Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

The Real Peace Workers

By Eknath Easwaran

The other day I went with a friend to take his car in for minor repairs. The mechanic lay down on his back on his little moving dolly and vanished under the engine, where he could look around and see just what needed to be done: a screw that needed tightening, I suppose, or maybe loosening. This is what we do in meditation. It takes a long, long time to get under the engine that is the mind – and hard work, daring, and a great reservoir of devotion to the task. But no skill is more worth learning. When you get deep in consciousness, you can actually look up at the workings of the mind with wrench in hand. Then transforming anger becomes a mechanical problem; overcoming fears becomes a matter of tightening or loosening a screw. 

The only reason we are not able to do this kind of fix-it work is that we have not learned how. There is no school where this skill is taught. Powerful disciplines for training the mind do exist, handed down to us from the great traditions of every religion. Yet they are largely ignored in today’s world; in West and East alike, we are in danger of losing this precious legacy.

Augustine, who had a very modern perspective on the workings of the mind, asks pointedly, “I can tell my hand what to do and it will obey me. Why can I not do the same with my mind?” If the mind gets angry and you tell it to calm down, it is likely to retort, “Who do you think you are to talk to me like that? Why should I listen to you?” It’s like a gawky teenager protesting, “Dad, you never sent me to school! How can you complain because I can’t read?” 

The Only Approach That Works

I have real sympathy for the untrained mind, so uneducated and illiterate. It is big and powerful but all thumbs, all turmoil and tempestuousness, bumbling through life like a Saint Bernard puppy and knocking everything over. Yet this clumsy creature can be taught anything we care to teach it, if we only have patience and persevere – and once it has learned how to behave, this embarrassing and unpredictable liability becomes our greatest ally.

“Neither your father nor your mother,” the Buddha says, “neither husband nor wife nor child, can be such a loyal friend as your mind when it has been trained.” It will stand by you in all circumstances. When you go among unkind people, your peaceable mind will enable you to be kind to them and quiet their hearts, which is the only peacemaking approach that really works.

All the mind’s habits of unkindness can be unlearned. If the mind is coaxed further and further into positive words and actions, the unkind person will gradually think, feel, and act kindly; the unloving person will think, feel, and act out of love. To all who are agitated, insecure, unhappy, there quickly follows peace of mind.

Faith in Others

When the mind is trained over a long, long period, you will not need effort to meet hatred with goodness. Goodness will be your mind’s spontaneous response. An educated mind has a very casual style. It has its diploma, so it knows it can stay cool under provocation – which means we lose all fear of anger; we know we will not lose control.

Patanjali, one of the finest teachers of meditation in ancient India, implies that when you live in the presence of someone who will trust you over and over again, you cannot help rising to be worthy of that trust. Gradually you become so tired of letting him down that you become trustworthy.

This does not mean that we should look the other way when someone does something unworthy of him. It means that we must have the inner toughness to hold fast to our faith that there is in that person a core of goodness that does respond to trust and love. Whether between individuals or between nations, without this faith, peace is not possible.

Active on the Path of Peace

If we want to be real peace workers, then, we have to work on removing anger from our personality: not suppressing it, but harnessing it into love poured into concerted action. If we can do this, opportunities for peace work will open up everywhere in our lives.

I appreciate the yearning for peace that is expressed in truly nonviolent demonstrations and vigils, but as the Buddha said, those who help the world most are those who help to banish anger, greed, and fear. No one is more active on the path of peace than those who try every day to reduce their own selfish passions and self-will. They may not be participating in demonstrations, but they deserve to be called children of God, for they are true peace-makers, spreading peace everywhere through their daily lives.

Conversely, when someone is being selfish, he or she is actually contributing in a small measure to war. You may refuse to be in the fighting forces, you may be a peace advocate of the most vocal kind, but these things are not enough to make you a peacemaker. I never lay the blame for war at the door of the military. Wherever there is anger, selfishness, greed, or self- will, a foundation for war is being laid, and all of us must accept a share of the blame.

We Must Take the Lead

It is this gradual raising of popular consciousness that will bring about peace. We should demand of our politicians that they stand for peace, but we should never look to them to guarantee it; they have vested interests. The military cannot ensure peace because it is conditioned for war. It is ordinary citizens, you and I, who make the final difference. Lisa Peattie, professor of urban anthropology at MIT, puts it persuasively: “The power to move the system must come, I think, from a sort of great popular uprising, a refusal, a mass defense of human life.” The former prime minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, agreed: “It is very unlikely that disarmament will ever take place if it must wait for the initiatives of governments and experts. It will only come about as the expression of the political will of people, in many parts of the world.”

I am respectful of governments, but I have no illusion that peace will come through their efforts. It is governments that have got us into this dilemma, with our support; now it is we, the people, who must take the lead in insisting on a wholly different approach. It is not first-strike capacity but first-trust capacity that we should be pursuing with all our might. It would cost a good deal less, and it would release economic and human resources into the bargain. Isn’t this the message that Jesus’ life conveys? Each one of us, by establishing peace in our minds and practicing it in all our relationships, can hasten the day when peace will reign on earth.

It All Depends on Us

“Some day,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was president when I first came to this country, “the demand for disarmament by hundreds of millions will, I hope, become so universal and so insistent that no man, no men, can withstand it. We have to mobilize the hundreds of millions; we have to make them understand the choice is theirs. We have to make the young people see to it that they need not be the victims of the Third World War.”

Again, these are the words not of a peacenik but of a great general. Eisenhower knew, as every insightful general knows, that if we want peace we cannot count on whoever is sitting in the White House or Number 10 Downing Street.

If each of us, through the example of our own lives, can inspire two more people every year to meditate and to live at peace with those around them, it will have an incalculably great effect in creating a climate of peace. That is my ambition, and that is why I say I am a terribly ambitious man. You and I make peace. You and I make war. It all depends on us.

This article is an excerpt from the book Original Goodness and was also featured in the Spring 2024 Blue Mountain Journal.