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Peace versus Contentment

[November 2023 – Dharma Center Mindfulness Tip]

Is there a difference between peace and contentment? In my experience, yes, there is a profound difference.

When we come to embrace the spiritual path, it is because we finally decide we have suffered enough. We want to know life beyond suffering. We want peace. However, many stop short and settle for contentment.

Contentment is lovely. Curled up with a soft blanket on the couch on a grey day with a good book and a purring cat – that is contentment. A cup of hot tea at the end of the day – contentment. Watching the colors of the sunset – contentment. Being surrounded by friends enjoying a delicious meal – again, contentment. Yet what all this has in common is these experiences end. We enjoy them while they last, but eventually the last page of the book will be read, the last sip of tea drunk, the sun dips below the horizon, and the last bite of desert swallowed.

We may need to work very hard to experience contentment. The Path helps us to enjoy contentment by bringing us into the present moment. We learn to let go of future and past, fear and regret, and enjoy the simple pleasures that arise in the now. In essence, we cultivate contentment. It’s an important phase of the Path. With so much suffering in the world, we need moments of enjoyment to recharge our spirit.

So how is that different than Peace? In a nutshell, contentment is conditional and peace is not.

How can we be content in the middle of an argument? Is there contentment when we observe the violence of the world? Do we feel content when we witness someone begging on the side of the road? Of course not. There’s pain. Compassion arises from this pain and we are moved to act.

But if we act with the intent of serving the quest for our own contentment, we do not see the whole picture. We do what makes us feel more comfortable instead of what may actually help those who are suffering. We may even see others as the enemy, as someone who is disturbing us. Our search for contentment becomes yet another prison of separativity.

The way out of this prison is to cultivate peace. By seeking peace, we discover all the places where we harbor violence and aggression within us, giving us the opportunity to face them. In doing so, we develop an inner calm that radiates to all we meet.

With practice, our peace becomes unconditional. We can feel peace in the midst of an argument. We can be at peace when the world is at war. We can share our peace when we meet others who are suffering, simply by allowing compassionate action to be guided by that peace.

Enjoy your moments of contentment. Allow them to rejuvenate you. Then use that energy to deepen your experiences on the Path in the quest for peace within you.

Walking the path of peace is not always easy, but it does not have to be lonely. Find others who share a love of peace and joy, who are actively bringing more Light into this world. Meet us at Dharma Center of Trikaya Buddhism for meditation, discussion, and community.

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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness