In honor of International Day of Peace, Brother Priyananda, a Self-Realization Fellowship monk, offers advice for coping with the obstacles to inner peace and harmony in the wider world.
Preeminent spiritual leaders across many traditions and centuries have hypothesized that the most essential building blocks for a harmonious world are spiritual, rather than material, and are found by first looking within. Cultivating a foundation of peace in one’s life, through meditation, emotional detachment, self-improvement and compassion, will bring the world closer to having harmony and understanding.
“All humanity has to become Christlike to bring peace on earth. When each one of us shapes his life according to the wisdom and example of a Christ, a Krishna, a Buddha, we can have peace here; not before. We must start now, with ourselves. We should try to be like the divine ones who have come on earth again and again to show us the way. By our loving each other and keeping our understanding clear, as they taught and exemplified, peace can come.”
Unfortunately, in today’s hurried and driven society, establishing this spiritual goal is rarely a priority. The frenzied pursuit of material life overshadows the wisdom of the world’s greatest “peace experts,” our saints and sages. One’s inner peace, and the world’s peace by proxy, goes unclaimed.
“People fill their time with activities that they think will bring them happiness. In the process, they become so anxious that their inner peace is lost and they are unable to achieve the happiness they were searching for in the first place,” says Brother Priyananda, an SRF monk since 1969. “Peaceful people give peace to others and are peacemakers. If you don’t have inner peace yourself, it is impossible to pass it on to others and the world.”
Q&;A with Brother Priyananda
Brother Priyananda offers the following advice on how to cope with the obstacles to inner peace in everyday life. His reflections on the connection between inner peace and harmony in the wider world inspire a mindful approach to pursuing one’s dreams so that the dream of peace for everyone will move more assuredly toward that reality.
Self-Realization Fellowship: What steps can each person take to individually foster a more peaceful world?
Brother Priyananda: Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, said, “A man who has reformed himself will reform thousands.” The way we reform or change ourselves is through right thought and action, and meditation.
SRF: What is meant specifically by right thought and action?
BP: In Yogananda’s The Second Coming of Christ, he writes, “One who in every way tries to uplift himself, harmonizing body, mind, and soul with the Divine, creates positive karma not only in his own life, but in his family, neighborhood, country, and world.”
We have to incorporate right actions into daily life, starting with how we relate to our families and those that we meet during our activities. In time we will expand to enclose everyone in the circle of our love. Paramahansaji stresses the importance of serving mankind as one’s larger Self. If we each embraced this attitude, how much closer we would be to a more peaceful world.
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SRF: How can we train ourselves to think and act in the right way?
BP: We need to meditate, to put aside time each morning and evening to commune with Spirit. Meditation is the foundation of the spiritual life. The science of yoga meditation offers a direct means of stilling the natural turbulence of thoughts and restlessness of body that prevent us from knowing what we really are. By practicing the step-by-step methods of yoga meditation, we come to know our oneness with God.
Ordinarily our awareness and energies are directed outward, to the things of this world, which we perceive through the limited instruments of our five senses. Yoga meditation is a simple process of reversing the ordinary outward flow of energy and consciousness. By directing our attention inward, we learn to tap deeper and more subtle levels of awareness and begin to experience an ever-expanding state of peace.
Yogananda said: “Your whole body and entire being changes when you practice meditation regularly. Contact with God brings inner harmony into your life as you merge with His peace. But you must meditate earnestly, consistently, and continually to realize fully the rewarding effects of that Supreme Force.”
SRF: How can people change negative thoughts and feelings, whether they be about work or relationships, into ones of peace and joy?
BP: There’s one way to change negative thoughts—it is hard but it is the only way—and that is through karma yoga (“yoga of action,” which refers to thinking and acting with the right motives, in the right way, to the best of one's ability, but surrendering attachment to the outcome). Try to change your situation in a diplomatic way, but if that doesn’t work, accept your situation, surrender your efforts to God and let the Divine take care of it.
SRF: If we need to have a difficult conversation that might become emotionally charged, how can we remain at peace as the topic is discussed?
BP: Rehearse the meeting in your mind and pray a little bit about it so you are mentally prepared. Life will always throw curveballs. Becoming emotionally involved is the death of communication because both parties become blind to what the other is trying to say.
SRF: What is your advice to someone with a schedule that is so packed with activities and responsibilities that they are overly stressed and are not able to relax?
BP: My advice would be to take a break from responsibilities and do something enjoyable, like hiking. Stressed people have stressful hobbies. Their minds have sped up so much that they cannot sit still and become restless. In the ashram, we take a week retreat every six months and have a day of silence once a week. If you’re going on a vacation, don’t always be running from one site to another; make sure there is ample time to rest.
SRF: How can cultivating inner peace enable us to achieve our goals?
BP: Only peace within us allows us to achieve our goals in the right way. Feeling at peace is a sign of God in our life and whatever goals manifest in our consciousness at that time are reality and that is what we should pursue.
SRF: Do you have any closing thoughts about how we can each do our part in making this world a more peaceful place?
BP: Paramahansa Yogananda established a Worldwide Prayer Circle many years ago, which is still very active today, and anyone can join. We pray for all those in need of healing of body, mind, and soul. And we also pray for world peace. There is a transformative power when we collectively visualize peace and harmony throughout the world.
One of Paramahansaji’s closest disciples, Sri Mrinalini Mata, who is the spiritual head of SRF, said: “The ills of society and the world will not be cured by conferences and talk of cooperation and peace if the very persons at the negotiating table have not the peace of true selflessness in their hearts….Who are the truly happy, peaceful people in this world?...The truly contented are the saints and sages: They have learned to create, right within themselves, a kingdom of happiness, a fortress of unshakable peace and security, a temple of divine communion at the feet of God.”