By Karnamrita Das
Studying the meaning of words (semantics) whether in Sanskrit, English, or our native language and their deeper implications in our lives is a useful endeavor in our introspection and personal growth, which I see as part of the work of “anartha-nivritti,” or retiring our unwanted, spiritually unhelpful mental and physical habits. Become free from these anarthas is an interim goal, not the end, but it is meant to lead to “artha pravritti,” or the ultimate goal of loving service to Radha and Krishna—but this is a side point to today’s discussion.
Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the USA the hippies used the moto, peace and love, to express emotionally one of their ideals. While we may laugh at this simple expression, upon a closer and deeper exploration of the word meaning through our Gaudiya Vaishnava lens, we can find a useful application to our spiritual lives—after all the material world is considered an imperfect, distorted reflection of the spiritual world. There are also many universal truths in the world which can be perfected only by connecting them to a Godly world view in our eternal lives in perfection.
Many people in the world are anxious for world peace or their own inner peace. The Gita teaches us that without peace there can be no happiness. In the Bhaktivedanta Vedabase, there are forty-four hundred references to peace. Our occupation and relationships (varna and ashram) are meant to bring us a peaceful, undisturbed mind—but not for its own sake, but so we can better focus on our spiritual practices and the goal of prema, pure devotion.
If the population of the world is peaceful, that will have a great impact on world peace. Never the less, while peace is very important for all of us, no one can be satisfied just being peaceful, as there must be some positive activity in life. In a number of spiritual paths the goal is peace, or freedom from suffering from materialism and the tyranny of the mind. From the bhakti perspective this is not the end, but the beginning of spiritual life. If the exploitive, reactionary world of karma is negative numbers, then peace is zero, or inaction, which only has value in relationship to something else.
Let’s look at the dictionary meaning. It is a noun, or a state of mind, and not an action. It means freedom from disturbance, and thus quiet and tranquility, or freedom or cessation from war. If you’re disturbed and upset after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, and then some weeks later it turned out to be a mistake, you would feel relieved and peaceful—but you wouldn’t live the rest of your life just telling everyone that you were free from cancer. No. You would again be involved in your life activities.
We feel peaceful in sleep, but hopefully we don’t only rest, we have positive actions. Thus peace is a requirement for life in both a material and spiritual sense, but never an end. In the non-violent activist world, peace isn’t merely an idle state or the opposite to war. One must “work for peace” to have a peaceful world, and in that sense it is a way of life, both a goal and a path.
The idea of love is similar. Love is both a state of consciousness (noun) and a motivator for action (verb), as in the expression that “love is, as love does.” If we love someone we don’t merely lie down and “bliss out,” but we show our love and affectionate by practical actions and words.
We may feel disturbed and unfulfilled without a loving relationship, and so with great endeavor we may finally find “soulmate” or the love of our life, but again, that isn’t an end, but a whole new beginning of a loving relationship and all that goes with it. While we are peaceful to have found love, when we love, then we are on a new wild ride. This is true in this world, and in our relationship with Krishna, and those dear to him, as our guru and the Vaishnavas.
We are endeavoring to love Krishna, not for eternal rest, but for an eternal loving relationship and the active life of devotion. So yes, we all require peace and love, yet for true joy and fulfillment we must take them to their highest application in our bhakti-life of the soul.