An Article by Ramakrishna Math and Mission monk – Swami Swahananda
THROUGHOUT THE AGES mankind has yearned for peace—world peace, national peace, community peace, and peace of the individual soul. This coveted yet elusive goal has been relentlessly pursued on the international level through peace talks, peace treaties, peace summits, and so forth. In a letter written by Leo Tolstoy, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi, he expressed doubt that peace could be achieved by these methods. He wrote: “One thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions—the truth that for our life one law is valid—the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind.”
International peace can come only if there is national peace, and national peace can come only if there is individual peace. If the world is in turmoil today, it is because its inhabitants are in turmoil. World peace begins with each one of us. As the well-known Russian painter and thinker Nicholas Roerich said, “Every man, every member of the human family, carries the responsibility for the peace of the whole world.”
A society is the summation of individuals. The values of a society are determined by its individuals, and the force of inequality in society, strengthened by selfish considerations, has to be kept under control.
The force that can hold society together is moral force, dharma, the consideration for the other person. This deep value in mankind, which enhanced becomes altruism, is possible only in an atmosphere of “toned-down materialism” and assertion of the Spirit. If the individuals value sense gratification and money, the society will be materialistic; if the individuals value intellectual pursuits, the society will be advanced in science and technology; if the individuals value the arts, the society will be cultured. Only if the individuals place the highest value on spiritual awakening, will the society be a peaceful one.
The jewel of everlasting peace is within each one of us, only waiting to be discovered. It is futile to try to find peace outside if we have not found it inside. As Swami Vivekananda said, “It is only with the knowledge of the Spirit that the faculty of want is annihilated forever. . . . Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy our miseries forever; any other knowledge satisfies wants only for a time.”
Lasting peace cannot be found in the external world. In fact, it is our identity with the external world that causes inner conflict and anxiety. Peace comes through detachment and renunciation. It [referring to peace] is not an emotion but the suspension of emotions. We can feel this temporary absence of emotion, and the peace associated with it, during an aesthetic experience. Aristotle said that the fine arts act as a catharsis. What is left after the outpouring of an emotion? An inner feeling of peace and harmony, at least until another emotion arises.
The path to eternal peace is not an easy one. It requires self-sacrifice and self-control. To quote Thomas a Kempis, “All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.” In order to achieve inner peace, we must restructure the way we now think and feel. Peace, to be a part of our character, must be continually practiced. For, as Swami Vivekananda said, “Character is repeated habits.” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said the Bible. But the peace must be a victory that defeats none. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “With malice towards none, with charity for all.”
The fundamental nature of man, says Vedanta, has two important characteristics: freedom and equality. These two aspects have found expression in man’s urge for freedom and equality in the social realm as well. Each of the two main ideals of social and political systems of the world, democracy and socialism, emphasizes one of these fundamental urges of mankind.
There are two classes of people working for peace. One strives to uplifthumanity by eliminating tension, rivalry, and confrontation which culminate in skirmishes and war. They advocate peace as a necessity, especially in these times of nuclear development. The other class just lives peace by putting into practice the principles of peace. They are the deeply spiritual souls who have become identified with peace in their attitude and conduct. They exude peace. We honour the people who labour for peace because of its urgent need in this world of strife and tension, but we love the souls who live peace. That is why saints are so much loved and venerated.
Modern science now accepts the theory that the essence of all matter is energy, a theory which unifies the physical world. Long before the birth of Einstein, this unity was declared by the sages of the Upanishads who realized this through inspiration, or intuition. Their philosophy, Vedanta, teaches that the essence of all existence is the eternal, changeless Brahman—Existence, Knowledge, Bliss absolute. In the Chandogya Upanishad we read, “All this is verily Brahman.” That is, not merely mankind, but all creation is the manifestation of the same Reality.
Everlasting peace can be found only by becoming one with the infinite, blissful Brahman. In order to experience this unity we must transcend all differences and limitations. “Here, on earth,” said Swami Vivekananda, “we strive to enclose little spaces and exclude outsiders. . . . our aim should be to wipe out these little enclosures, to widen the boundaries until they are lost sight of.”
Beauty, philosophy, and science, when taken to their highest point, break the boundaries that separate us and lead the way to unity. The greatest value of artistic, intellectual, and spiritual culture is that it inspires us to expand beyond ourselves. Leo Tolstoy said: “Human life … is always striving for divine perfection that it is able to attain only in infinity. . . . Only the aspiration towards this perfection is enough to take the directions of man’s life away from the animal condition … towards the divine condition.”
Our awareness should expand from consideration of the self to those of the family, to community, to country, to mankind, and ultimately to all of existence. Such expansion leads to greater appreciation of the diversity in the world. We cannot appreciate this diversity if we are self-centered and assume that our way is the best and only way. When we realize our unity with all existence, we realize that diversity is merely a change in appearance. Swami Vivekananda said, “Nature is unity in variety—an infinite variation in the phenomenal—as in and through all these variations of the phenomenal runs the Infinite, the Unchangeable, the Absolute Unity.”
All the differences that cause discord have their origin in our perceptions of name and form, perceptions we have superimposed upon the essential unity of the universe. We have separated ourselves so much from the unity which pervades this world that we have become enemies of nature. This situation has reached crisis proportions. While civilization evolved from man’s attempt to control nature, he became isolated from it. He has forgotten that he is one with nature. Ecological considerations get the fullest support from this idea of the unity of existence. Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “When we become merely man, but not man-in-the-universe, we create bewildering problems. . . . But this cannot go on forever. Man must realize the wholeness of his existence, his place in the infinite.” Thus we see that in unity alone is lasting peace.
Swami Vivekananda said, “This idea of oneness is the great lesson India has to give and mark you, when this is understood, it changes the whole aspect of things, because you look at the world through other eyes than you have been doing before. And this world is no more a battlefield where each soul is born to struggle with every other soul and the strongest gets the victory and the weakest goes to death. It becomes a playground where the Lord is playing like a child, and we are His playmates, His fellow-workers.”
In this exalted state, eternal peace is ours.
Our efforts to attain peace should be approached on different fronts. Social and political measures will directly facilitate efforts for peace. Cultural and religious movements and institutions will create the climate for peace. In all types of groups—regional, national, and international— stress will have to be given to harmony and not to difference.
An awareness of different cultures and religions will have to be made with an effort to find the unity behind all. Spiritual and cultural communities will thus lessen tension and bring about understanding and peace. Higher virtues conducive to individual and collective peace will have to be practiced. Altruism and selfless service will have to be encouraged.
May strength and conviction grow in us as we proceed with our own personal struggle for peace, and may they also unite our efforts towards world peace.
Shantih Shantih Shantih