In “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy”, we read Anne Lamott: “Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves — our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice.”
Elsewhere in the book, she writes:
Mercy means that we soften ever so slightly, so that we don’t have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that….As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return.
During an OnBeing conversation (11th February 2021) with Krista Tippett, Alain de Botton remarks that “by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong….
We read about Sarada Ma in Swami Gambhirananda’s “Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi”: “Once a direct disciple of the Master was so offended with the conduct of a certain devotee that he requested the Mother not to allow him to get anywhere near her. But she replied, “If my son wallows in the dust or mud, it is I who have to wipe all the dirt from off his body and take him in my lap.”
In the Prologue to “Mom and Me and Mom”, the remarkable Maya Angelou writes that she is “Frequently….asked how I got to be this way.” How did she, in the face of formidable circumstances, “get to be Maya Angelou?” — an acclaimed poet, writer, a thinker who, despite having no formal college-education, ended up with over 50 honorary degrees.
Maya tells us that she became “the woman I am because of the grandmother I loved, and the mother I came to adore.”“Their love,” she writes, “informed, educated, and liberated me.” And then we read lines that blaze from the page:
Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.
In “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope”, Anne Lamott writes: “I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.” Elsewhere in the book, she tells us: “Love is why we have hope.”
Father Gregory Boyle writes in “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” that “A loving heart doesn’t color your world like rose-colored glasses; it alters it.”
In the poem “Poppies” (“New and Selected Poems: Volume One”), Mary Oliver gently asks each of us to be light:
is an invitation
and that happiness,
when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Swami Vivekananda says (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”): “”Be like a lily — stay in one place and expand your petals; and the bees will come of themselves.”….The power is with the silent ones, who only live and love and then withdraw their personality. They never say “me” and “mine”; they are only blessed in being instruments. Such men are….Christs and Buddhas, ever living fully identified with God, ideal existences, asking nothing, and not consciously doing anything. They are the real movers….absolutely selfless, the little personality entirely blown away, ambition non-existent. They are all principle, no personality.”
Elsewhere he says: “Bring your own lotus to blossom: the bees will come of themselves.”
In “Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life”, we read Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
In the 34th of the verses titled “Fruit Gathering”, published in 1916, we listen to Rabindranath Tagore:
‘Sire,’ announced the servant to the King, ‘the saint Narottam has never deigned to enter your royal temple.’ ‘He is singing God’s praise under the trees by the open road. The temple is empty of worshippers.’ ‘They flock round him like bees round the white lotus, leaving the golden jar of honey unheeded.’ The King, vexed at heart, went to the spot where Narottam sat on the grass. He asked him, ‘Father, why leave my temple of the golden dome and sit on the dust outside to preach God’s love?’ ‘Because God is not there in your temple,’ said Narottam. The King frowned and said, ‘Do you know, twenty millions of gold went to the making of that marvel of art, and it was consecrated to God with costly rites?’ ‘Yes, I know it,’ answered Narottam. It was in that year when thousands of your people whose houses had been burned stood vainly asking for help at your door. ‘And God said, “The poor creature who can give no shelter to his brothers would build my house!” ‘And he took his place with the shelterless under the trees by the road. ‘And that golden bubble is empty of all but hot vapour of pride.’ The King cried in anger, ‘Leave my land.’ Calmly said the saint, ‘Yes, banish me where you have banished my God.’
In the December 2020 edition of the Vedanta Kesari, we read Sri. Ajoy Dutta recall Swami Ranganathananda’s visit to Guwahati “to lay the foundation stone for” a “new temple for Sri Ramakrishna”. The current temple was in “a make-shift structure” and a group of people had raised some funds to construct a proper Temple. Swami Ranganathananda “came and saw the current temple, the home for the poor and orphan students, and the bathroom and kitchen of the Asrama. He was saddened to see the very poor plight of these facilities. He….was not at all happy about the idea of constructing a new temple. To everyone’s surprise he said the temple should not be built now. He advised the Committee members that the first thing they ought to construct was a toilet; second drinking water facility and bathroom; third, a good kitchen; fourth, a students’ home; and if, money permitted, a dispensary should also be built. Only after all these were ready, they should think about constructing a new temple!”
In “My Spiritual Autobiography”, we read the Dalai Lama: “I believe the purpose of all the major religious traditions is not to construct big temples on the outside, but to create temples of goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts.”
In excerpts from the journals that the sculptor Anne Truitt wrote over seven years (“Daybook: The Journal of an Artist”), we read (in an entry dated 16th August): “I have always been mystified by the speed with which people condemn one another. Feeling as righteous as Christ chastising the money-changers in the temple, they cast their fellows into the outer darkness of their disapproval. This seems to give them intense pleasure.”
In a 1959 conversation with the BBC, Bertrand Russell pointed out that “In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
Alain de Botton encourages us, in “The School of Life: An Emotional Education”, to recognize that “we have a duty” to ensure that our “interpretations of the lives of others” are “generous”.
In an illuminating 2010 essay (“Empathy with the Enemy”), the philosopher Roman Krznaric writes: “I suggest that we should approach empathy as the ultimate form of travel, a means of transporting ourselves into other lives in ways that can illuminate our own. There is no need to limit where we take our journeys. We must extend our empathetic imaginations not just to the dispossessed or disadvantaged, but also to those whose views and actions we might oppose or disdain, from wealthy bankers to bombastic politicians to racist work colleagues – even the sibling who broke a favourite toy. There are few better ways of bringing us face to face with our own prejudices, uncertainties and inconsistencies. That is how empathy can become both a moral guide and a basis for a philosophy of living. Socrates saw the path to the good life in the effort to “know thyself ”. The lesson of empathy is that we will only discover ourselves by stepping outside ourselves.”
Swami Vivekananda (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) advises us: “Condemn none; if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way.”
In “Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities”, Rebecca Solnit writes that “hope is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine.” She continues: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty there is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.”
In “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness”, Erich Fromm agrees with Rebecca. he writes: “Optimism is an alienated form of faith, pessimism an alienated form of despair.” He then takes a position that what we need is “rational faith in man’s capacity to extricate himself from what seems the fatal web of circumstances that he has created. It is the position of neither “optimists” nor “pessimists” but radicals who have rational faith….” This “faith”, the basis of what Erich calls “humanistic radicalism”, is not a dreamy all-is-well view of the future — rather it “seeks to liberate man from the chains of illusions” by making fundamental changes that are “necessary” in “political and economic structure….our values….our aims…and in our personal conduct.”
And what is “personal conduct” here? The remarkable Father Gregory Boyle (the source of hope and faith for many many) teaches us with the simple profoundness that we see in the truly wise (“Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship”):
Personally, I don’t think he [Jesus Christ] wants so much for us to wave palm fronds at his authority, but rather….to live as he would.
Muhammad Ali tells us in his autobiography, “The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey” that “People say that I gave away too much money during my boxing career.” He goes on: “They write about how some people took advantage of me, stole from me, and how I let them get away with it. Even when I knew people were cheating me, what was important was how I behaved, because I have to answer to God. I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions. They will have to answer to God….I have never sought retribution against those who have hurt me because I believe in forgiveness. I have practiced forgiving, just as I want to be forgiven.”
Parker J. Palmer writes (“Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit”) about listening to the late black Senator John Lewis as they travelled together in a bus.
In 1961, he and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats. Lewis and his friend did not fight back, and they declined to press charges. They simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work.
In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis’s age walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr. Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I’m one of the men who beat you in that bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I’ve come to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?” Lewis said, “I forgave him, we embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.”
As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as we passed through a countryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin Wilson had been a member. Then, in a very soft voice — as if speaking to himself about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been moving in him — Lewis said, “People can change . . . People can change . . .”
In the Introduction to his translation of the Upanishads (“The Principal Upanishads”), S. Radhakrishnan writes: “A forgiving attitude frees the individual. We should grudge none, and forgive all.”
In “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”, Karen Armstrong writes that “one small act of kindness can turn a life around.” Jack London explains why in “White Fang”, a story about a wolf-dog, published in 1906. He writes that “Human kindness” is the “sun shining”, which helps us flourish “like a flower planted in good soil.”
Naomi Shihab Nye observes, in the poem “Kindness” (one of the poems in in “Words Under the Words: Selected Poems”) that “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore….”
In the commencement address to the 2013 graduating class of Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences , the writer George Saunders tells his audience:
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Guy Stagg narrates, in “The Crossway”, his pilgrimage-walk from Canterbury (the UK) to Jerusalem — a walk (probably about 5000 kms) he set off on trying to recover from a nervous breakdown when he was about 23 years young. Towards the end, we read what is probably the main illumination from his pilgrimage : “In the end, the kindness was all that mattered.”
In his 1865 novel, “Our Mutual Friend”, we read Charles Dickens on the spirit of kindness — it is having “a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts….”