The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.
— Black Elk
I’m always stunned whenever I pick up this book – this man had an incredible life. He fought in the battle of Little Big Horn, he traveled all over the world with Buffalo Bill in his Western Circus. But from the time he was very young, Black Elk was blessed with acute spiritual discernment and wisdom.
What always amazes me when I read this book is not only the unique spiritual perspective of Native American beliefs, but also how similar some of those beliefs are to Eastern religions’ philosophy. Here, it’s like he’s talking about the relationship between Brahman and Atman. Black Elk lives in a place so far West that we’ve come almost East again, around the world.
I also love this quote about ‘true peace,’ that it cannot be this outside force, it has to come from within, and it has to come from within everyone for there to really be peace in the world. Again, he says something you hear more often in Eastern religions, that your innate nature is oneness, is the universe, is God – in the Vedanta Hindu tradition they go a step further by saying it is your destiny to realize this, and that through the process of multiple births, you eventually will come to know your true self and know true peace.
The last part he mentions about this true peace being reflected between relationships is also very interesting to examine: obviously, because of the relationship between Native tribes and the United States government, Black Elk is speaking directly to that and the needs for peace between these nations; as well, with him being a tested warrior in battle, the ability to have peace between individuals after the fighting has stopped is very important. But Black Elk instructs that you have to build up to that from within yourself. You cannot forgive someone who has wronged you if there is anger and vengeance in your heart; you cannot have peace without trust and goodwill. These things have to come from within, they have to be sincere, or else peace between peoples will fail.
For the individual too, I think it works inversely: if there is conflict between two people this prevents you from achieving true peace. In order to find peace you must settle the conflict and that requires unlocking that true peace.
I think we can go one step further and say, from what Black Elk has said, that if this oneness, this true peace, is within each of us then ultimately there is no separation and we are one. There is no difference between you and the neighbor your having a dispute with; there is no difference between the man you are fighting and yourself; there is no difference between the people of one nation and another – ultimately we are all the same. And beyond just a ‘we are all human beings’ level, I think he is saying – I think he is claiming that our very souls are the same, (which goes beyond this human body). But you can take it either way.
Later on in life, Black Elk became a Catholic, but would seamlessly blend these two traditions together – he did not see them in conflict his traditional beliefs and Catholic dogma. I think, therefore, this great quote from the Christian tradition goes even further to solidify Black Elk’s claims , “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). True peace, true love comes from within, therefore it must be reflected in you; in order to love your neighbor you must love yourself. The true love you have for yourself will be reflected in the love you have for your neighbor. This is the only way.
What do you guys think? Reading the quote, did you gain any other insights from what Black Elk is saying? I could go on and on but I’d love to hear what you think! Also, is anyone very familiar with Native American traditions and spirituality? I have to say, I don’t know much about it, but I’d love to learn more if there’s a book someone can recommend or an author/speaker. Let me know what you think!
Image: Black Elk (L) on tour with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.