Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my daughters, a 14 y.o. teenager, about possibly becoming a vegetarian. The chat led me to speak with her about a path to which I deeply aspire: the path of Shanti. The word Shanti is Sanskrit. It can be simply translated as peace and this is how many Westerners understand it. But such Sanskrit words rarely have a simple one-dimensional meaning. Shanti is much more than tranquility, even if the result of Shanti as a practice is indeed blissfulness. What Shanti stands for is a practice in which our thoughts, words and actions are one the same; harmonized. Often, as life may have it, we find ourselves conflicted. We see a tempting piece of cake and think: “I should really eat healthier;” but we say, “I’ll have a small piece of that cake,” and then we eat the whole thing. The sense of guilt that ensues is lack of harmony. Such disharmony can appear in various combinations – thinking and saying one thing yet acting in a different way, or thinking one thing yet saying and doing something else. Whatever blend that is not in full harmony, it is not Shanti and thus will make us feel wrong, no matter what story we try to tell ourselves.
Following this line of discussion, I have asked my daughter to give more thought as to why she wants to become a vegetarian. Changing her eating lifestyle is only but one element – the doing. She needs, I suggested, to align it with thoughts and words if this is to be meaningful. For me, being a vegetarian for well over fifteen years, it is what I believe from both health and moral perspectives. I can and am speaking in favor of this practice though without being preachy, and I try to act that way, not only when seated by the dining table but also in the way I treat my body and respect animals. So much so this practice had settle in, that when I see a piece of animal product on a plate, I see the entire living organism from which it was taken. It does not disgust me much but it makes me firm in my resolve and belief about my choice of lifestyle.
My daughter then asked me about trees and the use of paper. She vouched, as part of a Rite of Passage project she is doing, to help fight deforestation. Our discussion led her to rethink her use of paper. She loves to draw comics and is in the habit of filling pages upon pages with her drawings. “Is that wrong?” she asked, “After all, I would like to stop deforestation and by using so much paper I may be contributing to exactly the opposite.” I thought it was clever of her making this association. Often we live to one set of beliefs, yet we fail to make the connection with our actual actions. A conversation about this matter followed, and its conclusion was that the way she can address it is by exploring purchasing a drawing tablet. Prices of such tablets had come significantly down and their quality is quite good. This will not only help reduce usage of paper but also enable her to directly save her artwork into electronic format, saving the need to scan. Furthermore, I told her, since I am too in favor of fighting deforestation, I try to buy paper and any other products derived from trees, that include a large portion of recycled matter. I trust that my usage of paper is 50% less than of my peers. If we can all cut the usage of paper by 50%, that would be a great start, not only for the green lungs of this planet and its endangered species, but also for us as humans, in obtaining higher degree of inner piece.
Shanti is therefore not a simple word with a straightforward meaning. Shanti is a path, a way of leading a more harmonious, peaceful life. It encompasses every aspect of our living. The only way to achieve it, is by increasing awareness, consciousness and striving to align the elements of mind, speech and body.
Learned from: a conversation with my daughter