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This would be my teaching now. Human, remember your humanity, remember your mortality, remember that you will die, and live your life accordingly in a middle way, with passion but also with compassion, with humility and not arrogance, with love not anger.
All the other things that you have gained in spirituality will still be there with you: the sense of the great Void which contains all, and can rob suffering of its bite, but would also take the meaning out of joy; the light of consciousness and the feeling of the divine within you, and that God lives through you as God; a sense of grace and a quiet happiness; as well as the knowledge that everything is consciousness being sensated, being examined and witnessed also by you on a different level. All of these things remain true, all of these places in the great spiritual mansion can be explored again and again, but always you can return to that one room that is special to you and your life, the room of your personhood, the room of your life lived in compassionate passion for all of life as well as your own.
So, naturally, the focus of day-to-day living was to be aware and conscious of all the constant mind activity, the whole internal psychological structure and its operation. This ongoing challenge required that I maintain total awareness, to be open and attentive to every inner movement of thought, to be watchful and honest about the play of my own mind. Awareness is just that: to watch with objective attention and to sense oneself within and without. One has to watch impersonally, without trying to alter anything and without words or thoughts. One has to see things as they are, without any bias or reaction, hopes or fears.
In the beginning, one’s watching is fragmented, as one part of the mind watches another. However, gradually, with increased sensitivity and alertness, one steps out of the field of thought and watches with one’s whole being. The body, mind, senses and sensitivity are jointly involved in a unique amalgamation as one unit, to make full contact.
Question: Can you tell us something about the predominant qualities of America?
Sri Chinmoy: In America, the dynamic vital, but not the aggressive vital, is of paramount importance. There are various places in the world where the aggressive vital is more to the fore, but here in America I see the dynamic vital most of the time. Again, you have to know that we are still imperfect. The vital is like a knife. With a knife we can cut a fruit and share it with others. Let us say that that sharing is done by the dynamic vital. With the same knife, if I stab you, then that is the aggressive vital. The same instrument can be dynamic or aggressive.
I appreciate America for its dynamism. If you are dynamic, you run towards your goal. If you do not know where the goal is, then you may run from this side to that side, but it is better to move than to remain static. There are many people in India and other parts of the world who are wallowing in the pleasures of idleness. They live in eternal time. They think that one day God will come and stand before them and say, “All right, since you could not think of Me, it is My duty to think of you.” But that is absurd.
Americans are running. They are not sure of the goal, but they are constantly on the move. They go to one side and run into a wall and get hurt. Then they go to another side, and the goal is not there, so they get another blow. But at least they go. If they sit still, worrying that perhaps on this side there is a wall or on that side there is a hole, then they will not make any progress at all. This dynamism is the thing that I deeply appreciate and admire in America.
I have hope for the places where I notice dynamism. But there are places where there is no dynamism, and I have very little hope for their progress. In Europe presently, people still live in the mind. The mind is not a bad thing. The mind can be a very good instrument, later on, but not now. The mind that we are now using is the physical mind, which constantly doubts and suspects. It is limited and full of darkness. But there are other higher minds — the illumined mind, the intuitive mind, the overmind. We are not using these higher minds right now. First we have to live in the heart and bring the soul’s light into the mind. Europeans are mental people. They find it difficult to appreciate the heart’s qualities. Some, however, are trying hard to open their hearts.
Another good quality of Americans is that they appreciate everything, like children. A child appreciates everything without discrimination. God is a divine Child. He appreciates everything. When His son or daughter gives Him anything, He is so highly pleased, even if it is just a grain of sand. He says, “If you had wanted to keep that grain of sand for yourself, you could have, but you gave it to Me.” Americans are like that, too. America has a big heart. When it is a question of the heart’s magnanimity, America is very advanced. America makes mistakes, but who does not mistakes? Mistakes we all make, but America does not know how to hesitate. The best quality in the spiritual life is not to hesitate once you know your goal. Even if you do not know your goal, run! Then God’s Compassion will dawn because you are running, because you are on the move. Once you feel that your goal is not where you are, your goal is somewhere ahead of you, then you have to run.
America has the willingness to see, and to accept or reject, rather than to first hesitate. There are many parts of the world that hesitate and hesitate and hesitate, until it becomes too late. In any race if you hesitate and hesitate before you start to move, in the meantime, your opponents just win the race!
Sri Chinmoy, Aspiration-Glow and Dedication-Flow, part 1, Agni Press, 1977
The Maha Swami and The Maharishi
Two reports I heard from the servitors of the Maha-Svami relating him to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi I could myself easily attribute to their creative artistry in elevating their own Master over every other holy man. Yet I wanted to get confirmation from His Holiness himself for certain reasons.
The Maha-Svami, ever bubbling with wit and witticism had a unique way of saying things. He said he did not want to give the same judgment on both reports and so would call one of them as pettal (colloquial for pitatral) and the other as ularal. The fun of it si that both the words mean the same, viz., talking nonsense!
To come to the two reports. One of them was that when the Maha-Svami was circumambulating the Holy Hill during his camp at Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramana Maharishi purposely came out of his living room in the Ramana-Asrama and walked to a particular spot from where he could see the Maha-Svami at a distance.
Even as I heard it I could write it off, because Maharishi was to me surely one to whom the triad of the seer, seen and sight had dissolved in the oneness of the only Self. (So it was to His Holiness. But he donned the role of the Teacher exemplifying the ideal to the humans, and therefore was ever on the move to see people and holy places.)
Decades back, a lad of sixteen, the Maharishi fled home to Tirvannamalai, afire with the raging ardor to see the Fire-Linga of lord Arunachalesvara. He took darsan, just one darsan, and with that the very idea of an object to be seen apart from the self was burnt out! Though he lived in the very temple precincts for the next five or six months, he did not visit the sanctum sanctorum again. To assert that, contrary to what the Asrama sources say, he did come out to see that Maha-Svami is, as the Svami himself said, nothing but pettal (nonsense).
Our Acharya Maha-Svami visited Tiruvannamalai twice, once in 1929 and again in 1944, both for the Kartika Deepam festival (when the holy beacon is lighted atop the Hill). On both the occasions he also made the customary Giri-pradakshinam (circumambulation of the Hill). The Ramanasraman lies on the route. I have heard reports from two very reliable and respected persons attached to the Asramam, Sri Kunju Svamigal and Mme. Suri Nagmma about what transpired when the Maha-Svami passed along the route. Kunju Svami must have been present on both the occasions and Nagamma on the latter one.
Bhagavan had already prepared the asramites not to take it amiss if the Acharya did not enter into the Asramam and see him; because, according to one tradition, one in the Jagadguru Peetham (Seat of the World-teacher) must not call on another holy man on his own. As for himself, though he did not say it, he would not extend an invitation to anyone for the simple reason that he did not have any desire or need to see any body, anything. As for the asramites, they could, if they so wished, gather outside and have darsan of the Acharya as he moved along.
And most of them did.
The asramites had great respect for the Acharya, especially by the forties, because it was he who almost compelled Paul Brunton the Maharishi’s feet, and it was Brunton’s soulful account of the Maharishi that threw open the window of the West of the light of the Illumined Master. The book clearly shows that the Acharya considered the Maharishi as “a high master” who can give “initiation into the real yoga of the higher kind”.
In one of his discourses in Madras in the early thirties, the Acharya had raked the Maharishi, whom he referred to as Ramana Svamigal, among the jivan-muktas (liberated even while living in a body). The asramites were naturally happy that the respected head of a Sankara Math, uncompromising in such matters, gave such praise to the Maharishi in public.
On both the occasions of his visit to Tiruvanna malai, the Acharya turned his eyes towards the entrance of the Asrama, stopped for a few seconds looking round and continued to walk, a still picture in motion!
Reminiscing the second visit Nagamma said, while all the other asramites went out and waited at the gate for His Holiness, she alone was left with the Maharishi.
“Why have you not joined them?” he asked her.
“Because the Svami does not see Brahmin widows who have not shaved their heads”, Nagamma replied.
Though mature and tolerant not to denounce the orthodox custom, she felt a tinge of sadness.
The Maharishi just nodded his head and looked at her with compassion, The compassion assuaged her sadness. The simple nod too conveyed a lot to the discerning disciple. It signified the Maharishi’s acceptance of both the Acharya’s adherence to the institutional customs, and Nagamma’s wisdom in not following the other such windows who used to peep at the Acharya from a hidden place.
Here comes something antipodal between the Maha-Svami and the Maharishi. the former stood foremost in strictly observing all the distinction laid out by the Dharma sastras and orthodox traditions, whereas the latter stood foremost in practicing equality. Even to merit the glance of the Maha-Svami one had to fulfil conditions; a millionaires Brahmin widow was disqualified if she was not tonsured! On the other hand, even an untouchable beggar could sit right by the side of the Maharishi and eat along with him. Nay, if he so felt, there was no restriction to his feeding the Maharishi from out of the alms in his begging bowl! How rude, crude and cruel does the one appear and how suave, soft and sweet the other? How is it that the Sweet gives his nod of approval to the Cruel?
If the Sweet cannot appreciate the Cruel, equally true is the vice versa. But whereas the Sweet’s appreciation of the Cruel came out in `just nodding,’ the Cruel’s appreciation of the Sweet came out in a verbal flow. That was in the public discourse given by the Maha-Svami the very night. To quote Nagamma, “The Swami spoke at great length saying that every head of a religious organisation has to observe established traditions while one who is an Athyasramite (one transcending the four stages of life prescribed by the Dharma Sastras) has no such inhibitions… (To) attain that state is very difficult and that had been possible only for a great soul like Ramana Maharishi.”
The devotees of the Maharishi exulted at this unstinted tribute the Acharya paid to their Master in their home-town.
But close on it wake the Acharya gave a rude shock to them. They felt that he had dealt a direct blow on what they held in worshipful respect in the Asrama, viz., the temple over the spot where the body of the mother of the Maharishi was buried. When she passed away, the Maharishi favoured the idea of putting up such a structure because in his view (which was not just a view, but perception of truth) she was a Sannyasini who attained the Jnani’s liberation of Oneness. Vedic priests offered their chants and ritualistic services at the temple as they did in any other `regular’ temple. But, to their dismay when they went after one such service there to participate in the evening Puja at the Acharya’s Math, they were asked to enter only after taking a purificatory bath. Because, first of all opinion was divided among the orthodoxy on first of all, opinion was divided among the orthodoxy on the very question of the eligibility of women for sannyasa; and even if that was accepted, the mother of Maharishi was not initiated to that order in the formal, scriptural way. So the place of her burial was just a grave-yard (which pollutes the entrants).
The directive of the Acharya to the priests struck the asramites as a bigoted, book-learnt judgement over the intuitive judgment of their enlightened master. As most of the priests were also devoted to the Maharishi, they were deeply perturbed when the Pontiff, who was the bulwark of the priestly tradition in the changing world, pronounced the stricture.
Early next morning the asramites and priests went to the Maharishi. In spite of the asramites’ efforts to restrain themselves before their august Master, they could not keep their tempers. They complained about what all `that Svami’ was doing with his differentiating outlook in contrast to what `this Bhagavan’ was doing in his all-embracing outlook. “The priests want to give a reply to him. (They actually wanted to teach him a lesson!) Bhagavan should give the reply.”
As ever unruffled, the Maharishi heard it all and in his stately composure gave his judgement on the judgement of the Svami on his previous judgment. It was Neutrality itself that spoke!
“Why say that person, this person? Say there, here. That is the correct expression. Viewed so, what all has happened will also be understood as correct. (For the benefit of the Tamil-knowing readers, let me give the original simple, concise and powerful words of the Maharishi as faithfully conveyed by Sri Kunju Svami: That is an orthodox Peetham, and this an independent ashram. Who ever is here would be like this. So long as that svami is the head of that Peetham he must only follow (more precisely, `demonstrate’, because the Maharishi said not the ways and rules of the Peetham. He had therefore issued that directive.
“Why reply? Then there will be a counter to it, a counter to the counter and it will go on like that. (Looking at the asramites) Let us carry on in our way silently here, come. The others may withdraw. let not anybody raise questions and arguments.”
Is it not clear that Maharishi considered the Maha-svami to be a Brahma-jnani in reality who was just `demonstrating’ certain ways because he happened to be in a certain place! The Brahma-jnani alone can take the colour of any surroundings. Chameleon-like? But the chameleon does that to save itself; the jnani, to save the surrounding! The particular surrounding of our Brahma-jnani conferred on him the uniqueness of being the only Maha-Purusha of the recent times to apparently bind his state of unbound freedom with shackles of the strictest codes of the orthodox tradition. Much in it would be rude, crude and cruel in the eyes of the changing free world. But in Nature’s order freedom too must be balanced by discipline, which is another name for restraint. When almost the whole world plumbed in for freedom and its consequent break from the past to its rude, crude and cruel extreme, it was as though Nature threw up the Single Entity on the Acharya to counter balance it by his total adherence to the past tradition in its extreme form. Though noble motives and ideals are not lacking n the Modern Movements, in actually it has only `helped its adherents in self-pampering in various ways. In contrast, however base orthodoxy appeared to be, people saw with open eyes in its Ace-adherent the living example of self-paupering. They realised that he was more `cruel’ in his self-denial than in denying them the many rights they clamoured for. It was the power of this self-abnegation, added to that of his unbounded love deep within, which knew no differentiation, that gained universal respect for him.
But human nature being what it is, respect gives way to remonstration when personally picked. That happened with the Ramana-asramites too. But the Maharishi, who had no person to be pricked, dissolved it by counseling sympathetic acceptance.
These are various systems of medicine. In the Unani system we have sweet and soft drugs, in the Ayurveda bitter and pungent ones. Does that mean the hakim only is kind an the vaidya cruel? Whatever the patient may think, the hakim and vaidya, if open-hearted, will acknowledge the merit of each other. That was what our vaidya Maha-Swami and hakim Maharishi did. That was the secret of the mutual appreciation between the `Cruel’ and the `Sweet’.
(It is also generally accepted by the Masters that when we are in the initial stages of cleansing the mind the Ayurveda of (the Karma-marga of) the Dharma Sastras is more called or, and only afterwards the Unani of Jnana Marga.)
According to my sure understanding, the orthodox interpretation the Maha-Svami gave of touching the place of burial of Maharishi’s mother must have changed later on.
For nearly a decade from the early seventies I often felt an irresistible urge to visit Ramanasrama. At that time I had asked the Maha-svami about my going to what was said to be the Mother’s temple there.
He said with a smile, “I think you say `what is said to be’ because you have heard about my pronouncement (uttravu) on that”, he continued, “That was before the Kumbhabishekam (formal consecration of the structure as a temple) was performed there quite elaborately. Among the many santi karmas (expiatory rites) in that, what was necessary in the particular matter was also carried out, perhaps without the knowledge of the people of the Asramam themselves.”
Though this may appear rather scrappy to the readers, the eloquent sannidhya (divine personal radiation) of the Maha-Svami added to his verbal statement gave me, personally, the full answer. I could construe with certainty that by `what was necessary in this particular matter was carried out’ he meant tat what was scripturally ordained for conferring the status of a temple to a structure that had come up in a burial ground was carried into effect. “Perhaps without the knowledge of the people of the Asramam themselves”: my sure guess is that somebody on behalf of the priests to perform the Kumbhabishekam, evidently having in mind the Maha-Svami’s previous stricture, had independently sought his advice before taking up the consecration and the Maha-svami must have told him to see if any rite to formally authorise a temple that had come up in a graveyard was given in the Sastras, and if found, that must be carried out in the present case. Actually finding some such, the priests must have duly fulfilled that. Not a raise any unpleasant thoughts among the asramites, the Maha Svami must have, in his abounding sympathy, advised the priests to keep this back from them.
Apart from this `sure guess’, it is a fact that the Maha-Svami permitted me, who may be said to be on the side of the orthodox, to visit the place as a temple. That applies to all others of the same persuasion.
Deep within, the sweet water and tender pulp of love and compassion, but on the outside, the hard shell and the husky rind of the orthodox cannons and customs such a coconut the Acharya was. If we acknowledge that he did also partake of the dualism of the world in this Avataric semblance to humanity, we will realise that his loving heart would have undergone more pain than the `victims’ of his stringent strictures – as in the present had to veto the verdict of the very person whom he respected as the perfect example of non-dual perfection. Who knows the number of times something akin to the episode of Sri Rama banishing his beloved and spotless Sita for the sake of upholding his dharmic duty happened in the life of the Acharya! The imperceptible influence of this spirit of sacrifice enhanced the unexceptional respect he elicited.
We come to the second of the reports, the ularal one.
What the whole world came to know as the unique `aspect’ of the Maharishi was his total indifference to whatsoever happened to the body. Even in his teens he was thoroughly obvious of the worms and insects eating into his thighs and nates when he was absorbed in the Self in a subterranean cavern. When at the end of his life, sarcoma was perforating his arm, the world wondered at his perfect unconcern over it. But my Math friends belonged to a different world, the world of the Maha Svami’s one-up manship over all other holymen! So their Maharishi sent word to their Maha-Svami about his protracted suffering, asking why it should be so. (Thank God the friends did not go to the extent of saying that the Maharishi prayed for the Maha-Svami’s grace for relief) the Maha-Svami in return sent the message, “It is will known to you that the body is not you. (It was gracious of the friends to accept this!) Then what is there except keeping on to it?”
Even as I heard it, it struck me as stark absurd. But when I saw even knowledgeable people believing in it, I took the matter t the Maha-Svami’s ears.
And he just dismissed it as ularal.
He went on, brimming with his admiration for the Maharishi. “We have read in the books about the Atma Nishthas (those absorbed in the Self), Braha-Jnanis (knowers of Brahman) and Jivan-Muktas (those liberated even while living in the body), to whom the existence and extinction of the body made no difference and who, fully one (with the Self) did not have an inkling of desire to see or hear anything. Ramana Rishi was among the few extra-ordinary (apurva) persons of the recent times who have demonstrated all that as true. He is the one who has brought, for the world to see, the hoary Jnani-tradition down to the present day.”
“Authentic saint?” I said, partly in the affirmative, partly as a question.
“And a jnani at that. Authentic jnani” he amended.
(Many, perhaps most, of the saints do not have the non-dual realisation of the jnani.)
On another occasion the Maha-Svami said that it was a matter of pride for us (of Tamilnadu) that such one as Ramana Rishi lived among us in the present (degenerate) day. This was in private.
But there was a public occasion when he lauded the Maharishi’s spiritual power in a moving way in his staggering humility. That was at the farewell gathering at the end of his eighteen-month-long stay in Madras, from Sep. 1957 to March 1959. He said that though he moved from place to place and lived in the midst of the people them back to the sastraic way of life. In contrast, he cited the Maharishi and Sri Aurobindo who did not move out of their asramas and yet drew even foreigners to their respective paths.
But there is a world of difference here. Whereas the Maha-Svami’s path of the Dharma Sastras is for the world at large, the Maharishi’s Jnana and Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga are only for the little minority with the required competence and inclination. Such people also have the antenna to discover their master even if they live in the distant corner of the world, and also the diligence to steadfastly follow the master’s path to the end. But the masses are very hard to reclaim, and the more so, to a path to which they are not attracted by native choice.
Though in his humility Maha-Svami under-rated his influence, we must underscore the fact that he too had turned many a mod and agnostic to the sastraic path, sometimes even in a instant. Not only that. He has turned many to the paths of Jnana and Yoga too. Especially in the last decades of his life his influence spread the world over and drew considerable number of foreigners to the paths of Jnana and Yoga, which included the initiates of Paul Brunton himself.
It did not end up with the mutual esteem each had for the other. Higher above each has unmistakably indicated his very identify with the other.
Smt. Kanakamma was born in a family deeply attached to the Kanchi Math and its Acharya. But she took to the Maharishi with fervour. Her relatives were against it. Her grand-mother took her to the Acharya, made the complaint and petitioned to him to wean her from the Maharishi and take her into his fold.
Pat, yet soft, came his reply: “What if it is here or there?’
The judgement from their very Court silenced the members of the family.
We saw before the Maharishi saying that the different prescriptions were due only to the two places and not to the two persons. Even there, the perceptive reader would have heard in undertone a hint to the non-difference between the two persons. Now, when the Maha-Svami referred by `here’ and `there’ not the two places, but the two persons, we have a more audible indication of their non-differences. We are blessed to have a more explicit expression of this identity from the lips of the Maharishi. I quote from Sri. G.V. Subbaramayya*:
Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was now (end of Oct. 1947) camping near Tiruvannamalai. Someone asked whether His Holiness and Sri Bhagavan ever met. Sri Bhagavan replied:
“When were we separate that we should not meet? We are always together.”
Actually, `togetherness’ was only `oneness to that Advaita Jnani.
Their unity in the sublimity of Advaita may be out of our comprehension. Both are identical in their utter simplicity born of that very sublimity. Her we can certainly understand, admire and adore the oneness of the Maha-Svami and the Maharishi and exclaim “O sancta simplicitas ! (O holy simplicity!)”
The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice
by Parker Palmer
When my mother went into a nursing home not long before she died, my wife and I were told that, for a modest increase in the monthly fee, the staff would provide a few extra services to improve her quality of life. We gladly paid, grateful that we could afford it.
Now in our mid-seventies, my wife and I have no imminent need for assisted living or nursing care. But the house we live in is, by definition, a two-person residential facility for the aging. Here at what we fondly call The Home, it’s not uncommon for one of us to try “improve” the other’s quality of life by offering “extra services.” Unfortunately, those services often take the form of advice.
A few years ago, my wife gave me some advice that struck me as — how shall I say? — superfluous. Remembering our experience with my mother, I said, “Could I pay a little less this month?” To this day, that line gives us a chance to laugh instead of getting defensive when one of us attempts, as both of us do now and then, to give the other unsolicited and unwanted “help.”
Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.
Last week I got a call from a man who’d recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’d emailed his bad news to a few family members and friends, one of whom had come over right away. “How are you feeling?” his friend asked. “Well, as I said in my email, I’m feeling amazingly at peace with all this. I’m not worried about what lies ahead.”
The friend replied, “Look, you need to get a second opinion. At the same time, you should start exploring complementary medicine. You should also sign up for a meditation program, and I know a good book that can get you started down that path.”
I asked my caller how that response had made him feel. “I’m sure my friend meant well,” he said, “but his advice left me less at peace.”
I told him I’d have felt the same way, and offered this image: Imagine that I need support with a serious problem, when along comes a guy with advanced CPR certification. He’s so eager to show off his skills that he isn’t able to hear my true need. Instead, he starts administering chest compressions and “rescue breathing,” even though I’m perfectly able to breathe for myself. Now I have another big problem as I try to fight off the “helper” who’s smothering me.
I asked my caller how he would have felt if his friend had simply said, “How great that you’re at peace! Tell me more.” “That would have been wonderful,” he replied. “But everyone I talked to had advice for me, including a relative who said I needed to join her church before it was too late.”
I asked how he’d been feeling recently — he said he’d been feeling afraid. “Do you want to talk about your fear?”, I asked. He talked while I listened and asked a few more questions. When we were done, he told me that some measure of peace had returned. It was a peace that had come from within him, not from anything I’d said. I’d simply helped clear some rubble that blocked his access to his own soul.
My misgivings about advice began with my first experience of clinical depression thirty five years ago. The people who tried to support me had good intentions. But, for the most part, what they did left me feeling more depressed.
Some went for the nature cure: “Why don’t you get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air? Everything is blooming and it’s such a beautiful day!” When you’re depressed, you know intellectually that it’s beautiful out there. But you can’t feel a bit of that beauty because your feelings are dead — and being reminded of that gap is depressing.
Other would-be helpers tried to spruce up my self-image: “Why so down on yourself? You’ve helped so many people.” But when you’re depressed, the only voice you can hear is one that tells you that you’re a worthless fraud. Those compliments deepened my depression by making me feel that I’d defrauded yet another person: “If he knew what a worm I am, he’d never speak to me again.”
Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.
Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.
During my depression, there was one friend who truly helped. With my permission, Bill came to my house every day around 4:00 PM, sat me down in an easy chair, and massaged my feet. He rarely said a word. But somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition.
By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.
It’s at such a bedside where we finally learn that we have no “fix” or “save” to offer those who suffer deeply. And yet, we have something better: our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up. As Mary Oliver has written:
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
I leave you with two pieces of advice — a flagrant self-contradiction for which my only defense is Emerson’s dictum that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (1) Don’t give advice, unless someone insists. Instead, be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be. (2) If you find yourself receiving unwanted advice from someone close to you, smile and ask politely if you can pay a little less this month
I visit some of my friends at the Institutes they work in – Hospitals, Schools, Ashrams.
Some complain – ‘This institute is going to dogs. Nobody cooperates. The director is a so and so, no good; that fellow is like that; the apparatus is old; the doors don’t shut properly; my promotion has not come through; X knows nothing, yet he has become my senior; my juniors hate me’.
All this in various keys – some, with a smile and smirk; some, with very visible marks of a martyr, ash and sackcloth; some, with waving arms and slogans on a flag.
It is quite amusing. Things can never be right till one sees that the person himself is the Institute. An institute is a general idea. The various persons in it, the rooms, the apparatus, the trees, the flowers – all these are the concrete contents. The wise person, clear in his aims, has the outlook of a skilled artisan. He takes notes of the concrete factors and combines them to the advantage of the work he aims at. If he has not personally acquired an apparatus for his department, his friendly approach can get him the use of it from his colleague. If things are very depressing, at least he can be grateful to the humble mali, the gardener, who has produced a beautiful garden for the Institute. By at least realising that, useless as he claims to have become in the place, he is getting paid his monthly cheque, the least he can do is to shut up and not add to the disorder. But, if his aim is to work in some futuristic society where all are angels without faults, and with virtues to meet his specifications, and if he thinks it is his job to reform all this, instead of doing the things asked of him as best as he can. Then of course, his present occupation of grumbling and spreading discontent is justified.
Moreover anyone who takes the trouble knows, that the most important tools for work are one’s body and its faculties – of thought, mood and organs of perceptions and executions. With anger and grouse he befogs his perceptions and his complaints about a poor microscope are laughable. You are yourself an organic component of the Institute. What you put in, you reap in rich rewards. You sow and nourish disorder, you will get it back with interest. You become orderly, you will get it back, slower, perhaps, because the dominant vibration in the air is disorder.
So I am the Institution. If I organise the Institute within me, that is perfectly within my competence, or ought to be, that is the best I can do. Meanwhile, my promotion to a higher job merely provides me with a larger theatre for infection with my miserable grumbling.
Wherever I travel I meet dedicated, sincere souls who are working hard to maintain Srila Prabhupada’s Society. They are inspired by his personal example, by the words in his books, and by the determination of his disciples and grand-disciples to preserve his work and not lay to waste his lifetime of effort. It is a tribute to his brilliance that in the midst of Kali-yuga, when it is far easier to find fault and flake away, his transcendental creation ISKCON has held together and continues to provide spiritual succor to the distressed and spiritually bereft. And it is a tribute to his sincere followers that despite the potential for disagreement and dissent, despite the deficiencies – both the personal and the collective – they continue working together with hope and confidence. This is love. In January 1976, Srila Prabhupada wrote to Bhurijana Dasa: “Unless there is loving feeling, how is it possible for you to always make offerings to me? The spiritual master is always instructing his disciples and they in turn are always trying to serve their spiritual master. It is a reciprocal relationship of love.”
And again in January 1977 Srila Prabhupada wrote to Mrs. Polly Perlmutter, the mother of Sravanananda Dasa: “Yes, our Society is depending on love and respect; we are bound by love.” We are bound by love. And by self interest we are rent asunder. Therefore Srila Prabhupada told us in 1977 “Your love for me will be tested how after my departure you maintain this institution.”
On a morning walk on August 11 1976 when Srila Prabhupada was visiting Tehran, he told us about passing that test: “To be recognized by Krsna as He says, na ca tasman manusyesu, one has to pass examination, severe test of examination. All the big, big devotees we see. Narada Muni, before becoming Narada Muni, he had to pass through severe examination, test–Faith means that you are meant for giving some service to Krsna. You should stick to that service, that path, in spite of all impediments. That is the passing of test. Generally, just like we are meant for preaching Krsna consciousness. So there may be severe test, but still we will remain determined. This is wanted.
“There may be so many impediments, punishments, still you should do that. That is test. Not that as soon as there is some difficulty I give it up. There may be severe test, but still we shall not give up. We must go on. That is determination.” “Passing the test means executing the order of the spiritual master,” Nava-yauvana said. Prabhupada agreed. “Yes, that is spiritual life. One has to take order from the spiritual master and execute it, despite all impediments. That is determination.”
Do we pass the test?
From this fallen soul’s perspective and experience, I think so. We may not get 100%, but a pass at least. ISKCON continues on as a united preaching force, and as long as it does, that is the passing of the test of love that Srila Prabhupada set for us.
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