Peace and Its Sacrifice

– by Gil Fronsdal

Peace, and the quest for peace, are central to Buddhist practice. The Buddha pointed to the possibility of a transformative inner peace: We don’t have to live with inner conflict, fear, and aggression. The fading away of this conflict gives way to a peace that he called the greatest form of happiness.

Some Buddhist teachers say that peace is inherent to who we are. Peacefulness lies at our core. Agitation, fear, craving and anger are like surface waves that prevent us from seeing the vast peace of our depths.

If peace is to be something other than an abstract goal, we have to live in ways that nourish peace and help us to overcome the forces of agitation and conflict within us. In Buddhist practice this can be accomplished by having the goal reflected in the means-if you want to attain peace, live peacefully. One way of doing this is to practice non-harming in action and speech. This outer behavior provides the necessary condition for realizing inner peace. Another way is to relax; tension hinders peace.

To deal with the forces of agitation and conflict within us, it is important to become mindful of them. Mindfulness is the womb of peace-with awareness we can then find patience, equanimity, and understanding of these forces.

One way to cultivate peace is to investigate what takes you away from it. When you have some degree of calm, pay careful attention to what happens when, as inevitably happens, you lose that calm. What do you sacrifice your peace for? (An added benefit of this exercise is that, instead of decrying your lost peace, you can see its disappearance as an opportunity for practice.)

This investigation is particularly useful immediately after a period of meditation. Instead of jumping up and being immediately swept up in daily activities, get up from meditation calmly. Try to notice the first moment of mental or physical agitation or contraction. Pause, relax, and look honestly at the reason for the agitation. What are you treating as more important than your peace? Is it really worth giving up your peace for this? What do you learn about your beliefs, motivations, and reactions when you stop to look? If a thought prompted the agitation, what is the nature of that thought? Is it necessary to pick up that thought in such a way that you lose your sense of inner well-being? Do the reasons for rushing or being anxious or irritated hold up under this questioning?

To make this investigation more powerful, try assuming that there’s nothing that is worth sacrificing your peace for. This might help you to question the usual, maybe unconscious, assumptions that lead you to give up your peace. For some, it is a perceived need to defend the ego. For others, desires and aversions seem more compelling than peace. And for yet others, their sense of responsibility seems more important. Sometimes we think that worry is how we convey our care. If we were peaceful and relaxed, people might think we are uncaring about others or about problems in the world.

When we consider carefully, it is often clear that we are more effective at whatever we do if we can act from a state of peacefulness rather than one of contraction and agitation. So it’s not an either/or choice-we can do what we feel we need to do and still maintain our peacefulness.

Peace-the absence of conflict-is refreshing. Some find in peace a deeply satisfying sense of “coming home.” Self-centeredness is exhausting, not least because it will always leave us in conflict. One of the greatest tasks for any human is to let go of selfishness. It is a great paradox that we gain the most when we give up self-preoccupation. There is no happiness greater than peace.

One is not wise
Just by speaking a lot.
One who is peaceful, without hate and fearless
Is said to be wise.

Dhammapada (258)