Reflections on conflict and religion
Thank you for the thoughtful article ‘Counterpoint: Defense of Religion” (March 4, 2010). Since I was quoted in the article, I would like to take this opportunity to offer reflections on some intersections between religion, science and conflict. These insights come from my experience in peace building and daily meditation.
Conflict is a natural part of the human experience. It is neither positive nor negative. When conflict is approached constructively, it is an engine of growth and transformation. When conflict is approached destructively, it can cause tremendous suffering.
Separation is a root cause of conflict. While conflicts can be very complex, at the deepest level, a sense of separation is often a root cause. Einstein said it this way: A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation instructor, explains this phenomenon by saying we identify with our thoughts and emotions and then believe they are real. This starts a process whereby we separate from others and everything around us. With separation comes fear, which in turn gives rise to the ‘wanting self” (e.g.: I want to be happy and avoid suffering). Everyone has this basic operating software package running we are all trying to re-arrange a constantly changing world to avoid suffering and get what we want to be happy.
Conflict is inevitable as we bump into other people trying to avoid suffering and pursue happiness, thereby setting into motion natural laws of cause and effect.
Religion and the science of inner peace. All religions have contemplative or mystical traditions that go beyond dogma to address the inner most sense of separation of self from God/universe/spirit (whatever word works for you). When deeply practiced, these traditions help people overcome inner conflicts (fear, anger, grief, despair, greed, etc.) and move beyond identification with the ego, the small self, to fully merge with the true self. When these expanded states of consciousness are experienced, peace,wisdom and ecstasy are a natural result, as is compassion, tolerance and forgiveness.
Meditation and yoga, which have roots in sophisticated spiritual traditions, have now entered the mainstream. The Mind and Life Institute, dedicated to a powerful collaboration and research partnership between modern science and Buddhism, has been in dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the nature of the mind and consciousness. They also have been scientifically studying the positive effects of meditation on the brain and human behavior. Science and religion are also drawing closer together with theories of quantum physics, which suggest the universe is interconnected by a ‘quantum field” of energy and consciousness, something sages and yogis have known for centuries.
The transformation that is being called for is one in human consciousness, starting with the inner most sense of identity and individual pursuit of happiness. This is where the wisdom and inner disciplines of the world’s contemplative traditions have much to offer, along with the emerging theories of science and the practical tools of transforming conflict on societal levels.
Philip M. Hellmich
Senior Officer of Strategic Philanthropy
Search for Common Ground