We best begin by defining "peace" not simply as the absence of violence but more deeply as the presence of the fullness of life. And let us also recognize that this fullness can be felt in varying degrees and ways not only within individual human beings as they enjoy a personal sense of well-being but also between people as they enjoy rich relations with one another. Peace is not simply inner serenity; it is also the give and take of mutually enhancing relationships. Of course, some of these rich relations are intimate and personal. They include the poignancy and creativity of satisfying relations between spouse and spouse, parents and children, friend and friend, lover and lover. When these realtions are mutually enhancing, there is a meaningful taste of interpersonal and intimate peace. Much of the world's great love poetry and much of the world's greatest music are embodiments of, and serve, this intimate peace.

But peace also includes rich relations of a more public and political kind, and politically concerned people rightly resist a reduction of the world to strictly intimate terms. Peace is what happens when people participate in the decisions that affect their lives. It is democracy. Peace is also what happens when people's basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education are met and when they have opportunities for meaningful and satisfying work. It is justice. And peace is what happens when people live in harmony with the earth and other living beings, making space for the whole of life to flourish. It is ecological well-being. This more political side of peace is like a three-legged stool. Its platform is respect and care for the community of life and its three legs are justice, democracy, and ecological integrity. Many people in our world today are working hard for this kind of peace in one of its three aspects. They speak of peace as a just and sustainable world.

In addition to these two dimensions of peace — interpersonal peace and political peace — let us also recognize that peace can include a more mystical or ultimate side. Peace can include an inner, or subjective, journey toward what Buddhists might call "the enlightened life" and Christians might call "life in Christ" and Muslims call "the surrendered life." These phrases name a deeper and more complete side of peace, which, according to most world religions, all humans long for consciously or unconsciously as we seek satisfying personal relations and as we struggle toward just and sustainable communities. A Buddhist would say that there is a Buddha nature within each of us — a potential for enlightenment — that is partially realized in healthy friendships and harmonious communities but that can be fully realized only when we wake up to the pure presence of things as they truly are. A Christian would say that there is an empty space — a God-shaped hole — that can be only partly filled in satisfying relationships and just communities but that can be completely filled only by the presence of God. A Muslim would say that there is a deep and hidden memory within each of us — an awareness of God — that can be awakened when we see that the whole of the universe is a sign of God but that can be finally tasted only by dropping away of the self so that only God remains. If these intimations of an ultimate peace makes sense, then it is obvious that most people on our planet die without ever having fully experienced it. Indeed, and unfortunately, many die without having experienced even small approximations of interpersonal or political peace. In thinking about peace, it is important to recognize that the journey toward peace may extend after death in a continuing journey toward what Buddhists call final nirvana or Muslims might call paradise or Christians might call everlasting life. The possibility of this final peace is important, not because death itself is a problems but rather because so many people die without realizing any semblance of peace. The problem is not death; it is incompleteness.

Jay McDaniel, Gandhi's Hope