That True Peace

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

This quote comes from Black Elk, a famous medicine man/holy man of the Oglala Lakota Sioux.  In the 1930s, his words were translated and recorded into the book, Black Elk Speaks.

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.



5 thoughts on “That True Peace

  1. Your quote is an apt selection for the day. It’s not easy to realize people can be unkind…Hopefully, understanding comes with time. But I see in a few of my peers that it is easy to be angry, critical and the ease of that anger gets in the way of realizing the potential joy that lies within. To be filled with joy is almost, no is, our duty to life.

    Keep sharing.


    • Thank you for commenting and sharing Deb!

      What you say is very true. Dealing with unkindness is very hard and often forgiveness is harder. I think that ultimately you have to forgive others around you not for them but for yourself. And yes I agree, many people often prevent themselves from finding joy by being angry or critical. Ultimately we choose to be happy, no one else does that for us. But as well, it’s very easy to say these things, not always so easy to act that way 😉


  2. Very nice work! Black Elk concisely describes the way Native Americans blended in with their environment, family and tribe. They felt an intrinsic part of the universe and nature. It’s not unlike many of the Asian cultures that are very tribal in their beliefs. While Americans today believe strongly in individual rights above all, tribal culture tends to value unity of group over individualism. Self becomes the center of the power to bond to others, to feel the needs of others without speaking and then to act in good faith with the clan or tribe for the good of all which then insures the good of the individual. It was possible for this to get out of balance, creating havoc. Their beliefs included all manner of ways to restore balance which in turn restored life to the individual and by extension, to the group.


    • Wow, thank your insightful response! I like what you’re saying about balance, for the individual and for the group. Since the group is made up of individuals, each individual needs balance in their life or else the group is thrown off, but as well the strength from the unity of a tribe, a people, a nation, a family can help set a person right again.

      I feel very much though my American individualism at times, and I think it is very good to be your own person pursuing your own dreams, but I wonder what can be lost by doing so? And what can be gained? Does group mentality offer more easily the peace Black Elk describes? Or does individualism?

      Thanks again for your response – BTW, I loved your story!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you as well for stopping by. I think you are very advanced in your understanding of this subject and I will enjoy following your writing. Actually, my blog is all about my finding balance in a chaotic world. I have lived in the Korean culture as an outsider for 26 years and love them dearly as a people. The balance needed, and so desperately searched for, comes when we realize that each of our desired experiences in life have an opposite that is equally important to our growth. I explain it as not being able to feel the height of joy until the depth of despair is known. One provides a means to measure and understand the other. Koreans are very much in tune with forging ahead regardless of their personal pain because they know they are a permanent and important piece of their group and it empowers them to do great things as individuals and as a nation. We naturally seek the positive half of life and phases spent in the negative half often causes us to lose hope for a return to balance. Love might be fleeting but grief can last for years. To achieve balance one only has to realize an undesirable situation is just part of the cycle and a return to the positive is within our power, always to obtain. It’s the yin and yang expressed in a modern language for our times. Our individualism in America has helped make us great as well; but, individualism at the destruction of a relationship, family, group, or nation is obviously not so good. Here again is that balance that allows one to seek their own greatest potential but some effort is also spent on maintaining a relationship, a family, a group of friends or like minded individuals and by extension the whole nation. To me, the very point of Black Elk’s statement is precisely what we need in our country today. We can all be different if we like but to survive as a nation, there must be a degree of unity that binds all groups together, that common bond we all accept. I call it reaching across the aisle. Black Elk understood this, he internalized it, and it guided his life. If our old beliefs are no longer valid, if they no longer bind us, we simply must find what does. Obviously not easy, but thankfully, it starts with the one and grows from there to the many.


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