Carrying in her tunic pockets her only possessions-toothbrush, comb, pen, and later, her Steps to Inner Peace pamphlets-she took a vow to walk penniless, and to remain a wanderer until mankind had learned the way of peace, "walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." She had no organizational backing and never accepted money. She owned only what she wore on her back. She stepped out for peace on faith alone, and in so doing, undertook a daring and groundbreaking feat that represented enormous moral courage.
She introduced herself to people as a pilgrim - walking not to a place but for an idea. Her message was a simple one about the way to peace. She said to all who would listen: "This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love." Her definition of peace included peace among nations, among people and individuals, and the most important peace-within oneself-for only with inner peace, she believed, can the other kinds be achieved. She said that her message should not be taken lightly, or viewed simply as impractical religious concepts, but rather, as universal truths to be lived:
These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of life chaos results. Through obedience to these laws this world of ours could enter into a period of peace and richness beyond our fondest dreams.
Setting out at the dawn of the nuclear age, she carried three petitions: one to end the war in Korea, the second to establish a U.S. Peace Department (both directed at President Eisenhower and Congress); and a third petition directed at the United Nations, urging world disarmament and the redirection of arms spending towards human needs funding. She delivered all three.
On her journeys, she preached that the basic conflict in the world was not between nations, but between two beliefs: 1) that evil can only be overcome with more evil (the dominant, present belief); and 2) that evil can only be overcome with good (the belief for which she walked). "What we suffer from in the world is immaturity," she said. "If we were mature people, war would be unthinkable and peace would be assured." In her life, her belief in maturity was put into daily practice. She wrote:
No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith. For such a person gets through to the good in others (and there is good in everyone), and therefore cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between groups and it would work between nations if nations had the courage to try it.
She walked for the next 28 years, weaving back and forth across the country, making trips into neighboring countries. From the start, her life on the road - walking, talking, eating, sleeping - was undertaken as a reverent, loving prayer, integrating what she believed were the important things of living, into a penniless, simple, committed existence of love and service.
She never approached anyone, but waited for people to approach her. Her commitment was to make herself available to the serious, the concerned and the curious. She spoke tirelessly to those who wanted to talk. With her message covering the entire peace gamut, from the international to the individual, she asked people to overcome the selfishness and pride within themselves first, and then do whatever they felt called to do for peace in the world.
For those who asked, she gave out her Steps Toward Inner Peace pamphlet, which outlined her preparations for inner peace, including simplification of life and purification of the body, bringing the inner and outer well being into harmony. She always stressed that there was no particular order to the steps, but rather, one should begin wherever it made sense. (These Steps were first printed in 1966, when, during a radio interview, a friend asked her to share them with listeners. The friend copied them down and made a little booklet, Steps Toward Inner Peace, which has been in print ever since).
Source: Peace Pilgrim's story was written by Marta Daniels, and is reprinted here by permission of the author. It is adapted from Daniels' extended biography of Mildred Norman Ryder (Peace Pilgrim), first published in short form in Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. V, Harvard University Press, 2005. The full story ("Peace Pilgrim: Spiritual Teacher, Non Violent Advocate, Peace Prophet") can be found on the Peace Pilgrim web site at: http://www.peacepilgrim.com/htmfiles/mdppbio.htm Reprint of this story in part or whole must have the permission of the author. Contact the author through the Voices website.