Peace of mind is an important value in jnana yoga (commonly translated as path of knowledge) because in a peaceful mind truth reflects in brilliant clarity. A disturbed mind on the other hand tends to veil our vision of truth. So every beginner on the spiritual quest needs to do his/her utmost to calm the mind and develop shama. This means avoiding situations that are likely to cause agitation in the mind as well as practising karma yoga, as most important preparation to the seekers journey towards moksha. Karma yoga will help him tonot spend attention and energy on his disturbing reaction, instead concentrate on whatever can help his/her understanding of what is beyond those reactions. In Advaita Vedanta this means concentrate on shravana – study the scriptures with a traditional teacher.
Yet, life carries on outside the reach of study with the teacher. As helpful and effective as shravana may prove to be, there are thousands of challenges waiting for the seeker in day-to-day life. Meditation and prayer will support him/her further, especially if he has opened his heart to Ishvara and can ask for help in situations that test his ability to maintain peace of mind.
As the understanding grows challenges that were considered to be huge in the beginning will be seen as insignificant. Peace of mind will increase. There comes a point when the understanding of the seeker is quite clear, peace of mind is prevalent in most situations. Now another challenge comes up because now there is danger of clinging to that peace of mind.
No doubt, peace of mind is wonderful and preferable to a disturbed mind but basically peace of mind is needed to gain a better understanding. If the understanding is quite stable and the seeker goes on running after peace of mind at all costs, he is likely to miss a precious opportunity to deepen his understanding.
The beginner should avoid daily life challenges if he/she can as he needs to first stabilize his ability to calm the mind; but in case of the advanced seeker daily life challenges will help him to deepen his understanding, they need not be avoided. On the contrary you have to measure your understanding against your experiences otherwise it is worth nothing. If you only have absence of ownership because you own nothing, if you only accommodate because you are afraid to say no, if you only have dispassion towards sense objects because there are no interesting sense objects around, it does not mean much. In the beginning one needs this kind of support but later on shunning provocative situations means avoidance.
Provocative to what? To peace of mind. If in order to keep mastery of the mind you try to avoid anything that may endanger this peace you are obviously afraid to loose it. And, yes, peace of mind can be lost, can be regained, can be kept, can be lost again etc.
But as an advanced student of Advaita Vedanta you are in search of that which cannot be lost. That is the real peace of which peace of mind is merely a reflection – not that, as reflections go, this one does not have its merits but the assumption that the reflected and the reflection are the same is not correct. We can train peace of mind; but the peace that can never be lost can only be discovered and when it is discovered it is discovered to be our true nature.
The advanced seeker has viveka (to a degree), he knows what is transient and what is eternal. Also he may have realized (to a degree) that he is not the mind. As in most people the foundation of character traits useful to a jnana yogi can always be improved, it is not wrong to go on working on them. But they have to be recognized as belonging to the transient. If the mind is out of balance, it is merely a condition of the mind – like tonsillitis is a condition of the tonsils. Instead of imperatively avoiding situations that challenge his peace of mind, the advanced seeker can embrace the opportunity to discriminate between himself and the condition of his mind.
Wherever we go life will deliver lots of possibilities for us to look out for this significant distinction. Lets welcome them.