I am so thankful for Thanksgiving. The United States is the only country to observe the holiday and while I often wonder if gratitude should be a holiday, well, perhaps it should be.
In years past, the holidays (for me) have meant observing well-respected “Teachers” collecting monies from students who were living paycheck to paycheck (including myself)….friends willingly allowing others to pay holiday lunch tabs when they were the “host” or inviter, I’ve also witnessed Teachers accepting gifts that went well beyond students measure simply because of greed.While it was surprising to me at the time, I simply digested the behavior, was victim to it and was even willing to offer a large sum on the notion that I was “helping” someone in need.
But doesn’t our practice of Buddhism and Yoga teach us that the Universe will provide when the time is right?
Perhaps, if you truly practice and believe.
I could go on and on but I would rather focus on the words of my dear Yogacharya reminded me of yesterday, “It is better to die struggling than to abandon your efforts while there is still a possibility of accomplishing something more.… Analyze what you are, what you wish to become, and what shortcomings are impeding you. Decide the nature of your true task…..your mission in life. Endeavor to make yourself what you should be and what you want to be. That is the gift of a New Year or any holiday.”
What did this mean? It means that you change your future by changing yourself. The more you insist on improving who and what you are, the more you become master of your destiny. Yet even when you’ve done everything you can, there will be times when you’ll have little or nothing to show for your efforts….just like when I gave that sum of money….I should have known I would never see it again. No matter, says the Bhagavad Gita, “as long as you remember that fulfilling your dharma—the drive to become who and what you are meant to be—is the defining desire, the one that informs and gives shape to all others. On this path [committed to dharma],” the Gita tells us, “effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.… Perform work in this world … as a person established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”
My Yogacharya’s words also serve as a reminder that there is no end to the process of fulfilling your destiny. You need only remain rightly committed to and focused on your true task…..your mission in life and what you want to be.
Your soul or essence quietly watches. It never changes. It is the same now as it was when you were born, when you sat at your desk in grade school, when you first felt moved to help another person, when you first fell in love, when you first began to wonder about your place in the universe and how you would fulfill it. All the while your soul has retained its intrinsic connection to Creation, fully aware that life is the grandest and most sacred of all journeys and worthy of every effort to celebrate it.
The soul’s timeless and luminous wisdom and compassion are always ready to lead you by means of the silent pull of desire. The more you are attuned to your soul, the more easily it can lead you to a fulfillment far beyond what most of us imagine is possible. That place is the fulfillment of dharma, the convergence of fate and destiny…..a destination that awaits us and which can only be reached through the sum of all of our efforts. Dharma is Nature’s grand plan, a tapestry with no beginning and no end. It is also the Intelligence that inspires and guides us to fulfill that plan. Responding to dharma is how you rise to become your most mighty self.
The Pratyabhijnahrdayam, a sacred tantric text, reminds us of this when it states, “On attaining strength, one makes the universe one’s own.” This teaching tells you everything you need to know: accept that the inherent nature of the world is sacred, know that you are a part of it, then live with the conviction always to challenge, to quest to become something more and better.
Be prepared to let each successive step in your life ennoble you with more capacity. Resolve to become stronger and to fulfill your highest calling. With this commitment to yourself—and with love and respect for the world and the rest of creation—you will inevitably fulfill the lasting promise of the Buddhadharma, of yoga and all other spiritual traditions.
Grow. Determine to let nothing stand in your way. Reap the greatest riches life has to offer. Resolve to share the gifts you receive, enriching more and more lives with all that you discover and achieve.
“A man must never be satisfied with what he possesses,” my dear Sudharma once instructed me. “Fortune abandons the man who is content with what he has.”
This is how I must abandon the fortunes I have offered “Teachers” in the past. This is how I accept my Thanksgiving…..allowing myself to see that my fortunes have not been in what I possess, but in what I offer.
My wish is that you will endeavor to brighten this world with the gifts of all that you have come to know as truly worthwhile and enduring. In the process, you will successfully embody the final teaching from the Rig Veda, the most ancient of all the Vedic texts, whose final lines tell us of this promise: “May we walk together, talk together, and understand each other.Like bright beings joined in right thinking, may we share our bounty with each other. Never asking more or taking more than we need.”
Recently while walking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan, I was able to study the delicate balance among water, soil, plants, and animals. One of the lessons taught in the Bamboo Grove is that man can change this balance of nature for the good by stabilizing it at new levels and by adding new harmonious elements, as when he stores the water of ephemeral streams to create green oases. Or he can throw it out of balance by selfish or ignorant use of resources, so as to set in motion a vicious chain of destruction, as when he slashes a forest and launches a whole new cycle of soil erosion. I believe that each of us finds the greatest use and greatest satisfaction in a life which respects and kindles the spark of the divine that is found in the conscience of every other human being and which nourishes the harmonious growth of individual human beings.
The greatest art in spiritual life is finding balance. The entire teachings of the Buddha are summed up in his encouragement to find and travel the middle path…..to seek neither the extremes of mortification and aversion for life, nor the extreme of indulgence, losing ourselves in pleasure-seeking. The balance between these two is the path of awakening and freedom. The path of balance is to be with what is true in life and to love that, to be committed to the truth on every level of our being.
The deepest joy we can find in life comes from within our own being and not from the circumstances around us. To find deep joy, which is radically different from being busy, distracted, or entertained, always takes a balance of heart. As one meditation teacher put it, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”We cannot control or stop the changing circumstances in our lives, but we can learn to balance amid them and to bring balance to them. Learning that poise and balance is the greatest skill in spiritual life: knowing when energy and resolution is needed and when it is time to soften and surrender; knowing when we need greater faith or greater inquiry; listening to the rhythms of our own heart as it tells us it is time to seek greater solitude and simplicity or a time for service, to make our care and love visible. There is no formula for this responsiveness. We must simply learn to listen with and open heart to what is ever in this moment, this day, this life.
A great mystic once said, “Of what avail is the open eye if the heart is blind?” True wisdom never divorces us from the travails and sorrows of the world but teaches us to live with greater integrity and compassion in the midst of them. Wisdom reveals to us that serenity is not some lofty peak we inhabit after transcending the world but is in learning how to respond to the challenges of this very life with great love. Wisdom is not an attainment but a way of being, a way of responding in which we neither resist the challenges life brings to us nor are overwhelmed by them. It is a question of balance. The visible expression of wisdom lies in the skillful means through which we manifest it. Integrity, forgiveness, and honesty are the responses of a living wisdom. They are the qualities that enable us to walk in the spirit of freedom and to learn the lesson of life.
We are witness to an age of endless conflict and destruction. Our planet suffers, human relationships break down, and individuals live in alienation. The wealth of ideas and formulas that have been produced have yet to bring about any meaningful shift in this cycle of pain. The pain of our world will not be changed by yet more ideas. What is needed is a profound change in the human heart. Let us not respond to the pain that surrounds us with righteousness, pious formulas, or withdrawal; let us learn how to respond with love and integrity. Let us not allow our lives to become a record of all the things we wish we had done, might have done or should have done.
The good life, the middle path, like the balance of all the complex elements of a river valley, is founded upon friendly adjustment. It changes slowly, but it leads always towards a more fruitful development of individual beings in service of each other. It embraces confidence in fellowship, tolerance in outlook, humility in service, and a constant search for the truth. To seek it in our own lives means imperfection and disappointment but never defeat. It means, I believe, putting ourselves in harmony with the divine order of love, with the great stream of forces that slowly are shaping…..in spite of man’s ignorance and selfishness…..an enrichment of the human spirit.
As I sit to write this blog, I am drawn to think about my dear Teacher Sudharma.She was the most resilient woman I have ever known and the most honest with both herself and others.She was a simple, humble, self-taught, honest, and loyal woman….all traits difficult to find in our modern-world Teachers, mostly consumed by money, vanity, fame, greed, misconceptions, and dishonesty.With so much going on in the world at the moment, it can be easy to feel that survive rather than thrive is the new normal.Reflecting on Sudharma’s personal traits led me to write this blog.
In even the worst landscape of human darkness and difficulty there shine beacons of light. They are not necessarily cast by particularly powerful or holy people who possess grandiose strategies for changing the world. They most often radiate from simple, ordinary people who in their intimate encounters with tragedy, injustice, and terror have been transformed and have learned how to respond to the world around them with the simplicity and power of their faith, love, and compassion. The Dhammapada (a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form) often notes that there is no power greater than the power of love, no shadow that can withstand the power of compassion, no demon that can overwhelm the power of openheartedness. Through their example our eyes are opened to the possibilities of bringing light to our own shadows.
Whether we are in positions of power, or in poverty, we will be tested.We will be asked to summon the spirit of greatness, of compassion, of openheartedness over and over again in our lives.Perhaps this is what we are here for, to learn this single lesson.In the end the strength we have to fall back upon is not our credentials or accomplishments or the ideals we hold but our humanness itself.Our basic ordinariness underlies all our attainments and experiences.The fact is that we, too, like the seasons and the sun and the moon and all the other living creatures, are born and die.We awake each morning and go to sleep each night; we eat and walk and feel in deep ways the preciousness and mystery of our very humanness.
We also hold within ourselves an extraordinary precious gift…..our capacity to be aware.This is the blessing that allows us to make choices, to sense the possibilities open to us.It empowers us to learn and grow through life’s tests rather than be swallowed by them.The gift of our awareness allows us to nurture our capacities for forgiveness and understanding rather than be driven by self-protective instincts, hostility, and fear.
We have not yet plumbed the depths and possibilities of our own awareness.How close can we come to another person?How deeply can we feel the wind that seems only to brush us with its touch?How attuned can we be to the changing rhythms of our universe?What is the extent of freedom?The only thing that is certain about awareness is that it removes all distance, it shatters mistaken notions and superficiality, it connects us with the heart of all life.It allows us to meet the tests in our life with greatness of heart.
As you go through your day, reflect on the challenges in your life.Bring to mind the times you have been tested, and recall the forces that you have brought to those tests.What would it be like to touch those tests with your utter humanness, to be vulnerable and through that ultimate honesty to be strong and balanced in your heart?Has worthiness, ambition, fear, or pride prevented you from learning from and growing through the challenges?What other qualities do you have to bring to those same challenges that would truly make a difference?
It is so much easier to grow love and compassion than it is to grow hate and fear. Yet all too often we find ourselves drifting away from our humanness. Love is so much stronger than fear and it is something that every one of us carries an unlimited supply of.
There is no better time to love like there is no tomorrow, grow in grateful awareness, and to beautifully bloom in the absolute face of adversity.