe. We have had them lately in Switzerland, India, America and elsewhere ; yet still the disease continues its course unabated. The same upsurge of pacifism took place after the first World War, and the present one may be expected to produce exactly the same result, neither more nor less.

          In a sane world there would be no occasion for great numbers of people of different nationalities to assemble, some coming from the far corners of the earth at considerable expense, in order to assure one another that war is a bad thing and harmful to humanity, and that it ought to be abolished. Viewed dispassionately, such a proceeding in itself is insane enough, but it is the outcome of a larger lunacy which decrees that, even while the delegates are solemnly bandying these platitudes across the conference tables their respective countries shall be busily and efficiently preparing themselves for the next war of extermination. The ordinary citizen of any country, regarding these portentous but unfortunately barren conclaves from the (temporary) security of his home, may be forgiven if he cynically comments: "Thus it is, was and ever shall be, war without end !"

          The sincerity of those who organise these conferences and of those who attend them cannot be questioned. They are people who feel strongly about the present trend of world affairs and wish to do something, in collaboration with those of like 'mind among their past and potential enemies, to check the headlong rush to destruction. Their motives are good ; they are people of ideals and intelligence; they have great patterns of non violence to follow and from which to draw their inspiration and, last but not least, they represent the feelings of the vast majority of inarticulate mankind in a war-weary world.

         They have at their service powerful instruments of international propaganda in the press and radio—who remembers now, I wonder, that in its early days the then British Broad casting Company had for its motto, "Nation shall speak peace unto nation", until the pressure of events in Europe and the increasingly bellicose tone of continental broadcasting made the retention of that hopeful prophecy too farcical to be continued?

          All these advantages the pacifist movements have, plus the sympathy of right- thinking people everywhere—and yet they fail What is the reason ? The arguments against war have been reiterated over and over again, so that it is now impossible to say anything on the subject that has not been said before times out of number, but there must be still one primal factor in the problem that has been so far untouched, by ethics, politics, religion and every other branch of knowledge that has any bearing on the subject.

          For the answer we must first of all examine the known causes of war. These fall under two main heads politico-economic and historico-psychological causes. In the first are combined the influences of power- politics, the problem of expanding populations and the competition for the world's markets, together with the universal trend towards over-industrialisation. The second embraces all national animosities that have their roots in past victories and defeats ; for example, the French distrust of Germany, dating back to the Franco-Prussian war, which later influenced the Treaty of Versailles and so paved the way for the outbreak of war in 1939. Closely allied to this is the racial and nationalistic mystique, which lies in the field of the psychologist, since throughout history it has been applied, under the name of "patriotism", to engender mass enthusiasm for "one's country, right or wrong".

          In assessing the causes of war we are apt to over-emphasise the first group and minimise the second. If war is brought about by economic conditions, it nonetheless draws its sustenance from the historico-psychological region of the mass consciousness, and when this sustenance is exhausted in the course of a long drawn-out conflict, the war comes to an end, even though the economic and political problems that originated it are still unsolved. If this factor did· not exist, indeed, the economic forces brought into play by the struggle for supremacy between nations in times of peace could not gather enough momentum to lead to war. It is worth while, therefore, to examine this psychological factor more closely, for here, if anywhere we have the true cause of war.

          The instinct of belligerence in children is a form of self-assertiveness ; it is partly psychological and partly physical, for the stronger the child is physically, the more marked is its aggressive urge. The child wishes to impose its will on others and on its environment, and failing to achieve this with adults, it resorts to coercing its weaker companions. This is the first and simplest manifestation of the self-conscious ego. Passing through this primitive stage the child then becomes a communal being and manifests the tribal instinct in the form of team-spirit and devotion to the school. The primal ego has become partly sublimated and is then identified with the corporate group of which the individual is a part. It is not a true sublimation but more precisely an extension of the ego which leaves the personal ego not only unimpaired but actually strengthened. The so-called sacrifice of self that comes from devotion to the family, tribe, team or country is merely the sacrifice of the smaller, individual ego on the altar of the larger self with which it has become temporarily identified.

          The sportsman who cheers his team at a football match is celebrating the glorification of his extended ego ; the man who exhibits excessive nationalism is giving vent to the same primitive instinct, and in his case it is formally approved by society because it is this sublimated (and therefore disguised) form of egoism which preserves the homogeneity of the state. It is the one form of egoism the open expression of which a civilised community praises.

         Professor Jung, in one of his books, claims to have discovered the subconscious current or tendency that finally found open expression in Nazi aggressiveness in 1939, in the psychology of a representative section of young Germans whom he analysed several years before any political or economic situation had arisen that could possibly be said to make war unavoidable. This is a strong indication that the political and economic causes of war are only the outward manifestations of a hidden urge that develops in the collective consciousness of a people it may well be that they are the actual products of the psychic tendency and brought into being as a direct result of it. The psychic pre-disposition of the majority tends towards aggression and the trend of events follows it, so that in time circumstances are brought about which make it appear that war was the inevitable result of economic and political factors.

          The view put forward by Tolstoy in "War and Peace ", that the great leader is nothing but the instrument of a force more powerful than himself, on the crest of which he rides to victory, and that this force is nothing but the collective psychic impulse of the mass of the people, the whole obeying the universal law of cause and effect, seems to be correct. Napoleon was a psychic type, so was Hitler they both believed that a destiny directed their actions and they were partly right, but it was not a god-directed destiny but rather the psychic volition of a great number of people— the nation, in fact—stimulated over a period of years by growing discontent and the suppressed urge for national self-assertion. When this psychic energy exhausts itself, as it is bound to do in the case of a protracted conflict—for example, the Napoleonic wars— or more rapidly in the case of modern intensified warfare, the first symptom is loss of faith in the leader. The leader in turn feels the force failing him and begins committing blunders he loses faith in him self and his "destiny". The result is defeat. A democratic government, in which the burden of responsibility is divided among a group of men, has an advantage in such a case, since one man acting as the psychic instrument of so many is certain to collapse in course of time under the strain of the psychic tension to which he is exposed.

          Here we are dealing with a very obscure and little-understood relationship, that between the leader and the led. But we know enough, at least, to acknowledge that war like all other things, arises from the mind, and that it does not rise from the mind of one man, or a small group of men, but from the mass-mind of the people. Now this mass mind is always of a lower and more primitive, more violent type, than the individual minds that compose it. A man in a crowd will be guilty of excesses that as an individual be would shrink from. Yet it is that mentality which, in the form of the extended ego of the people, ultimately directs the fate of nations.

          The root-cause of war, then, as of all other evils, is the ego-instinct of that we can be certain. It is the ego which demands expression, conquest and acquisition, and if we are to tackle the problem of war effectively we must tackle it from the ego itself. And to do that the approach must be to the individual direct it must not be confused by external issues in the form of political creeds, economic theories, race antagonisms or the misguided heroics of patriotism.

          This appears to be the reason why religion has failed to bring peace to the world. The people cry aloud for peace with their tongues while their ego-instinct craves for self-expression in conflict. Buddhism is the only Teaching which attempts to curb this ego-instinct at its source, or which even sees the necessity for doing so; other religions are content to canalise it and provide an alternative to its cruder manifestations ; the self is not subjugated, but merely harnessed to a higher motive, and that motive in itself may be (and usually is) diverted to the cause of war when occasion arises.

         Buddhism cuts out non-essentials and sets down to the basic principles of thought and action. It teaches that there are five kinds of spiritual darkness and five of spiritual light. Among these the first kind of darkness is that which makes people ignorant of the fact that their tendencies and actions are their own inherent property, their cause and their fate. This is called Kamma-sammoha. It also incudes ignorance of the nature of volitional actions and of the fact that certain types of action lead to evil results and others to good. Its opposite is kammasakatananena, the illumination by which people know the nature of Kamma (actions) and know that it is these tendencies and actions which produce individual beings, and also become aware that they fell into distinct classes, some of which produce evil and others good results. To understand the science of mental and physical activity it is necessary to be familiar with the five principles of darkness and illumination, particularly these first two. If these were thoroughly comprehended by people throughout the world we should have gone a long way towards eliminating the principal causes of war ; but for this end to be attained it is also essential that people every where should understand the process of rebirth in Samsara, its cause and the nature and origin of the various types of consciousness in the chair( of cause and effect. This is the only answer to the instinct of egoistic aggression that is inherent in the majority of mankind.

          Diagnosis of the disease of world lunacy is useless unless we can also supply the remedy. The disease is Self; the only treatment must be recognition of the evils that come from the different forms of egoism, and the way to their elimination through knowledge of the fact that there is really no such thing as the self. Could this knowledge become wide spread, the power of the ego, both in its individual and sublimated forms, would be reduced to ineffectiveness in the sphere of world-events ; with this form of aggressiveness removed we should be at fast on the way towards true civilisatian.

         The time has come to give Buddhism a chance to rid mankind of the fatal delusion of selfhood to which the evils of war can ultimately be traced. Other remedies are merely palliatives: they succeed for a time, to a certain limited extent and with certain types of people who are advanced enough to have recognized the need for subjugation of the ego from their own personal observation. But for a genuine change of consciousness throughout the world—a complete "turning-about" in human understanding and human relationships—something drastic has to be brought into operation, some thing which strikes at the roots of the trouble as nothing so far has done. That Buddhism can bring peace has been proved by history; it is no mere empty theory. It can bring peace to individual beings, and that is the first, most essential step, towards bringing peace and sanity to the world.

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