“….a machine for the making of gods.”

1932 saw the publication of “The Two Sources Of Morality And Religion”, a book that was probably Henri Bergson’s last.

After a lifetime trying to unveil Life, the Nobel Laureate gives us these intriguing last lines in the book: “Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands….the essential function of the universe….is a machine for the making of gods.”

In a letter to Margaret Noble dated 7th June 1896 (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda — Volume 7”), Swami Vivekananda teaches that this “the essential function of the universe” (that Bergson spoke of years later) is a responsibility each of us is tasked with: “Let us call and call till the sleeping gods awake, till the god within answers to the call. What more is in life? What greater work?”

Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

And why is there no “greater work”?

We find the answer in a 1946 lecture from Viktor Frankl (published as part of his “Yes To Life: In Spite of Everything”). We would do well to keep in mind that Viktor said this a few months after he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp, after experiencing some of the worst horrors.

Everything depends on the individual human being….

Peace 🙂

Be Light

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


is an invitation

to happiness,

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.” 

“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.”

“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 don’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 – 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 “know thyself ”. 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 🙂

“Love Everyone”

We listen to Swami Vivekananda (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) exhort the Graduate Philosophy Society of Harvard University on 25th March 1896: “Love everyone as your own self, because the whole universe is one.” What does this loving mean?

Thich Nhat Hanh, in “How to Love” teaches us that “True love includes a sense of responsibility and accepting the other person as she is, with all her strengths and weaknesses. If you only like the best things in a person, that is not love. You have to accept her weaknesses and bring your patience, understanding, and energy to help her….” 

The psychologist Erich Fromm writes in “The Art of Loving” that “the main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism.” Thomas Merton explains this in “No Man is an Island”: “The beginning of love is….the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Evening in Coimbatore — photograph by the Bibliophile

In a letter to his son (14 years young), written on 10th November 1958 (“Steinbeck: A Life in Letters”), the author and Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck writes: “There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect….The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.” 

If we want the world to heal and bloom, we would do well to ponder something in Swami Vivekananda’s lines deeply — he says love “everyone”….

Peace 🙂

“The Wisdom of Cheerfulness”

In “Ingersollia”, the 1882 compilation of thoughts from lectures, and conversations of Robert Ingersoll, the lawyer and agnostic thinker, we read:

A cross man I hate above all things. What right has he to murder the sushine of the day? What right has he to assassinate the joy of life? When you go home you ought to feel the light there is in the house; if it is in the night it will burst out of the doors and illuminate the darkness.

Christophe Andre, the psychiatrist, confesses (“In Search of Wisdom” ) that he is “a depressive type who can….reason in a twisted way in order to justify his way of seeing the world.” He goes on to tell us about his daughter who “for two years….had been in intensive classes preparing for university entrance exams”. She led “a hard life” with long hours of commuting as well. Christophe writes: “And every morning I got up with her, made her orange juice, her coffee, her sandwich, thinking it was important for me to be there. She was practically joyous and had a smile on her face, even in the cold and dark winter, even at exam time. Some mornings she would ask me how I was feeling, and sometimes I wasn’t feeling that well but I didn’t want her to see it, so I’d say, “Oh, I’m okay, doing okay.” And she would scold me, saying, “Okay? Your ‘okay’ doesn’t sound very convincing.” Little by little I got the point. And one day it became clear enough for me to articulate: No matter what happens, you find every reason to be happy in the morning.”

“Joy” — Painting by Deepa Krishnan

In a letter (“The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett — Volume 1, 1845-1846”) written on 5th March 1845, some time before she met and married Robert Browning, the poet Elizabeth Barrett (who suffered from illnesses and chronic pain from an early age) tells him that she has “after a course of bitter mental discipline and long bodily seclusion” learned “the wisdom of cheerfulness.”

In his talks on Bhakti Yoga (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”), we hear Swami Vivekananda tell us that the person who aspires to the highest realization, “must be cheerful.” Swamiji explains why. “It is the cheerful mind that is persevering. It is the strong mind that hews its way through a thousand difficulties.”

Peace 🙂

The “DIscreet Heroism of Everyday Life”

In “The Principles of Uncertainty”, the illustrator, artist, and writer, Maira Kalman, writes of  the bravery needed to “take step after step” taking care “not to trip and yet” trip sometimes, “and then get up.”

In “The Fall”, Albert Camus writes that “in this world….Sometimes, carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement.”

Alexandre Jollien observes (“In Search of Wisdom”) that

There is a discreet heroism of everyday life: getting up in the morning, being generous, facing difficulties without losing one’s joy.

Swami Vivekananda (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) tells us that if we “really want to judge of the character of a man”, we are better off looking not at “his great performances” but rather at his life every day. “Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.”

Peace 🙂

Generosity must become like breathing

In an OnBeing conversation on 26th February 2013, with Krista Tippett, Father Gregory Boyle (whose life has been a message of hope for many many young people) makes the astonishing observation that

I’ve learned everything of value, really, in the last 25 years, from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent and wisdom….

Seneca begins a Letter (“Moral letters to Lucilius” translated by Richard M. Gummere) that was probably written a year or two before he passed on in 65 AD: “You complain that you have met with an ungrateful person.” As he elaborates on this, he writes that “the wise man….enjoys the giving more than the recipient enjoys the receiving.” And why is this so? Seneca answers: “There is not a man who, when he has benefited his neighbour, has not benefited himself….”

In an essay published in the July 1896 edition of “Prabuddha Bharata”, we read Swami Vivekananda: “No beggar ever owed a single cent to us, we owe everything to him, because he has allowed us to exercise our power of pity and charity on him.”

the bibliophile — Sunset, Coimbatore, India

In a 18th December 2018 Lions Roar compilation titled “Joyful Giving”, the Zen Teacher who founded (and runs) one of the largest centers in the USA that helps abused children,  Jan Chozen Bays, writes:

We are not self-made. We are made of the raw ingredients of sunlight, soil, and water, shaped into the flesh of plants and animals, shaped into our life. Our life is one big gift, given by countless beings.

She goes on to observe that “When we truly see this”, our life becomes an answer to the question “How can I repay the many beings who are continually giving to me?”, and we realize that generosity, in our lives, must become like breathing.

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 🙂