There is a continuous search for peace, and effort to establish peace with the help of psychological as well as political tools. The search for settlement and peace only leads to disenchantment if the journey stops with the fulfilment of the desire to discover peace.
What is Peace” is a question that disturbs the silence experienced by the philosopher and the political scientist. More than “What” Peace is, the question “Whose” Peace it is, is a much more fundamental question.
Philosophically, I would think, peace is a sense of settlement, and an experience of equanimity towards the existence of unresolved conflict and disruption. In any philosophical examination of peace, whether in the eastern or western tradition, or phenomenological self-reflection, the nature of peace is often presented as having strong subjective foundations.
Both absence of peace and presence of conflict is embedded in self-centricity, agency, ownership and alienation. This is evident in the theories of Plato, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, Freud, and even the post-modern and post-structuralist discourse. The presence, or absence of peace, extends from the ownership of physical space to a transcendental space where ownership and self-identity itself become objects for transformation. In both cases the sense of alienation is profound leading to the desire for belongingness to something which ensures security at physical and several psychological levels.
Take the example of the epic text Mahabharata. There is a continuous search for peace, and effort to “establish” peace with the help of psychological as well as political tools, in the narratives of the Mahabharata and the life experiences of the Mahabharata characters.
Even after the victory in war, the Pandavas did not find peace with themselves and did not become people who happily-lived-ever-after. Iravati Karve writes in the Yuganta: “The war in the Mahabharata was a real war, bringing grief to the victor and the vanquished alike.”
“Whose peace” and “What is peace” are questions that come up again and again in the Mahabharata, with particular emphasis and discussion in the Bhagavad Gita. Essentially, the story that is told by the Mahabharata, and the philosophy that is extolled in the Bhagavad Gita, is that peace cannot be achieved if it was earlier absent. The search for peace is the search for the unknown and the unattainable. The search for settlement and peace only leads to disenchantment if the journey stops with the fulfilment of the desire to discover peace. But, then, why search at all? The approach of both the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita presents the process philosophy in the Wittgensteinian sense. What is searched for will never be found, because it is the process of search which has to discover and articulate the nature and experience of peace. And if the process has to be experienced in its true colours, detachment and a readiness to stand out and look in are essential.
The Gita philosophy is, in synopsis, the discussion on ways to stand out from the comfort zones of existence and look within. According to Anandavardhan and Abhinavagupta, the 9th and 10th century aestheticians, the central tone and mood of the Mahabharata is peace, the constant search for peace, which is continuously redefined. Freedom from what is achieved and freedom for reaching the unknown is the existential purpose as presented in the Mahabharata.
“Who” defines what peace is or “who” should define? Both the Mahabharata narrative and the Foucauldian discourse say that the power is with one who makes the choice, and, more importantly, one who has the facility and freedom to make the choice.
According to (French philosopher Michel) Foucault, the world is driven by conflict. According to his philosophy there is no one kind of peace, but peace is discovered by each person in his or her own individual terms.
The synonym for peace in the Mahabharata and the Gita is freedom; the freedom to question the ways and actions of the powerful, and the freedom to renounce what is achieved, and move on.
I would think peace is embedded in a space which is both political and philosophical. The need to possess that which is denied, or to favour actions of justice, on one side brings to focus the political structures of power, the power of the haves over the have-nots, and the power of the have-nots over the haves. The discussion on peace itself is a political activity, which remains incomplete without exploring the philosophical questions on individual yearnings. According to the Katha Upanishad the search for peace is like walking on the razor’s edge. In the words of Foucault, peace is the dream of the philosopher who belongs to neither side. Both the walk and the dream, for sure, point to the discovery and expression of peace in myriad ways.
(The writer is a Professor & Head, Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru.)