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 an OnBeing conversation (18th February 2021) with Krista Tippett, Rabbi Ariel Burger points out that “if you ever look at a traditional page of an old Jewish text, like an old Hebrew bible with commentaries or an old edition of the Talmud….there’s text in the middle, and then there are commentaries around the sides, and then there’s space around the edges.”
He goes on to tell us that while “in some ways, of course, the text is most authoritative and most important”, “it’s really the white space around the edges that ultimately is most important, because that’s where we get to write our questions, and we get to expand and grow and evolve a tradition that, without us, would have long since become either dormant and rigid, or would’ve disappeared entirely.”
Some months before Albert Einstein passed on, an editor of Life magazine, William Miller, visited him. William’s son Pat, a freshman at Harvard, was with him. Looking at Einstein seated in “his old-fashioned rocker”, William “had the feeling of seeing a living saint….his eyes seemed to reveal not a man but an embodiment of pure thought.”
In the course of the conversation (published in the Life edition of 2nd May 1955), we listen to Einstein’s advice to Pat:
The important thing is not to stop questioning….Never lose a holy curiosity.
The Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor writes (in a 2010 piece titled “Freedom Through Not Knowing”) that his Teacher “used to repeat” “A famous citation….all the time” : “Great doubt, great awakening; little doubt, little awakening; no doubt, no awakening.”
In an NPR talk broadcasted on 18th December 2006, Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar who is criticised by many for his interpretations of the Bible, and views of religion, observes:
“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind.”
In “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer”, he teaches us:
God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.
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 “The Once and Future King”, T. H. White’s 1958 book on the tale of King Arthur, we listen to the wizard Merlyn observe: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins….you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.”
Such “learning”, Ken Robinson tells us (“The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”) is “an opening ourselves up to new opportunities” by making “conscious efforts to look differently at our ordinary situations. Doing so allows a person to see the world as one rife with possibility” and “to take advantage of some of those possibilities….”
Teachers have a lot to do with helping human beings cultivate the skill of unceasing learning, which is really keeping alive a strong, hopeful heart that always sees “the world as one rife with possibility” — even in circumstances when “evil lunatics” rise.
Towards the end of the book “Why We make Mistakes: How we look without seeing, Forget things in seconds, and are all all pretty sure we are above average”, the Pulitzer winning journalist and writer, Joseph Hallinan writes of a conversation with David Schkade (Professor at the University of California, San Diego) who tells him that “after more than a decade of studying what makes people happy”, he has come to the conclusion that happiness is really about “how you use your time.”
In his book “The Principles of Psychology — Volume I”, published in 1890, one of the fathers of psychology, William James, writes that what we do every day, every moment matters — not just for our happiness but because at all times.
We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.
We shape ourselves every moment and “if we habitually” fashion “our characters in the wrong way”, we will find that “The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world….”
In the “Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”, we read the poymath writing of his life project – “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” Benjamin writes that early in his life, he decided that he “wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
To succeed in this, Benjamin articulated some “virtues” that would guide his life. In detailing one of these virtues, we read his plan (a sort of schedule) to “order” each day. It is clear that every moment mattered for Benjamin. And the day for Benjamin begins with answering a question: “What good shall I do this day?” The day ends with the question: “What good have I done to-day?”