Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Peace through Self-Awareness: A Model of Peace Education Based on Buddhist Principles

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Peace through Self-Awareness: A Model of Peace Education Based on Buddhist Principles

Article excerpt

Introduction

In my twenty-plus years as professor of East Asian and comparative religions, intercultural communication or miscommunication has become a central theme of my work. There is, of course, the personal level of a German researching and teaching Japanese philosophy and religion in the United States or in Japan, Hong Kong, and the Peoples Republic of China. There is the methodological level of my work pertaining to the question of how one can apply concepts and thought structures developed in one cultural setting to another. Finally, there is the political level that I could not avoid when I was teaching Japanese Buddhism to a group of monks and nuns from the P.R.C. in Shanghai. Meeting my students for eight hours a day, it soon became clear to me that I was dealing with cultural and national myths, tropes, and identities as much as with the subject matter.

This suspicion became even stronger when I researched the ways in which the Nanjing massacre was remembered or forgotten by various cultures. Even in the memories of Americans (specifically Caucasian Americans) (1) and Germans, (2) national narratives are visible insofar as these narratives or myths emphasize the role, mostly remembered as a heroic one, that Americans and Germans played between December, 13, 1937, and February 18, 1938, in Nanjing. Thus, without wanting to belittle the importance of economic and political factors, the importance and role of identity politics in conflict and in our memories slowly dawned on me. The discourse on these conflicts, be they interpersonal, intercultural, or interreligious, especially with regard to memories of what I call "unique inescapable ruptures"--such as the Holocaust as symbolized by the Reichsprogromnacht of November 9, 1938, or the events in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, or the Bombing of Hiroshima, or the Nanjing massacre--seems to be driven by such identity politics at least as much as by historical, economic, or military discourses.

I began to think that intercultural and interreligious understanding--and, ultimately, peace between cultures, nations, and religions--is closely tied to our understanding of identity. It seems that a lot of identity discourses, be they racial, religious, or national, assume a conception of identity that is akin to that of a Leibnizian monad, that is, an identity is conceived of as an independent, monolithic, unchanging essence. Such a definition of cultural and religious identities as, to use a phrase of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), "windowless," monolithic, and unchanging is, of course, at odds with our realities. Every current theory of culture (and religious tradition) with which I am familiar envisions cultures to be fluid, heterogeneous, and subject to change. For example, Kwame Anthony Appiah has described "culture" as a "shape-shifting target"; (3) Gerd Baumann suggested that the key to culture lies in "the boundaries that separate ethnic groups" rather than in any "cultural stuff'; (4) and Ananda Abeysakara maintained that essences of cultures and religions are constructed in discourses at "contingent conjunctures." (5) Thus, it seems that to understand the dynamics of intercultural and interreligious encounters we need a conception of identity that reflects this fluid, transient, heterogeneous nature of cultures and traditions. Such a nonessentialist and, in many ways nondualist, theory of identity, I suggest, we can find within sources of the Buddhist tradition.

My goal in this essay is twofold: First, I will look in Buddhist texts for conceptual resources for such a nonessentialist notion of identity; second, I will suggest the preamble for pedagogy toward intercultural and interreligious understanding--and, one hopes, peace--based on a theory of identity as fluid, transient, fragmented, and not independent, which borrows its major cues from various Buddhist theories of "no-self' (S. anatmari). This exercise is theoretical in nature, as I am currently developing a new notion of identity-formation and politics based on nonessentialism and based on the philosophical considerations discussed herein. …

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