The Meaning of Peace in the Bhagavad Gita
The superb Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, is an amazing guide and in my view the ultimate “user's manual” for the human adventure. This ancient text is a dialogue between two mighty heroes: Krishna and Arjuna. Krishna represents the God within us all who is always waiting patiently to guide us - if we can listen. Arjuna is the greatest warrior of the time and Krishna is his charioteer in the battle of life. He will steer Arjuna through, if Arjuna hears and understands.
The entire dialogue takes place the middle of a battlefield where Krishna and his best friend Arjuna are getting ready to fight a monumental battle between the two opposing sides of the same family. Arjuna has lost his courage and cannot accept the thought that he must kill members of his own family and friends in this terrible bloody war. He has thrown down his weapons and is sitting depressed and dejected in the bottom of his chariot.
The Sanskrit word Shanti means peace, but what is Krishna saying in the Bhagavad Gita when he uses this word Shanti? Are there not many wars going on within us all, wars raging in our own hearts and minds? These inner wars cloud our thoughts, consume our energies and make us stupid.
Krishna tells his good friend Arjuna that no man can know happiness without peace (II.66). In fact the sequence of our compulsions is quite predictable. We start thinking about a particular thing and from those thoughts, we want it. If our desire for the thing is frustrated, we become angry. Once we are angry, our ability to reason and think clearly is skewed.
From this anger rises delusion. We tell ourselves all kinds of absurd things. We deserve that thing and we will do anything to get it, no matter what the consequences, no matter what our actions might do to our soul. We forget that perhaps the thing is not ours to have, or that we don’t deserve it; or that it may not be the right time for us to have such a thing, it might bring us harm.
Thus from anger arises delusion, and from delusion loss of memory - what we call denial - and from loss of memory we begin to lose conscious awareness of and contact with our own spirit. Krishna calls this the ‘death of the spirit’ which leads to real death.
Uncontrolled desire leads to death. Krishna points out the wiser way. Instead of allowing our desires to devour our peace of mind, the man of wisdom develops an evenness, a subtle intelligent detachment and disinterest in the objects of the senses. These objects are thrown at us 24/7 on our television screens. We are told we can only be happy when we have this car, or that cell phone and the latest techno-gadgets. We must be thin and young, we must endlessly consume products that will make us happy winners.
By the time we are in our 30’s most of us know that none of these things have made us happy. In fact we tire of them very quickly and must have more, more, more. Ah, the next thing we desire will finally bring us that elusive happiness we have been chasing. But it never happens.
Lasting happiness is not to be found in the external world. Temporal experiences of joy and suffering are in abundance, but real lasting peace and understanding are only found within. When Time makes us wise and weary of being fools, we turn within and begin to question everything.
We begin to understand how our unruly desires have run us, controlled us, made us act compulsively, and left us even emptier than before. We begin to observe this process. We see how our five senses have drawn us into this delusion and we consider the idea of practicing an enlightened control.
The continued practice of observing the reactions of the senses and controlling our own thoughts in the mind will inevitably lead us to inner peace. This is ‘the peace that surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) and this Peace is our Home, the Source of our Real Self and the entire universe.
This is the Shanti that Krishna speaks of in the Bhagavad Gita. For as Krishna says, the mind that allows the senses to carry off his or her capacity for insight - literally looking within - is as helpless as a ship caught in a storm at sea.
Krishna teaches Arjuna how to act wisely and gives him the knowledge he needs to understand his place in the universe. Krishna tells Arjuna that whoever has purified his mind in the fires of Knowledge and mastered his senses will obtain this Peace (IV.39).
The five senses make their contact with the external world and its objects, and send their information-impulses to our brain, allowing us to experience the polarities of pleasure and pain, sukha-duhkha in Sanskrit. These experiences are impermanent and are to be endured, for what is temporal has no ‘real’ existence and is unreal (Asat) in the sense that it is fluctuation and change (Bhagavad Gita II.14-16). While the real (Sat) always exists, as the 14th century Sufi poet Mahmud Shabistari says, ‘beneath the curtain of each atom.’
It is not that the external world has no value as some believe. However, its state of constant change makes it the unreal (Asat) in the sense that it is impermanent. The external reality is very real to the five senses, but there is so much more to our world than what we can see, hear, touch, etc. Everywhere there is the imperishable (akshara) that permeates, supports and sustains the temporal illusory hologram.
Without Knowledge of this eternal, immutable, imperishable Real - we are lost, floating on a sea of delusion and ignorance that tosses us around at whim and fools us into thinking that possessions and pleasure can give us meaning.
Krishna teaches his friend that this universe is pervaded by that which is indestructible and Arjuna has no power to kill that. The body may die, but the soul (Atma) never dies. It simply transmigrates to a new body, just as we get new clothes when our old ones are worn out. (II.17-22)
When our body is worn out we move into new forms that resonate with our thoughts, new data-collecting vehicles to expand our expression of the God within us all. The realization that you never die changes your entire attitude towards living and you have the opportunity to become less attached to the perils, failures, and successes of your current identity self.
There comes a time when in wisdom you will not care if you have been immortalized by the media. Your search for meaning will not be based on the approval or disapproval of others. You will care more about doing what is right, taking action with the greatest integrity and knowledge you have available to you in that moment, and that knowledge will always be changing as you continually reevaluate its worth.
You will ask yourself, not so much, what did I accomplish - but rather what consciousness was I in when I acted. When that time comes you will have Wisdom, you will have imperishable Peace.
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