Realizing the Infinite Peace
He who holds Shanti (peace) in his heart, dwells in a sea of bliss.
The state of eternal peace, the higher transcendental Truth, space-like am I.
The infinite peace is with us right now, ever present, yet apparently hidden. Verses like those above, when held in the mind, revive our remembrance of our true nature. This positive, conscious use of our memory is a key practice of the higher Yoga. It brings relief from stress, and also points to something deeper and fulfilling, reminding us of our potentiality for complete inner freedom. The highest possibilities are open to all of us: we can learn to lighten our psychological burdens, and we can also learn how to throw them off completely.
A man was once struggling along an uphill road with a heavy rucksack on his back. A kindly man driving a horse carriage overtook him and said: ‘Climb in!’ The stranger got in and sat down. But after a few yards the driver said: ‘You are sitting, it is true. But you are still holding that burden on your back. Do put it down and get some real relief.’ ‘O no, I couldn’t possibly do that. It is kind enough for you to give me a ride without putting my load on the seat.’ In the same way, we can opt for a limited peace and relief, or we can make use of the practical means prescribed by the knowers of Truth which light the way to permanent freedom through self-realization. It is natural at first to feel that the deep peace we yearn for is something we do not possess. There is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins expressing the aspiration of a nun who has just entered her new life.
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
The ideal seems far away. Yet it is also very near. For peace is the true nature of the one who seeks for peace. True are the words that Pascal puts into the mouth of the Highest: ‘You would not be seeking me if you had not already found me.’ Our seeking is a sign from our own heart that our true element is peace. After many experiments, we find that the way of our salvation is to turn within and seek the peace in that which underlies our own personality.
We are reminded of the story of the man who lived in Baghdad and dreamed of a hidden treasure in Cairo. He journeyed to Cairo, received some hard treatment, and was told by his assailant that, strangely enough, he had experienced a similar dream about a treasure stored in a certain garden attached to a particular house in Baghdad—and he indicated the stranger’s own residence. The moral is that we often have to go through much outward searching in the world before we are ready to accept that the treasure we seek is implanted deep in our own heart and needs to be uncovered within us and nowhere else.
During our extrovertive adventures the infinite peace is very far from us, so it seems. When we come back to our own being, and dig deeper, we find that it is very near, for it is the true nature of the Self. ‘The state of eternal peace, the higher transcendental Truth, space-like am I.’ Deeper than the life of the senses, subtler than the mind, transcending the intellect, is what the Katha Upanishad calls the Self of peace. This is the innermost ground of our being and it is pure consciousness—our true identity at the deepest level.
Can there be peace while there are thoughts? Yes, our mind can be made relatively peaceful, but the supreme peace—‘the peace that passeth understanding’—is different from the experience we have in the realm of thought. It is experience that transcends the mind—a peace lit with an illumined understanding and which has no limit. Our efforts to make our mind relatively peaceful are a preparation for the realization of the supreme peace—Shanti.
In order to cultivate a serene mentality, we need to colonise our mind with peace-giving thoughts and associations. These are called, in the yogic terminology, Sattvic thoughts, thoughts of harmony, clarity, unity, peace, goodwill and tranquil happiness. This treasury of mental tendencies will make our path in life smoother and lead our thinking into harmony with the infinite. So we need to nurture in ourselves peace-giving sentiments. These alone will expand our consciousness and put our mind in tune with our true being.
Such thoughts of peace, unity, spiritual reality and higher self-knowledge, find expression in the sayings of the masters—Christ, Buddha, Krishna, and the enlightened sages and mystics. We make these thoughts our own by affirming and savouring them. They have the dynamism to open a way to the spiritual region within us. And when this way is opened, the light and wisdom of our higher Self will shine through, not as a stream of transient thoughts but as a new mental atmosphere based on something constant and real that is always there —the divine essence of our being.
What about the mind as a whole and its role in this development? Our practical experience suggests that we are the body and the mind, and that we have to live out our lives identified with these limited and perishable instruments. But our innermost Self is neither material nor mental. It is transcendent. Through meditation and the deeper enquiry into ‘What am I?’, aided by the revealed teachings found, for example, in the Upanishads, we will realize our true Self as immortal and infinite.
From this standpoint, our mind occupies an intermediate position between the body, on the outside, and the ultimate interiority of the Self. Like a mirror, our mind receives the images that come before it through the channels of the senses. This is its functioning in the realm of matter. But the mind also has a higher faculty. Like a magic mirror, the stilled and refined mind can receive experience from the inner realm of the Self, and that experience is pure, peaceful and illumined.
In ancient China, they knew how to create ‘magic’ mirrors. The outward-facing, reflecting surface was made of highly polished bronze. But on the back of the mirror there was an elaborate carving, of calligraphy, or a mountain landscape, or perhaps a dragon. And the optical effect was that when bright sunlight hit the mirror, the image concealed from behind the mirror would show enlarged on a wall in front of the mirror.
There was, in fact, a highly skilled technique for achieving this ‘magical’ effect which involved microscopic etching and scraping of the surface of the mirror in order to imitate the picture on the back. In a similar way, through carefully treating our mind, through etching on it, so to say, the pattern passed down to us by the knowers of truth, our mind will become like a magic mirror—not just working as a centre of response to outer material things, but as a centre of higher experience receiving light, peace and wisdom from the realm of infinite peace that lies behind the mind. The sage Lao Tzu has said: ‘Can you polish your mysterious mirror and leave no blemish?’ He is referring to the mind and its capacity, when ‘polished’, i.e. purified, to mirror the perfection and infinity of the Self. This truth, or insight, is expressed in the following meditation:
TAKE UP THE MIRROR OF YOUR STILLED HEART AND LOOK AT THE REFLECTION OF INFINITY IN IT.
THIS IS WISDOM. THIS IS PEACE.
As well as our mind having this hidden capacity to reflect the higher peace and light, the ego, too, that is, our natural feeling of ‘I’, or ‘I am’, has a spiritual dimension which is not normally recognized or under-stood. Behind our little ego is the infinite ‘I’ of Truth, or God, the ‘I’ that is one-without-a-second and which makes us all one in reality. When we are self-assertive in the small sense, we close our mind to the higher influence, but when we subdue our little ego and affirm our deeper Self, as we do in meditation, we create an opening in our ego which reveals the true light behind it. Therefore the ego has been called the seal on the treasury of bliss hidden within us. Why not break the seal, says a poet, and enjoy the divine wealth?
Let us take an example. If we want to thread a needle and we pick up a pin by mistake, there will be a problem. The unevolved ego is a bit like the pin. However delicately we try, the pin does not allow itself to be threaded. But the attenuated ego of someone who is drawn to the teachings on self-transcendence, is an aid to illumination. Like the needle, it has, as it were, an opening, and this opening points inwards to the region of the supreme Self. In other words, our ‘I’ has concealed within itself a great potential. This potential opening in our ‘I’ is what we appeal to in our meditations that focus on the ‘I’. Such a text is:
I AM INDESTRUCTIBLE. I AM IN PROFOUND PEACE.
I HAVE NO BOUNDS. I AM PURE. I HAVE EXISTED FROM PRIMORDIAL TIME.
These I-affirming texts are means of attuning our sense of identity to the pure consciousness that underlies the ego. Through this concentration, we can access the inner treasury and expand our consciousness beyond the little world of our individuality. In other words, we are preparing ourselves to pass the thread of our concentrated attention through the attenuated ego, and transcend its limits.
The peace we are referring to is never far from us. In our true being, we are that infinite peace. This state of restlessness of the mind and the belief that our self is this separate individual, is a false position. It is not the final truth of what we are. We are more than this person. We are one with the whole.
Inner peace brings spiritual knowledge, and this knowledge dissolves the limitations of the human understanding. That light of higher knowledge reveals that our state of bondage and our striving for release are comparable to an adventure in a dream, from which we have now awakened. Here are some lines of Swami Rama Tirtha:
What a strange affair the dream was.
I was searching for Rama (God) in the forests,
And found that I myself was Rama.
The dream home that I was searching for
Was my own shadow.
O Rama, now I am the home of all homes,
Having found my true home.
Self-realization is the only way to perfect peace. Body and mind are mortal and subject to the changes in time. But we shall know that our essential being is immortal and that it is our true Self. Our higher destiny is to realize that this consciousness is the reality, and that the transient happenings in life never taint or touch the eternal Self, which is pure, perfect, infinite, ever illumined, ever present—the only Reality.