Kim Them Do
Thích Nhất Hạnh and Martin Luther King Jr at a press conference in Chicago in 1966.
Photograph: Edward Kitch/AP
In memory of Thích Nhất Hạnh, “father of mindfulness” and a leading advocate of “engaged Buddhism“. I am deeply saddened by the news of Thích Nhất Hạnh ´passing. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for your inspiration and your work to promote peace in the world.
Buddhist social cordiality governs our relationships with all other people, animals, nature and the world. This does not mean that the entire theory assumes that there moral agents exists before society.
Buddhism did not create society: on the contrary, society created Buddhists. Our compassion, empathy and altruistic behaviour are the response to the world´s miseries. Although harmonious thoughts are the source of peace, their realisations depend entirely on the existence of the social institution concerned and this connection is relative and relational to the local back-ground.
The ethical commitment is easily applicable within the face-to-face Buddhist community. More broadly, the King could show his kindness and build a consensus around a small-scale model for peace and the sharing of burdens needed to implement it successfully. This is not the same scope of tasks within a modern society.
The principle at issue here is that the normative power of Buddhist harmony is not entirely reduced to moral motives. It is closely related to the pressing practical question regarding the legal path towards peaceful governance. People, including Buddhists, should be bound by the law. Thus what Buddha seems to be proposing in this context is that the mutual advantage for the members is the result of the interpretation of contractual obligation, shaped by the Kantian ideal of a social pact: all humans have to be bound by societal rules in order to create the conditions for peace and a legal order.
In this light, the operative notion of Buddhist harmony is more legal, rather than socio- economic or religious. In short, instead of promoting the Buddhist harmony within the community life as do the Sangha, what is needed to rectify the existing paradigm is to be able to call for the rule of law. This may be thought of as a corrective strategy for „small is beautiful“. It is indeed worth advocating.
However, seen in its entirety, the risk of incoherence becomes evident. Most of the great challenges for peace in our time are the end of poverty, the protection of environment and the control of nuclear weapons. Most of governmental global cooperation is crumbling. The devastating consequences lead to the self-destruction of humankind, because some of economies are failing to eliminate poverty and to improve the delivery of better education and health care; some of societies are more or more fragmented and some of existing governmental structures are incapable of launching comprehensive reforms. The major threat facing the world today is the absence proper global governance for peace, which is a situation that may continue indefinitely.
In fact, given the likely trade-off between the strategy and the tactics of local governance with regard to peace, no complete blueprint for global cooperation is available in the 21st century, nor could there be. However, in order to discover all of its transformative potential its realization is essential. The heart of the practice is to accomplish the comprehensive objectives to the limited extent of the background to ethical education for the peace and the rule of law development movement.
The tasks for peace set by Kant and Buddha fit nearly within the current educational and legal reform agendas today. Hence, both peaceful means and the rule of law are the ultimate guarantors for peace, thus becoming the new paradigm for peaceful governance.
The conceptual skills advanced by Buddhism and Kant have become the most important determinants for future governance in terms of the peace process. The time is now ripe for such an integrated approach to be introduced. In so doing, we hope to become closer to attaining this goal.