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Peace Like a River

When I started thinking about the September Jivamukti Yoga Focus-of-the-Month and what I might say about it for the newsletter, the first thing that popped into my head was the African-American spiritual “Peace Like a River.”

I've got peace like a river

I've got peace like a river

I've got peace like a river in my soul

I've got peace like a river

I've got peace like a river

I've got peace like a river in my soul

I've got love like an ocean

I've got love like an ocean

I've got love like an ocean in my soul

I've got love like an ocean

I've got love like an ocean

I've got love like an ocean in my soul


I've got joy like a fountain

I've got joy like a fountain

I've got joy like a fountain in my soul

I've got joy like a fountain

I've got joy like a fountain

I've got joy like a fountain in my soul

I’ve got peace, yes, I’ve got peace,

Yes I’ve got peace, and I wish it for you

I’ve got peace, yes, I’ve got peace,

Yes I’ve got peace, and I wish it for you

And I wish it for you, and I wish it for you


This spiritual expresses truths that yoga teaches us: peace flows freely like a river, a river we can step into and flow along with; love is boundless and deep like the ocean, and we can be immersed in this ocean of unity with all others; and joy is blissful and playful, a fountain we can drink from, be showered by, and dance in.

Spirituals grew out of slavery in the American south where slaves sang them in the fields not only to pass the time but also to help keep hope alive in the most horrendous of circumstances. “Peace Like a River” reminds singers that internally we always have peace, love, and joy — true freedom — available to us, no matter what may be happening externally. The last verse reminds us that internal peace, love, and joy are boundless and limitless—so we always have more than enough in order to wish peace for others. It’s important that the lyrics say “wish” rather than “give.” Inner peace is not something that can come from outside oneself — it cannot be given. It must be cultivated, discovered, developed, or tapped into by each individual. It is always there within us, and our practices help us to remember and to reconnect with our True nature. So while we cannot give inner peace to others, we can and should offer our support and best wishes for their success in cultivating it.


Chanting mantra is one way we can develop our innate capacity for peace, equanimity, unconditional love, boundless compassion, and limitless joy. It is also is an excellent way to send out those good wishes to others. The mantra lokah samastah sukhinoh bhavantu or “May all beings everywhere be happy and free” is one way we wish others well.


Or we can recite the Vedic prayer Sarveṣāṁ svastir bhavatu Sarveṣāṃ ṣāntir bhavatu Sarveṣāṃ pūrṇaṃ bhavatu Sarveṣāṃ maṇgalaṁ bhavatu or “May auspiciousness be unto all. May peace be unto all. May fullness be unto all. May prosperity be unto all.”


The Sanskrit word śānti may be defined as tranquility, peace, quiet, calmness of mind, equanimity, welfare, prosperity, good fortune, ease, comfort, happiness, and bliss. In chanting the simple mantra śānti, śānti, śānti or “peace, peace, peace,” we can send the intention or wish for inner peace to ourselves as well as others.


Our intentions and our words are powerful. This is why at the beginning of my classes, we each set an elevated intention, thinking of someone to whom we can offer up any benefit we may receive from the practice. This is why we chant the lokah samastah sukhinoh bhavantu mantra at most of my classes. And this is why at the end of classes, I always say, “May all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering, may all beings be at ease.”


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