This paper presents a working theory of conflict transformation informed by Buddhist teachings. It argues that a Buddhist approach to conflict transformation consists of an integrated process of self-reflection on the roots and transformation of suffering (dukkha), on the one hand, and active relationship-building between parties, on the other. To overcome a deeply structural conflict in which parties are unaware of the very existence of the conflict-generating system in which they are embedded, however, Buddhist-inspired practice of conflict transformation requires building structural awareness, which is defined as educated consciousness capable of perceiving a complex web of cause and effect relationships in which one’s well-intended action can inadvertently generate the suffering of others. A Buddhist approach to the transformation of structural conflict builds on such awareness. This approach advocates for constructing social systems and practices that actively and continuously promote compassion (karuna), nonviolence (ahimsa), and creative problem-solving. These insights presented in this paper build on thirty-seven interviews with experienced Asian Buddhist practitioners, mostly Burmese, as well as four Buddhist workshops that examined the author’s main argument. Given its unique focus, this paper contributes to diversifying and globalizing the discourses of peace and conflict studies outside the prevailing mode of western thinking.

Author Bio(s)

Tatsushi Arai, PhD, is a Professor of Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation at the School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute in Vermont and a Fellow of the Center for Peacemaking Practice at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in Virginia, USA. As a scholar-practitioner of conflict resolution, he has worked extensively in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the United States over the past twenty years. His books include Creativity and Conflict Resolution: Alternative Pathways to Peace.


This study was made possible by the fellowship provided by the Toda Peace Institute, as well as by the generous support of the time and resources that many Burmese partners and volunteers offered to enable the author to carry out his field research and workshops. In addition, Dr. Sallie B. King’s feedback on the earlier draft of this paper was invaluable and deeply appreciated.


Buddhism, Myanmar, peace, conflict, structure, reflective practice

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