[ Back to Articles ]

Conflict Resolution from a Buddhist perspective:

By Acharya Nyima Tsering

Every sentient being is so unique and has been gifted with talents to deal with life in their own way, since every one of us are coming along with habitual collection of so many different experiences through many lifetimes. Even in this life, we come across different people, environments and are influenced accordingly. So, the process of judgement differs from one person to another, due to different frames of references, different conditional process and simple habits that we are ingrained within from childhood. So, no book and person can meet the various requirement of every individual. Therefore, I am here to share some of my ideas to deal with conflicts and disputes. I hope it might serve as potency or catalyst to resolve the conflicts.

There are different means to resolve the conflict, one is through temporary methods like giving aspirin or painkiller or it can be likened to polishing the surface of the suffering mind but the symptoms remain tarnished beneath. There is another technique, which actually penetrates more deeply into the fundamental source of conflict.

I want to categorise into three different systems to handle the conflict:
a) Through modern techniques
b) using common sense and
c) by means of knowing the reality.

A) First example, circular way of thinking such as action, reflection, learning and strategy and methods to know the person's position or status, and exploring their feelings, needs and interests.

B) Second example, look at the possible consequences of strong ill will towards others like hatred. As soon as very strong ill will towards another person develops, peace of mind immediately disappears, which also effects peaceful sleep and resort to sleeping pills. Eventually lost the appetite and physical health also degenerates. Strong conflicting emotions create lots of destruction to oneself and others. If you have very strong negative feeling toward others, eventually you feel that other person also have that kind of attitude. As a result, when you meet someone, you feel suspicious, nervousness and discomfort and sometimes-even nervous breakdown. This kind of suspicious attitude is against human nature because we human beings are social animals, whether we like it or not we have to live in the human community; we can't survive in isolation. We put ourselves in a very difficult situation when we deal negatively with those people upon whom we are very much dependent on. I think the population of big cities looks like a very huge community, but actually many individuals feel lonely, sometime people do not trust and respect others and end up drinking alcohol, drugs and then create all sorts of problem in the society. Some times people die alone without anybody looking after them and even take out the dead body after two weeks. Within any human society, several people may be mischievous, but generally if you treat people with genuine friendship they respond accordingly, we know and can tell that other people experience the same thing we experience.

Now I just want to display several different tactics to resolve the conflict through common sense as taught by Shanti Deva(8th century ) in the Guide to Boddhisattva's way of life. The one that is most important to resolve the conflict is through patience with reasoning. Shanti Deva beautifully argued that the ordinary person attributes his or her anger to an external cause, thinking, " if this person or situation were different, I wouldn't be mad." with this outlook comes the need to change the external conditions in order to calm one's own anger, but consider how many beings there are, and how all of them have different attitudes and ideas. You can easily see that it is an impossible task to make them all conform to your ideas, which won't make you angry. Instead of attempting to overcome and change all other beings, it is much more practical to overcome and change yourself, taming your own mind to eliminate the anger. If the ground is covered with sharp thorns and stones, it is more practical to protect your feet by wearing just a pair of shoe than to try to remove all of the thorns and stones.

It is indeed true that you cannot control how other behaves and says; it is how you can take the matter makes lots of differences. When you gain patience, external people and situations won't bother you; the source of the problem does not lie in the external person or situation, but in your own conflicting state of the mind. In fact, when your organs of sense encounter an object, the only part the object, itself plays is to initiate the process of perception in your consciousness. From then on, as your mind reacts to the object, influenced by all your accumulated habits and past experiences, the whole process is entirely subjective. So, when your mind is full of anger, the whole world seems to be a hell realm. When your mind is peaceful, free from any clinging or fixation and whatever you do is in accordance with the teachings, you experience everything as primordially pure. While Buddha sees the hell as a paradise, deluded beings see a paradise as the hells.

The person who has attained a broad outlook, a spacious and serene mind, can easily accept and deal with any difficulty. A person who is frustrated, hyper sensitive and dissatisfied will find problems and pain everywhere, even he or she is staying in beautiful surrounding with all the sensorial pleasures but due to his or her mental state, feels like staying on a thorny bed.

The first step is to visualise the person who makes you angry. The first contemplation is to feel how forcefully your own anger arises. Then think of how the other person is under the control of delusion which are equally strong and is acting out of fear, confusion, and so on. In some cases, people are guided by strong anger, attachment and ignorance to the point where they commit suicide. If these delusions can drive a person to do such action, is it surprising that he or she should wish to harm you also? If he had any control. He would certainly not wish to create the cause for future unhappiness and conflicts by harming himself and others and instead feel strong compassion to the opponent.

The second contemplation, consider whether or not it is the nature of the other person to inflict harm, if you can think of numerous instances in which that person has inflicted harm on you or some one else, then you must have been aware that it was in that person's nature to cause harm. If this is the case, it is better to avoid dealing with that person in the first place, not giving him or her the opportunity to cause you harm or accept the nature of the person and deal with him accordingly.

On the other hand, you might conclude that it is not the nature of that person to cause harm. In this case, the third contemplation is to think of the person's habitual good qualities and view the disturbing incident as a temporary cloud, which will eventually disappear without a trace. No one is perfect, everyone will have occasional lapses and there is no reason to bear a grudge over minor matter.

The fourth contemplation is to search for the true source of your problem, developing a perspective of interconnectedness and concluding that there is no intrinsic source. If someone hits you with a stick, the harm arises from the contact between the stick and your body. Why be angry with the person wielding the stick? It is just reasonable to be angry at stick and your body, if there were no stick, or if you had no contaminated body, there would be no harm. You might think it is reasonable to angry at the person who controls the stick, but he or she is controlled by delusions. So by that logic it is more reasonable to angry with person's delusions than with the person himself. It is also appropriate to realise that, in the past, you have inflicted similar harm to other that you are now receiving when you face difficulties. It is because you have previously created their cause and again it makes more sense to angry at the cause of your problems than the agent.

We must learn to accept the fact that all the conflicts and unhappy experiences are the result and fruition of our past deeds and that the other person who actually hurt you is merely a condition for the ripening of the seeds we have long sowed. Our suffering diminishes when we learn to accept it with reason rather than resisting. It is law of nature that resistance causes misery.

In many cases we are responsible for our own pain and hurt. Our minds are so conditioned by negative patterns that pain and hurt becomes like an addiction even small external problems can seems to be totally overwhelming, for example, some one's casual remark about us, without any intention to hurt us can cause us to perpetuate the disagreeable feeling, by repeatedly thinking over the incident in many different way. This results in deep sense of hurt and in some cases even nervous breakdown. Then we may hold a grudge, which would generate bad feeling for a long time. Originally the criticism might have been a quite minor; for example only a few disagreeable words but we relive it millions of time in our minds, going through events over again in your mind only hurts you. The other person has gone off to live his or her life, months and years may pass, but if you continue to dwell on that moment, situation and person, all which no longer exist, the result will be needless pain.

C) Another example is whenever we are in conflicting situation we must realise that things happen because of many causes and conditions. It is human tendency to point to one cause and blame it. Then we develop anger but if we think more carefully, if we find the reality of the situation, then we know these things happen because of many causes and conditions, which includes one's own mental attitude. Of course, with some people we find it easy to communicate, because we have karmic links with them from the past. With others communication may be more difficult. This does not imply that they are awful, or that the unpleasant relationship with them will last forever. We may surprise to find that, once the results of our previous negative actions related to such people are exhausted, our relationship with them changes completely.

Buddhist concept is to explore more deeply into the root cause of the problems. It is mentioned that the main cause of this environmental world and it's habitants and even all the elements in our present universe even down to a microscopic particles can be traced back to technically known as space particle in Tantra text. So, what makes one object become animate which served as basis for the pain and pleasure and one inanimate object is all due to having consciousness and karma. So, we wonder how this world and its habitants came into existence. Buddhist does not believe in God, time or indivisible permanent particle as being the creator of the world. It is believed that every environmental factor of the world, as well as sentient creatures and conflicts all come about as the result of karma. The karma comes neither from the blessing of the Buddha nor from the Gods, or through any permanent energy but originates though the karmic imprints which arises due to conflicting emotions or untamed mind.

It is generally said that there is collective as well as personal karma. As an example, our present world come into existence as result of our collective karma, where as personal karma manifest in the different shape, size of the person and pleasure and sufferings of one's day to day experience of life. Another explanation of karma is that if one had to remain at the particular place for ten years, which is the result of one's karma. If one stays for one month in a particular area and experience pain and pleasure, this also comes about through one's karma. Karma comes into existence through the conflicting emotional mind. Among various conflicting emotions, the root cause is ignorance by which one mistakenly perceives phenomena as inherent existence.

Ignorance is really root cause of our conflicts and difficulties. It is the root cause of the both attachment and hatred. For example, by not seeing the reality of something but think of it as truly or independently existent, in-and- of themselves, we might begin to think of it as inherent beautiful and desirable and begin to crave it. The wonderful qualities, which we desire, become so exaggerated that we are blind to any defects. No longer seeing it in a realistic way. Mind becomes so fixated on the desirability of that object that we are dissatisfied and unable to appreciate even the most wonderful situation as long as we don't have that desired object or person around.

On the other hand, we might begin to hate a person and think of him or her as inherently horrible and repulsive, although some one else might think our hated person is good and wonderful. Again the mind exaggerates, magnifying the negative qualities so that we can think of nothing else and all the realistic perspective is lost. Because the mind is so fixed on how horrible our enemy is and it becomes very dark, and spoils even the most pleasant circumstance whenever we are near or even think of our enemy.
Both attachment and hatred comes from ignorance. We begin by thinking we really exist independently and important, then we continue to by dividing everything into desirable objects of attachment (my loved ones, my friends, family, my house, my group, my country, etc.) and hated objects of aversion (my enemy, my pain, my country's enemy, my convenience. etc) and end up spending all of our energy trying to support or increase the object of attachment and avoid or destroy the objects of aversion. In fact all the war and famine, draught and destroying lots of sentient being's happiness is also due to misconceived way of perceiving things. (External phenomena and oneself).

This is how ignorance generates all of our difficulties. By not understanding the way things truly are, we imagine a solidly existent "I" and in order to protect one's dear and near ones, which leads disturbance to lots of people's mind through showing kowtow to superiors, competing with same status and bullying and torturing the downtrodden, and also leads to more ignorance and distinctions about what the "I" hates and desires, which leads to negative thoughts, actions, and emotions, which in turn create negative patterns and imprints. These negativities are the cause of rebirth in Samsaric body. As long as we remain ignorant we will have to take birth in a body again and again and experience incessant conflicts. In this way ignorance is the source of all our conflictions. For example: if there is less conflicting emotions, there is more peace within the family, society and even within one's mind.

The whole spectrum of Buddhist traditions and schools of thoughts concur on the question of training the mind and dissolution of self-importance. It is of course considering yourself so important will cause you to generate anger and hatred when something goes little wrong if we are so concerned about our own benefits, even the most minor problem becomes unbearable. If I am concerned only about myself, I am more cautious of what will happen to me, nobody is taking care of me and listens to me. I might die out of starvation; out of cold and so forth, deep down in our heart there is loneliness and dissatisfaction. You generate suspicious towards all people and your surroundings, thinking, " he or she might deceive me, he might put me into trouble." if you spend your life in this fashion, there is no peace during the daytime; it is hard to sleep at night. In fact, it is not only you who is sad and depressed, look around, watch television and read the newspaper, it is very hard to find single being who is to some or other extent not feeling sad and depressed and lonely. Think of those poor beings in the refugee camp of Afghanistan and slum dwellers of Calcutta and Delhi Street who don't have enough food and drinks, devoid of proper clothing and shelters. Think of those leaders who are constantly struggling to keep their status or position and sometimes not being able to control their own colleagues and masses. Think of those small babies who experience lost of both parents at the early stage. Think of those people who are in emergency ward in big hospitals always struggling between life and death, think of those animals who always stays in a constant fear of being attacked and get killed by the other stronger animals. Think of those wealthy people who hardly get a good night's sleep and are constantly occupied their mind to increase the wealth and sometimes feels fear of getting robbed and even get killed. Some big shots in the west even sleep with gun under their pillow. So, all the sentient beings have their sad story of misery of dissatisfaction, depression and conflicts no matter how they are materially rich.

In daily life you will encounter with many people, and you can be sure that not all will agree with you. If you decide each morning when you wake up that you will not be affected by unpleasantness and insults or criticisms or difficult situation that won't make you unhappy and start your day with sincere altruistic intention, thinking how you can serve your fellow human beings including all the living creatures to make this world a better place to live, eventually you will become a very patient, tolerant, compassionate, warm hearted and calm person who becomes a friend of all and genuine member to work for the conflict resolution.