“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70)
“I pray for world peace.” This is the stock answer put forth by beauty pageant contestants when asked what they hope for most in this world. This answer wasn’t thought up by one person and then force fed to every other contestant. The hope for world peace became the most popular answer because it resonated with the most people. After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a world free of miseries, conflicts, and anxieties? While peace is certainly an ideal situation, what does it really involve? How can we tell a peaceful condition from a non-peaceful one?
One of the common mistakes made by those who are looking for peace is that they are looking for an absence of struggle and conflict. Why is this a mistake? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this world will always be full of conflicts due to the different desires of the living entities. When a spirit soul is wrapped in a body composed of the five gross elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, along with the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego, the resulting living entity attains a distinct nature. This nature, which is sometimes referred to as a personality or demeanor, then results in the taking up of various activities. The catch lies in the fact that not everyone’s nature will match up. Just as there are no two snowflakes that are alike, there are no two living entities with the same desires and penchants for the same type of work.
“The different manifestations of body and senses among the living entities are due to material nature. There are 8,400,000 different species of life, and these varieties are the creation of the material nature. They arise from the different sensual pleasures of the living entity, who thus desires to live in this body or that.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.21 Purport)
The material qualities are referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. There are primarily three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance, but since the elements belonging to these modes can be combined in so many different proportions, we get so many distinct body types. The Vedas top the count off at 8,400,000 different varieties of combinations, with each combination matching up to a specific species. It is for this reason that we see some living entities assuming the bodies of trees, some in the form of ants, while others taking shape as human beings. These differences are due to gunas, or material qualities. By the same token, with each specific life form, or combination of gunas, there is a specific penchant for work. Not only are there desires to perform specific work, but there are also prescribed duties for each body type. Amongst the human beings, the division of prescribed duties is known as varnashrama-dharma. The duties prescribed to the different divisions, or varnas, enable a person within each division to make spiritual advancement in life.
“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)
Since each living entity wants to perform different work, there will be collisions along the way. Often times, desires for sense gratification can lead to lust, which then leads to anger, which then leads to delusion. Delusion ultimately can lead to the loss of intelligence, and when this happens, the human being is no different than the animal; hence conflicts are sure to arise. Due to the nature of guna and karma, this world will always be in a non-peaceful state, meaning there will always be conflict. Therefore, those who are looking for world peace or peace of mind simply through the negation of conflict will never succeed in their quest. Real peace comes from within, from being able to respond to stressful situations.
This fact can be illustrated in so many ways, but for this discussion we’ll focus on the area of driving. While driving provides a level of autonomy and self-sufficiency, there are some drawbacks. Driving has advantages over public transportation in that there are no departure times, security check-in lines, or delays due to transportation hubs closing. Driving also allows a person to carry whatever they want without having to worry about keeping an eye on their possessions at all times. At the same time, driving does have some unpleasant aspects to it, with the primary nuisance being traffic. Driving is certainly nice when there is a minimal number of cars on the road, but once there is traffic, the stress really starts to mount. Traffic is a condition caused by a large amount of cars in a small area at one time. When there is heavy traffic, cars start to move more slowly since they have to worry about maneuvering around slower vehicles.
How do people deal with traffic and the stresses of driving? Let’s take a typical highway in America as an example. Regardless of the situation, traffic or no traffic, a driver is looking for peace, a way to drive without being consciously aware of the road, on autopilot so to speak. A typical highway has three lanes, so the tendency is to choose one lane which will provide the least stress, the path of least resistance. Stress comes about through having to speed up, slow down, change lanes, etc. A peaceful driving situation is one where one can maintain a steady speed and not have to worry about sudden changes in road conditions. Highways are conducive to this condition because one can travel for hours and hours without having to stop for any lights or stop signs.
So which lane on the highway should we choose in order to find the peaceful conditions we’re looking for? The most obvious choice is the left lane. On American highways, exits are typically on the right side, so this means that the left lane becomes the passing lane. If you have a slower moving vehicle in front of you, you can get around them by going into the left lane and passing them. Does this mean that the left lane is peaceful and free of cars? Many people decide to go into the left lane to coast. This immediately causes a problem for other drivers who want to pass. Instead of using the left lane to pass, they are forced to maneuver around the slower cars using the middle and right lanes. This certainly causes an unnecessary, dangerous situation where cars start to line up closer to each other, all due to the slow vehicle in the left lane.
The key ingredient in safe driving is distance. The more distance you have from other cars, the safer you will be. Does this mean that driving slow is the answer? The problem with driving too slow is that other cars will start to pile up behind you. This means that other cars are now driving too close to one another, thus creating a situation where there is an unsafe distance between cars. Is driving fast the answer? This certainly creates space, but at the same time, one is sure to encounter slower cars every now and then. In order to keep passing the slower cars, one must get close to other cars and maneuver around them. Again, this creates a situation where cars are too close to one another.
If the left lane doesn’t provide a peaceful condition because of all the passing cars, what about the right lane? After all, people should be travelling slower in that lane, so this should allow a person to coast without any worries. There is a problem, however, in that the right lane is the exit and entry lane. This means that cars are constantly coming in and out of this lane, thereby creating a situation where one has to constantly slow down and speed up in order to accommodate the transit of other cars.
So driving in the middle lane must be the solution, right? The middle lane is where one can find a peaceful driving condition because there is no expectation of driving fast, nor the issue of exiting and entering cars. Once again, however, there are issues to deal with. Say we are driving in the middle lane and we are approaching an entry ramp where new cars are entering the highway through the right lane. What happens is that the cars who are already in the right lane will want to shift over to the middle lane. This means that the person in the middle lane must either slow down or shift to the left lane in order to maintain their speed, or peaceful driving condition.
From the example of driving on the highway, we see that there is no way to achieve a peaceful condition through the negation of traffic or the effect of other cars. Does this mean that every driver is always stressed out? The only way to achieve peace on the road is to be able to adapt to any and all situations. In this way, we see that peace is not necessarily the absence of conflict, but rather the ability to take on new challenges without getting flustered. This cool-handed approach can only be acquired through experience and knowledge. Experienced drivers can react to the other cars on the road, anticipating their every move and being able to steer clear of problem drivers.
By the same token, material nature can be thought of as a giant highway, with individuals having to travel this road alongside their fellow man. The only way to achieve world peace is to empower individuals with the knowledge and resources that will allow them to adapt to the stressful situations in life. The Vedas tell us that this knowledge can only come from the originator of all knowledge, God. He is the original teacher, and His wisdom is so spotless that anyone who takes to it will surely be able to achieve a peaceful condition in life.
“He who is without attachment, who does not rejoice when he obtains good, nor lament when he obtains evil, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.57)
It may seem overly simplistic to say that peace can only be acquired through God, but we have many historical examples to prove this point, with one of them involving Arjuna, a famous kshatriya warrior. Prior to the eve of a great war, Arjuna was hesitant to fight the opposing party. He wanted a peaceful condition, and he thought that he could achieve it by laying down his weapons. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then kindly lectured Arjuna on the meaning of life and how every person must suffer through loss and gain. By acting according to one’s prescribed duties, there would be no reason to lament losses or overly rejoice over gains. The idea was to perform activities with detachment, while remaining attached to God at the same time.
This discourse resulted in Arjuna assuming a peaceful condition. He went on to lead his side to victory in the great Bharata War, all the while remaining detached to the outcome. In this way, we see that peace was achieved by one individual through instructions given by God. What can we take away from this incident? The yuga-dharma for this age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting is the central component of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. We see that yogis are often portrayed as peaceful and in control of their senses, and this is most certainly true of bhakti-yogis. Devotional service keeps one connected with God, and this connection allows a person to handle the toughest situations with ease.
How does bhakti-yoga help us deal with stress and conflict? More than just a way of curbing the influence of the senses, bhakti-yoga involves dedicating all of one’s activities to the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. By only acting in the Lord’s interests, one automatically becomes immune to the ups and downs of material life. Conflict will surely arise, but since the mind is focused on the ultimate goal, that of achieving love of Godhead, the attachment to the conflict is limited. A devotee of Krishna only does whatever is necessary to maintain their attachment to Him. Therefore they are able to see every situation in its relation to the ultimate goal. This viewpoint allows them to quickly judge what shouldn’t be done and what should be done.
It is more important to stick to the activities that should be done. In this age, every person should take up a process of devotional service, whether it is chanting, hearing, remembering, offering prayers, etc. A seasoned bhakti-yogi can deal with all the crazy drivers in life, along with the pressures that come with maintaining the body. In this way, we see that the most purified yoga practice, devotional service, is the only path towards the peace of mind that we so desperately seek.