Shanti Om: Living and Acting in Peace – Part 1: Is Peace Passive?

BY Parvati

Is Peace Passive?
We live in an agitated, high-speed world. Every day as we move through our lives, we are flooded with images that potentially stir our minds and affect how we think and feel. When in human history has there been such demand for us to ingest and process such a breadth and depth of information so quickly?
It is no wonder that I received grateful feedback as well as more questions and concerns than usual about my blog posted last Sunday entitled “Time for Peace”. The text was a way for me to express some of my feelings in response to the immense agitation that exists on our planet at this time. (Of note, 62 out of the 196 countries in the world are today involved in wars.)
Here is a summary of the questions I received:

  • How do you define peace?
  • Is being peaceful being passive?
  • Is peace about personal power?
  • What does it mean to be a spiritual aspirant?
  • How can one be an activist and on a spiritual path?
  • When is it appropriate to speak up, stand up and act about injustice in the world?
  • Where is the line between taking sides and standing up to shine light on a problem?

Great questions! And thank you!
As we work on the animation and postproduction for my upcoming music video for my single “Shanti Om”, I am continually reminded that the Sanskrit word for Peace is “Shanti”, while “Om” is the vibration of the universe. (We have two more positions available to work on this stellar music video: one for a 2D animator and another for a 3D animator. If you know anyone who may be interested, please let me know! It is an amazing opportunity for someone.)
To live in peace is to live free from any fear of violence, conflict, hostility, tension and aggression. In the presence of peace, there is no sense of againstness. When we live in peace, we live in Shanti Om, in unity, wholeness, rooted in our interconnection with all. We understand that we are one with the essential fabric of the universe. Againstness is understood as a self-imposed illusion, a reflection of our ego which only knows to separate and divide. In Shanti Om, there is reverence for all living things, for all of life, of which we are an integral part.
A sincere spiritual aspirant or sadhak is devoted to realizing this essential unity. He or she sees this moment as an opportunity to disarm the ego’s tendency to feel either greater than or less than something or someone in order to feed his or her attachment to separateness. All of life becomes an alchemical crucible through which compassionate non-attachment turns our base metals of ignorance into the gold of permanent oneness.
One person wrote to me and said about peaceful living: “Yes, keeping peace is part of it. But also research and questioning and investigating is another part of it too.”
It took me a moment to understand this point of view. The idea of ‘keeping’ peace is unusual if you see peace as our true nature. In a way, we don’t need to learn to keep peace. We need to learn to let go of the illusions that engage our egos so we feel entitled to act in againstness, which is the source of all tension, conflict and violence.
Inquiry along the spiritual path is essential. Discernment and discrimination are part of finding greater clarity and living in peace. The Dalai Lama encourages his students to not take his words blindly, but try his teachings out for themselves. Amma remarks, “It is said that if you give a swan a mixture of milk and water, it can extract just the milk from it. View everything with a broad mind. Take only what is good. Lead your life with an awareness of what is transient and what is eternal.”
As spiritual seekers, we need to learn how to inquire. Questions that arise through againstness perpetuate againstness. To find the openness and compassion that is so essential in peaceful living, inquiry must arise from a non-attached place of inner stillness.
As we open to this moment, we learn to see it as it is. This non-resistance disarms our ego’s tendency to distort what is into temporal illusions that feed its sense of self-importance. When we become fixated on reality appearing one way, ‘we are right’ and ‘they are wrong’, we have become attached to a passing perception. The ego or “ahamkara” in Sanskrit (which literally translates as the “I” maker) is hungry. Just as our minds tend to be busy, our ego is constantly seeking a way to sustain itself.
Many may confuse peacefulness with passiveness, feeling that a peaceful life means being a pushover. As someone wrote to me, questioning the value of living in peace, said: “We can do more by focusing on our power and take inspired action.” Some may think that living in peace means feeling more personally empowered by having a stronger sense of ourself and a more powerful self-esteem. But I don’t feel either perspective sees peace in its true beauty.
Living in peace is not about being passive. A commitment to peace is about moving beyond the sense of againstness, because any divisiveness, such as the idea that I have power over you, perpetuates conflict in the world. This is not just about letting go of thinking ourself more powerful than another, such as one would see in bullying. It means learning to see the police officer who gives us a speeding ticket not as an imposition but as a blessing. It means not perceiving the barista at Starbucks who is taking what feels like ‘forever’ as a nuisance, but as our teacher. It means that everything that happens is grace in some form – is in support of us, our growth, our evolution – even if we don’t like it. All provides an opportunity for our consciousness to expand so that we may learn to live from a place of peacefulness, and act from a place of compassion.
Living in peace is not about personal power and self-esteem either. For the sincere spiritual seeker, one who is inspired by the dissolution of the sense of “me” and the return to oneness, there is no “self” to empower. Amma says that when we are aware of our oneness, just as our right hand immediately extends to our left should we feel pain there, so too we extend our love to the world when we see suffering. We are one.