Can states and societies be peaceful? A casual glance at the developments worldwide does not evoke optimism. Even if one looks at the domestic politics of states, one often comes across divisive politics, mostly turning violent. And the ongoing pandemic has not helped the situation either. But as I was walking in the compound of the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee recently, I came across a landmark of peace. Installed in 1993 and proclaimed by then Governor, Lawton Chiles, the landmark declares Florida ‘Sri Chinmoy Peace State’ and calls people of Florida and the world to champion the cause of peace.
I found these words in the landmark most appealing: “May all who stand on the soil of our beautiful, progressive and peace treasuring State be inspired by its shining achievements – especially its spirit of fulfilling oneness in blossoming diversity. May all who visit this landmark be inspired to deepen their committment to peace and their aspiration for oneness among all human beings.” There is also a quote from Sri Chinmoy: “Do not stop dreaming! One day your world-peace-dream will inundate the entire world.”
I am not going here into the details of the life of Sri Chinmoy and his activities, but it will be sufficient here to mention that the spiritual leader travelled from India to the United States to spread the message of peace all over the world. Following the practical Vedanta tradition, he promoted yoga and meditation in this very busy life and society. Whether as a weightlifter or a United Nations’ leader on meditation, he promoted peace all over the world.
My purpose to recount the story of the peace landmark is not just to reproduce what was written there or to recount a story from the past, but to examine its relevance today. The landmark was installed almost thirty years ago, and if we judge national and international developments today, it will be easy to argue that the developments in our surroundings do not match the moral message that the peace landmark conveys. There are conflicts at multiple levels and erstwhile latent conflicts have become more ugly and violent. Whether it is the issue of religion, race, color, culture, caste, and other markers of identity, they have been sharpened with the politics of othering taking the center stage.
Though we do not have major wars, there are studies that demonstrate that violent conflicts have increased worldwide. Whether it is gun violence, or intergroup violence, or ethnic violence, they are on the rise. One can add the recent rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and grim scenario that poses for the future. During the Taliban rule a few decades ago, the hijackers of the Indian airplane had found a safe haven in Kandahar. The mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, too had developed friendship with the radical group and found a safe haven there. The tensions between India and Pakistan, China and India, the US and Russia, Russia and Ukraine, and conflicts, both large scale and small scale, all over the world do not present a pleasant picture for the future.
To use a Gandhian phrase, war and violence are ‘immoral’ as they only prove that one’s power of destruction is stronger than the other. They undermine ‘beautiful canons of morality’. In this context, the words of Dwight Eisenhower, former US army general and President, are worth mentioning. In an address delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953, Eisenhower reflected on the cost of war: “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities…We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.” Though Eisenhower reflected on the cost of war seven decades ago and made a case for a peaceful world, it appeared that his words fell on deaf ears. It is almost counterintuitive that despite being aware of the devastating costs of violent conflicts, states pile up arms and get ready for wars.
Sri Chinmoy and Chiles are dead and gone, but the spirit they carried, as manifested in the peace landmark, is not dead or gone. The spirit of these peace lovers is still alive somewhere in us, and it is time to revive that spirit not only for ourselves but also for our communities and the world. Extreme politics or the politics of othering has not resolved our problems, rather it has exacerbated them. It is necessary that alternate and peaceful methods are explored. The peace landmark stands testimony to the spirit that inspired peace lovers in the past, and it is necessary to revive that spirit to stop the downward spiral of human society into the pit of chaos.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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