Greetings Dear Ones at this dawn of a new year, and, some say, of a new era on the Mayan calendar.
Greet the past with gratitude
The future with motherly care
Embrace the present
With passionate engagement.
From: Ma's Little Sayings
Greet the past with gratitude.
When I was a small child in Britain in the postwar years, we, like most people, did not have a lot of material things. I had a few beloved dolls and toys; other toys were improvised by my father from cardboard boxes and rolled up newspapers. I went to a friend's house to watch Popeye and Champion the Wonderhorse, because we didn't own a television. Yet looking back, I feel immense gratitude. I can only say that I was born in the best possible place at the best possible time in history to receive amazing opportunities enjoyed by few people before or since. Not only did I live in a beautiful Victorian house with a garden and enjoy family holidays primitive camping in beautiful places--I even received a student grant that fully covered six years at a top London medical school.
Many difficult, even traumatic, things did occur in my past, as for most of us. Yet as I grow older, the depth of gratitude grows too. I feel grateful for the sorrows as well as the joys--for all that has made me of service to others. Greeting the past with gratitude is a foundation for effective activism, indeed for getting through a single day of world news and ordinary difficulties. Without gratitude, I would be meeting today's challenges from a basis of resentment, bitterness, fear or apathy. Counting blessings, greeting the past with gratitude, creates a bright outlook. It keeps us in touch with basic goodness, with the brilliance of the world around us. It also motivates us to reach out to help others have some of the opportunities we have enjoyed.
When the news of the Connecticut school shootings shook the ashram and the nation, I was deeply grateful to have learnt the Tong Len compassion meditation from the abbot of Big Monastery in Kathmandu. My students were grateful too. Although the news was so painful and overwhelming, we had a way to work with it, to bring light out of darkness, to be a part of the solution. The difficult times in my life have shown me that dharma works. Thus I feel immense gratitude not only to the Buddha, the Upanishadic Rishis, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, (may eternal peace and light rest upon them), but also to all the unknown devotees and practitioners who have handed down the teachings and endowed them with the energy of their faith and fervor. I greet with gratitude both my physical ancestors, who allowed me the opportunity to be born, and also my spiritual ancestors of all the world wisdom traditions.
Greet the future with motherly care.
In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.
From the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee
(Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)
Greeting the future with motherly care, we consider the world that our grandchildren will pass on to their grandchildren. In each daily choice that we make, we greet the future with either loving care or disregard. Every time I put vegetable scraps in the compost bucket, till the garden or choose to walk rather than drive, I'm greeting the future with motherly care. Whenever I take the time to be with young people, sharing with them my life's harvest of wisdom or listening to their hopes and fears for their lives, I greet the future with motherly care. Every contribution of money or energy that goes towards feeding hungry children is a way of greeting the future with motherly care. The world's hungry children are the future, and lack of nutrition permanently limits their potential. Malala, the fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot recently by the Taliban, dedicated her young life to women's education. Malala insists she will continue her work even though the Taliban has announced that it will renew the effort to assassinate her. Making a priority of girl's education is a key way to greet the future with motherly care. Today's girls are tomorrow's mothers, aunts and grandmothers, the nurturers of future generations. Let us do all we can to brighten their flame.
Lately, many people expected the world to come to a dramatic end on the twenty-first of December 2012. We woke up on the twenty-second, just the same, because the end of the world doesn't happen overnight. If we allow ourselves to entertain an armageddonist view and await the imminent end of the world, we deprive ourselves of the need to care for future generations. The drastic climate change unfolding around us is a decades-long rather than a daylong event, but its consequences are no less catastrophic. If you haven't seen Chasing Ice, I invite you to take the opportunity to do so. The polar ice caps are melting, seas levels are rising, and destructive superstorms like Sandy come as messengers of the future we are creating. We are crossing tipping points and setting in motion positive feedback loops (aka vicious cycles) in terms of global climate. Yet we are not the helpless victims of circumstances. Human ingenuity set these changes in motion in our effort to better our lives with the conveniences of the age of fossil fuels. Climate change is human-caused and hence can be human-cured, if we all work together with urgency, diligence and care for future generations.
Embrace the present
With passionate engagement.
The fundamental message of Bhagavad Gita is that true spirituality manifests in lokasangraha--care for the welfare of the world. The true yogi is as passionate for the wellbeing of all as a lover is passionate about his paramour. Sometimes we imagine that to be spiritual is to be aloof from the world, indifferent to its turmoil. Yet passionate engagement in the world, without attachment to the fruits, is the mark of spirituality.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives--unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation--not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.
(TS Eliot, Little Gidding)
Often when we use the word 'present' we are referring to an aggregate of the recent past and the immediate future, fundamentally unreal. The present, as such, presents itself to us moment to moment. The present, the now, the actual, is beyond our control. When we step out of the fabricated, aggregated 'present' into the present moment, we move from indifference to passionate engagement. The French Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade taught the practice of self-abandonment to Divine Providence through receiving the sacrament of the present moment. Each moment is a unique gift, which we receive only by abandonment--that is, by stepping out of the aggregated present, which we control, into the immediacy of the present moment, always a fresh gift, inviting our engagement. The sacrament of the present moment is an ongoing empowerment for genuine activism, guiding our steps towards the contributions we, and we alone, can make towards the welfare of the whole. I may not be a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Junior, yet all succeeding generations depend upon the gift I came here to bring, tiny and insignificant as it might seem. Perhaps a smile, a word, a hug from one of us will inspire the next Martin Luther King Junior to lead humanity forward into a bright future.
We know of the 'shot heard around the world,' setting in motion the horrors of the First World War. But our actions of loving-kindness and compassion also echo and ripple around the world, with beneficial consequences we cannot even imagine.
Little acts of kindness
Little deeds of love
Make this earth a heaven
Like the one above.
I wish you a bright New Year. May you unpack the gifts that each moment brings and so share your heart with all beings!
With my love and blessings always