Shanti, the Sanskrit word for “peace,” is a familiar mantra to every yoga practitioner.
But one translation from a renowned 20th century poet and writer might reveal a subtle philosophical misconception in how we, in modern day life, both practice and perceive “peace” itself.
From its Hindu and Buddhist origins, T.S. Eliot once translated the Sanskrit word to mean, “The Peace which passeth understanding.”
Not peace, alone.
Not a static, stagnant, “outcome” of peace.
A peace that passes understanding.
It seems that from T.S. Eliot’s translation, should we take it literally, shanti would best be thought of as an active peace. Rather than passive or inactive, shanti is said to represent more of a moving, fluid, or “living” peace that can be realized in an ever-present state of being — right here, right now — and actively engaged through personal practice.
In other words, the subtle nuance of Eliot’s translation conveys the idea of a peace that can be continually discovered, experienced, reaped — not as an outcome, but as a never-ending practice and experience.
What if you redefined peace in such a way?
And reapplied that new definition to your life?
Your art? Your writing?
Whatever you hope to create, contribute or facilitate?
And how you live — right now, today?
Growing up, I understood the definition of “peace” to be more of an outcome or a goal — something that might be somehow attainable through a lot of hard work, wishing, prayers and hoping. And as a kid, even as a doe-eyed idealist, something about that still just seemed… off.
Too distant? Too pie in the sky?
Not “now” enough?
And these days, I find myself personally redefining (and encouraging you to consider redefining for yourself) just about every purely-outcome-oriented matter of thinking and pursuit: entrapping patterns of thinking, hoping and living that continually delay happiness, contentment — and peace — even though they are forever attainable in this present moment.
If you and I can’t ever feel simple happiness — or experience joy, have fun, honor our values and feel simple peace within in “the here and now” and, instead, fall into the habit of waiting for it tomorrow, the next day, or the next day — it will never magically arrive.
We need presence. We need to feel those in the moment, rather than putting them off for the future.
We need to understand a way to incorporate an active peace into our experiences and environments.
Shanti is not a passive peace; not necessarily an outcome — some thing that can eventually be found, discovered or attained as if buried treasure. Shanti represents an “active” peace that is participatory in nature; a practice through which understanding may pass.
From ancient Sanskrit to modern day English and when applied to modern life, itself, shanti reinforces a concept I’ve been striving to live by, honor and share with you this last month:
That true peace is found in the present, and realized by continual practice.
That’s what writing has come to mean to me and for my writers’ group, The Literati, today now 40-strong. That’s what my freedom is worth. That’s what I want to share with you because I believe they will help bring you a sense of true purpose, fulfillment and meaning to your life, as my own.
The active practice of shanti allows you become a practitioner of peace, a facilitator of connection, relatability, empathy, understanding, compassion and kindness — with how you live, work and play.
- Think of your life, your actions, your endeavors and your dreams as, each by themselves, streams of understanding that bring active, present peace to you in your life — today.
- Just as much, your life, actions, endeavors and dreams are also, collectively as one, a river of understanding that brings active, present peace to the men in women in your corner of the world, every day: from family and friends to customers, clients, members of your local community and even strangers on the street.
The subtle nuance of T.S. Eliot’s definition of shanti reinforces a philosophical cornerstone of how you and I hope to live, work, share and create: Making the journey the reward, every step of the way.
So, what might happen if you choose to shift away from typically strict “outcome-oriented” thinking that defines peace as some thing or distant goal that can be conquered, achieved or acquired?
You might begin to understand your life, everyday actions, simple deeds, daily words, yoga practice and even your writing as “streams” of peace through which understanding may pass from you, from beyond, and from love itself to every facet of the world that surrounds you.
Shanti to you.
P.S. – The Literati writers’ group remains open to new members for just a couple more weeks — and just ushered in our 19th new writer of 2013 this morning. Amazing!
P.P.S. – Shoutout to my home-girl and good friend Amy Clover who has just launched an $18,000 fundraising campaign to bring health, good vibes and positive lessons across the United States on a workout tour called The 30×30 Project. Please check it out and consider contributing to this amazing cause, benefiting To Write Love On Her Arms.
Flickr photo credit: pietroizzo