A question that is of perennial concern is that of whether world peace is possible and whether real peace is sustainable. Many utopians have advanced ideas about better ways of organising society or at least establishing limited alternative communities that will be inherently more peaceful than seems to occur naturally among collectivities of human beings.We ourselves here at Eleusis are directly involved in such questions and experiments, doing our best to establish the kind of living community that will contribute to peace in the world.
When one studies such experiments in history it sometimes seems that each attempt solves some problems while creating new ones. This can certainly be said of those social systems of greatest scope that have become established from time to time such as tribalism, imperialism, feudalism, capitalism and communism. In the contemporary world, in recent years at least, there have been less wars in the old fashioned sense of inter-state conflicts, but there has been an escalation of civil wars, incursionary conflict and terrorism. This is, indeed, one of the great questions.
Eirene (also spelt Irene) is the goddess of peace. She is the child of Zeus, king of the gods, and his aunt Themis, goddess of order. Themis is the goddess portrayed in the Statue of Liberty. So, symbolically we can say that Peace arrives when Power is united with Right Order. Irene in turn is the mother of Ploutos (Prosperity). Nonetheless, we can all see that power and order do each bring their own problems.
Now the interesting thing is that although Eirene is beautiful and gracious, quiet and calm, she is also often regarded as the most boring of all the gods. People crave excitement and, swept by such craving, often forget Eirene and rush off into war and strife wherein, strangely, their lives feel more meaningful and they feel more alive.
One of the aims of any kind of spiritual development must surely be to lead people to a way of being in which they feel this sense of full aliveness without needing war and strife to bring it about, or, we might say, where the strife is directed in a constructive rather than destructive way. The Buddha said that a day without striving was not worth living but the kind of striving that he was thinking about was the struggle to overcome one’s own greed, hate and delusion.
Again, people are lazy. They have a persistent tendency when things are going well to do less than they should, neglecting duty, disappearing into their own inner wilderness of internal neurosis. The ultimate result is degeneration, both of society and of character. Eventually, people are once again whipped into action by necessity (Ananke), but by then things have already reached a parlous condition.
Here too, we can say that the taming of spirit has to do with the banishment of this tendency. The person who is fully alive is certainly not a shirker but is, rather, an enthusiast. He or she is capable of both endurance and of vibrant energy and can turn these characteristics to whatever task is in hand. Such a change, however, requires a kind of inner alchemy as well as outer commitments.
All these faults and problems can be seen as a failure to give proper worship and respect to the goddess of Peace. Whatever particular form it may take, such worship is the core of good community. In a good community people notice what needs doing and do it without coercion as a holy act. Such is the mark of good character. Such are those who worship Eirene in a proper way and do not take advantage of her blessings in order to sulk or exploit. They have her and her blessing in mind and so become generous in spirit because of being pervaded by gratitude.
When people do more than their duty, rather than less, there is a surplus of goodwill and the commonwealth prospers, but when people skulk and steal they demoralise one another and a spiritual disease spreads through the whole population leading to a great falling away and the gradual build up of the tensions that end in open conflict or alienation and separation. We should all do our best to avoid undermining the faith of others in such ways. One way of looking at this is to say that the essence of spiritual training is that one learn how to truly worship, revere and feel gratitude for Peace and not take her for granted.
When we think of some of the great economic crises of recent times we can readily see how they result from people failing to be grateful for the blessings of Eirene and using the freedom that times of peace and prosperity (Ploutos) provide to cheat and steal. Really these should not be called economic crises because they do not result from economics as such but from illegal and illegitimate actions.
Too often, peace leads to war because of such wickedness. Irene provides us with wonderful opportunities but so often we betray her trust and abuse the freedom that she brings. When she prevails and gives us such blessings we no longer feel under pressure. At such times it behoves us to rejoice, feel gratitude and take appropriate action to cherish, cultivate and reinvest the gift. When she sees us do so, Eirene will smile, because then she knows that her reign will last and peace will spread upon the Earth.
So where does the "wickedness" come from? Surely from a lack of love and understanding. To sustain a community in good heart, we know from long experience that an essential factor is mutual appreciation and this generally means having plenty of opportunity for in-depth communication of a certain kind. As many of us are or have been therapists, we know quite a lot about this, but it is not something that can really be reduced to technique or system. It is relatively easy to talk in principle about goodness but the genuine article is felt in the heart and where it is found it is generally in a situation where people support it in one another in spirit, word and deed.