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Emphasis on retribution alien to Buddhist concept of reconciliation - GL

The Buddhist concept of reconciliation, developed with clarity in the institutional texts, has a compelling rationale and is of special relevance to issues relating to conflict in our time, External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris said in Ayodhya, Thailand on Thursday.

He was invited by the Royal Thai Government to deliver an address at the 9th United Nations Day Vesak celebrations hosted by the Thai government with Chulalangkorn University as the principal organizer. The theme of the address by Prof Peiris was "Buddhist Wisdom and Reconciliation" .

The retributive theory of punishment, he said, finds no support in the Buddhist texts.

The axiom of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, is basically incompatible with the essence of Buddhist teaching. The collective wrath of society should not be the motivation for dealing with an offender and regarding him as an outcast. On the contrary, the view advocated by Buddhism is that the imperfection of human nature, which leads to blameworthy behaviour, is always capable of being improved and refined to serve society as a whole and to add to its strength.

Prof. Peiris laid stress on a principle underpinning the approach to reconciliation in the Buddhist scriptures. Reconciliation, as expounded in the Buddhist doctrine, requires that enmity and rancour arising from events in the past, should not be allowed to spill over into the present and the future.

There is a point at which the anguish of the past has to be left behind, and the emphasis transferred to the pursuit of harmony and good relations in the present and the future, he said.

The idea of vengeance is at variance with the promotion of goodwill and the spirit of rapprochement, which lie at the core of reconciliation.

Buddhism strongly discourages judgmental postures, he continued. The assuaging of wounded feelings by the principal means of imposition of penal sanctions, and the infliction of pain in return for pain, is counterproductive. According to Buddhist teaching, far from resolving problems, this approach leads to the aggravation and prolonging of conflict, he observed.

Prof. Peiris cited a range of Buddhist texts to illustrate these points.

The Minister referred to several instances where the Buddha mediated in solving conflicts - for example, between the Shakyas and the Koliyas with regard to the sharing of water, and between the Licchavi Princes. The crucial nature of participatory values, integral to reconciliation, is exemplified by the Buddha's exhortation to the feuding Licchavi Princes - that the path to reconciliation lies in meeting, discussing and dispersing in peace.

Buddhism also stresses the societal, as opposed to the individual, role in reconciliation, Prof. Peiris said. The emphasis is on elevating the threshold of solidarity and consensus within the community rather than providing satisfaction in a narrow sense to an individual at the expense of the community at large. There is positive value attached to the concept of closure at the end of a period of exceptional discord and turbulence, with a view to preventing further acrimony and divisiveness. The focus in this regard is on consultation, compromise and consensus, he commented.

Prof. Peiris added that priorities and sequence are elements which are central to the Buddhist notion of reconciliation. This is well illustrated by the story of a woman who attended a sermon of the Buddha. It become apparent to the Buddha that she was in great physical discomfort because she had not eaten for several days. Before delivering the sermon, the Buddha saw to it that she was provided with food and other necessities. It was only then that she was able to benefit from the wisdom imparted in the sermon.

The Minister pointed out that the programme of reconciliation being carried out in Sri Lanka is entirely consistent with both these tenets of the Buddhist theory of reconciliation - namely, the importance of sequence and the relevance of economic factors. This is vindicated, he said, by the acknowledged success with regard to addressing urgent humanitarian issues connected with the resettlement of internally displaced persons and the rehabilitation of ex-combatants, and economic developments, especially in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

Prof. Peiris said that it is appropriate to pay special attention to the Gigha Nikkaya which traces the cause of violence to poverty and lack of balance in economic development. This underscores the importance of an adequate level of economic contentment and wellbeing as an essential component of reconciliation, he said.

He concluded that the Buddha dhamma is the repository of an approach to reconciliation which is self-contained, persuasive and refreshingly relevant to the challenges of our time.

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