“Who are you to teach others?”

Peace Pilgrim writes (“Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her own Words”) that “there’s only one person you can change and that’s yourself.” She goes on: “After you have changed yourself, you might be able to inspire others to look for change.”

The psychologist Erica Reischer, writes (in a 15th September 2014 piece titled “Change Yourself First”) about adopting a dog with her husband.

“We soon realized we needed help managing a variety of challenging puppy behaviors, so we signed up for a dog-training class, eager to train our dog and change her problematic habits.

To our surprise, the dog-training class was less about training our dog and more about training us….we learned that to change our dog’s behavior, we had to change our behavior first. And that is a lesson we can apply to our relationships with people, too.”

Erica ends with a lesson for parents (and for each of us): “….to change your kids [or anyone], you have to start by changing yourself.”

During his second visit to meet Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, M argued (“The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”) that people who worship clay images as God should be told that “the clay image is not God.” Ramakrishna Paramahamsa responded with a deep Teaching: “That’s….one hobby of you Calcutta people — giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others?….Suppose there is an error in worshipping the clay image; doesn’t God know that through it He alone is being invoked? He will be pleased with that very worship. Why should you get a headache over it? You had better try for knowledge and devotion yourself.”

Photo by Oliver Rowleyon Unsplash

In “Time Must Have a Stop”, published in 1944, we listen to Aldous Huxley teach through one of the characters, Carlo, that “there’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” Aldous goes on:

So you have to begin there, not outside, not on other people. That comes afterwards, when you’ve worked on your own corner. You’ve got to be good before you can do good — or at any rate do good without doing harm at the same time. Helping with one hand and hurting with the other — that’s what the ordinary reformer does….The wise man begins by transforming himself, so that he can help other people without running the risk of being corrupted in the process.

Peace 🙂

Hope and Faith

Yesterday, the indefatigable songwriter for America (indeed, for the world),  the 71 year-old Bruce Springsteen sang at the Biden-Harris inauguration (“Land of Hopes and Dreams”):

“This train carries saints and sinners

This train carries losers and winners

….

This train carries lost souls

I said, this train carries broken-hearted

This train thieves and sweet souls departed

This train carries fools and kings

This train, all aboard

I said, this train, dreams will not be thwarted

This train, faith will be rewarded….” 

Photo by Nick Dunlapon Unsplash

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.

Peace 🙂

“Grudge none, Forgive All”

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.”

Photo by Aaron Burdenon Unsplash

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.”

Peace 🙂

Vocation — the Secret of Happiness

Roman Krznaric writes of the truly remarkable Marie Curie in “How to find Fulfilling Work“.

Born into a studious but impoverished family of Polish intellectuals in 1867, Marie Curie….was a gifted student. She dreamed of studying medicine….arriving in Paris in 1891, aged 24, she commenced her medical studies, and gradually found herself being drawn to doing research in chemistry and physics, an interest she had partly inherited from her father.

It was the beginning of an extraordinarily intensive life of scientific endeavour that would last over forty years. Curie normally worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, continuing at home until two in the morning after returning from the lab….Her brilliance and dedication were rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, and another in Chemistry in 1911. She became France’s first female university professor, and one of the world’s famous scientists.


Curie was absolutely committed to her career. She lived an almost monastic lifestyle in her early years in Paris, surviving on nothing but buttered bread and tea for weeks at a time, which left her anemic and regularly fainting from hunger. She shunned her growing fame, had no interest in material comforts, preferring to live in a virtually unfurnished home: status and money mattered little to her. When a relative offered to buy her a wedding dress, she insisted that “if you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” Before her death in 1934, aged 67, she summed up her philosophy of work: “Life is not easy for any of us,” she said. “But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”


In “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation”, Parker J Palmer tells us that “Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be.”

“Emerald Lake” — painting by Deepa Krishnan

Daniel Dennett, in a 2020 TED Talk titled “Dangerous memes”, points out that “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Matthieu Ricard  observes in “In Search of Wisdom” that “the definition of perseverance, one of the six “perfections” of Buddhism or paramita….is “the joy of doing good.” “Good” here is not simply a good action; it is something that inspires us deeply. It is joy in the form of effort.”

Peace 🙂

The planet’s health is our health

In a piece published by Lion’s Roar on 1st December 2020, we read Thich Nhat Hanh:

We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the earth and are part of the earth. The earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the earth and we are always carrying her within us.

In “Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson”, Rachel (who was one of the launching-forces of the modern environmental conscience) writes that life’s “living protoplasm is built of the same elements as air, water, and rock.” She goes on: “Our origins are of the earth” — part of “the natural universe”, part of “the whole stream of life.” We are not separate from Nature.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, mystic, and scholar of comparative religion, sings in a poem titled “On Sweet Irrational Worship” (published in (“In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton”): “I am earth, earth….”

In a pure-gold OnBeing conversation on 16th September 2010, Joanna Macy, the ecologist and Buddhist scholar, tells Krista Tippett:

We’ve been treating the Earth as if it were a supply house and a sewer. We’ve been grabbing, extracting resources from it for our cars and our hair dryers and our bombs, and we’ve been pouring the waste into it until it’s overflowing.

But our Earth is not a supply house and a sewer. It is our larger body. We breathe it. We taste it. We are it.

Photo by Jacek Dylagon Unsplash

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’s 2019 Global Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” points out the main forces that contribute to our assault on Nature are “underpinned by societal values and behaviours that include production and consumption patterns, human population dynamics and trends, trade, technological innovations and….governance.” 

Our very way of life is causing harm, and we appear to have forgotten (or are choosing to ignore) something obvious, yet profound.

The Head of the UN Environment Program, Inger Andersen reminds us  (in a UN First Person report published on 5th April 2020) — “the health of people and the health of planet are one and the same”.

Peace 🙂

The Battle inside

A story that is attributed to many sources (including the Cherokee Native Americans) tells of a man chatting with his grandson. “A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy.

““It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continues, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied: “The one you feed.””

In a Nautilus conversation on 14th October 2020, Steve Paulson tells the neuroscientist David Eagleman: “You write about a constant battle going on inside our brains between different sets of neurons, fighting over who gets control of certain parts of the brain.”

David replies:

There is a competition at all levels, all the way down to individual neurons. If you walk through a forest, it looks serene and beautiful. The same thing is happening there. All the trees and shrubs are competing for sunlight, so some shrubs grow low and broad, while others put all their energy into growing up tall and spreading out leaves to catch sunlight. That’s exactly what’s going on with neurons. When you look at neurotransmission, when one neuron spits out chemicals that send a signal to the next neuron, it comes from this aggressive background of neurons fighting against one another. If you take this perspective, it explains a lot.

In “Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil”, Stephen Batchelor writes of Mara,  the Devil, which is really the evil wolf in us.

Stephen tell us insightfully that “Mara is Buddha’s devilish twin. Buddha needs to let go of Mara in order to be Buddha. And not just once as an episode in the heroic drama of enlightenment. As long as Buddha lives, he is constantly relinquishing Mara….The two are inseparable…..Mara….is really Gotama’s own conflicted humanity.”

Photo by Sam Syon Unsplash

Juan Mascaro writes of this in the introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita. “We find in the Gita that there is going to be a great battle for the rule of a Kingdom; and how can we doubt that this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of the soul? Are we going to allow the forces of light in us or the forces of darkness to win?”

In the introduction to his commentary Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (“Meditation as Spiritual Culmination — Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali”), and explanations on Verse 1.12, Swami Sarvagatananda writes of the person who is always “mindful….in thought,  word and deed” — a person who examines the mind “thoroughly”, and becomes “aware of all….thoughts, tendencies, urges and modifications.” Such a person, Swamiji says, is a “yogi.” She/He is able to “stand up and say: “All the devils are in me — and all the gods are also in me….”

Juan exhorts us to cultivate the Yogi’s spirit. He encourages us to persevere with Faith in the good wolf within. “In the battle of the Bhagavad Gita there is a great symbol of hope: that he who has a good will and strives is never lost, and that in the battle for eternal life there can never be a defeat unless we run away from the battle.”

Peace 🙂

“Compassion — a radical necessity”

On 4th March 1950, Albert Einstein wrote to a gentleman (translation quoted in “Finding Peace in Life and Death: A Synopsis of Reality Versus the Human Mind” by Patrick Baxter) who had requested him to help comfort his daughter – after her sister had passed away.   In the letter, we read Einstein on the relationship between compassion and liberation.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Einstein goes on: “Our task must me to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all….the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of….liberation and a foundation for inner security.” 

About two thousand years before this letter, in the Vivekachudamani (Verse 82, translated by Swami Ranganathananda in “The Message of the Vivekachudamani”), we read the sage Adi Sankara tell us that if we have “a craving for liberation”, one of the “the nectar-like virtues” we must cultivate is “compassion“.

The Buddhist Teacher, Joan Halifax takes this a bit deeper than liberation in a talk delivered at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference on 1st March 2015. She says the “images of aggression, violence, of suffering” that we “are flooded” with clearly tell us that “Compassion is a….radical necessity.”

In an essay titled “Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness” published in the 1st November 2020 issue of “Harvard Business Review: Working Knowledge”, Boris Groysberg (Professor at Harvard Business School) and Susan Seligson advise Business Leaders that we are confronted with times where “the manager’s toolkit must expand in ways we haven’t seen before.” The most important addition to the toolkit, they say, is “kindness”. They write: “Even if gestures of….compassion were not woven into business as usual before the pandemic, they are essential now and going forward.”

Peace 🙂

“The sun will rise for you….”

A poem written in the 1860s by the remarkable Emily Dickinson reminds us of what resides in our skulls.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

For—put them side by side—

The one the other will contain

With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—

For—hold them—Blue to Blue—

The one the other will absorb….

In a conversation with Nautilus on 14th October 2020, the neuroscientist David Eagleman says: “Every moment of your life, your brain is rewiring. You’ve got 86 billion neurons and a fraction of a quadrillion connections between them. These vast seas of connections are constantly changing their strength, and they’re unconnecting and reconnecting elsewhere. It’s why you are a slightly different person than you were a week ago or a year ago.”

This rewiring, the psychologist Rick Hanson, Fellow at the University of California (Berkeley) tells us, is something we can participate in.

In “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”, Rick writes: “Every day, ordinary activities….contain dozens of opportunities to change your brain from the inside-out. You really do have the power, which is a wonderful thing in a world full of forces beyond your control.”

Photo by Jasper Boeron Unsplash

Pointing out the roles of consistent intention and perseverance (in the rewiring), Rick tells us: “A single raindrop doesn’t have much effect, but if you have enough raindrops….you can carve a Grand Canyon.”

Swami Vivekananda ends a letter (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) written on 29th September 1894 with a message encouraging us in this effort to change ourselves for the better: “….we must struggle all our lives….Have patience and work. Save yourself by yourself.” Elsewhere he exhorts us to “struggle on in patience, and the sun will rise for you.”

Peace 🙂