Teach by example

In “Swami Premananda: Teachings and Reminiscences”, we read this disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa emphatically asking that each of us would do well to “let your character speak” and “Teach others by the example of your lives, not by mere words.”

In the first chapter of “The Compassionate Classroom: Relationship Based Teaching and Learning”, Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson write of Marshall Rosenberg, telling

the story of a school principal he visited who was looking out at the school playground from his office window. The principal saw a big boy and hit a smaller boy. He ran from his office, swatted the bigger boy, and gave him a lecture. When he got back to his office, the principal said, “I taught that fellow not to hit people who are smaller than he is.” Dr. Rosenberg said: “I’m not so sure that’s what you did. I think that you taught him not to do it while you’re looking.” The principal did not see that he was modeling the very behavior that he was trying to stop.

By Pooja Bhatt — Maartiste

In “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion”, Father Gregory Boyle writes of his first day teaching at Loyola High School in Los Angeles in 1979.

This gentle, remarkable person whose life has been solace, and hope to many many, writes: “I was scared poopless about the prospect….I walk to my first class. I stop at the doorway of a veteran teacher, Donna Wanland….”It’s my first day of teaching,” I say to her. “Give me some advice.””

One of the two pieces of advice Donna gave Father Boyle was:

It’s more important that they know you than that they know what ya know.

If we are to stand firm as the worst traits of humanity slowly, in subtle ways, strengthen their forces today, it is imperative that each of us uncompromisingly lives the ideals. The worst in us can only be quelled by the highest in us….one of the lessons of history is that this is not as dreamy as it may sound.

H. Jackson Brown Jr.  puts it memorably in “The Complete Life’s Little Instruction Book”: “Remember that a good example is the best sermon.”

Peace 🙂


The Edge.org 2018 question, addressed to its eclectic group of over 200 scientists, artists, writers, technologists, and others, was: “Ask ‘The Last Question,’ your last question,the question for which you will be remembered.”

The Korean artist Koo Jeong’s submission, her Last Question, was: 

i = we ?

Koo Jeong’s, question, a work of art in itself, pushes us to what is probably the most primordial of investigations — Who am I? — a question, as Carlo Rovelli writes (in “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”), about “one of the things which we understand least….”

After centuries of the quest to answer this question, Nature, Carlo writes, persists in

behaving with us like that elderly rabbi to whom two men went in order to settle a dispute. Having listened to the first, the rabbi says: “You are in the right.” The second insists on being heard. The rabbi listens to him and says: “You’re also right.” Having overheard from the next room, the rabbi’s wife then calls out, “But they can’t both be in the right!” The rabbi reflects and nods before concluding: “And you’re right too.”

The theoretical physicist then writes that “what we have learnt from our ever-increasing knowledge of the things of this world” tells us that “We are an integral part of nature; we are nature, in one of its innumerable and infinitely variable expressions”“we are made of the same stardust of which all things are made….”

In the Mundaka Upanishad (probably composed in 2 BC), we find an incredible response to the Edge.org question.

Saunaka, a seeker of wisdom, asks Angirasa (The Upanishads, translated by Juan Mascaro): “Master, what is that which, when known, all is known?”

 The answer to this question, it turns out, is also the answer to who am I?

Some time before the Mundaka Upanishad came into being, a deeply perplexed person, sat under a Bo Tree vowing not to get up till comprehension dawned. He too grappled with this question. And, like the sages of the Upanishads  he appears to have had a sublime realization —  i am my neighbour. We are the world. We are the cosmos — the cosmos is us.

Photo by Dulcey Limaon Unsplash

Some of us may not agree.

But, what is indisputable, as Carlo writes in “Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity” is that 

Today … we have the instruments to bring light to the homes of the ten billion human beings who will soon inhabit the planet, to travel in space toward other stars, or to destroy one another and devastate the planet. It depends on our choices…

We are surely better off living with the conviction that “i=we”, healing the world, and making this planet a heaven.

 Peace 🙂

The meaning of life: learning, and loving

In “Cat’s Cradle”, Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel on arms race, religion, and technology, we read him create a religion called “Bokononism”.

 And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud….

And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

In a piece titled “Compassion and the Individual”, the 14th Dalai Lama asks this question: “One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life?” The sage goes on to answer:

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.  From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.  Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.  From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.  I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

In “Rama II” the science fiction novel by Gentry Lee and Arthur C. Clarke, one of the characters, Nicole, listens to her Father (Pierre des Jardins) speak as he accepts an award.

Photo by Caroline Hernandezon Unsplash

Pierre, towards the end of his talk, says: 

In my life I have found two things of priceless worth – learning and loving. Nothing else – not fame, not power not achievement, for its own sake – can possibly have the same lasting value. For when your life is over, if you can say “I have learned” and “I have loved”, you will also be able to say “I have been happy”.”

The writers have clearly taken great care. Pierre says “I have loved“, not “I have been loved.”

Peace 🙂

The quest of Learning

The word philosopher derives from a root that means a person who loves wisdom. Looked at a bit deeply, it refers to someone who loves Learning — someone not overly wedded to certainty.

The philosopher is, as S. Radhakrishnan writes (in the introduction to his translation of “The Principal Upanishads“), in the deepest sense, a Learner. She / he knows that “Certainty is the source of inertia in thought, while doubt makes for progress.” This is a person who, with humility and respect, knows that “Truth is greater than its greatest Teachers”. This is a person who knows that “if an organism loses the strength to excrete its own waste, it perishes.” The Philosopher, quite simply, is a genuine Learner

On 14th March 2016, Madeline Alrbright (the former Secretary of State, the USA) spoke about this (truth, and the quest of Learning) to the graduating Class at Scripps College.

It is possible to be completely convinced that something is true and at the same time, completely wrong. There are people in our world today who are ready to die or kill for alleged truths that are grounded less on the validity of their insights than on the false certainty generated by their resentments and fears. We have also learned through history that supposedly eternal truths can, in fact, go out of fashion.The Earth is flat; the Sun is a golden chariot; there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; Pluto is a planet; and women are the weaker sex. So truth is a complex topic….

The person who seeks to learn (the Philosopher),  she went on, is on a “mission” that “begins with an important premise that we do not already know everything there is to know” — something “That can be hard for many of us to admit.”

Madeline then observed that “learning, by definition, means exploring areas of existence and opinion with which you are not already familiar.”

Photo by Antennaon Unsplash

Learning demands, Madeline said, that “Instead of choosing to read or to listen only to the people whose views make you the most comfortable”, we “choose….to study those who make you the most upset.” It demands that “Instead of repeating over and over again the opinions” we “have expressed in the past”, each of us asks “why” we “believe as” we “do, and submit” our “own conceptions of truth to the rigorous standards of critical thinking.”

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the saint, though God-intoxicated most of his life, yet tells us (“Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna”): “As long as I live, so long do I learn.”

Prayer from the heart

In “Thomas Merton In Alaska – The Alaskan Conferences, Journals, and Letters”, a record of talks, notes, and journal entries that Thomas Merton wrote in 1968, shortly before he passed on, he teaches us about prayer: “You don’t get to God through a system. You speak from your heart”.

Mary Oliver begins the poem “Six Recognitions of the Lord” (“Devotions”) with a similar teaching:

I know a lot of fancy words.

I tear them from my heart and my tongue.

Then I pray.

The Tatar-American poet, Adnan Onart, writes “The Morning Prayer”, and takes us beyond words:

In a poor Istanbul neighborhood,

at the ground floor of our house,

my great-grandmother says:

It is time for morning prayer.

If you pray, she says, pure as a child,

from this corner of the room,

an angel will appear.

I am five years old closing my eyes.

Allahü Ekber.

Essallamü alleyküm ve rahmetullah.

I am fifty opening my eyes.

In Boston, Massachusetts,

in a not so poor neighborhood

at the top floor of our house

praying my morning prayer.

From that corner of the room,

my great-grandmother appears.

thebibliophile — the sky this morning, Coimbatore, India

It appears that the sky has been praying all night, and the sun is appearing in a corner…..

Peace 🙂

“Love opens the most impossible gates.”

In “The Law of Love and The Law of Violence”, Leo Tolstoy quotes the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: (Lev. xix, 17, 18.) but  I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them….”

Writing this some time before World War I broke out, Tolstoy goes on to advise us that “it is this law of love and its recognition as a rule of conduct in all our relations with friends, enemies, offenders, etc. which inevitably brings about the complete transformation of the existing order of things….among all the populations of the globe.”

In a letter to his brother, Theo, written on 3rd April 1878, Vincent van Gogh writes: “Love is the best and most noble thing in the human heart.”

He tells us that in loving “lies true strength”“he who loves much does much and is capable of much, and that which is done with love is well done.”

In 1897, Swami Vivekananda exhorted an audience in Chennai (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) : “First, feel from the heart. What is in the intellect or reason? It goes a few steps and there it stops. But through the heart comes inspiration. Love opens the most impossible gates; love is the gate to all the secrets of the universe.”

Peace 🙂

The sketch of Vincent is by Shreya Dutta — a young person with a heart of gold, and (i use words from Coldplay) “a head full of dreams.”

Keep the Faith

The day before yesterday, the Dalai Lama posted a message on Facebook suggesting that each of us take on, what we may feel to be, “a huge task.”

When we take on “this huge task”, chances are that sometimes the sheer enormity of the challenges may overwhelm us. We are constantly bombarded by realities such as this BuzzFeedNews investigation report that “even after they were prosecuted or fined for financial misconduct, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon continued to move money for suspected criminals” — that “The networks through which dirty money traverse the world have become vital arteries of the global economy. They enable a shadow financial system so wide-ranging and so unchecked that it has become inextricable from the so-called legitimate economy. Banks with household names have helped to make it so.”

The BuzzFeed piece quotes a senior US Senator pointing out that “If you’re wealthy and well-connected, you can figure out how to do an enormous amount of harm to society at large and ensure that it accrues to enormous financial benefit for all of you.”

News such as this is common, and it is understandable that despair may creep into our souls — a despondency that, whatever wise souls like the Dalai Lama may say about each of us doing our bit, the world will not change for the better.

Rule Number 7 of “The Forty Rules of Love” (the fictional account of Shams-i-Tabrīzī, whose life & teachings were pivotal in the transformation of Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī from theologian to mystic) by Elif Shafak is helpful here.

Whatever happens….no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair.

On 4th April 1967, exactly a year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to an audience at a Church in New York City. While Martin spoke largely about the moral need to end the war that America was pursuing in Vietnam, his Talk was a message to the world, calling for a “genuine revolution of values” – a revolution that leads to “a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation” and “an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.”

Photo by Suzy Brookson Unsplash

As Martin, with characteristic power, made this call to each soul in the world, he was also realistic that some may “readily” dismiss this as a “weak….force”. Acknowledging that some may be bereft of faith, he quoted the historian Arnold Toynbee, that “the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

The rock musician Bon Jovi agrees singing his 1992 song – come what may….  

“Right now we’ve gotta keep the faith
Keep the faith
Keep the faith.”

Peace 🙂

“Fault-finding contracts the mind and pollutes the heart”

In “How a Shepherd Boy Became a Saint”, Swami Chetananda writes about  Swami Adbhutananda, affectionately called Latu Maharaj. This illiterate, gentle, man spent part of his life with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Ma, and became an illumined saint whose life communicates to us that the ultimate wisdom is attained not by intellect, reason, education or cleverness — but by simplicity, love, and (paraphrasing Karen Armstrong from “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”) the courage to set the self aside.

We would do well to heed Swami Adbhutananda’s advice:

Let people do whatever they like; you should live according to your….ideal….See your own faults. Always look for the good qualities in others. If fault-finding becomes your habit, you will always see faults in them….It contracts the mind and pollutes the heart.

Photo by Korney Violinon Unsplash

In “The Discourse Summaries”, a compilation of Dhamma Talks by the Vipassana teacher S. N. Goenka, we hear him say:

Everyone is responsible for his or her own suffering, no-one else. When one experiences this truth, the madness of finding fault with others goes away.

In “The No-Fault Classroom: Tools to Resolve Conflict & Foster Relationship Intelligence”, Sue Hart & Victoria Hudson draw from the principles of Non-Violent Communication:

The well-being of Earthlings depends upon their ability to go to the No-Fault zone when they have a problem to solve or conflict to resolve.

They tell us that, if we choose, we “have the power to co-create No-Fault classrooms, schools and communities.”

 They tell us that “Earthlings have the power to create what they can envision and are willing to work for.” 

Peace 🙂