Sunday, September 14, 2008


What is peace? “The opposite of war,” I think reflexively, recalling Tolstoy’s title.

While sitting here to muse upon this suggested topic, I occupy myself with exterminating squadron after squadron of tiny black gnats who’ve been drawn to the 25-watt bulb over my lap pad. (I write in the wee hours.)

In ten minutes I’ve smooshed scores of them as they’ve landed to scurry around on my pad, my arm and the chair arm beside me. I seem to have repelled the main invasion, though stragglers still descend as I write, only to be rubbed out and brushed away. At last (my private holocaust concluded) peace returns, and I can continue thinking. Where was I?

Oh, yes—oh, wait—there’s another bugger to squash. OK, done. Now about peace. First of all, I think of myself as a naturally pacific fellow, not prone to take offense, mild mannered and cheerful, open to all sorts of people, accepting, trusting, and amiable.

I think of Gandhi’s much-quoted admonition: “There is no way to peace; peace is the way,” which I take to mean that peacefulness, a peaceable heart and unperturbed temperament within each of us is the prerequisite for our living in a peaceable society, a peaceable world.

What, then, is that inner peace Gandhi advocates? How do we achieve it and sustain it? And what challenges such calmness, serenity and tranquility?

What doesn’t? Gnats, for instance, or anything else annoying, distressing, irritating, antagonizing, or simply disturbing to our peace. Irritants are everywhere, and they urge us to react to rid them from our consciousness.

What is peace? Something rare. Something fragile. Something tenuous and easily extinguished, like the life of a bug.

How then (if it ever is possible) can I or anyone attain and sustain peace by becoming impervious to irritation and to defensive reactivity? How can one become like the yogi who lies on a bed of nails or walks across glowing coals—intrepid and tranquil? How do we absorb “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” (in Hamlet’s lofty phrase) without irritation and retaliation?

I doubt we can. Jesus and Gandhi, maybe, but not me and probably not you. Though you may prove me wrong. Then I’ll be eager to learn how you’ve gained the temperance to respond to potential stressors with only loving patience and kindly wisdom that means harm to none and finds ways to resolve all conflicts and antagonisms innocently.

Only then might we experience what amounts to the Miracle of Peace.

* * *


“There is no way to peace; peace is the way,”
Wise Gandhi said, by which I think he meant
We have to be that which we seek, and play
The role we would become with clear intent.

For as I think and act so shall I be,
And so the world around me shall become:
If violently, then war shall vanquish me;
If lovingly, then peace shall still the drum.

It’s in our hands and hearts and minds to choose
The manner we live by, day after day:
Shall it be marching boots or dancing shoes,
Aggression or compassion? Pick the way,

Not where to go, but who and how to be:
To live in anger—or serenity.



Humanity’s resort to violence
To settle ego’s conflicts makes no sense,
For everything we claim to be humane
Bids us to be compassionate and sane:

To love our neighbors as we love ourselves
And stash our grievances on basement shelves
Once we’ve resolved our conflicts peacefully
With justice, honor, truth and equity.

That’s our ideal, proclaimed by saints and sages
In wisdom texts and scriptures through the ages,
And yet in all this time we’ve still not learned
The arts of peace for which we’ve deeply yearned.

Only a peaceful Spirit saves the day:
“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”