Pause for Thought. 22 March 2007
I’m just getting ready to head off to India, Terry. It’s mainly a pilgrimage; time for prayer, meditation and a bit of spiritual tourism round the many holy places out there.
For most of us breaks and holidays are a necessary part of life. We need to recharge the batteries. Of course not everyone follows my example to go away for a spot of navel gazing. There are other ideas about the perfect escape. Quite popular, for example, are those ‘pamper yourself’ hotel breaks. Lying back in unashamed luxury while others peel our grapes and manicure our toenails.
But while it might be nice for a week or two, in the end even that can get tiresome. Years ago I lived on a Greek island for some time. Not needing to work for a while, I spent my days on the beach just lolling around. After a month or so I was bored stiff and had to find something to do.
I now know why. By nature we are servants and we require service to be happy. Being served, as attractive as it may seem, is just not what we are made for. Our lives are all about serving others, be it family members, our boss, the community, our country or even just a dog. Even if we have no one to serve, we will still serve ourselves; our own mind and senses will have us running around trying to satisfy them.
The problem though is that it is very hard to satisfy the mind and senses, whether our own or those of others. No matter how hard we try they always want more. This kind of service is therefore not always such a happy experience. I know myself how I sometimes feel that if someone shouts ‘Dad!’ just one more time in my house I will go crazy.
Really we are meant to serve God. That will actually satisfy us. As small parts of him if he is pleased automatically we too are happy. It is just like the body. If the hands serve the whole body by providing food to the stomach then they are naturally nourished. The hands cannot satisfy themselves independently by holding on to the food. In the same way, we cannot be independently happy without serving the Lord, the basis and maintainer of us all.
In Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, Satan declared, “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”, but I think most of us would prefer heaven to hell. The Bhagavad-gita therefore instructs us to do everything as an offering to God according to his desire. In that mood our life becomes sublime and indeed heavenly, rather than a daily grind from which we need to regularly escape.
So Terry, I’m off to India to meditate on this point for a while. Hopefully when I return I’ll be able to handle those endless shouts of ‘Dad’ in a better spirit.
Pause for Thought. 15 March 2007
I’m trying to keep focused these days, Terry, working on my book. It’s difficult with a family of course; they’re always bursting in on me to ask for lifts, or money, or help with homework, or something. Duty always calls, but one major distraction I have been avoiding is TV. This has been achieved by the simple expedient of not having a set in the house.
It hasn’t been entirely expunged from my life though, as I am still subjected to a rather large dose when I go to the gym for my daily workout. As I pound away on the treadmill, I am confronted by a battery of screens offering a selection of different channels all at once, so I can make up for all that lost TV time at home. But in the last few months as I have flitted from one screen to another one thing has repeatedly struck me; how much program content is about human agony. The popular soaps, for example, are a virtual catalogue of catastrophe. The characters appear to go from one hair raising scrape to the next, continually subjected to all kinds of trials and traumas. In between that they seem to spend their time standing toe-to-toe yelling at one another, with moments of serenity few and far between.
Maybe we get some relief seeing fictional characters going through the mill rather than ourselves, because when it comes to our own troubles the fascination tends to wane a bit. We don’t want see too much of that, quite naturally, and according to the Bhagavad-gita, there’s a good reason. We are not meant to suffer at all. As parts of the all blissful Supreme Spirit we should be absorbed always in the highest possible happiness, which of course is what we constantly try to achieve. But when we try for that through the medium of increasing materialism we end up going in the direction of those soaps rather than where we want to be.
It is simply a case of forgetfulness. Christ compared us to the prodigal son who had forgotten his wealthy father and thus suffered unnecessarily. That is exactly our situation. If we become enthralled by the temporary attractions of this world we remain oblivious to the unending joy that lies within. It’s difficult to drag ourselves away, but it’s worth the effort. Take some sacred time each day for meditation. Life is busy, but we can do this anywhere and anytime. Stuck in traffic (instead of cursing), during our lunch break, or even in the gym when the TV’s are actually off for a change. God is present everywhere and we can always reach him through prayer and thereby feel a profound spiritual peace.
So Terry, let’s turn away from the telly now and again, although not when you are on of course, and turn inwards instead. Gradually we will find everything we are seeking.
Pause for Thought 8 march 2007 (With Johnny Walker)
I’m pleased to report that our parade went well on Saturday, Johnny. After a dodgy start to the day, the clouds parted and we danced our way down Oxford Street in glorious sunshine.
To make sure we didn’t get too joyful, the police accompanied us and were very helpful; but it hasn’t always been like that. I remember back in the seventies being with a chanting party on Carnaby Street that encountered several of Her Majesty’s finest. Not being entirely sure how to deal with the exotic spectacle, they rounded us up into the back of a Black Maria. We were then carried off, still chanting, to the Bow Street cells where we languished for an hour or two until they reached the obvious conclusion that, apart from a mild assault on the eardrums, we posed no mortal threat to anyone.
Since then we have done a lot of work educating the both the police and public in general about Hinduism. The boys in blue come regularly from their training college in Hendon to the Krishna temple in Watford to learn about our beliefs and practices. I haven’t seen the inside of a cell for a long time, thankfully, and apart from the occasional threat of being sprayed with a can of lager, we can chant with impunity pretty much anywhere.
It’s all about understanding of course. We tend to feel threatened by things we don’t understand. Foreign cultures and different religions challenge us and we don’t always respond in the most welcoming ways. With this in mind the government are keen to promote multicultural education in our schools, and of course to educate those coming from other cultures in our own indigenous values and beliefs; citizenship and all that. That has to be a good thing. As we have sometimes seen, the breakdown of intercultural relations can sadly result in rather more than just a lager soaking.
Ultimately we really are all related. Vedic wisdom teaches that our bodies, cultures and even values and beliefs are only temporary externals. They can change at any time, and ultimately must change when we change our body at death. We are actually spiritual beings, parts of the Supreme Spirit, united in one great eternal family. If education is to succeed in creating real and sustainable harmony between us all then, as well as teaching about different races and creeds, it should include this deeper spiritual knowledge, and indeed the spiritual practices by which it is realized. This is the basis of actual equality and peace.
So as well as chanting on the streets, Johnny, we spend a lot of time trying to spread that knowledge. Hopefully in time those lagers will be a thing of the past.
Pause for Thought 1 March 2007 (with Johnny Walker)
I have been preparing for a major Hindu festival this week, Johnny, the appearance day of Lord Chaitanya, who the Vedas describe as an incarnation of Krishna, the supreme person and the embodiment of compassion.
For me God’s appearance in the world, whether we accept him as Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, or whoever, – is a wonderful thing, ¾ an exhibition of his love for us. He comes because he is unhappy to see us suffer and wants to bring it to an end.
Love is a powerful mover, so powerful it moves even God. I know in my own life that I might be busy with so many important affairs, ¾ you know, browsing the internet, reading the news and catching up with the latest sports results, ¾ critical stuff like that, ¾ but if one of my children says “Dad, I can’t get my computer to work”, I drop everything and spend an hour or so fumbling with it.
The Lord is also like that, ready to drop everything for the person who calls on him with love. In the Bhagavad-gita he says that he personally delivers anyone who takes his shelter.
There is a story of a king who once read this statement and found it hard to believe. “How can the Supreme Lord, the greatest king of all, do such work?” he asked. “He must have so many servants to do it for him.”
The king had an intelligent minister who tried convincing him that the statement was literally true, but the king couldn’t accept it. The minister then went to the king’s nurse, who took care of his infant child, and asked her the next day to walk in the palace gardens with a doll wrapped in a blanket, so it would seem as if she were carrying the child. “When the king comes out for his morning walk,” he said to the nurse, “you should drop the doll into the pond.”
The next morning the king came out of the palace with his retinue of ministers and servants. As he approached the pond he saw the nurse holding what he thought was his child. Suddenly she seemed to trip and drop the infant into the water. Without thinking for a moment the king, dressed in his full regalia, at once hurled himself straight into the pond to rescue his son.
As he emerged sopping wet and mystified the minister said to him, “So why did you not ask a servant to save the child?” The king at once understood. There was no question of that. Love had impelled him to act immediately.
In the same way, Johnny, God’s love for us impels him to come directly in person to save us. As soon as we call out to him in love all our problems are over.