Peace Is Not the Answer.

Via on Oct 11, 2012

I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about what spiritual development and spiritual attainment actually mean these days.

What is the purpose of being on a spiritual path for the most progressive people on the planet today—those of us who have grown up in an environment of unprecedented wealth, education and personal freedom?

As a spiritual teacher, I travel every year across the United States and Europe, giving talks and leading retreats. It continually amazes me that the majority of spiritual seekers from the most affluent countries on our small planet seem to be looking for one thing above anything else: Peace.

Peace? Why on earth would the luckiest people to have ever been born express their spiritual aspirations through questing for relief and release—for peace? Why are we looking for a way out of the challenge of human existence? I mean, has our lot in life really been that bad?

I can see why in premodernity, in the era when the great religious traditions were born, peace would be an understandable goal. Life was so much harder than it is for us now, in just about every conceivable way. At that time, most people literally worked like slaves for their daily sustenance. The level of brutality human beings had to endure was something that is difficult for us to imagine in our postmodern civilized society. The very notion of human rights had not yet emerged in our collective mind. So it makes complete sense that peace would be seen as the spiritual or religious goal, the ultimate relief and release from the unrelenting grind of day-to-day existence. But while, unfortunately, similar life conditions still exist today in many parts of the developing world, for most of us at the leading edge, life is very, very different indeed.

So why, then, are we still looking for a way out when we look to spirit?

I understand that just because many of us have been graced with a high standard of living, it doesn’t mean we don’t suffer at an existential level. But I wonder if we haven’t fallen into the habit of giving undue significance to our existential angst. Maybe suffering, at some level anyway, is an inherent part of life and has been an integral part of the developmental process from the very beginning. The big bang, the cosmic burst of energy and light and matter that created the universe, was anything but peaceful! And the law of the jungle is not “may all beings live in peace.” At the physical level of our own being, we experience the stress, and at times discomfort, of our own mortal, embodied nature. At the emotional and psychological levels, we experience the stress and complexity of personal subjective consciousness. Even at the spiritual level, there is the mysterious stress that the evolutionary impulse exerts upon the self.

Sometimes when I hear spiritually minded individuals speak, it appears that they are clinging to premodern ideas about the goal of the spiritual path—whether it be a Christian heaven or a Buddhist nirvana or even some New Age promise of universal love and harmony. They seem to still be convinced that the raison d’être of human incarnation is the end of suffering and the experience of unending peace. Given all we’ve come to know, not only about history, but also about the evolutionary process, I wonder how that could possibly be the case? Life at its core is inherently surging forth, at times wild and erratic, at times focused and directed, but always moving. Eros, the energy and intelligence that initiated the creative process, which is also driving that very process right now as you read these words, is vibrating with its own effulgence and unrelenting intensity.

Prior to the big bang there was Nothing, and from that primordial empty ground the entire cosmos burst into existence. When we enter into deep states of meditation, transcending the personal ego and any notion of a separate self, we sink into that same primordial ground. In those moments, of course, we will experience peace, because that is the very nature of that infinite depth beyond time and form. And such experiences are indeed very liberating for the self. But it just doesn’t make sense that the experience of relief and release from the very process that produced us should be the goal of the luckiest people who have ever been born. Why not? Because the very energy and intelligence that gave us life, that produced us, needs us lucky ones to take responsibility, to wholeheartedly participate in the life process in a deeper and more authentic way than most of us ever imagined possible.

I believe that as long as the focus of our spiritual aspirations is relief and release rather than a much more profound relationship with life at the deepest level, we will never be of much use to the energy and intelligence that created us.

To put it in theological terms, we will be letting God down, because we will always be seeking for a way out rather than wholeheartedly engaging with the life process, with other human beings, with our own highest potentials. As long as we are seeking peace above all else, we will never know what it means to live at the very edge of the possible. In order to be truly available to the energy and intelligence that created the universe, we do have to transcend our angst-ridden separate selves. But the motive for doing so is not so we can abide in a state of peace and freedom beyond the process. Our motive is to become passionate and egoless vehicles for its own ongoing evolution.

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This post was originally published on Andrew Coheh’s BigThink.com blog, The Evolution of Enlightenment.

Join Andrew for a series of free monthly broadcasts. The next one will be a Guru & Pandit dialogue with integral philosopher Ken Wilber about the nature of the soul, including a discussion on reincarnation, on Saturday, October 20th at 2pm ET (USA). Register here.

 

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Editor: Brianna Bemel

 

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About Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an American spiritual teacher and visionary thinker widely recognized for his original contribution to the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality. Through his talks, retreats, publications, and ongoing dialogues with the leading philosophers, mystics, and activists of our time, he is becoming a defining voice in an international alliance of individuals and organizations that are committed to the transformation of human consciousness and culture. The founder and editor in chief of the international, award-winning EnlightenNext magazine, formerly What Is Enlightenment?, Cohen is dedicated to creating “nothing less than a revolution in consciousness and culture.” Since 1991, Cohen and his small team of editors have met with mystics and materialists, physicists and philosophers, activists and athletes in an effort to create a popular forum for dialogue and inquiry regarding the meaning of human life in the postmodern era. You can follow him on his Facebook page. Download a free chapter of Andrew's book, Evolutionary Enlightenment, by clicking here. You can also join him for a series of free monthly broadcasts by registering here.

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6 Responses to “Peace Is Not the Answer.”

  1. ted grand says:

    Something about this post doesn't quite make sense to me. It feels absolutest, as if all yoga folk/seekers are talking about is peace, not only as the goal, but as the place where we want to stay. I would think that peace is indeed the goal of practice, but only so much as it serves how we move through the world. The more peace in our minds and bodies, the less separate we see ourselves from others. The less separate we see ourselves, the less likely we are to enact harm (to other life and to ourselves), shop/vote/love recklessly, or stay stuck in expectations of selfish gain. So peace becomes a tool as much as it is a goal.
    I may be wrong, but there seems to be an impulse in the younger generation of yoga folk/seekers to have their practice be applied in/to the world. Like activism without burnout. Basic caring sustained by the ability to extricate ourselves from the entanglement of selfish needs. It feels like the indulgence and selfishness of 80's spiritual seeking is morphing into something new. I don't want to sound absolutest. There seems to be a lot of superficial and selfish marketeering going on, for sure, but it feels nonetheless like a shift is occurring; towards peace, and then using the power of that peace to reach out and live an engaged and meaningfilled life, in community.
    What I am saying is, please don't throw the baby out with the bath water. :)

  2. Sean says:

    I agree with Ted. Ultimate peace, as far as I can see it, is involved peace, anybody can be peaceful when they are away and isolate from everyday life and it's various stressors (whether they are existential, financial, or worse). The real goal is to attain a peace that can come with us as we live through life, a peace that we infuse into our life (I think that would be "inner peace"). I think the peace we are really searching for, deep inside, is a way to live the life we live, and be peaceful doing it, not an escape and isolation from life. That's at least true for me. I want to live life to the fullest, love the life I live, and still have peace when things don't go the way I wish they would (but don't confuse that with apathy and disconnectedness). I want to be able to say, "well, this isn't how I like it, this even hurts me/damages the life I want, I wish it was different, but it isn't, and it's fine, so I'm going to continue to do my best with what I have and strive toward the life I want to live."

  3. thoreau3 says:

    Not to pick nits, but when you say, "Prior to the big bang there was Nothing" you are making a statement that has no foundation in science.

    In short, there is no evidence of nothing. There is no evidence that nothing ever existed.

    All evidence points that something has always existed. It is most likely that before the big bang there was stuff, in another form, and the big bang just rearranged it.

    A cosmic reboot if you will.

    • KarenA says:

      Lol, I thought that too thoreau3! Bit of a time looping rebooting, maybe, but unlikely there was nothing, especially a capital "N" assertive Nothing!

      But good points to consider overall. I would hope seekers are abbreviated their goal to "peace", when perhaps the aim is peace "such that I can be at my most effective in my actions to help others." ?

  4. darkwing dave says:

    I respectfully disagree.
    Not just because I live in Africa and therefore am confronted with daily examples of people who are far from the "luckiest people to have ever been born". Not just because these people don't have the luxury of adequate healthcare and education or live in some of the most violent, dangerous and oppressive societies ever. But because peace, in the midst of that chaos, is exactly what is to be wished for. Peace is also not just a religious or spiritual goal, but often a simple daily wish for something as ordinary as a full night's sleep, uninterrupted by gunfire or disease.
    Careful what you claim as Universal, the Universe doesn't fit pigeonholes…
    Peace :)

  5. Nils Montan says:

    It sometimes feels to me that the evolutionary spirituality movement sets up "old" style spirituality as a "straw man" to repeatedly knock down. OK, I get it, we want to do things in action, but as far as I know, few spiritual teachers before Andrew Cohen suggested to their students that they should just sit around in bliss all day. Ram Dass always emphasized service to others, Chogyam Trungpa was all about creating an enlightened society. Even Eckhart Tolle says that once you are "in the now" you will be able to take action to help others, you will just have a clearer mind. Exactly what is it that the evolutionary people are saying that is SO much different?

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