(Part 20 in our ongoing series, Swami Kriyananda on Art & the Artist.)
By March, Swamiji felt the need for a complete break. Rosanna was in Italy; he decided to spend time in the desert, and went to Sedona, Arizona. He accepted no mail and for the first week didn’t even turn on his computer. Then he took up a project he had started in 1986, a three-act play called The Peace Treaty. At that time, he had completed only the first act before other work took precedence.
Going back to The Peace Treaty while the war was going on in Iraq, was Swamiji’s way of using “the means available to stand up for high principles,” fulfilling the duty he had urged upon us, “To serve as instruments of the light, to bring faith and hope to others, and a message of God’s abiding love for mankind.” Swamiji had first conceived of the play when he was fifteen years old, and war was raging in Europe, “But the version I wrote then bore little resemblance to what I wrote now.”
The play begins with the victorious conclusion of a righteous war. The evil aggressor has been defeated. There is a chance now for the five clans sharing Crystal Isle to forge a lasting peace. Their hope lies in a treaty, signed by the lord of each clan. But it soon becomes clear that the lords are serving only themselves. The people take matters into their own hands. A few committed individuals gradually inspire others to solve their problem in a new and creative way. The leaders are exiled; the foundation is laid for a true and lasting peace.
“Don’t look to this play,” Swamiji said, “for a workable treaty among nations. Not that it isn’t practicable. Quite possibly it could work—in some age more advanced than our own. Unfortunately today, selfishness is the one insurmountable barrier to world peace.
“There are, however, plenty of examples in history of deep-seated transformations wrought by changes in the general outlook. Human consciousness has changed, but the change hasn’t come from governments. Real transformations in human affairs well up out of the ground. They have never been, nor can they ever be, imposed on mankind from above. Governments cannot set the moral tone for an age. They can only reflect what is already recognized as true by the populace. Individuals must transform themselves. If they want peace on earth, they must attain it first within.”
Swamiji describes The Peace Treaty as “a comedy in the classical sense of a play with a happy ending, not in the more modern sense of a farce.” The theme is serious, but the mood is lighthearted.
“Reality contains a mixture of both darkness and light,” Swamiji said. “From a level of light, however, one experiences more of reality, even as broad vistas can be seen from the mountaintop, but not from the gutters of a city slum. From a level of light, one can observe the darkness in relation to other realities. From a level of darkness, it is difficult to imagine what the light even looks like.”
In the preface, Swamiji repudiates the “modern tendency in the theater to make dialogue reflect as closely as possible the way people actually talk. What this means often is that speech is reduced to grunted monosyllables—‘yep’ ‘nope’ and a few ‘hell no’s’.” In his play, the dialogue is pure poetry.
“Needless to say, people seldom speak in poetry. Nevertheless, poetry manages somehow to capture what they are really thinking and feeling far better than the clumsy terminology with which they so often project their thoughts and feelings to others. Poetry is capable of capturing people’s true, inner state in a way that actual speech almost never does.
“How often people say, ‘I wish I’d thought to say that.’ Drama ought to portray people speaking not as they actually do, but as they would like to, if only they had time to think things through carefully before speaking. To my way of thinking, one of the acid tests of dramatic writing is the ability to go beyond reality to truth.
“I’ve studiously avoided, though, the tendency of many playwrights to make their characters appear more like symbols than real people. The characters here are unaware that their individual roles have any symbolic significance. They are, quite simply, human beings caught up, as most of us are—though few of us realize it—in a drama that takes place on a much broader stage than that of our own little lives.”
When he was writing the play in Sedona, Swamiji said, “I lived on Crystal Isle. Looking out the window at the unfamiliar landscape, it was easy, in the desert light, for the vegetation and the contours of the hills to become the geography of that imagined place.” Later, when it came time to cast the play, Swamiji insisted that one man play a certain role because “He is exactly like the real Baltan!” So vivid had the characters become in his imagination. (Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, 1991, pp. 312-313)