According to Spinoza, "Peace is not an absence of war. It is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, trust, and justice." Arms limitation treaties are a necessary first step; but even if all weapons were to disappear from the earth, Spinoza might tell us today, that would not guarantee peace. We must actively cultivate peace as a virtue, trying to make it a permanent state of mind.
Good people around the globe today are concerned about taking the external steps necessary to promote peace; but if we want a lasting solution we must search deeper, into this largely ignored dimension within ourselves.
There is a mental connection, the mystics assure us, between the peace or violence in our minds and the conditions that exist outside. When our mind is hostile, it sees hostility everywhere, and we act on what we see. If we could somehow attach a monitor to the mind, we would see the indicator swing into a red danger zone whenever consciousness is agitated by forces like anger and self-will. Acting in anger is not just the result of an agitated mind; it is also a cause, provoking retaliation from others and further agitation in our own mind. If negative behavior becomes habitual, we find ourselves chronically in a negative frame of mind and continually entangled in pointless conflicts — just the opposite of peaceful and pacifying.
Peace In Mind
"A disposition for benevolence." What a remarkable psychologist is this Spinoza! Millions of people get angry every day over trifles; when this goes on and on, the mind develops a disposition for anger. It doesn't really need a reason to lose its temper; anger is its chronic state. But we should never look on angry people as inherently angry. They are simply people whose minds have been conditioned to get angry, usually because they cannot get their own way. Instead of benevolence, they have developed a habit of hostility. For peace, Spinoza tells us, we need only turn that habit around.
In order to do effective peace work, to reconcile individuals, communities, or countries, we have to have peace in our mind. If we pursue peace with anger and animosity, nothing can be stirred up but conflict. In the end, the tide of violence we see rising day by day can be traced not to missiles or tanks but to what builds and uses those missiles and tanks: the minds of individual men and women. There is where the battle for peace has to be won. As the UNESCO constitution puts it, "Since war is born in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that we have to erect the ramparts of peace. "
How can peace ever emerge from actions prompted by suspicion, anger, and fear? By their very nature, such actions provoke retaliation in kind. If Mahatma Gandhi were here to look behind the scenes at our international summit meetings and accords, he would say compassionately, "Yes, these are a good beginning, but you need to follow them up. You're sitting at a peace table, but there is no peace in your hearts."
Working for Peace -- Inside and Out
I knew hundreds of students in India during Gandhi's long struggle for independence from the British Empire. I met hundreds more in Berkeley during the turbulent sixties, when students all over the country were honestly trying to work for peace. I watched their relationships with one another, especially with those who differed with them, and I saw that these relationships often were not harmonious. If your mind is not trained to make peace at home, Gandhi would ask, how can you hope to promote peace on a larger scale? Until we develop enough mastery over our thinking process to maintain a peaceful attitude in all circumstances — a "disposition for benevolence" — we are likely to vacillate when the going gets tough, without even realizing what has happened.
I used to remind my friends that agitating for peace and actually bringing it about are not necessarily the same. Stirring up passions, provoking animosity, and polarizing opposition may sometimes produce short-term gains, but it cannot produce long-term beneficial results because it only clouds minds on both sides. Progress comes only from opening others' eyes and hearts, and that can happen only when people's minds are calmed and their fears allayed. It is not enough if your political will is peaceful; your entire will should be peaceful. It is not enough if one part of your personality says "No more war"; the whole of your personality should be nonviolent.
Ruysbroeck expresses a central tenet of spiritual psychology: "We behold that which we are, and we are that which we behold." If we have an angry mind, we will see life as full of anger; if we have a suspicious mind, we will see causes for suspicion all around: precisely because we and the world are not separate.
When suspicion lurks in our hearts, we can never quite trust others. Most of us go about like medieval knights, carrying a shield wherever we go in case we have to ward off a blow. After a day of carrying a shield around at the office, who wouldn't be exhausted? And of course, with a big piece of iron on one arm, we find it hard to embrace a friend or offer a hand in help. What began as a defense mechanism becomes a permanent, crippling appendage.
Statesmen are no different: they, too, are human beings, albeit with a most important job. When they go to the conference table, they too carry their shields. Worse, their suspicions may prompt them to carry a sword in the other hand, or to sit down with a clenched fist — which, as Indira Gandhi once said, makes it impossible to shake hands.
It's A Different World
When we change our way of seeing, we begin to live in a different world. If we approach others with respect and trust, with a great deal of patience and internal toughness, we will slowly begin to find ourselves in a compassionate universe where change for the better is always possible, because of the core of goodness we see in the hearts of others. That is how I see the world today. It is not that I fail to see suffering and sorrow. But I understand the laws of life and see its unity everywhere, so I feel at home wherever I go.
Those who know the laws of the mind live in peace and security even in the midst of storms. They choose not to hate because they know that hatred only breeds hatred, and they work for peace because they know that preparation for war can only lead to war. When people wonder if programs like "Star Wars" will work, I reply, "That is the last question we should ask. The first question is, Can wrong means ever lead to right ends?" Can we ever prepare for war and get peace?
"One day," said Martin Luther King, Jr., "we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant good but a means by which we arrive at that good. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means."
It is a living law, a law governing all of life, that ends and means are indivisible. Right means cannot help but lead to right ends; and wrong means — waging war, for example, to ensure peace — cannot help but result in wrong ends. Gandhi went to the extent of telling us to use right means and not worry about the outcome at all; the very laws of our existence will ensure that the outcome of our efforts will be beneficial in the long run. The only question we have to ask ourselves is, Am I giving everything I can to bring about peace — at home, on the streets, in this country, around the world? If enough of us start acting on this question, peace is very near.
Instead of blaming our problems on some intrinsic flaw in human nature, we must squarely take responsibility for our actions as human beings capable of rational thought. But this view has a heartening side: if it is we who got ourselves into this habit of suspicion, we have the capacity to get ourselves out, too.
Trusting Is Peaceful
Simply to understand this is a great step in the right direction, where we do not sit back and bemoan our irrational "animal" behavior, but accept that our nuclear-threatened world is an expression of our way of thinking and feeling. The terrible dilemma which we face is the ultimate result of our mode of life, our motivation, the kind of relationships we have cultivated with other countries, our whole philosophy of life.
Here again is Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I refuse to accept the idea that the "illness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the "oughtness" that forever confronts him...I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
In this presumably sophisticated world, it is considered naive to be trusting. In that case I am proud to say that I must be one of the most naive people on earth. If someone has let me down a dozen times, I will still trust that person for the thirteenth time. Trust is a measure of your depth of faith in the nobility of human nature, of your depth of love for all. If you expect the worst from someone, the worst is what you will usually get. Expect the best and people will respond: sometimes swiftly, sometimes not so swiftly, but there is no other way.
©1993. Published by Nilgiri Press.
Reprinted with permission.
Original Goodness: Eknath Easwaran on the Beatitudes
by Sri Eknath Easwaran.
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About The Author
Sri Eknath Easwaran was a professor of English literature in India. In 1961, he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Northern California where workshops and public events are held throughout the year. He lived from 1910-1999. Visit his website at www.easwaran.org.
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