Be Light

In the poem “Poppies” (“New and Selected Poems: Volume One”), Mary Oliver gently asks each of us to be light:

….light

is an invitation

to happiness,

and that happiness,

when itโ€™s done right,

is a kind of holiness,

palpable and redemptive.


Swami Vivekananda says (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”): “”Be like a lily โ€” 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.” 

“Lighthouse” — painting by Deepa Krishnan

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.”

“Temples of Goodness in our Hearts”

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!”

Photo by Hyokee Min on Unsplash

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.”

Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

Unceasingly “Learn why the world wags and what wags it.”

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.

Cecil Morris, the teacher and poet, writes of such a Teacher in “Teaching Dreams”:

“Some nights

students return to me

like salmon to their spawning bed

They shake my hand

and sit across from me

and tell me what they have do

and what they will soon be doing.

I remember all their names

and just where each one sat

in my classroom.

Still, when they tell me

what they learned,

it’s not what I remember teaching.”

Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

*Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

“What Good have I done Today?”

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?”

Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

Autumn Leaves, Grass, and the Ideal of Nature

Kahlil Gibran writes of a conversation in Nature (his 1918 work “The Madman: His Parables and Poem”):

“Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, โ€œYou make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.โ€

Said the leaf indignant, โ€œLow-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing.โ€

Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked again — and she was a blade of grass.

And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, โ€œO these autumn leaves! They make such noise! They scatter all my winter dreams.โ€

Richard Jefferies, the writer besotted with Nature, writes (“The Life of the Fields” published in 1884) of watching “the earth….every blade of grass, each separate floret and petal….” 

“Each gives me”, he tells us, “something of the pure joy they gather for themselves….Feeling with them, I receive some, at least, of their fulness of life.” 

Then, he soars.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time….This is real life, and all else is illusion, or mere endurance. 

Echoing sages, he writes: “To be beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of nature. If I cannot achieve it, at least I can think it.”

Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

“Condemn none….”

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 donโ€™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 โ€“ 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 โ€œknow thyself โ€. 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.”

Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

“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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 donโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚