When Sri Ramana Maharshi was asked how to recognize a genuine holy man, he responded: “by the peace of mind found in his presence.” [1]

The ability to give others peace has been a characteristic of the spiritual master since the beginning of time. The music of the young David brought peace to the troubled mind of King Saul. The Buddha brought peace to all those who surrounded him. And Ramana Maharshi himself was known for the great peace that people felt in his presence.

Peace is a central aspect of the spiritual life today. We are all seeking peace. We are searching for someone who can show us how to attain peace of mind.

The Hasidic Master, Natan of Nemirov teaches that the essence of peace is to join two opposites. The highest level of joining two opposites, he says, is to unite body and soul – to fuse together our higher and our lower selves. Furthermore, he continues, when we do this we are not only creating peace in ourselves, we are also deepening the peace of the entire universe. And it is for this work of peacemaking that we have come into the world.

How do we merge these two parts of ourselves and attain peace? There are several different methods that we can follow:

Peace is achieved by giving up our desires. As it states in the Bhagavad Gita 2:55:

“When a man surrenders all desires that come to his heart and by the grace of God finds joy of God, then his soul has indeed found peace. [2]

Peace is gained when we stop thinking that we are in control and have faith. As it says in Isaiah 26:3:

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

And peace is attained when we surrender the burden of our worries to God. As it proclaims in the Gospels:

“ Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

In all these cases, peace is achieved through a process of struggle between the two aspects of our nature. This inner conflict creates an internal friction that continues to build until we break through into a higher state of consciousness where harmony is attained. This more expansive state of consciousness gives us greater clarity and understanding. It loosens the hold of our desires and our worries. It deepens our faith and brings us peace.

Swami Brahmananda teaches that there is a way to achieve peace without internal struggles. He says that peace can also be found by developing the love of God. When one of the monks asked the Swami: “Maharaj, how does one attain peace?”

Brahmananda replied:

“Peace dwells in the heart of one who loves God…Yearn for him, and peace will follow… The greater the thirst, the sweeter the water. First create the thirst and then you will find peace in God.” [3]

Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “The more you move eastward, the farther you are from the west.” [4] As our love for God increases, the cravings of the lower self lose their attraction for us and we begin to immerse ourselves in spiritual activities. As we become absorbed in God, these lower tendencies will naturally fall away of themselves and a profound inner peace will fill the whole of our being.

The above methods will ultimately lead us to the sublime state of supreme peace. Most of us, however, are nowhere near that place. How do we find moments of peace in our daily lives?

We can evoke a feeling of peace by bringing a sense of harmony into our lives. Music, for example, can be a powerful tool to bring peace. The yogis say that music “soothes the nadis” – the energy lines in the body. Music calms strained nerves.

In the Bible, we are told that after the prophet Samuel took the kingship away from the descendants of King Saul, the king would periodically fall into fits of mental torment.  Whenever Saul fell into these moods, he would call upon the young David to play the harp for him. David’s music and his peaceful presence would slowly quieten the king’s troubled spirit.

A harmonious sound of any kind can have this effect: the whisper of the wind, the gentle flow of a river, or the cheerful song of a bird. It is all a question of our state of consciousness. When we feel peace, we are drawing on the energy that emanates from a higher world where everything is in perfect harmony. When we link into this supernal ‘place’ its energy pours into our consciousness transforming everything that we see and feel.

Once we have learned how to tap into this inner place we can develop the habit of constantly returning there. Gradually, this feeling of peace will become our natural state of consciousness. Finally, we will become permanently established in this lofty state.

“Peace, peace both for far and near, says the Lord, and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:19) The energy of peace is healing. It heals our internal stresses and tensions and it also wipes away the animosities that come between individuals.

The rabbis depict Aaron, Moses’ brother, as the embodiment of peace. In the Ethics of the Fathers 1:12, Rabbi Hillel says: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.”

According to the Midrash, Aaron was always running to make peace between people, striving to heal the rifts that arose between human beings. If his efforts reached an impasse, Aaron would go to one participant in a conflict and tell him that the other person wished to reconcile with him. Then, he would go to the second party to the argument and tell him the same thing. He would continue in this manner until the dispute was resolved.

Hidden behind this depiction is a spiritual truth: a true priest or person of God will be able to give peace to others. We can see this principle at work in the following story about Chaganlal Yogi, a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Chaganlal Yogi was responsible for printing many of the ashram’s publications. The work of printing the various publications was at times quite complex. As a result, Chaganlal Yogi often found himself arguing with the ashram official in charge of publications. At one point, the situation became so unbearable that Chaganlal Yogi and the ashram official decided to go see Sri Ramana to get their differences resolved.

When they arrived at the ashram, they both put their case before the Maharshi. While they were talking, Sri Ramana did not utter a word. He simply sat on his couch in total silence, beaming a great smile at them both. Neither did he say anything after they had finished speaking.

Yet, in those few minutes with the Maharshi, both Chaganlal Yogi and the ashram official had experienced a sudden change of heart. As they left the hall, they simultaneously turned to one and other and embraced, promising to treat each other with love and respect from that moment on. Chaganlal Yogi and the ashram official continued to work together for many more years. Following this meeting with Sri Ramana, their bond of friendship and co-operation never broke again. [5]

Jesus exhorted his disciples to be peacemakers. He told them to greet everyone that they met with the salutation: “Peace be with thee”. Afterwards, he added the following provision:

“And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.” Matthew 11:13

This quote from the Gospels makes clear that peace is a two way process: we need to know how to give peace, but we also need to know how to receive peace as well. Everyone that is involved in the process must play his or her part.

The Book of the prophet Malachi 3:23 declares that at the end of days, Elijah will come to bring peace between fathers and sons:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”

Conflict often occurs because of a lack of understanding between people. To be able to make peace, we must know how to bridge the gap between people’s differing perceptions of a situation. This work reaches far beyond the relationship between parents and children to encompass the relationships between peoples, nations and religions. It is work that focuses not only on the bond between friends and relatives, but also on the relationship between adversaries and enemies. This level of peacemaking is sorely needed in our world today.

Sometimes, however, we cannot bridge the gap in understanding. Sometimes, we must act forcefully in order to attain peace. In the Torah it states:

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel…Wherefore say, Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace.” – Numbers 25:10-12

When the Midianites drew Israel into idol worship and orgy in the desert, a terrible plague broke out in the camp. The chaos and destruction continued to spread until Pinchas, the son of Elazar the priest, rose up and slew two of the principle perpetrators. Immediately, the plague came to an end.

Given his act of violence, Pinchas would seem an unlikely candidate for God’s “covenant of peace”. Yet what the Torah is trying to tell us is that peace cannot always be achieved through goodwill and kindness. There are times when we need to be strong and totally unsentimental if we want to achieve peace.

It is true that we need to take risks for peace. It is true that we need to be willing to put ourselves on the line. We must be willing to enter into places of danger and open conflict to act as peacemakers. But we must also be ready to take bold firm action in the midst of confusion and indecision.

Yet the Torah also expresses its unease with the actions of Pinchas. In the Torah scroll, for the phrase “covenant of peace”, the letter vav from the Hebrew word “shalom” is broken in half. This broken vav comes to warn us that peace which comes at the cost of violence is often a fractured peace that leaves scars, sorrow and dissent. It takes a great deal of time, effort and struggle to make a broken vav whole again.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.”

St. Francis’ of Assisi begins his most famous prayer with these beautiful and moving words. It takes great courage to become an instrument of peace. It takes great commitment to make the sacrifices that may be necessary. It takes great faith to hold on to peace even when all around us there is anger and hatred. Yet there is no holier work than this.

Whether we invest our energies in making peace between individuals or labor to achieve peace for all of humankind – whether we attempt to create peace outwardly or try to emanate peace inwardly – to be an instrument of peace is among the noblest and most exalted paths of Divine service.

copyright © 2016

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Sri Mungala S. Venkataramiah, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
  2. Bhagavad Gita, translated by Juan Mascaro
  3. Swami Prabhavananda, The Eternal Companion
  4. ‘M’, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  5. David Godman, Power of the Presence, Vol. II