I recently returned from a week-long yoga retreat in Puerto Morelos, a lovely little fishing village in the Yucatan peninsula about 25 miles south of Cancun. We had two yoga sessions each day, and our instructor ended each session by placing her palms together, looking at each one of us, bowing her head and saying “shanti.”
Yogis are well acquainted with this word. Shanti is Sanscrit and roughly translates as peace, rest, calmness, tranquility, or bliss. T. S. Eliot, in his poem The Waste Land (where he spelled it Shantih), translates shanti as “The Peace which passeth understanding.” In doing so, Eliot connects shanti with the well-known passage from our Scripture from the book of Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:7.
In conventional understanding, “peace” can mean a time when there aren’t any wars or perhaps even when there aren’t any major wars. This is a fairly low bar for peace, when you think about it, and yet even this seems like too much to hope for these days. “Peace” in our Holy Scripture, shanti in Sanskrit, shalom in Hebrew, all mean much more than a relative reduction in conflict.
One of the titles by which Jesus is known is “Prince of Peace.” I might think of it this way. Each of the three terms is large and rich with meaning, and each brings its own particular emphasis. Shanti refers to an inner peace, a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace and emotionally becalmed, not by being in denial of what is going on around us, but through a deep mind and body awareness that enables us to stay centered.
My understanding of shalom – commonly used as a greeting – is that it is the kind of peace between and among people that leads to completion and wholeness, within and without. The peace of Christ, most simply put, is, in Frederick Buechner’s words, the presence of love. I find that when we mine the different traditions deeply enough, we see that they connect to the same deep well of divine oneness and love.