“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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂