Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Central Vietnam in 1926.  He became a Buddhist monk in 1942 at the age of sixteen years.  In 1950, he co-founded the Quang Buddhist Institute.  In 1961, he studied comparative religions at Columbia University and returned to Vietnam in 1963.  At that time the Vietnam War was in its beginning prior to the major escalation of the United States involvement following the Gulf of Tonkin incident as discussed earlier.  After returning to Vietnam, Hanh joined in an effort to stop the war campaign following the fall of the Diem Regime.  He helped encourage and inspire non-violent resistance based upon Gandhian principles. 

In 1964, he founded the School of Youth for Social Service and created the La Boi Press that continues to publish books about Buddhism and mindful living.  Hanh used his influential position to call for reconciliation between the warring parties.  In 1966, he accepted an invitation to return to the United States; he was asked to participate in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and to come to Cornell University.  His advocacy of peace through non-violent means was so moving that Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.  It was, in large part, due to Hahn's eloquence and commitment to peace that King came out publicly against the war at a press conference where Hanh was present.  Thomas Merton, the well known monk and Catholic theologian, was also one of Hanh's admirers. 

Hanh went on to meet with influential US senators including J. William Fulbright and Ted Kennedy and the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara in order to argue his case.  He also met with Pope Paul IV in an effort to bring Catholics and Buddhists together to work towards peace in Vietnam.  In 1969, Hanh agreed to set up a Buddhist Peace Delegation at the Paris Peace Talks.  After the Peace Accords were finally signed in 1973, Hanh was denied re-entry into Vietnam.  Undaunted, he established a peace community in Paris called, "Sweet Potato."  There he remained for five years involved in meditation, writing, reading, etc.  He lived a quiet and solitary life there accepting visitors only occasionally. 

He went on to establish Plum Village a retreat center near the town of Bordeaux, France.  He has made repeated pilgrimages to North America to give lectures on behalf of peace.  In the words of the Dalai Lama written in the forward of Hanh's book entitled, Peace is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, "Although attempting to bring about peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.  Wherever I go, I express this, and I am encouraged that people from many different walks of life receive it well.  Peace must first be developed with the individual.  And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace.  Once these qualities are developed within the individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony.  This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world."  The Dalai Lama stated that Hanh offers guidance for such a journey.  This journey towards peaceful inner transformation represents, in my judgment, the core of Hanh's beliefs.

According to Hanh, peace is always present, is always possible to the individual.  It is achievable through self awareness attained by a thoughtful practice of mindfulness in our daily lives.  He advises being aware of every moment; of understanding our own personal emotions and feelings.  For example, according to Hanh, "Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about the unpleasant state of affairs.  Anger is also rooted in desire, pride agitation and suspicion."  In essence the source of anger lies within the self rather than in the external object, person or event that is the focus of such an extreme emotion.

Hanh comes from a strong Buddhist tradition.  Much of Buddhist practice is centered on being aware of the present moment.  His way of teaching, therefore, focuses upon techniques to enhance that awareness.  He strongly advocates conscious breathing and mindfulness of every aspect of human activity.  An integral part of his psychology is the concept of what he refers to as, "internal formation."  According to his thinking, sensory input may leave "fetters," or "knots" depending upon the individual's particular receptivity.  These knots can be impediments to successful living, if they are not understood.  Hanh believes that self awareness would make one immediately aware of knots as they are being formed.

Hanh sees the reality of the state of human affairs in the following way: "If the Earth were your body, you would be able to feel the many areas where it is suffering.  War, political and economic oppression, famine and pollution wreak havoc in so many places.  Every day, children are becoming blind from malnutrition, their hands search hopelessly through mounds of trash for a few ounces of food.  Adults are dying slowly in prisons for trying to oppose violence.  Rivers are dying, and the air is becoming and more difficult to breath.

"Many people are aware of the world's suffering; their hearts are filled with compassion.  They know what needs to be done, and they engage in political, social, and environmental work to try to change things.  But after a period of intense involvement, they may become discouraged if they lack the strength needed to sustain a life of action.  Real strength is not in power, money, or weapons, but in deep, inner peace."

This is a central concept in Hanh's world view.  Practicing mindfulness is, to him, the way to cultivate inner peace.  Hanh proposes that mindfulness is, "the energy of attention."  It is, "the miracle that allows us to be fully alive in each moment."  In terms of his philosophy, mindfulness represents the foundation for living in the world.  In a broader context, mindfulness is defined as one of the five spiritual powers; the others being faith, diligence, concentration and insight.


Experiencing the Vietnam War helped awaken him to the reality that the very roots of war emanate from within – from the way we live our daily lives.  Accordingly, the way a society is organized socially, culturally and economically predisposes it to the use of violence to resolve conflict.  Resolving conflict nonviolently requires insights into the suffering endured by both sides.  To practice nonviolence is to become nonviolent.  It is only then that when confronted by a difficult situation, individuals, communities or nations will react nonviolently.

Thich Nhat Hanh has become a very influential voice in regards to peace.  He is not an activist, per se, but functions more like a wise and compassionate mentor, helping individuals understand their own internal motivations and providing them with the tools to achieve greater self awareness.  Hanh is convinced that this awareness, once achieved, will necessarily lead to peace from within and ultimately a more peaceful world.  He has made significant contributions to human affairs especially in regard to forging a better and more peaceful world.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Journal of Peace Research

Journal of Peace Research is an interdisciplinary and international bimonthly, covering scholarly work in peace research. It strives for a global perspective on peace and peacemaking, with particular focus on the causes of violence and conflict resolution. JPR is edited by Henrik Urdal in collaboration with ten associate editors.

'Journal of Peace Research not only publishes critical, cutting-edge research on peace, war, and violence. It has also taken extraordinary steps to lead the establishment of scientific standards for data replication policies in the field, resulting even in a published agreement with other journals to follow emerging best practices. Across a range of interdisciplinary areas, JPR seems to be as widely followed as it is closely read.' – Gary King, Harvard University

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Johan Galtung and the Study of Peace

Johan Galtung was born on October 24, 1930 in Oslo, Norway.  He is a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist and a principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies.  He earned his degree in Mathematics at the University of Oslo in 1956, and a Master of Arts Degree in Sociology a year later at the same university. In addition, Galtung received the first of seven honorary doctorates in 1975.

Both of his parents are from Norway and his father and paternal grandfather were physicians.  His mother's maiden name was Helga Homboe.  Galtung has been married twice, and has two children by his first wife Ingrid Eide, and two by his second wife Fumiko Nishimura.


Galtung lived through the German occupation of Norway during World War II as a young and impressionable boy.  When he was only twelve years old, he was present when the Nazi's arrested his father.  His direct experience with the horrors associated with war, convinced him to devote his professional energies to the cause of peace.  As a matter of fact, in 1951 he chose to do 18 months of social service instead of the mandatory military service.  After twelve months of such service, he insisted that the remainder of his obligation be spent working directly for peace. He was sent to prison, and spent the remaining six months in confinement.

Upon receiving his Master of Arts degree, Galtung moved to Columbia University, in New York City, where he was an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.  Determined to work for peace, he returned to Oslo in 1959 where he founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Under his guidance as the Institute's Director, it grew into an independent research institute and became eligible for government funding.  In addition, the Journal of Peace Research was established as a result of his efforts.

Once the institute was well under way, he accepted a position as professor of peace and conflict research at the University of Oslo.  He then served as the director general of the International University Centre in Dubrovnik, and also was the president of the World Future Studies Federation.  He subsequently was invited to other universities located in such diverse places as Santiago, Chile, the United Nations University in Geneva, Columbia and Princeton  universities in the United States and the University of Hawaii.  In 1993, he co-founded "Transcend - A Peace, Development and Environment Network," an organization dedicated to resolve conflicts through peaceful means.  This organization was created for the purpose of directly applying the principles he developed; some of which will be described below.

Galtung has persisted over the years in his pursuit of understanding the nature of human conflict and ways to peace.  He learned to apply his academic knowledge in the fields of mathematics and sociology to this pursuit.  He has become a renowned theoretician in regards to conflict resolution through peaceful means.  He has attempted to deconstruct the origins of human conflict and conflict resolution in order to devise painstaking and orderly techniques to meet the challenges that methodologies focused on peace invariably face.

Galtung has applied logical analysis to formulate pathways to achieve peaceful non-violent solutions to conflict.  He has developed a series of paradigms to describe the process.  He compares the path to peace to the path taken in medicine to understand the disease process and regain health.  He refers to this as a process involving three stages – diagnosis, prognosis and therapy.  He likens disease to violence, and proposes that creating peace involves two possible approaches – reducing violence regarded as a cure and avoiding violence regarded as prevention.  Within this model, violence can be regarded as:

·         Direct Violence 

·         Structural Violence – indirect, emanating from social structures such racism or sexism

·         Cultural Violence – represented by repression and exploitation.

The motivating force behind such violence is, of course, power.  Power can take many forms – cultural, economic, military and political.  Peace policies can, likewise, take different routes.  These dimensions echo the kinds of power enumerated – political, military, economic and cultural.  Galtung also makes distinctions between what he refers to as Negative Peace versus Positive Peace.  For example, negative peace in the economic realm would involve self-reliance, the use of local resources, etc.; whereas, positive peace would involve sharing externalities, horizontal exchange and South-South cooperation.  Positive peace would be more inclusive and extend beyond the borders of local communities or state and would be global in dimension.

According to this approach, in order to successfully develop paths to peace it is important to understand what sustains war and what prompts people to kill.  It is evident from recent human history that the political system of a country does not prevent it from using violence towards other sovereignties.  For example, democratic countries have not inhibited their governments from being involved in slavery, colonialism and other belligerent activities.  According to Galtung, an answer might be to, "democratize the inter-state system."  This would also apply to the arena of human rights.

Galtung is convinced that many of the factors that uphold war encompass patriarchy – rule by the male gender.  In his view, males have a propensity towards violence to a much greater degree than females.  To counter this tendency is exceedingly difficult since it has strong cultural dimensions as well as biological factors.  He suggests that, "The struggle against the tendency of states to seek recourse to military power goes by way of alternatives that are more compelling."

As to the issue of why people kill, he maintains that culture is a potent legitimizer of violence, but also has the potential to support the concept of peace rather than war.  Religions or ideologies can either be the purveyors of violence or peace.  Galtung delineates what he refers to as, "hard and soft" aspects of ideologies.  The hard variety would tend to be more abstract and aloof from human experience; it would tend to invoke the concept of a chosen people.  According to Galtung, this idea is particularly dangerous and essentially inimical to peace.  The softer variety is more cognizant of the plight of humanity and more closely connected to the tangible nature of human existence and, therefore, more empathic.  The major religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – are not monolithic in this regard, but have mixtures of both.  Galtung is strongly convinced that we are all carriers of peace strategies. 

In his pursuit of the study of peace, Galtung has come up with two overlapping definitions of peace:

·         Peace is the absence and/or reduction of violence of all kinds

·         Peace is the by its nature nonviolent and the result of "creative conflict transformation."


The first definition is oriented towards violence; whereas, the second is directed towards conflict.  From this starting point, peace work is involved in reducing violence through peaceful means, and peace studies delineate the conditions required for peace work.  In addition, these definitions relate to social conditions; the study of peace is, therefore, a social science.  It is apparent that Galtung used his professional grounding in mathematics and sociology to construct his approach towards the study of peace.

According to his paradigm, the study of peace involves three tiers – Data, Theories, Values.  Data is collected from what is known and what can be measured.  It is this data that are used to formulate theory.  Values determine what is desired and what is rejected.  The inclusion of values sets peace studies apart from other social sciences, for peace always is the desired outcome.

In regards to the diagnosis, prognosis and therapy approach to wellness as described earlier, the goal of intervention is to achieve a range of possible outcomes that can be exemplified by the following:

·         Best outcome – cured but also left with a health benefit and therefore can lead to a very favorable prognosis

·         Second Best  - symptom free but not necessarily protected from recurrence

·         Third Best – chronic, long-lasting but acceptable illness

·         Fourth Best – Unacceptable illness but alive.

There are obvious limitations in applying this approach to implementing peace, but according to Galtung it can be used as a reliable model in the study of peace in the following way:

·         Diagnosis – refers to states of violence

·         Prognosis – refers to the progression of violence through time i.e. increase, decrease or stays the same

·         Therapy – equivalent to peace work.

Within this model, violence can be categorized in the following ways:

·         Nature violence- originating in nature

·         Direct violence – perpetrated by human beings either individually or within the broader context of society

·         Structural violence – indirect violence built into social structures and essentially unintended

·         Cultural violence – legitimizes structural violence

·         Time violence – violence having negative impact of future generations.


In addition, therapy can take two distinct forms – violence reduction or negative peace and life enhancement or positive peace.  Although this kind of study of peace may seem cumbersome and appear to be merely an academic exercise, it affords a reliable and predictable approach to the overall understanding of human conflict and its resolution through peaceful means.


Galtung used his approach to analyze the methodologies of Mahatma Gandhi who he described as, "the leading theoretician and practitioner of nonviolence.  He also described him as a puritan in his approaches to conflict resolution.  According to Gandhi, nonviolence is a struggle against both direct and structural violence and, by its nature, avoids such violence in the struggle itself.  Gandhi relied on satyagraha – a term that can be defined as truth force – and, accordingly, there is no way to peace; rather, peace is the way.

Furthermore, Galtung determined that Gandhi's process involves disintegration so that non-cooperation becomes essential; integration or all-inclusiveness so that there are no boundaries such as gender, race, class etc.; compromise for the purpose of affecting a remedy over a shorter period of time; transcendence so that what previously seemed incompatible becomes viewed as compatible.  Gandhi was also an optimist who saw the potential of the ultimate integration of all of humankind into the fabric of peace.


In Galtung's mind, the search for peace is a road to transcendence where the usual path of social disintegration – Conflict, Polarization and ultimately Violence and War – can be upended by preventive therapy.  The goal would be to transform violent culture to peace culture and violent structure to peace structure.  The peace narrative involves the transformation to peace through depolarization of attitudes, culture and ultimately behavior.  Johan Galtung has taken a theoretical approach to achieving peace and social justice and has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the roots of conflict and pathways to viable peace and social justice.