Identity Based Conflict and its Resolution

Keynote speaker in the Technical Session II on “Identity-based Conflicts: Globalization & Multiculturalism,” Global Peace Leadership Conference, Interfaith Foundation, India, India Habitat Centre, 9-10 December 2014
by Laj Utreja, Director, Institute of Global Harmony
What is a conflict?
Any difference is a source of conflict, may this be looks, language, food, dress, mannerisms, situations, circumstances, faith, race, culture, and gender, just name it. A conflict is filled with complex systems of behaviour. It can be an internal conflict with oneself, and external conflict with regard to the other human being. The external conflict includes circumstances, situations, and group orders, such as social, faith, economic, and political systems. It can be so complex that it is almost impossible to understand what is really happening. But we still need to understand what is happening. Without making sense of the situation, creating order where there is chaos, we are lost and don’t know how to respond. We need to know how to respond, because our survival as human beings and groups depends on understanding our surroundings.
The fundamental sources of a conflict are:
1) The human beings are self-conscious, and
2) The way we are in relationship with others.
That is the beginning of identity based conflict: our looks: I’m black, I’m white; I’m beautiful, I’m ugly; I’m skinny, I’m fat; I’m tall, I’m short; I’m a man, I’m a woman, etc. On the other hand, a cow does not sit in front of a mirror and spend an hour to wear mascara to look beautiful.
Another variation of self-conscious conflict is being part of a group consciousness. Just as people have conflicting reasons for why they act the way they act, groups of people also have similar dynamics and even more complexity. It is only in a group that I become aware of notions such as: I’m a minority or a majority; I’m a Hindu, I’m a Muslim; I’m rich, I’m poor; I’m educated. I’m uneducated; I’m powerful, I’m a commoner, etc. Completely rational people act very differently within a group mostly when under stress. Lions on the other hand, have no such notions and do what their programmed nature dictates.
Underlying most conflicts are the internalized beliefs and values linked to group identity. Our beliefs as a group and our history have been handed down to us from generation to generation. It has been passed on to us by our parents, friends, schools, and media, etc. It is the story that our group tells us about us and about them. Since we have been telling ourselves these stories from birth, we accept them as “truth” and in fact, and that forms our perspective. We pass on this accepted information intentionally and often unintentionally that form a picture in each others’ minds of us versus them.
3) The third source of a conflict is when we internalize the values and beliefs about us and them. We create the lens and we view the world through that myopic view. When something happens to our group (For example, someone is shot by the other side), we view the circumstances through this lens. Since this lens includes our history up until the current episode, we look reasons in the context of yet another chapter of the story, linked to countless other chapters going back generations. We feel threatened not just because that an individual was shot – but we see the person who was shot as a symbol for the entire group. The person shot becomes a symbolic of the group experience.
We are dealing with an all pervasive and a multi-dimensional problem and solving only one or two issues will not make the conflicts go away. We shouldn’t tackle the problem at the fragmented level. We need to go to the source. The solution may lie in understanding who we are. The fact remains we are born a human being and not a Hindu, Jew, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, a Bahai, or any other. It is only our institutions such as our families, groups including our faith, race, and culture that inculcate in us the feeling of differences.
We need to go a little bit deeper. There are two principles in the universe: The Subjective Principle, and an Objective Principle. The subjective Principle is the one that is the observer and makes observations, For example, I, in the sense of I that I am, my being (a state of existence which is complete in itself and without any attributes or qualifications; for the sake of simplicity, let me call it Brahm, the Spirit). The Objective Principle is the object of observation that I perceive with my senses of perception, for example, my body, my mind, and my soul with feelings and emotions.
4) For the sake of simplicity, let me call it Prakriti, the Nature, another source of conflict.
My body and my mind are made of Prakriti (a specific mixture of Sattva (balance and light), Rajas (energy and activity), and Tamas (matter and inertia), which give me a specific nature.
Therefore, I have pre-established gunas or properties
So, I’ve likes and dislikes, so do others
I want to have what I like and want to discard what I don’t like
So long as I associate myself with my body and mind, I’ll have likes and dislikes; so do others.
It may not be possible all the times for me and everyone around me to satisfy their likes and dislikes, so do others
So long as I associate myself with my body and mind, I’ve ahamta (ego), mamta (attachment), and ichha (desire), and so do others, but they may be different from my likes and dislikes
Individually, the conflicts arise in three ways:
1) I cannot satisfy my ego, my attachments and my desire, and
2) I cannot have what others have that I like
3) I cannot discard that I don’t like and what others don’t have.
I can be free of conflicts if I’m in harmony with myself, the people I’ve relationship with and the environment, i.e., I’m emotionally mature.
I can be free of conflicts if I’m physically healthy, mentally balanced and spiritually aware.
I can be free of conflicts if I am satisfied and content with what I have and my attitude with myself, people I associate with and the environment.
I can be free of conflicts if I’m in harmony with myself, the people around me and the environment. To be in peace, I need to develop an environment for harmony with myself, the people I’ve relationship with and the environment. It is a state of mind.
A peaceful and a harmonious mind is possible with yoga: yogasana (yoga postures), pranayama (controlled breath), and dhyana (meditation).
Yoga is a process that attunes the mind to connect to the source, Brahma.
Yogasana stimulates endocrine glands for physical wellness.
Pranayama allows the breath to carry pran (the life energy) and the chit (consciousness) to the body cellular level, so that the body and the mind come together in the process to balance and focus the mind.
Dhyana attunes the mind to a state of single thought at the exclusion of all others.
Constant practice of yoga offers the most conducive environment for harmony.
The process is just that simple only if we all understand the above simple concept.
Only a peaceful and harmonious mind leads to Truth, our source.
The above practices need to be taught in education.
Education is the process of teaching through a methodical system
Teaching is not complete until what is being taught is learned.
Learning happens when one experiences.
Learning is listening, knowing, reflecting, and understanding until what is heard, reflected upon and understood becomes self-obvious.
We need to undo all the negative values (such as greed, arrogance and the pursuit of selfish motives) that the present education system has imparted.
The current education system has created a global culture and modified local cultures.
Culture is a dynamic and shifting network shaping and connecting social roles, religious roles, hierarchically structured knowledge domains, and ranked values.
Culture is embedded in the way we express ourselves through our behaviour, language, and art such as writing, poetry, music, dance, and painting, etc. It is embedded in the structures of our language.
At any given place and time, we are the product of our collective culture.
We’ve created boundaries of faith and allowed that exclusiveness to proliferate. Differences exist because we created them and we like them.
We’ve created greed and allowed greed to proliferate. Greed exists because we created it, we like it, and we’ve become greedy.
We’ve created insecurities and we feel insecure
We’ve created corruption, and we become corrupt
We’ve created differences and we feel different
We’ve created jealousy, malice and we feel jealous and have malice
Freedom from conflicts is not in separating a nation from the other, separating a faith from the other, a race from the other, a culture from the other; or separating a human being from the other, or separating a human being from the environment, but in understanding a human being’s relationship with the environment, with the other human being, with other faith, race, culture, and nations.
Above all, freedom from conflicts means knowing what it is to be a human being and behaving like one. Atmavat sarva bhuteshu (See yourself in others).
Freedom from conflicts means understanding that one coexists with all of those elements which makes this world and its orders.
Sarve Bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah, sarve bhadraani pashyantu, ma kashchit dukh bhaag bhavet – Oh Lord! Let all be happy, let all be free from misery, may all realize goodness and may no one suffer pain.
Freedom from conflicts is possible if we are willing to transform. This is what we plan to establish through education at the Institute of Global Harmony in Sardarshahr. To make it happen, we need your assistance, your guidance and your cooperation, and above all, a desire to transform.
Conflicts are eternal. Freedom from conflicts means creating trust with the other human being. It can be achieved at two levels: Individual Level and Group Level.
There are several things that can be done an individual level
We must have a willingness to be free from conflicts. We can achieve this by following five simple rules:
1) We can take advantage of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.33 and develop Pratipaksha Bhavna. Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” Pratipaksha means opposite and bhavana means contemplation or meditation. By cultivating an opposite or positive thought when we are in the throes of emotional turbulence, we pave the way for self-healing. Patanjali is simply asking us to replace anger with compassion, violent thoughts with peaceful ones, hate with love, and even to replace our general feelings of tension and stress with a sense of relaxation and contentment.
While pratipaksha bhavana allows us to release our painful and destructive emotions and come to a higher place of awareness, any of us who have found ourselves in a state of deep anger or hurt know that shifting our feelings is much easier said than done. We actually become psychologically and neurologically habituated to these toxic emotions.
Some of the ways we can practice pratipaksha bhavana include simply removing ourselves from a negative situation and finding a place where we can feel safe, peaceful and calm. We can then put the incident into perspective. Is it really the end of the world? Are we overreacting? Is it really worth all this suffering?
We can sit for a few minutes and contemplate positive thoughts such as the beauty of nature, the life of a great sage or saint, or specifically focus on cultivating the opposite emotion of the one that has welled up inside of us. We also can explore what role we played in creating our drama, if it is a pattern in our lives, and how we might seek to react differently in the future.
While it is a simple and logical practice, the wisdom of pratipaksha bhavana lies in actually doing it. The healing powers of all yogic practices unfold with consistent practice and dedication, while we remain ever detached from the outcome.
On a deeper level, beyond the obvious self-healing that we can achieve through the above practices, pratipaksha bhavana assists us with spiritual transformation and self-realization. The emotions of love, peace, contentment and compassion are the natural state of our souls. When we align ourselves with these principles we move to deeper levels of consciousness and grace. This is best accomplished through deliberate, consistent effort and commitment to ritualized practice.
One method of practicing pratipaksha bhavana follows:
Begin seated with the spine extended, the shoulders back and the heart open. Set the back of your hands to your knees or thighs, and allow the thumbs and index fingers to touch (chin mudra).
Allow whatever negative emotion or experience you wish to deal with to fully arise within your consciousness. Feel the memory of the situation permeate every cell of your being. Really live with it. Remain here for one minute.
Release the visualization and let your breath become deep and full, slow and smooth. Balance the breath by silently counting the inhalation and equalizing it with the exhalation. Remain here for one minute.
Remind yourself of what a true blessing it is to be alive and to be conscious of this fact.
Have gratitude for all of the abundance in your life, especially when compared with the rest of humankind.
Now, feel the grace of each inhalation. Visualize yourself drinking in precious life-force from the Universe. See this as a tremendous privilege and blessing. Let each inhalation fill your entire being with light, love and gratitude. See your body as the temple of your spirit, a sacred receptacle of your breath. Remain in this space for one to two minutes.
Continue the above practice as you also cultivate a sense that each exhalation is profoundly healing. Release any negative emotions or inner turbulence down into Mother Earth with every exhalation, as you continue contemplating the sacred joy and beauty of every inhalation. Allow her to absorb and transform this energy, opening to her healing embrace. Practice this for two to four minutes.
Now sit in silence as you notice the inner peace your practice has engendered. Bring your awareness to your heart by crossing your palms over your chest in an embrace of your devotional center. Feel love, peace and contentment glowing from the heart and permeating your entire being for one minute or more.
2) Another thing that an individual can do is follow the Golden Rule and the Inverse Golden Rule:
Do unto others what you want done unto you; and
Do not do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.
3) One must follow one’s dharma, i.e., do one’s duty. Dharma is an all inclusive term, which includes law, order, duty, guiding principles, traditions, righteous actions. Literally it means that which supports and sustains the society together. It is individual bound. But, suffice it is to say that one must pay attention to one’s duty for their station and stage in life.
If everyone does one’s duty, the question of rights does not arise.
4) Have gratitude for all the abundance in your life, especially when compared with the rest of humankind.
5) Forgive those whose actions are not in your control. And respect other person’s point of view and those who have faith and beliefs different from yours.
At a group level:
1) We need individual groups to teach their members and adherents that their beliefs are only for their group. Simultaneously, we need to respect and trust the beliefs and values of the other groups. But, the universal code of conduct of mutual trust and respect is the overall value that must prevail.
2) Finally, our social systems, economic systems, and political systems must come together to devise means to break the walls of differences that we’ve created so that we can trust the other human being and the boundaries of nations, faith, race, culture can be removed and we begin to live together as we must; without fear, and insecurity, without doubt, without worry, without a life of lies and hypocrisy, without the feeling of superiority, without competing for that which belongs to all, without claiming rights which come with understanding our nature, enjoy the relationship with each other, and find happiness, happiness in continuity, and achieve bliss, our source.
3) We need to establish and pursue a common goal, that is, to live in harmony. Samaani va akootih samaanaa hridyaani vah; samaanavastu vo mano yathaa vah susahaasati – We are united when common is our sankalpa (volition) and common are our thoughts for the welfare of the human family along with the environment we call, the earth that sustains us, the waters that bear us, and the air that carries the breath of life.
Nature has abundance for all. We can have enough for all if we so care and desire. We’ve created boundaries. We can unite as one people Vasudeva Kutumbkam (the whole world is one family) under Brahm (the spirit) with liberty and justice for all. We can have individual peace and freedom from conflicts if we so desire. We can have global peace and freedom from conflicts if we so desire. Choice is ours. Our willingness!

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