Peace, in the minds of many people, means the mere avoidance of conflict. The peace they long for is a gentle retirement in old age; a simple cottage in the mountains or by the sea; a secured income; and the certainty that any crisis that may come their way will be met with a minimum of effort and worry. Yet as often happens when men retire from a life of intense activity, only (for lack of continued challenges) to sink quickly into the pathetic senility of old age, similarly with all types of withdrawal from conflict. What begins as peace soon disintegrates in decay. The cottage in the mountains or by the sea, idyllic perhaps for a weekend, becomes a dreary prison of boredom.
Peace is one of the goals of Yoga. It is, indeed, one of the silent aspirations of every heart. The longing for peace is instinctive in all men. But the peace of the soul, dynamic, expanding to the consciousness, the very opposite of stagnation, is too easily mistaken by the worldly mind for sleep and other negative states of being that attend a surrender of one's manhood and of all desire to progress.
The Bhagavad Gita describes the entire spiritual path as a battle between the forces of light and of darkness in the consciousness of man. (The battlefield on which the discourse between Krishna and Arjuna takes place is the "field" of man's inner consciousness.) True spiritual peace is not a state into which one sinks passively-a reward for long years of suffering and tears. It is the peace, rather, of victory, of a fight well fought and of the certainty that one has overcome. It is not a wall placed protectively around one to shut out the horrors of life; it is rather a blinding light, banishing those horrors into non-existence, even as darkness is banished from a room when one turns on the electric light.
The path of progress must be seen as an overcoming. No man ever slid downhill into heaven. The path has been described, rather, as an ascent up a mountain, one which may be conquered only after many hardships. The image of Mt. Meru, or of Mt. Carmel (so often used in Christian terminology), is most descriptive of the actual ascent of consciousness that takes place in the inner man. It is no mark of spirituality never to be tempted, never to be disappointed, never to fail. These are the marks, usually, of people who have chosen ant hills, not mountains, to climb.
But the mark of spiritual growth is that for every setback there is an increased determination to succeed, and that for every obstacle there is an increasing surge of energy, until at last the energy generated suffices to demolish the opposition and allows one to sail forward on the upward journey. "A saint," Paramhansa Yogananda used to say, "is a sinner who never gave up."
One of the difficulties of the spiritual path is the fact that, the nature of duality being what it is, even painful experiences have something of joy in them. Though we may not consciously enjoy them when they happen, it cannot be gainsaid that we enjoy talking about them in retrospect, that we even revel in them, once they are over. And although the opposite is true also, that a certain amount of pain lurks in all worldly happiness-the pain of knowing, for example, that a happy day today must surrender to the drabness of a normal, routine, existence tomorrow-nonetheless there is enough enjoyment in the pleasures of the moment to make one reluctant to abandon them. Man is not easily weaned from his attachment to the ebb and flow of this relative, and endlessly contradictory, world. Although spiritual joy is incomparably greater than material happiness, even the devotee is typically reluctant to give up the lower for the higher. He finds it difficult to imagine, what is in fact the case, that the very energy with which he enjoys lesser pleasures is the same that he applies to the enjoyment of undiluted, vibrant bliss in the Spirit. There is no opposite to the state of spiritual joy. There is no boredom there. Yoganandaji described the joy of God as "ever new."
Spiritual awakening is accompanied by a rising energy and consciousness in the spine. In this spiritual state, one may indeed dance, laugh, and sing with unending gladness, wrapped ever in breezes of inner joy. All joy lies in giving, in the raising of one's energy, in expansion, in the dynamic application of one's will. All peace, to be true and lasting, lies in this sort of upliftment, not in the passive "flow-with-it" consciousness that is so popular with many people nowadays.
Why cling to anything? All that man seeks awaits him in his inner Self, not as a result of merely avoiding conflicts, but as a result, rather, of overcoming them. Peace is a mind soaring in the free skies of inner consciousness.
Excerpted from The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, by Swami Kriyananda