Sri Lanka faced a severe armed conflict over 25 years and it ended in 2009 by the government army overpowering the militant group. After this it was the time to think of how to go forward in this new ‘without war’ Sri Lanka. One major argument surfaced was to develop infra structure and create job opportunities for those who are affected by the war and that is the only solution to be implemented. The other argument was to go for ‘reconciliation’. In fact the word ‘reconciliation’ and the other words came with it such as ‘transitional justice’ ‘retributive justice’ and ‘restorative justice’ were seen as foreign words and with slight suspicion with its inception. In this article I am trying to highlight the problematic nature of the existing approach of reconciliation and then to suggest an alternative approach based on the theory of dependent origination or the conditional genesis.
The existing approach of reconciliation look at the people who engaged with the conflict in different ways such as ‘victims’ ‘perpetrators’ and ‘bystanders’. When one group is identified as ‘victims’ then that identification leads to the ‘giving justice’ to the victim. A part of the process giving justice becomes identifying perpetrators and then bring them to the law book. Perpetrators in most of the time are the members of the military who have a strong backing from the people who supported the war. Hence, this approach of identifying people as divided groups and treating them based on those judgments creates much deeper divisions and perhaps strong resistance against the reconciliation work. Further this approach disconnect the majority of the other people from understanding their connection with the conflict because they have been understood as bystanders who are different from earlier two categories. Since they have been understood as a different category they are not included to the group that need to be healed.
All these create a vacuum for an alternative inclusive model of reconciliation that sees the interconnectedness of everyone in different ways and in different degrees in the process of development of the conflict and in the same manner in the process of healing. The shift from understanding the affected people from divided entities to inclusive group is developed based on the teaching of the theory of dependent origination or the conditional genesis. Dependent origination theory or conditional genesis is given in a short formula of four lines in Majjhima Nikaya asWhen this is, that is (Imasmin sati idam hoti)This arising, that arises (Imassuppada idam uppajjati)When this is not, that is not (Imasmin asati idam na hoti)This ceasing, that ceases (Imassa nirodha idam nirujjahati)
According to this teaching nothing is absolute. Everything in this world is conditioned, relative and interdependent.
If everything is interdependent, the arising of the conflict also has to be understood as interdependent and interconnected. It support to understand that many people have contributed to the arising and escalating of the conflict in different ways. Further, the parties connected with the conflict also have to be understood as interdependent and interconnected. It is a connected whole. Hence, this teaching does not support to the idea of absolute ‘victim’ or an absolute ‘perpetrator’. All the members of the society, according to this teaching, are victims in different ways and in different degrees and in the same manner they are perpetrators in different ways and in different degrees. This teaching further support to understand the so called perpetrator differently. If everything is conditioned and dependent originated, particular behavior of a person in a given moment also can be understood as conditioned by many factors. If those factors are changed his behavior will be changed.
Further, this way of looking at a person support to see different identities of the same person that support to be free from stereotyping. This approach support to go for restorative justice, giving a chance to change, rather than going for retributive justice.
Angulimla story that comes in Theravada Buddhist tradition is an example for this approach. Three identities of Angulimala is shown in the story as an innocent student, a murderer and a saint. His identities change with the conditioning factors are changed. The king’s effort when Angulimala become a murderer was to change the result, which is to kill Angulimala. However, Buddha’s intervention in this conflict situation is to change the conditions and not the result.
In light of the conditional genesis teaching all the people in the society that a conflict happened are wounded in different ways and in different degrees. Hardly anyone is free from these wounds. If that is the case, the so called perpetrator also is a wounded person.
If the conflict is understood that makes conditions to wound people then the reconciliation can be understood as a process of healing. Then there will not be victims, perpetrators and bystanders but wounded people and a process of healing. Since all in the conflict society are wounded in different people ways and in different degrees there cannot be ‘healers’ who are not affected by the conflict. All are part of the wounding process and in the same manner all are part of the healing process.
The method of developing this healing process is suggested here based on the four sublime states namely, Lovingkindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Sympathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha). Particularly, four levels of lovingkindness meditation suggest a methodology towards this collective healing that is to cultivate lovingkindness to oneself, to the loving people, to the indifferent people and finally to the conflicting people. The fourth level, that is the ‘conflicting people’ are the so called ‘enemy’ in the conflict or in post conflict situation. This meditation practice suggests one’s healing relies on the healing of his or her own ‘enemy’.
This approach again connect with the theory of dependent origination. If all are interconnected and interdependent there will not be full healing or peace possible if unhealed people are still in the society.