An eternal law of peace
Por: Shirani Rajapakse
Nahi verena verani – Sammanti’dha kudacanam
Averena ca sammanti – esa dhammo sanantano”
“Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world;
through love alone they cease.
This is an eternal law”
Pali translation by Venerable Narada Thero from the Dhammapada
Over two thousand five hundred years ago Gauthama Buddha explained about the need for peace, not merely within ourselves but also among people and all those living beings. His message spread across Asia and has reached almost all parts of the world. Many scholars, learned individuals and leaders have since spoken about and encouraged peace. Yet we still don’t seem to understand the meaning of these words and the terrible consequences of our actions against peace.
Writing from the trenches of World War I poets like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and others have spoken about the horrors of war and what it does to humanity, giving us reasons to think twice about the effects of violence and the toll on the lives of people caught between conflicts.
In an article titled “The War That Will End War,” published in The Daily News on Aug. 14, 1914. H.G. Wells predicted that WWI would be the last war. Following this, in 1917 US President Woodrow Wilson claimed that the war will "make the world safe for democracy".
Sadly none of this has stopped people going to war. We are today at the brink of World War III. Looking back it appears we have never really been at peace. Since the end of World War II we have seen conflicts scattered around the world with the casualties far out numbering those of World War II. Wars were fought over ideology, oil, religion, territory and now world powers are gunning for an excuse to drag the world’s citizens into world war III, a war that might not see any winners.
What is the status of our future? How do we prevent the world from hating on its own kind because of differences that don’t make any sense? Are we able to stop this mad rush towards annihilation?
Poetry is the oldest form of communication. People from ancient times have used poetry to express their feelings, describe events and also caution society about the ill effects of our actions. People have turned to poetry for solace, to express grief, sorrow and grievances. Poets have always been sensitive to express emotions unlike others and poets have been in a position to voice the unspeakable in a manner that is not problematic to anyone.
However, is it merely enough to write? How do we teach poetry and demonstrate the deeper meaning of life to new and aspiring voices of poets? How do we teach poetry for peace?
Reading poetry to children from a very young age teaches them about the beauty that exists around us. It also teaches them that life, in every form is sacred and has meaning, even to the tiniest of beings. It speaks about the interactions of humans with nature and the world around and creates a sensitivity to and understanding of the power and beauty of words and what they can achieve. It is therefore encouraging to see that Venezuela has taken a giant step to take poetry to children by creating a Poetry School placing poetry as a key element in nurturing positive actions and peace.
Poetry can’t change the world or what happens in the future, however, poetry can make us think of our actions and the effects they have. It can sooth us, help us cope with grief and loss. It can make us laugh and reminisce about all that is good around. It can also inform and instruct. Poetry is isn’t just words; it is art, it is music, it is dance. Poets can create a culture of peace that cuts across barriers of geography, language, race and religion. This then is the mission of the poet. It is what we should all strive for if we want to see a future that is better than what we have right now.
The devastation of conflicts have left terrible scars on the lives of all that have been at the brunt end of them. Countries that were once livable places are now ghosts of what they were. Large numbers of people have been displaced and live outside their traditional homes. A new generation will grow up not knowing where they came from or what it was like before it all came crumbling down. On August 6th the world remembers the devastation wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago. These cities are a reminder of the horrors that man is capable of in his quest for power. As poets and artists we should espouse the words of the wise and call for peace and restraint at all times, reminding all of the terrible consequences of actions that once set in motion, can’t be undone.
Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published Sri Lankan poet and short story writer. She’s the author of six books including “Chant of a Million Women” winner 2018 Kindle Book Awards, USA as well as “Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense” and “I Exist. Therefore I Am”, winners 2022 and 2019 State Literary Awards, Sri Lanka. The latter was also shortlisted for the 2019 Rubery Book Awards, UK. Her work appears in International Times, Silver Birch, Poetry Lab Shanghai, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry, Litro, Berfrois, Flash Fiction International, Voices Israel, Mascara, Cultural Weekly and more.
Essay for the 33rd Medellin International Poetry Festival and WPM World Congress