All the modern expertise of conflict resolution is, at the best, flawed. It stands on the “two or more parties” notion and tries to fix it there. To an extent, it’s okay because they try to reconcile the parties that are stuck with “I’m right, you are wrong” attitude. Skilled conflict managers try bringing the parties to talk, encourage them to stand in the others’ shoes and look at things from the others’ viewpoint. If done well and if the parties are open enough, there is a chance of success. The unskilled ones will simply use reward or punishment to shut them up and make peace.
In the less developed world, we are more used to shutting them up and making peace. But we are also learning the other approach from the West, thanks to all the development in social sciences, and the theories of human rights, peace, conflict management, and so on.
All this is fine. By whatever means you resolve conflict, that’s awesome. Except there’s a little problem. You cure only the symptoms and not the cause. For, in this whole business of conflict resolution, there is little effort in allaying the “I versus others” mentality.
A different model of conflict management has existed for ages in the East, specifically in the Indian and Himalayan regions. This is not a model of reward or punishment, neither is it of stepping in the other’s shoes. It’s a model of knowing that there is no ‘other’ out there whom we can reward or punish, or in whose shoes we have to stand. It’s a model of knowing that the ‘other’ is only a fiction, projected on a fictitious screen by our own confused minds.
Just like we too are fictions, created by our confused minds. In the Eastern spiritual systems, this fictitious ‘I’ disagrees with that fictitious ‘other’ on totally fictitious grounds for some equally fictitious idea. As soon as we understand this, the whole plot drops. The fictitious stage crumbles and the show of conflict comes to naught.
Of course, it sounds high. But that’s the point—it sounds high because it is high! What the Buddha or Krishna or the countless Himalayan sages taught in this hallowed land has the highest knowledge possible to the human race.
It’s a different thing that we have forgotten their teachings. When people in Nepal and India spend months and years reading conflict management theories from the West, and our NGOs spend millions in conflict management workshops, it seems to me like we are sitting on a heap of 24-karat gold and spending hardearned money to import some gold-lookalike from Morocco.
The cause of conflict lies in the human psyche, in what we generally understand as ‘ego’—which runs the entire show. It is what we usually identify ourselves with— race, religion, ideology, beauty, money, and what not. This play of ego—self-identity—is nothing but an illusion. When one understands it, there is no self-identity to hold on to. When the understanding deepens, first the idea of ‘identity’ and then even the idea of ‘self’ dissolves and one stops seeing any difference between oneself and others. Our illumined masters tell that in that state of deepest realization, all duality between ‘I’ and ‘others’ drops, and everything becomes part of one consciousness.
Perhaps we will have a little idea of it if we pause here and ask: Who is the one that is reading this piece of writing? Is it the eyes? Is it the brain? There are trillions of cells in the eyes and the brain. Which one of them is ‘I’? Ok, I may not be any of those cells, nor the back muscles that are now aching. But I feel the back pain anyway, so who is it that feels it? Where in the body is this ‘I’ located?
Of course, we cannot find or locate it. The more we try to find the ‘I’, the more elusive it seems. So it may not exist at all! But it exists, because we feel we are. But did it exist before birth? And what happens to it when we die? Does it just fizzle out?
We will not get an answer to any of these questions. Let’s not try even, or we might get further confused. A great deal of preparation is needed to know the nature of ‘I’. The good news is that our illumined sages have made it easy for us. We know, reading them, that at least we are not what we think. And there is not much difference between this ‘I’ of mine and the ‘I’ of others. Actually, there is no two at all—there is no ‘I’ and others! We are all flimsy compartments of one big whole separated by these illusory I’s!
For now, let’s understand it only conceptually. When we have enough motivation to go deeper, we can start with preliminary meditation practices and take baby steps toward the real understanding of ‘I’. If it’s the highest knowledge, it cannot be assessed by chance or by shortcuts. You cannot just jump onto the moon to have a look at the earth.
So how do we use this knowledge for conflict resolution? Well, we don’t need a real experiential understanding of not-two—the non-duality of ‘I’ and ‘others’. We can start with a conceptual framework, and gradually work to have experiential understanding. When we set ourselves on the path of such realization, when we actually understand the truth of not-two, of non-duality, we get to the root of resolving all conflicts. After all, where is the ‘other’ to have conflict with?