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Muslim, Hindu, And Buddhist Traditions

The Arabic word salam, a cognate of the Hebrew shalom, means "making peace." For Muslims, one comes to a purest state of peace by submitting to the will of Allah (isalm), and anyone who has accomplished this is a muslim. Salam is even one of the ninety-nine names of Allah in the Islamic religion. In the Koran, anyone doing the will of God and giving all to exalt his sacred name, including the making of holy war (jihad), will receive the divine blessing of peace and eventually live with God in that perfect state. Peace also can become an earthly state, in that good Muslims desire temporal peace, not war, realizing that only through an Islamic polity, serving Allah faithfully, can people prosper and live in harmony with one another. Thus, in Islam, ultimate peace, both spiritual and temporal, harmonizes within a submission to the divine will.

In eastern intellectual traditions the spiritual and practical elements of peace have cohered much more intricately and consistently than they have in the west. The Chinese word for peace, heping, is comprised of two characters meaning harmony and level (or flat), which suggests equalizing and balancing. (This type of peace may be inherent in the famous Taoist cosmic principles of yin and yang, which when symmetrical restore order and oneness to the universe.) The Japanese cognate hewa means much the same.

In classical Sanskrit shanti is the word closest in meaning to peace, usually denoting tranquility, calm, bliss, eternal rest, and happiness, but usually in connection to destruction or death. The term is often synonymous with sandi (association, combination) and the opposite of vigraha (separation, isolation, hostility). Peace here is contrary to the "absence of isolation" (vigrahabhava) or the "absence of strife or war" (yuddhabhava). From earliest Hindu thought it became the goal of the individual to escape from the necessity of being reborn, which was accomplished through deep meditation and the avoidance of bad karma, thus bringing ultimate peace. Another Indian concept, ahimsa, which is found first in the sacred Upanishads (c. eighth century B.C.E.), means nonviolence to animals and humans, and is based on the assumption that harm to living creatures produces bad karma by endangering or killing the soul of another. All life is one, and any animal could contain the soul of a relative who has been reincarnated, and so harming it is wrong. Mahatma Gandhi's (1869–1948) pacifism owed a great deal to this tradition of peace. By the time caste distinctions separated the ancient Indians, and led to warfare and strife, the famous meditation known as the Bhagavad Gita found in the epic classic Indian poem, the Mahabharat offered another means for achieving ultimate peace. Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna that in honoring the conditions of caste/race he brings honor to himself, and since souls return to new bodies after the old ones die, death does not matter. But one must reject all greed and anger, and therefore one can, even in the midst of battle, have peace within. Peace is ultimately an inner state that will beget positive ramifications as well for society as a whole.

Buddhist ideas of peace derived from these early Hindu notions that asserted self-denial was the key to contentment and ultimate peace with the universe of which we are all a part spiritually. Also centered in the idea of ahimsa, Buddhists have believed that true peace and happiness come from the eradication of all desire, including the desire for permanence that creates conflict and division. Through meditative practices, selfish desire can be gradually eliminated until absolute peace, in this case, nirvana, is reached when our state of being ends. Part of this process entails the gradual shutting down of all sensory awareness and feeling, in what is known as sannavedayitanirodha. Since one does not stay in this state of contemplation permanently, this does not provide a lasting peace. Buddha believed that peace (shanti), both internally and externally, can only be achieved truly when it becomes part of one's conception of the world and of those who live within it. Peace is conditional for Buddha as he taught that the insistence on any type of permanence led to inflexibility, and ultimately, to conflict. This recognition of "dependent arising" forms the path to enlightenment and brings freedom and peace within, but also peace without, since it allows for change and newness.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatPeace - Ancient And Early Christian West, Western Middle Ages, Renaissance And Reformation, The Modern West