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February 19, 2006

The Roots of Peace


Trincomalee, North East Sri Lanka, February 2006. A war zone. One year after the tsunami’s own trauma from the deeps failed the parties to the conflict stop the war, another outbreak of peacemaking begins. The power brokers gather at Geneva, the Government of Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Norwegians and Swiss, to look for the words that will silence the guns for good.

And still the universal question: What are the roots of peace?

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director of the Sri Lankan Sarvodaya movement, addresses young people who have come together from all over Sri Lanka for a special event at Trincomalee – ‘Compassionate Youth Gathering’. These 650 young leaders represent Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Trincomalee is chosen because it has been at the heart of the conflict and is still a place of great tension.

He tells them that the taproot of peace is Consciousness. Conflict is seeded in the mind of the individual, grows in the family and flowers in the community. Until we see into these roots in our own minds we will not have peace.

On the road to Trincomalee the soldiers were busy patrolling the highway, looking for bombs by the wayside. They were on alert, they were organised, they were thorough. You could feel the danger. They were preparing for war.

So we prepare for peace just as thoroughly by practising it, moment to moment, day after day, year on year, in our hearts and in our lives. As the Sarvodayan slogan, borrowed from the US civil rights movement, goes: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
They also say: “We build the road and the road builds us.”

And yet this is not enough to make peace stick. The second root of peace is Power.
Power too begins in the mind. When I understand my own power to think and act, when we understand our power to think and act together we co-create new realities. We transform the world with our thoughts. We learn that peace is not in the gift of one man or woman, one group, one block but that the power for peace is shared by all, awakened by all in every moment.

And even this is not enough. The third root of peace is Economy. If I transform my consciousness and if we learn to share our power for peace this is a good foundation. And for peace to last each one needs the chance to earn a livelihood, access to the means of production to support their families and communities – social and economic justice.

When these three roots, Consciousness, Power and Economy are watered daily, then the tree of Peace grows tall and strong.

The young leaders listen to Dr. Vinya respectfully and then share their thoughts – Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim alike. They talk of their shared humanity across the imaginary boundaries of language, ethnicity and religion. They talk about their dreams for building a world together.

After lunch a special ceremony began as leaders of the Sarvodaya movement laid the foundation stones of a new centre for peace and reconciliation. This building will bring together all of the religious groups under one roof into a multi-faith centre for worship, study and training, one of the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. Each stone was laid with flowers blessed by a chanting priest. So the road to peace can be strewn with flowers too.

In the evening Dr. AT Ariyaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, entered into conversation with the young people. They talked about their experiences of conflict, their hopes and their fears. Some talked about terrorists and killers. Dr. Ari asked them not to use these words and invited them instead to learn the practice of compassion for all. More than once in his life he had faced men with guns who wanted to kill him and was able to ‘disarm’ them with compassion. The army had offered to ‘protect’ him when attending this event because they said his life would be in danger. He preferred to carry on his moment to moment practice of loving kindness towards all beings and take his chances.

Then the party. Not a drop of alcohol in sight, nor the sniff of any drugs, just a sandy field, a few spotlights, a simple sound system, an enthusiastic audience and some great young performers showing off their dancing, singing and acting skills. One short play showed the characters battling with their collective shadow, who ended up beneath their feet. Peace is not passive but the passionate engagement with our deepest energies, the endless quest for balance.

It was evident that the event was supported by the two warring parties, the Sri Lankan Government security forces and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), as though they both recognised that this space needed to be nurtured and protected, as though these young people offered them hope of an end to war and the realisation of their own nobler dreams as soldiers.

The following day an army of umbrellas and a regiment of T-shirts and baseball caps, bearing the Gandhian slogan ‘Ahimsa’ to remind them of non-violence, braves the heat of the tropical sun to walk 3 miles, then sit surrounded by banners of peace in a football field to practice loving kindness meditation – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims together.
After every speech the Sarvodayan handclap – Ta-Ta-Ta, Ta-Ta-Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta – a sign of respect and an anchor for peace. After every event the Sarvodayan song to remind each one of the ultimate goal: the awakening of all.

The leaders gathered at Geneva for peace may come to understand the truth that there is no way to peace because peace itself is the way. If they need any lessons they might just drop in on a Sarvodaya gathering one day. Sri Lanka’s young people have come together to ignore the man-made boundaries others would maintain and patrol. May their faith be rewarded with peace at last and may peace prevail on earth.

By John Rogers, trustee of Sarvodaya UK, who was visiting Sri Lanka at the invitation of Sarvodaya.

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement for the People in Need.