A Zen tale tells of a terrifying band of samurai warriors pillaging town after town. As they approached one particular village, all its residents fled—except their Buddhist monk. When the samurai leader entered the monastery, he found the monk sitting quietly, deep in meditation.
The fierce and large samurai took out his sword and shouted at the monk, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know I could slay you with my sword without a second thought?” The monk slowly opened his eyes, paused, and quietly responded: “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know that I could let you slay me with your sword without a second thought?”
Stunned but impressed, the samurai placed the sword back in its sheath, bowed respectfully to the monk, and left the room.
That story has been told and retold throughout history to show that inner peace is possible to attain in the presence of stress, chaos, and danger. Buddhism identifies inner peace as a sense of emotional, mental, and spiritual harmony, even as life’s challenges arise. When inner peace is present, there are strong feelings of serenity, balance, tranquility, and calmness. Here are some Buddhist methods of attaining inner peace.
The Dalai Lama offers simple, straightforward advice: “Even if you had the world at your feet, it would still not be enough. Desire is insatiable. Excessive desire is not only impossible to satisfy, it’s also the source of torment. Let’s imagine that you are extraordinarily rich, and you have a huge stock of food. But you have only one mouth and one stomach, so you cannot swallow more than an ordinary person. If you ate enough for two, you would die. It’s better to establish boundaries right from the start, and feel satisfied within those boundaries.”
Begin the process of limiting your desires by asking this basic question: Do I really need this, or is it just something I want? Bring to mind the awareness that a need is necessary for survival while a want is simply something one desires to acquire.
Practice CPR Meditation
Recent research suggests that people can begin to displace anxiety and derive psychological and physiological benefits from meditation after just a single introductory session. For the study, researchers recruited participants who had normal blood pressure but high levels of anxiety.
They measured factors related to cardiovascular functioning—including heart rate, blood pressure, aortic blood pressure (blood pressure in the aorta, specifically), and arterial stiffness—before and after a 60-minute guided introductory session of meditation.
This session emphasized a focus on breathing and awareness of one's thoughts. The results of the study revealed a clear reduction in anxiety within the first hour after the meditation session. Additionally, anxiety was significantly lower one week following, according to lead study author and professor John J. Durocher, PhD.
A simple meditation you can try is “CPR.” It is based on the words calm, peaceful, and relaxed and works with these three sentences:
I am calm. I am peaceful. I am relaxed.
Using your breath to guide you, repeat these three sentences this way:
On the inhale say to yourself: I am…
On the exhale say to yourself: …calm.
On the next inhale say: I am...
On the exhale say: …peaceful.
On the next inhale say: I am...
And on the exhale say: …relaxed.
Repeat this process until you begin to feel more calm, peaceful, and relaxed. This can happen quickly, or it may take a few minutes.
Right speech is one of the eight steps outlined by the Buddha if one is to experience inner peace and freedom from suffering. He described right speech as “Abstaining from false speech, abstaining from malicious speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chatter.”
Clearly, gossip is not right speech. “The Buddha cautioned against gossip because he saw the suffering that this kind of unskillful speech causes,” says Allan Lokos, a New York City meditation teacher and author. Lokos defines gossip as “speaking about someone who is not physically present. It doesn’t matter whether what is said is positive or negative. If the person is not there, it is gossip.”
In order to curb gossip, Lokos engages in a spiritual exercise once or twice year when he designates “a specific period of time—a week or a month—when I do not speak about anyone who is not present. I find that my voice gets quite a rest, and the part of my ego that believes I do not gossip gets quite a jolt. Every time I do the exercise, I find that the effects of this awareness practice are with me for weeks, and even months, afterward. When I start to speak about someone, a little reminder beeps in my mind: ‘Don’t gossip.’”
When those moments of distress and dysfunction appear, consider sharing the burden by talking it out with a trusted friend—and be willing to accept help. An example comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1958, while signing copies of his book at a store in New York, a woman stabbed him with a letter opener.
It took a seven-hour operation to save Dr. King’s life. One of the first people to visit Dr. King was actor-singer Harry Belafonte. Dr. King told Belafonte that his only fear about dying was that there would be no one to care for his infant son, Martin III.
Belafonte’s response was immediate, practical, compassionate, and generous. “The work you do for all of us is so important,” he told Dr. King. “I never want you to worry about providing for your children. I never want you to have to do something for the money. I’ll take care of everything.” As quietly and anonymously as possible, Belafonte established a trust fund that eventually paid for the school of Martin and Coretta Scott King’s four children.
Remember that the Buddha himself was willing to receive assistance. In order to achieve his enlightenment, the Buddha first engaged in ascetic practices denying his body proper nourishment. As a result, he became severely emaciated and very feeble.
A farmer’s wife named Sujata saw him, recognized that he was dying of starvation, and carefully fed him rice mixed with milk. Accepting her help enabled the Buddha to continue on and develop the “middle way,” a balanced approach to spiritual evolution.
Lighten Your Life
Henry David Thoreau understood that busyness erodes inner peace when he advised, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
Offering a similar insight, Buddhist nun and author Ayya Khema states: “There’s no need to be busy. We should, of course, fulfill our obligations and responsibilities. But to be overly busy cannot possibly bring peacefulness. It cannot bring contentment. It cannot bring a heart full of love… So we should check our activities and see which ones are totally unnecessary.”
Beginning the process of lightening your life simply means making a conscious decision to do less and want less.
The Dalai Lama notes that whenever negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, worry, or fear emerge, “We need some countermeasures to oppose them. For example, if we are too hot, we reduce the temperature, or if we want to remove darkness, there’s no other way than bringing light.”
When you’re feeling impoverished, practice gratitude; when you’re feeling sad, smile at every person you encounter; when you’re experiencing guilt, be extra kind to others; when you’re feeling discouraged, recall and savor what is good and right in your life.
Learn how to let go of anger—the Buddhist way.