Resolving Conflicts through Wisdom and Compassion

Faith and Development Leaders Meeting
Dublin, Feburary 1, 2005

Opening Remarks

From the perspectives of Chinese philosophy and Indian Buddhism, harmony and conflict are two sides of the same issue and both are normal phenomena. In Chinese philosophy, the interaction between yin and yang and the interplay among the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth are relationships of both conflict and mutual enhancement. Destructive conflicts result when they are in opposition and competitive disputes against each other. Coexistence and prosperity result when they cooperate with and tolerate each other. Buddhism advocates the teaching of dependent origination, according to which all phenomena in our lives and the universe arise and perish due to causes and conditions. All phenomena, be they natural, social, physical, as well as the biological and psychological phenomena of human beings, are filled with contradiction and conflict and, at the same time, compromise and coordination.

The questions are: what attitude should we use to face these facts? What methods should we apply to handle these facts? Based on my understanding, we should handle all matters with wisdom, and treat all people with compassion. Not creating troubles for oneself is wisdom; not causing harm to others is compassion. To adjust one’s attitude and look at the reality as it is, it is wisdom. To treat others with tolerance and empathy, it is compassion. With wisdom vexations do not arise; with compassion one will have no enemy.

This is because, based on our perceptions, our feelings about contradiction and conflict, judgement about evil and injustice, evaluation of and feelings about suffering and happiness, fortune and misfortune, as well as poverty and affluence, can all be subjective and differ from one person to the other, from place to place, and from one time period to the other. Once one’s attitude and viewpoint are adjusted, one’s sense of being wronged, one’s anger and sense of injustice will dissolve. With inner peace, there will be happiness and peace. Otherwise, while seeking satisfaction from the natural surroundings, justice from the social environment, fairness from the different peoples and groups, logical reasoning and equality from family members and the relationship between the sexes will yield some results, there will still be external conflicts and contradictions within oneself.

I have handled many conflicts. Every time I see the individuals from the two sides, they would inevitably feel that the other side was the perpetrator and themselves the victim, and thus believe that they must engage in retaliatory actions in order to regain justice and fairness. After some analyses and discussions, however, even the side that was determined to have been wrong would feel wronged. My approach to handle this is to tell them that using retaliatory means to punish the other party is not the best method and it is in fact the worst one. As long as both parties are sincere about looking for a peaceful resolution, then the two parties will be able to forgive each other and thus avoid being hurt for the second, or even the third and the fourth times.

Some people believe that poverty can also lead to conflict. While there may be some truth to it, it is not the entire story. Actually, poverty in one’s material life does not necessarily compel one to commit crimes. It is spiritual poverty and erroneous thinking that cause people to commit crimes and bring about destructive disasters in our world. For example, when I was in my six-year solitary retreat in the mountains, the best food I ate everyday was sweet potato leaves. I have also once been so destitute that I was homeless on the streets of New York. But my heart was filled with joy because of my religious faith and the great vow of sharing the benefits of the Buddhadharma with others.

Due to differences in time and space and numerous other factors, it is impossible to attain absolute equality in economic life and social status for every individual or every ethnic group. The only thing we can do to narrow the disparity between the rich and the poor and to lessen various forms of conflicts is to encourage those who are more affluent or more capable to commit more charitable acts for the humankind. We can also encourage those who are impoverished to acquire knowledge and skills to improve one's lot and to enjoy the wealth of one’s inner peace.

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