One Percent for Peace
The Real War on Terror
An Interview with John Davies By Sandra Anderson
By Larry Decter
Appeared in Issue June July 2005 of Yoga
In 1981, at the height of the Lebanese Civil War,
physician Tony Nader started teaching his patients to
meditate. It was the best thing he ever did for them.
Shortly after a critical number of people began
practicing meditation, the bombs stopped exploding in
Nader’s village in the Chouf mountains. The violence
continued, even escalated, in surrounding Muslim and
Christian villages, but no bombs fell again on Dr.
I heard John Davies tell this story at a conference
last fall. But as heartening as the story is and as
startling the implications, it’s only one of many in
Davies’ repertoire of heartening and startling stories;
and it is only a footnote in a career spent studying the
effect of meditation on political and criminal violence.
Until I met Davies I hadn’t given much thought to the
notion that a meditation practice might have an effect
beyond our personal lives. Sure, it would be great if
more people meditated, and sure, if more people
meditated we would be better off as a society. Most of
us can list the benefits of meditation—cheerfulness,
creativity, emotional resilience, and reduced stress, to
name a few—but these apply to individuals. Davies and
his colleagues have been thinking bigger—much bigger.
Dr. Davies is an internationally recognized expert in
conflict management at the University of Maryland, and
his concerns are large-scale violent conflicts, wars,
and the collective consciousness. As a young man in
Australia interested in psychology, science, and
spiritual practice, Dr. Davies took the claims of
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the colorful guru of the 1960s,
seriously. Davies’ first studies on the individual and
collective impact of meditation were promising and led
to work at Harvard University during the war in the
Middle East. He recently spoke at the Sacred Link
“Freedom from Fear” conference at the Himalayan
Institute, where I had the opportunity to question him
further about his work.
I was intrigued by your story of the village in Lebanon
that stayed safe through violent times because a
physician had taught his patients to meditate. Can you
tell us more about it? How do you explain such a
That was a wonderful little study we did with a
Lebanese medical doctor in a village in the Chouf
mountains. This was a village of over 12,000 people,
previously subjected to the continuous violence that
plagued the whole area. But when one percent of the
population of that village began meditating, the
violence stopped. There were no more bombs in that
village, even though the level of violence continued or
even increased all around it for years afterward. None
of the residents were able to explain it, nor could
those who were independently responsible for tracking
In the 1970s, Maharishi started to talk about the
practical value of having a critical mass of the
population practicing meditation. He said that one
percent would have an impact—not just on themselves and
the people immediately around them, but also on the
collective consciousness of the society. His prediction
was that practicing Transcendental Meditation techniques
would result in reduced violence in the community and
enhance positive, cooperative behaviors.
I thought, “Okay, here’s a guy who’s making a claim that
is extremely radical, with enormous implications for
peacemaking, and he’s standardized a meditation
technique and made it accessible to research. There’s a
serious challenge here.” He even gave us numbers: one
percent of a population (of more than 10,000) meditating
would be sufficient, or even the square root of one
percent of a large population (more than about a million)
if they practice the more advanced meditation techniques
together in a group.
The idea is that once you have a number of people coming
together in a group, you intensify the impact of changes
in consciousness that happen during meditation when the
body, brain, mind, and heart are all aligned and
integrated. In that state we can also align or attune
much more readily with each other. And because we attune
more with those close to us, that amplifies the effect
of meditating together. There’s literally a coherence in
consciousness that is reflected in brain wave patterns,
With a large group you can have constructive
interference. It’s a common phenomenon in physics with
waves of any type. A laser is a good example. If you
have a cluster of light-wave emitting diodes that emit
the same frequency, they’ll all fall into synchrony with
each other. So you get an exponentially more powerful
wave, proportional to the square of the number of
diodes. That could explain why the square root of one
percent is all you need if people are meditating in a
My initial studies in the small town in Australia where
I did my master’s degree supported Maharishi’s claims:
crime dropped once one percent of the population was
meditating. Then, working with leading researchers at
Harvard, I had a chance to test his claims on a bigger
scale under tougher conditions: could meditation help to
mitigate violence and promote peace even in conditions
of protracted war?
By 1983, Israel was deeply enmeshed in the civil war in
Lebanon. Beirut and the surrounding Chouf mountains were
the main areas of fighting, in what was regarded as an
intractable conflict. With external funding we were able
to bring a group of more than 200 experienced meditators
to Jerusalem from all over the world who were trained in
the Transcendental Meditation tradition. This group,
along with individual meditators already in Israel and
Lebanon, was enough of a critical mass to create a
significant impact, according to Maharishi’s assertions,
in the occupied southern half of Lebanon where the
fighting was, as well as in Israel.
Lebanon was a great place to do research. You couldn’t
do it in the Congo or Sudan, for example, because in
most war zones there’s no one who can say how many
people were killed on a given day. But in Lebanon, the
police were trained to keep careful statistics on how
many were killed or injured each day, and the local and
international media were free to report on daily
developments. So there were reliable data available, and
we were able to conduct a tightly controlled, critical
study. We made public, precise predictions in advance to
the international press and to a panel of independent
scientists about what would happen while the meditators
were in the area and what would happen when they left.
The timing of the experiment was dictated by the funding
as well as by when people were available. It had nothing
to do with whether or not things looked favorable in
Lebanon. We were able to control statistically for
changes in the weather that might affect levels of
violence. We were able to control for holidays—Jewish
holidays, Lebanese holidays, Muslim holidays. We were
able to control for weekly cycles over the two months
the group was in place, and for fluctuations in group
size. As it turned out, there was nothing in the
Lebanese press about our advance predictions, and there
was not a big splash in the Israeli press, either. So
there was no way the press created expectations.
Were the meditators concentrating on Lebanon? Was it
their intention to change conditions in Lebanon and
No. During the group practice they were not thinking
about Lebanon. Just doing their stuff, primarily for
their own benefit. Just practicing their meditation
program together, since the experience tends to be
deeper with the support of a group. They practiced a
mantra meditation—Transcendental Meditation—and advanced
TM-Sidhi techniques, both derived from the Vedic
tradition. They might be thinking nice thoughts, but not
focusing on Lebanon or peace or on any other potential
Did those 200+ meditators make a difference in the war?
Yes, absolutely. After the first few weeks, the results
were obvious. Then the experimental and statistical
controls and the multiple replications made it clear
beyond the shadow of a doubt. The level of violence in
Lebanon was significantly less during the course of the
study, down by 40 to 80 percent on average, depending on
the measure used. We replicated this result seven times
from 1983 to 1985 with seven different meditating groups.
On average, twelve people were killed every day as a
result of the war during the two-year period of the
study. During the time the groups were in Israel,
fatalities dropped to two per day, on average. Over all
seven experimental periods, average fatalities were
closer to three per day. That’s more than a 70 percent
drop. Each of the seven interventions was highly
significant. The probability that these results could
have been due to chance was less than one in a hundred
It wasn’t just acts of war in Lebanon that were affected.
The level of violence in Israel was also affected, with
crime, car accidents, and fires all dropping
significantly when the group of meditators was in place.
A similar pattern showed up with the measure for
conflict intensity, which dropped by about 50 percent.
If one measure, such as the intensity of the war,
changes direction as predicted, that’s significant. When
other measures like cooperation, violent crime in Israel,
and the number of deaths from auto accidents and fires—which
ordinarily have no correlation at all with the level of
violence in Lebanon—also shift in the same positive
direction at the same time, over and over again, then
something very broad and fundamental must be happening.
The results of the study showed a broad societal impact
that only has one reference point that makes sense—the
meditation intervention. The implication is that when
you have coherence in the collective consciousness, it
creates an environment that allows people to approach
issues differently. It provides an enabling environment.
People not only tend to stop killing each other, but are
able to come together and perceive new possibilities for
cooperative work and partnership, even with their
enemies. In terms of quantitative measures, the increase
in the cooperation parameter across the seven assemblies
of meditators was 66 percent. But that hides the
richness of what was actually happening on the ground.
War deaths are war deaths, but conflict and cooperation
between the major parties are more qualitative phenomena.
Translating the quantitative 66 percent increase in
cooperation into real-world terms indicates a huge
change, resulting in major breakthroughs for peace. For
example, during one of the assemblies of meditators, the
Lebanese government and all major opposition groups
finally agreed on a security plan for all of Lebanon and
were able to obtain the support of Syria and Israel.
During another assembly, Syria agreed to a gradual
withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon, and opposition
leaders agreed to a cease-fire and dropped their demand
that the president resign. In another, substantial
progress was made in finally implementing a security
plan for Beirut. Unfortunately, without the continued
support of the coherent collective consciousness
sustained by the meditation groups, they couldn’t
sustain progress. You can see in the data how the
momentum for each of these breakthroughs fell apart once
the group disbanded. Once the group ended or their
numbers dropped significantly below the
threshold size, we observed a return to the
low-cooperation, high-conflict pattern.
With evidence that strong, it seems as if there would be
a motivation to continue this kind of work. On the other
hand, it does sound a bit fantastic to the ordinary
person. Was your study well received?
In 1988, we were able to get the results of the first
group published in a leading journal, The Journal of
Conflict Resolution, but it created such a brouhaha that
it took another 15 years to get the other six
replications published in a refereed journal. The
results were challenging to many people, including
scientists who mistakenly think the validity of science
is somehow exclusively tied up with the objective and
behavioral world, that science and spirituality are
totally separate. The success of this research seemed
threatening to people with such worldviews.
How do you explain the results? How can a group of
meditators, completely unknown to the perpetrators of
violence, influence their behavior—without leaving the
comfort of their meditation cushion?
Well there are ways to explain it, just not within the
conventional materialistic worldview in which everything
else is dismissed as sort of flaky. In that worldview,
the whole province of consciousness, spirit, meditation,
and prayer, as anything more than local epiphenomena of
the brain, is separated out and left to religions and
the yogis. When we are able to take the best tools of
science and say that meditation has a more profound and
reliable impact in reducing violence than anything
recognized in the conventional, behavioral paradigm,
that challenges those who mistake the conventional
paradigm as exclusively defining our reality.
So what could explain this dynamic? We spent some time
delving into the best scientific theories to understand
action at a distance, which is how conventional science
would frame this process. And the most profound
scientific theories of science do transcend distance.
Once you are talking about quantum fields, the essential
nature of distance changes. In a unified quantum field
theory, such as string theory or flipped SU5 theories or
supergravity theories, distance is not primary. In fact,
even the gravitational and electromagnetic fields allow
action at a distance. That’s how we get on the Web and
how we get television and radio and wi-fi. We’re used to
action at a distance. It’s no big mystery any more.
This electromagnetic level is one quantum field. Deeper
quantum fields emerge at more fundamental levels of time
and space than the electromagnetic and are responsible
for the strong and weak nuclear forces. More profound
still is the gravitational field. You can’t define space
and gravity except in relation to each other: they both
emerge at the same moment the symmetry of the underlying
unified field is broken. We just need to understand the
dynamics of space as it relates to our experience. When
the unified field from which all phenomenal fields
emerge is in its ground state, by definition, there is
no distance between observer and observed.
Sounds like meditation.
Exactly. It’s a fundamental unity (or yoga) transcending
the duality of the observer and observed. It can only be
observed by being it. The unified quantum field is both
a field of subjective consciousness and the underlying
infinite (or infinitesimal) reality of which the
objective universe is an _expression or an
interpretation. Classical Newtonian physics, which
explains the physics of many everyday objects and
behaviors, is simply a limited interpretation of much
deeper and more pervasive quantum field dynamics through
which we are profoundly connected with the universe,
both objectively and in terms of our inner or subjective
In meditation, awareness settles below that Newtonian,
external behavioral level of separation and objectivity.
It settles down to subtler levels of experience, which
correspond to much subtler time and space levels, where
we are more awake and more integrated within ourselves
and also more intimately connected with our environment.
You can measure this in terms of brain activity with
greater coherence in EEG patterns integrating the whole
cortex in meditation, for example, opening the way to
subtler connections and perceptions. A simple example of
the latter is that when we react to a sudden stimulus,
the first interactions reflected in the brain activity
are completely preconscious. They have to do with our
overall feeling tone—to alert us whether this is a good
thing or a bad thing.
Like your hand jerking away from a hot plate before you
realized that it was hot?
Exactly. So if you flash words like love, happiness, or
friendliness, meditators will pick those up much faster
(or at shorter exposure times) than they will pick up
words like hate and kill, with which they don’t resonate
as easily. Their ability to pick up the negative words
is the same as the rest of the population. What happens
with people who are meditating—and I assume this is true
no matter what vehicle you are using for transcendence—is
that their ability to pick up and attune to the finer
and more uplifting qualities around them is much
In other words, whatever you cultivate within yourself
is what you most easily relate to outside.
Yes, especially if you are cultivating finer levels of
experience that are inherently attractive. The qualities
we are more alert to through meditating are the ones
that attune us to a coherent, harmonious relationship
with the people around us; they are the ones that allow
us to give to others, to uplift people around us rather
than fight with them. The significance of the research
on the impact of meditating groups is that it provides
critical evidence that we can have this positive effect,
immediately and reliably, even at substantial distances
and with people we have never met.
It would take a month—or a book—for us to get a grip on
this. I’m just giving you a taste of our reasoning as we
sought to understand the results. During meditation
we’re awake and active and functioning coherently at a
much more profound level than we normally are. As a
result, we have an impact on our surroundings at a much
more profound level than we do if we’re operating at a
conscious, surface level.
Quantum field theory is one way of reminding us that
when we’re talking about the effects of meditation,
we’re not stepping outside science. We’re stepping
outside of conventional “scientism.” And there is a
difference. Too often, people misuse science as a way of
saying, “Oh, we can ignore all this internal subtle
stuff. It’s not scientific.” Well, guess what? Turns out
it is scientific—it just requires us to recognize that
there are several paradigms simultaneously validated
through science that take us far beyond the narrow
behaviorism and materialism of scientism. Scientists
have a responsibility to look at this “internal subtle”
stuff because its potential implications for peace are
more profound than anything we have found by focusing
exclusively on the level of power dynamics and
realpolitik, or even on democracy and human rights.
Would more studies help establish the credibility of
this work? What do you see as the most important thing
to be done now?
More studies will always be welcome but this should not
become an excuse for avoiding our responsibility for
acting on what we know. What is needed now is to
recognize and include the spiritual, coherence-creating
approach along with more conventional peacemaking work.
We need to recognize the enormous value of people
already employing such approaches either individually or
collectively. In my work in southern Africa and Asia,
for example, the ability of groups to pray or sing
together was invaluable in helping them to find
agreement on steps for building peace. On a larger scale,
we not only need critical masses of people meditating
according to Raja Yoga or Vedanta, but we need to
encourage meditation and prayer groups for peace in all
traditions so that the impact can be both global and
In Lebanon we had Muslims and Christians meditating
together even in war conditions. Today, we need more
Muslims using traditional dhikr (remembrance) practices,
for example, to experience the tawhid (unity). We need
Christians using traditional contemplative practices
such as St. Teresa’s prayers of quiet and of unity. We
need Buddhists practicing the meditation of the heart,
and so on within all of the different spiritual
traditions. It will bring them together and take them to
that level of what the Sufis call “the unity” and to
peace in their own tradition. Instead, all of these
major traditions are caught up in fighting wars in the
name of their religion.
We need to promote the idea that even a small proportion—just
one percent of people on the planet, or the square root
of that if we practice in groups—living from this
transcendent level of unity will make a huge global
difference. The word transcendence, however, doesn’t
translate for everyone. A lot of spiritual traditions
don’t understand transcendence. They prefer to talk
about immanence, or opening the heart, or surrender to
God. But the inner reality is ultimately the same.
I work across religious lines in the conflict
transformation and peacebuilding work I am doing now.
The first challenge for me is to allow my life to be an
_expression of that unity, and not to buy into outwardly
oriented viewpoints that paint spiritual traditions as
mutually exclusive. We have to recognize the integrity
of each tradition—to completely support what is
happening within the Vedic and Yogic traditions, and
also within the Islamic world, the Christian and Jewish
worlds, and the Buddhist, Taoist, and other traditions.
I keep coming to the same realization: There is no
difference on the inside at the deep level. There’s one
truth. If you want to use the G-word, that’s fine. If
you don’t want to use the G-word that’s fine, too, but
the reality is the same. Words get us caught. Words are
relative to our culture and our time. But on the inside
it’s one reality, and it’s one percent for the society
or for the whole planet. The more people meditating, the
more impact we have.
At the same time, there are critical transitions where
things shift significantly. The one percent level for a
society seems to be one of them, as is the square root
of one percent for larger populations. One percent is
not something that just came out of Maharishi’s head.
The societal impact of prayer, meditation, or obedience
to God’s law is mentioned in other traditions, both
Eastern and Western, with or without specific thresholds.
I’m sure there are other transition points I don’t know
about. There are two that I’ve been able to test, which
hold up under very tough conditions, but there are
plenty of stories where a few or even one enlightened,
God-realized person seems to have been enough.
It makes you want to go out and teach that one percent
People in all traditions need to recognize that it is
the responsibility of all of us to create peace. It
doesn’t fall on any one group. We all have to do our
part, and it has to be sustained at all levels. If more
people can do research on the value of meditation and
prayer for peace in different traditions, that would be
great. The risks are very high in the world right now.
The United States is in an impossible situation in Iraq;
Iraqis are caught in an impossible situation. We have to
move beyond that type of morass, which intensifies
cynicism and draws recruits for terrorism even in the
name of God. Not to mention the continuation of deadly
conflicts going on in Nepal, Sudan, the Congo, and a
dozen other countries around the world.
The Vedic maxim says that in the vicinity of the
enlightened—those experiencing unity (yoga)—there’s no
violence. That’s the core principle. If we create enough
coherence in the collective consciousness as a whole,
9/11 won’t happen again. That’s what we need as our war
on terror. It needs to be fought from the inside.
The real jihad is not fought with weapons. The real
jihad is to create inner peace, to create an inner unity,
and slay the inner demons that hold us in separation
from ourselves and one another. That’s the real war on
terror. Then we slay terror literally instead of getting
caught in the trap of going after “terrorists” and
thinking it’s those “bad people” that are the problem.
That is a complete fantasy and a tragic waste of lives
and resources, blinding us to what needs to change in
ourselves. We need to be able to speak plainly and not
blame anyone, because people at every level of
responsibility are using the best techniques they
understand. So it’s our responsibility to share what we
know. It’s a big jump for many. We’re not going to
change the foreign policy of the United States on the
basis of this series of studies—not until there’s a
broad enough understanding of the dynamics of collective
consciousness in the country. Politicians here and
elsewhere are rational people.
They’re not going to do something which immediately gets
them voted out of office because their constituents
don’t understand what they’re doing and feel frightened.
So there’s no blame there. Nevertheless, if we follow
our present course of relying too much on military
action to combat terrorism, there will be a massive
waste of lives and resources compared to what could be
done through more of us joining the real war on terror.
That’s the challenge for us now.•
Want to Know More?
Dr. Davies/ studies are available in reference libraries
around the world. You can read about his work in Lebanon
in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1988, vol. 32, no.
4, pp. 776–812, and The Journal of Social Behavior and
Personality, 2004, pp. 285–338.
For reactions to these studies, see also The Journal of
Conflict Resolution, 1990, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 745–768,
and The Journal of Social Behavior and Personality,
2004, pp. 489–554.
John Davies is co-director of the Partners in Conflict
and Partners in Peacebuilding at the Center for
International Development and Conflict Management at the
University of Maryland. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His lecture, “The Role of Science and Spirituality in
Conflict Resolution and Reclaiming Peace,” at the 2004
Sacred Link “Freedom from Fear” conference, can be
ordered online at www.HimalayanInstitute.org/sltv.