by Ayya Khema
Being happy also means being peaceful, but quite often people don’t really want to direct their attention to that. There is the connotation of “not interesting” about it, or “not enough happening.” Obviously there would be no proliferations (papañca) or excitement. Peace is thought of as an absolute in this world, from a political, social and personal angle.
Yet peace is very hard to find anywhere. One of the reasons must be, not only that it’s difficult to attain, but also that very few people work for such an achievement. It seems as if it were a negation of life, of one’s own supremacy. Only those who practice a spiritual discipline would care to direct their minds towards peace.
A natural tendency is to cultivate one’s own superiority which also often falls into the other extreme, one’s own inferiority. When one has one’s own superiority in mind, it’s impossible to find peace. The only thing that one can find is a power game, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Or, at times, when it’s quite obvious that this isn’t so then “anything you can do I can’t do as well.” There are moments of truth in everyone’s life, when one sees quite clearly that one can’t do everything as well as the next person, whether it’s sweeping a path or writing a book.
This kind of stance, which is very common, is the opposite of peacefulness. A display of either one’s own abilities or the lack of them, will produce restlessness rather than peace. There’s always the reaching out, the craving for a result in the form of other people’s admittance of one’s own superiority or their denial of it. When they deny it, there is warfare. When they admit it, there is victory.
Victory over other people has as its underlying cause a battle. In war there is never a winner, there are only losers. No matter who signs the peace-treaty first, both sides lose. The same applies to this kind of attitude. There are only losers, even though one may have a momentary victory, having been accepted as the one who knows better, or is stronger or cleverer. Battle and peace do not go well together.
One wonders in the end, does anybody really want peace? Nobody seems to have it. Is anybody really trying to get it? One does get in life what one strongly determines. It is important to inquire into our innermost heart whether peace is really what we want. The inquiry into one’s heart is a difficult thing to do. Most people have a steel door of thick dimensions which is covering the opening of their heart. They can’t get in to find out what’s going on inside. But everyone needs to try to get in as far as possible and check one’s priorities.
In moments of turmoil, when one is either not getting the supremacy one wants or one feels really inferior, then all one desires is peace. Let it all subside again and neither the superiority nor the inferiority is very distinct, then what happens? Is it really peace one wants? Or does one want to be somebody special, somebody important or lovable?
A “somebody” never has peace. There is an interesting simile about a mango tree: a king went riding in the forest and encountered a mango tree laden with fruit. He said to his servants: “Go back in the evening and collect the mangoes,” because he wanted them for the royal dinner table. The servants went back to the forest and returned to the palace empty-handed and told the king: “Sorry, sir, the mangoes were all gone, there wasn’t a single mango left on the tree.” the king thought the servants had been too lazy to go back to the forest, so he rode out himself. What he saw instead of the beautiful mango tree laden with fruit, was a pitiful, bedraggled tree, that had been beaten and robbed of its fruit and leaves. Someone, unable to reach all the branches, had broken them and had taken all the fruit. As the king rode a little farther, he came upon another mango tree, beautiful in all its green splendour, but not a single fruit on it. Nobody had wanted to go near it, since there were no fruits, and so it was left in peace. The king went back to his palace, gave his royal crown and sceptre to his ministers and said: “You may now have the kingdom, I am going to live in a hut in the forest.”
When one is nobody and has nothing, then there is no danger of warfare or attack, then there’s peace. The mango tree laden with fruit didn’t have a moment’s peace: everybody wanted its fruit. If we really want peace, we have to be nobody. Neither important, nor clever, nor beautiful, nor famous, nor right, nor in charge of anything. We need to be unobtrusive and with as few attributes as possible. The mango tree which didn’t have any fruit was standing peacefully in all its splendour giving shade. To be nobody doesn’t mean never to do anything again. It just means to act without self-display and without craving for results. The mango tree had shade to give, but it didn’t display its wares or fret whether anyone wanted its shade. This kind of ability allows for inner peace. It is a rare ability, because most people vacillate from one extreme to another, either doing nothing and thinking “let them see how they get along without me” or being in charge and projecting their views and ideas.
It seems to be so much more ingrained in us and so much more important to be “somebody,” than to have peace. So we need to inquire with great care what we are truly looking for. What is it that we want out of life? If we want to be important, appreciated, loved, then we have to take their opposites in stride also. Every positive brings with it a negative, just as the sun throws shadows. If we want one, we must accept the other, without moaning about it.
But if we really want a peaceful heart and mind, inner security and solidity, then we have to give up wanting to be somebody, anybody at all. Body and mind will not disappear because of that, what disappears is the urge and the reaching out and the affirmation of the importance and supremacy of this particular person, called “me.”
Every human being considers himself or herself important. There are billions of people on this globe, how many will mourn us? Count them for a moment. Six, or eight, or twelve or fifteen out of all these billions? This consideration may show us that we have a vastly exaggerated idea of our own importance. The more we can get that into the proper perspective, the easier life is.
Wanting to be somebody is dangerous. It’s like playing with a burning fire into which one puts one’s hands all the time and it hurts constantly. Nobody will play that game according to our own rules. People who really manage to be somebody, like heads of state, invariably need a solid bodyguard around them because they are in danger of their lives. Nobody likes to admit that someone else is more important. One of the major deterrents to peace of mind is the “somebody” of our own creation.
In the world we live in, we can find people, animals, nature and man-made things. Within all that, if we want to be in charge of anything, the only thing we have any jurisdiction over, is our own heart and mind. If we really want to be somebody, we could try to be that rare person, the one who is in charge of his own heart and mind. To be somebody like that is not only very rare, but also brings with it the most beneficial results. Such a person does not fall into the trap of the defilements. Although the defilements may not be uprooted yet, he won’t commit the error of displaying them and getting involved with them.
There is a story about Tan Achaan Chah, a famous meditation master in North-East Thailand. He was accused by someone of having a lot of hatred. Tan Achaan Chah replied: “That may be so but I don’t make any use of it.” An answer like this comes from a deep understanding of one’s own nature, that’s why we are impressed with such a reply. It’s a rare person who will not allow himself to be defiled by thought, speech or action. That one is really somebody, and doesn’t have to prove it to anyone else, mainly because it is quite obvious. In any case, such a person has no desire to prove anything. There’s only one abiding interest and that’s one’s own peace of mind.
When we have peace of mind as our priority, everything that is in the mind and comes out in speech or action is directed towards it. Anything that does not create peace of mind is discarded, yet we must not confuse this with being right or having the last word. Others need not agree. Peace of mind is one’s own, everyone has to find his through his own efforts.