The Place of Peace
THE rush, the turmoil, the hurry of modern life are in everybody's mouth as a matter
of complaint. " I have no time ' is the commonest of excuses. Reviews serve for books
leading articles for political treatises ; lectures for investigation. More and more the attention of men and women is fastened on the superficial
things of life ; small prizes of business success, petty crowns of social supremacy, momentary
notoriety in the world of politics or of letters -
for these things men and women toil, intrigue
and strive. Their work must show immediate
results, else it is regarded as failure ; the winningpost must always be in sight, to be passed by a
swift brief effort with the roar of the applauding
crowd hailing the winner. The solid reputation
built up by years of strenuous work ; the patient
toil that labours for a lifetime in a field wherein
the harvest can only ripen long after the sower
has passed out of sight ; the deliberate choice of a lofty ideal, too high to attract the average man,
too great to be compassed in a lifetime - all these
things are passed by with a shrug of good-natured
contempt or a scowl of suspicion. The spirit of the age is summed up by the words of the caustic F
58 The Spiritual Life.
Chinese sage of yore : "He looks at an egg, and
expects to hear it crow." Nature is too slow
for us, and we forget that what we gain in speed
we lose in depth.
But there are some in whose eyes this whirling
dance of gnats m the sunlight is not the be-all and end-all of human life. Some in whose
hearts a whisper sometimes sounds softly, saying
that all the seeming clash and rush is but as the
struggle of shadows thrown upon a screen ; that
social success, business triumph, pubhc admiration are but trivial things at best, bubbles floating
down a tossing streamlet, and unworthy of the
rivalries, the jealousies, the bitternesses their chase engenders. Has life no secret that does
not lie on the surface ? no problem that is not solved in the stating ? no treasury that is not
scattered on the highway ? An answer may be found without straying
beyond the experience of every man and woman,
and that answer hides within it a suggestion of the deeper truth that underlies it.
After a week or a month of hurried town-life, of small
excitements, of striving for the little triumphs of
social life, of the eagerness of petty hopes, the
pain of petty disappointments, of the friction arising from the jarring of our selfish selves with
other selves equally selfish ; after this, if we go
The Place of Peace. 59
far away from this hum and buzz of life into
silent mountain solitudes where are sounding
only the natural harmonies that seem to blend
with rather than to break the silence - the
rushing of the waterfall swollen by last night's
rain, the rustle of the leaves under the timid
feet of the hare, the whisper of the stream to the water-hen as she slips out of the reeds, the murmur of the eddy where it laps against the
pebbles on the bank, the hum of the insects as they brush through the tangle of the grasses, the suck of the fish as they hang in the pool
beneath the shade ; there, where the mind sinks
into a calm, soothed by the touch of Nature far from man, what aspect have the follies, the
exasperations, of the social whirl of work and
play, seen through that atmosphere surcharged
with peace ? What does it matter if in some
small strife we failed or we succeeded ? What
does it matter that we were slighted by one,
praised by another ? We regain perspective by
our distance from the whirlpool, by our isolation from its tossing waters, and v/e see how small a
part these outer things should play in the true
life of man. So distance in time as well as distance in space gives balanced judgment on the goods and
ills of life. We look back, after ten years have
60 The Spiritual Life.
slipped away, at the trials, the Joys, the hopes,
the disappointments of the time that then was,
and we marvel why we spent so much of our
life-energy on things so little worth. Even
life's sharpest pains seems strangely unreal thus
contemplated by a personality that has greatly
changed. Our whole life was bound up in the
life of another, and all of worth that it held
for us seemed to dwell in the one beloved.
We thought that our life was laid waste, our
heart broken, when that one trust was betrayed.
But as time went on the wound healed and new flowers sprang up along our pathway, till to-day we can look back without a quiver on
an agony that then well-nigh shattered life. Or we broke with a friend for a bitter word ; how foolish seem our anger and excitement,
looking back over the ten years' gulf. Or we
were madly delighted with a hardly-won success ; how trivial it looks, and how exaggerated our triumph, when we see It now In due proportion In the picture of our life ; then It filled our sky, now It Is but a point.
But our philosophic calm, as we contemplate
the victories and defeats of our past across the
interval of space or time, suffers an ignominious
breach when we return to our dally life and
find it not. All the old trivialities, in new
The Place of Peace. 61
dresses, engross us ; old joys and sorrows, with new faces, seize us. " The tumultuous senses and organs hurry away by force the heart."
And so once more we begin to wear out our
lives by petty cares, petty disputes, petty longings, petty disappointments.
Must this be always so ? Since we must
live in the world and play our part in its drama
of life, must we be at the mercy of all these
passing objects ? Or, though we must dwell
among them in place and be surrounded with
them in time, can we find the Place of Peace,
as though we were far away ? We can, and
this is the truth that underlies the superficial answer we have already found.
Man is an Immortal Being, clad in a garb of
flesh, which is vivified and moved by desires and passions, and which he Imks to himself by
a thread of his immortal nature. This thread
is the mind, and this mind, unsubdued and
inconstant, wanders out among the things of earth, is moved by passions and desires, hopes
and fears, longs to taste all cups of sensedelights, is dazzled and deafened by the radiance
and the tumult of its surroundings. And thus, as Arjuna complained, the "mind is full of
agitation, turbulent, strong, and obstinate."
Above this whirling mind, serene and passionless
62 The Spiritual Life.
witness, dwells the True Self, the Spiritual Ego
of man. Below there may be storm, but above
there is calm, and there is the Place of Peace.
For that Self is eternal, and what to it are the
things of time, save as they bring experience, the
knowledge of good and evil ? So often, dwelhng
in its house of clay, it has known birth and death,
gains and losses, joys and griefs, pleasures and
pams, that it sees them all pass by as a moving
phantasmagoria, and no ripple ruffles its passionless serenity. Does agony affect its outer case,
it is but a notice that harmony has been broken,
and the pain is welcome as pointing to the
failure and as bearing the lesson of avoidance of
that whence it sprang. For the True Self has
to conquer the material plane, to purify and
sublimate it, and only by suffering can it learn how to perform its work.
Now the secret of reaching that Place of Peace lies in our learning to identify our consciousness with the True, instead of with the
apparent. Self. We identify ourselves with our
minds, our brain minds, active in our bodies.
We identify ourselves with our passions and
desires, and say we hope or we fear. We
identify ourselves with our bodies, the mere
machinery wherewith we affect the material
world. And so, when all these parts of our
The Place of Peace. 63
nature are moved by contact with external things
and feel the whirl of the material life around
them, we also in consciousness are affected, and
"the uncontrolled heart, following the dictates
of the movmg passions, snatcheth away our
"spiritual knowledge, as the storm the bark upon
the raging ocean." Thence excitement, loss of balance, irritability, injured feelings, resentments,
follies, pain - all that is most separated from
peace and calm and strength.
The way to begin to tread the Path that leads to the Place of Peace is to endeavour to identify our consciousness with the True Self, to see as it sees, to judge as it judges. We
cannot do it - that goes without saying - but
we can begin to try.
And the means are : disengagement from the objects of the senses, carelessness as to results, and meditation, ever renewed, on the True Self. Let us consider
each of these means. The first of these can be gained only by a constant and wise self-disciphne. We can
cultivate indifference to small discomforts, to pleasures of the table, to physical enjoyments,
bearing with good-humoured tolerance outward
things as they come, neither shunning nor courting small pleasures or pains. Gradually, without growing morbid or self-conscious, we shall
64 The Spiritual Life.
become frankly indifferent, so that small troubles
that upset people continually in daily life will pass unnoticed. And this will leave us free to help our neighbours, whom they do disturb, by
shielding them unobtrusively, and so smoothing
life's pathway for feet tenderer than our own.
In learning this, moderation Is the keynote.
*' This dlvme discipline, Arjuna, is not to be
attained by the man who eateth more than
enough or too little, nor by him who hath a
habit of sleeping much, nor by him who is given to overwatchlng. The meditation which
destroyeth pain is produced in him who is moderate in eating and in recreation, of moderate exertion in his actions, and regulated in sleeping and waking." The body is not to be
shattered : it is to be trained. The second of these methods is
*' careless- ness as to results." This does not mean that we are not to notice the result of our actions in order to learn from them how to guide our
steps. We gam experience by such study of
results, and so learn Wisdom. But it does mean that when an action has been done with
our best judgment and strength and with pure
intent, then we should let it go, metaphorically,
and feel no anxiety about* its results. The
action done is beyond recall, and v/e gain nothing
The Place of Peace. 65
by worry and by anxiety. When Its results appear, we note them for instruction, but we
neither rejoice nor mourn over them. Remorse
or jubilation takes away our attention from, and
weakens us in, the performance of our present
duty, and there is no time for either. Suppose
the results are evil, the wise man says : " I made a mistake, and must avoid a similar blunder in future ; but remorse will only weaken
my present usefulness and will not lessen the
results of my mistaken action.
So instead of wasting time in remorse, I will set to work to do better." The value of thus separating oneself from results lies in the calmness of mind
thus obtained and the concentration brought to bear on each action. " Whoever in acting
dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit [the
One Self] and puts aside all selfish interest in their result, is untouched by sm, even as the
leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters. The truly devoted, for the purification of the
heart, perform actions with their bodies, their minds, their understanding, and their senses, putting away all self-interest. The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity ; whilst he who
through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby.
66 The Spiritual Life.
The third method, meditation, Is the most
efficacious and the most difficult. It consists of a constant endeavour to realise one's identity
with one's True Self, and to become self- conscious here as It. " To whatsoever object
the Inconstant mind goeth out he should subdue
it, bring it back, and place it upon the Spirit."
It is a work of a lifetime, but it will bring us to the Place of Peace. The effort needs to be
continually renewed, patiently persisted in. It may be aided by fixing on definite hours, at which, for a few moments, we may withdraw
ourselves like the turtle into its shell, and
remember that we are not transitory but eternal,
and that passing incidents can affect us not at
all. With the gradual growth of this power of remaining " in the Self " comes not only Peace
but Wisdom, for absence of personal desires,
and recognition of our immortal nature, leave us
free to judge all things without bias and without
prejudice. "This tranquil state attained, there- from shall soon result a separation from all troubles ; and his mind being thus at ease, fixed upon one object, it embraceth wisdom from all sides. The man whose heart and mind are not
at rest is without wisdom." Thus " being
possessed of patience, he by degrees finds rest,"
and " supreme bliss surely cometh to the sage
The Place of Peace. 67
whose mind is thus at peace ; whose passions
and desires are thus subdued ; who is thus in the
True Self and free from sin." This is the three-fold Path that leads to the
Place of Peace, to dwell wherem ever is to have
conquered Time and Death. The "path winds
steeply uphill all the way," but the pinions of the Dove of Peace fan the wearied brow of the
pilgrim, and at last, at lastat last, he finds calm that naught can ruffle.