WHAT IS A PERSON? (THE WORLD IN WHICH THE KESTREL MOVES)
sarva-bhūtastham ātmānam / sarva-bhūtāni cātmani
īkshate yogayuktātmā / sarvatra samadarśanah
Through the practice of yoga, the yogini and yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and at all times.
This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita asks us to reflect on the divinity, the holy nature, of all beings, which is omnipresent. The idea of “all beings” might be a little intangible— and inaccessible for many of us. It’s an overwhelming concept! How can we wrap our heads around it? One way is to start thinking of the beings we know and love, the ones we are close to—our friends, family, and companion animals. We might then extend our circle of divinity to our communities and beyond.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that divine beings exist all around us in the form of fairies and elemental beings. We might also ask, Is a tree included? Or the ocean? And if we assume that people are, what makes a person a person? Steve Wise, a New York lawyer, has asked questions about personhood and concluded that sentiency plays a critical role in what makes a person a person. He founded a movement called the Nonhuman Rights Project, thanks to which he and a team of legal experts are campaigning to have chimpanzees (with plans to expand to other animals) legally declared persons with certain fundamental rights. The crux of their argument is that chimpanzees have the ability to self-reflect and to perceive and understand past, present, and future, and as such it is a violation of their constitutional right to freedom for them to be imprisoned in cages under human control. In other words, chimpanzees are people too and should be afforded the same basic rights that human people enjoy.
Sharon Gannon pioneered nonhuman rights when she titled one of her books Cats and Dogs are People Too! In this book Sharon deeply considers the often-subconscious attitudes we have toward our companion animals, which deems them less important than human family members or somehow inferior.
Corporate law and culture has a very different perspective on the concept of personhood. Under corporate law in most liberal democracies a corporation such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds enjoys the rights of personhood. So, in our topsy-turvy world, corporations (which exist by definition as having the primary motive of making money) have more rights than chimpanzees, elephants, or dolphins.
The Whanganui River, in New Zealand, is sacred to the indigenous people and has been afforded the right of personhood by the government; it therefore enjoys protection from pollution and development. In India, the holy book of the Sikh faith, Guru Granth Sahib, has been granted personhood by the government and is protected as such.
When we broaden our perspective of what a “person” is, our circle of compassion expands. This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita invites us to do just that, to remember that an ant is a person just as much as a bird or a human being. Furthermore, it gives us information on how we might remember this: through the practices of Yoga. The techniques of Yoga will help us to see the divinity in all “people.”
Philosopher Mary Midgley has dedicated her life’s work to the study of human and animal relationships. Mary is a retired university professor now (she’s 97 years old!), but has written extensively about animal rights and specifically about the issue of personhood. Mary suggests that we will extend our ability to be compassionate toward all beings if we respect and honor the differences in our own abilities and those of others. As Mary has written: “The world in which the kestrel moves, the world that it sees, is, and always will be, entirely beyond us. That there are such worlds all around us is an essential feature of our world.”
As yogis we are fortunate to have a direct method for accessing this world of the kestrel. Through the practice of asana we become the eagle, the snake, and the cow. We become the tree and the mountain. And in doing so we embody the people that those holy beings are and resonate more deeply with them. We extend our own experiences of being and might begin to see the Divine Self in all beings. In this way asana is a tool for enlightenment—the realization that we are all One.
As Sharon Gannon has said: “We are all in this together. We are all this together.”
Ahimsa doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything, it means you do, in a non-aggressive way.
You participate, you take a role. And in fact, the ultimate fulfillment of ahimsa is not just you don’t do harm but you intervene when you see harm being done, in order to that should be stopped. So today, in a world we’re very much dependent on one another, actual non-violence is a very active socially engaged proposition. So that’s kind of the message of the Gita as well. ~ Joshua M. Greene
Some of you request it, so here it is:
Thursday Jivamukti open* class are ON in July!
War and peace start in the human heart. Whether that heart is open or whether that heart closes has global implications – Pema Chodron
Words fails me to express how I feel…
Davidji once said « If you believe in coincidence, then you aren’t paying attention ». And I could quote him again and again; and of course, that’s not the point. It is not about his words but his very presence, his realness and above everything his immense, loving and tender heart.
A few years ago in New-York, as I went to say my goodbyes, I met his eyes filled with tears. He said « already leaving? how I wished we could stay with all of you forever ». Then he cracked a joke. My heart skipped many beats.
And a week after, the doctor looking at my knee MRI’s said « there must be a mistake … » Miracles that even non-believers can witness. And the year after, as I was saying my goodbyes, Davidji went « Nothing to fix? boooring » we laughed. His eyes were the same. Pure unconditional love. All embracing.
During the Wild Woodstock Ashram summer classes, every day there is one hour dedicated to Q&A. Students can ask the teachers any question, about anything : gardening, cooking, art, asana, music, meditation, astronomy, money, relationships, divorce, war, vegetarianism … anything. These moments are unique, precious and indescribable. I always leave Davidji overwhelmed with gratefulness and praying that we could have many more years in his presence. In sanskrit they say « Guru kripa » . The grace-filled ways of the Master. He cuts right through you. Your intellect is challenged but your resistances melt. You surrender. You experience things that you can’t even imagine even existed. It is beyond intellect and it is not blind-faith. You fall in love again and again….
You awaken to the goodness of your own soul. And you begin to see « it » in others too…
I am very fortunate to have found a spiritual practice and teachers I trust. Davidji is a living master and a healer. I am blessed beyond belief to have him in my life, to be part of the Jivamukti yoga lineage.
« Our true power is the power of friendliness, the power of kindness, the power of One, the power of Love » – David Life
It is all Divine Grace,
Please listen, listen carefully to His Holiness Radhanath Swami Maharaj
by Mathuresha Dasa
Beyond the walls of the universe, time assumes a different feature.
What is time?
The question has perplexed philosophers throughout the ages. If you wanted to give a quick answer, you might say, “Time is what changes things.” Or you might want to go along with Albert Einstein, who said, in effect, “Time is what a clock reads.” Or maybe you consider the question itself a waste of time.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gives His own answer in a few words. “Time I am,” He says, “the great destroyer of the worlds.” Time, according to the Gita and other Vedic literatures, is an inconceivable energy of the Supreme Lord through which He ultimately destroys everything.
We measure time in terms of the movements of physical objects. The time the earth takes to orbit the sun we call a year. The time the moon takes to orbit the earth we call a month. And the time the earth takes to revolve on its axis we call a day. To further subdivide our days into hours, minutes, and seconds we observe the movements of other physical objects. Sand, water, pendulums, quartz crystals, and cesium atoms are a few of the things man has used to make his timepieces. By observing how many times these objects swing, rotate, vibrate, and so on during the greater movements of the planets, we can subdivide our days.
In fact, every physical object or mechanism is a clock of sorts, because everything physical is affected by time. Even the beating of our hearts and the gradual decay of our bodies can serve to measure the passing moments.
The Sanskrit word kala-cakra denotes time’s control of the cyclical movement of the physical world. Kala is a name for the Supreme Person in His feature as time, and cakra means “wheel.” Each and every physical thing, from the smallest atomic particle up to the complete form of the universe, has a particular wheel of time that it is obliged to follow. Kala-cakra therefore refers not only to an object’s movements but to its overall duration—its life expectancy—as well. The earth, sun, moon, stars, planets, our physical bodies, and so on disappear in the course of time, and their particular durations are all kala-cakras.
All our analysis and measurement, however, does not make time any less perplexing or any more perceivable. What we perceive in the movement and change of the innumerable clocks—man-made and natural—that surround us is not time, but time’s effect on these objects. And what we are measuring is also not time, but the duration of these effects in relation to each other. Time itself is immeasurable, having no beginning or end. It stands above all relative effects, employing its various cakras to shape the physical world according to the Lord’s will.
But although we cannot observe time directly, we can learn much—with the help of the Vedic literature—by observing time’s effects. I have already mentioned time’s overall effect: destruction. Krishna says that as time He is “the great destroyer of the worlds.” And yet, as we can understand from the Vedic texts as well as from our own experience, time brings not only destruction but creation and sustenance as well.
Within every kala-cakra there is a point of creation, a point of sustenance, and a point of destruction. Everything has its given schedule of creation, sustenance, and destruction under the influence of time. The universe itself, according to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, is created at a certain time, sustained for the equivalent of 310 trillion solar years, and then destroyed. After destruction, time brings about recreation, and the cycle begins again. Thus, although the overall effect is destruction, the physical world goes through repeated creations and annihilations.
Within these cycles of creation and annihilation, time has many other manifestations. Time brings birth, death, old age, and disease—the fourfold miseries of material life mentioned in the Gita. It also brings on miseries caused by natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and so on, as well as miseries caused by the attacks of other living creatures, like insects or our human enemies.
All in all, therefore, time as we know it is a vehicle of suffering. It surrounds us, imprisons us, and gradually destroys everything we have. The pleasure we do experience is sure to have an end and sure to be mixed with suffering. This is like the pleasure of eating ice cream mixed with sand: the overall effect is misery.
The Supreme Lord in His form of time is not, however, directly responsible for our suffering, any more than a government is responsible for the suffering of the inmates in government prisons. To prevent criminals from creating disturbances and to convince them to reform themselves, the government locks them away. The government, however, creates not only prisons but also parks, schools, highways, and so on. The citizen decides whether he will enjoy freedom as a law- abiding individual or suffer as a prison inmate.
Similarly, those souls who do not want to serve Krishna or obey His laws are thrown into the physical world, where they are imprisoned in temporary bodies and are made to suffer under the law of karma. In the Vedic literatures the destructive, misery-laden nature of time is represented by the goddess Kali. Kala—the Supreme Lord as time—controls Kali, who inflicts various kinds of suffering on the inmates of this universe. Kali is the prison warden. She, and not God Himself, is directly in charge of punishing the inmates according to their particular criminal activities. Kali personifies the devastating cycle of creation, sustenance, and dissolution, and she wields the manifold miseries of material life. The effects of time as we can observe and experience them are Kali’s doing.
But even Kali is not to be blamed for our suffering. She is a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, and her thankless duty is to remind the rebellious souls of the futility of trying to enjoy life without Him. Each of us is an eternal, fragmental part of Krishna, and as such our eternal, blissful function is to serve Him. Outside of Krishna’s service and association we wither and waste away, like leaves separated from a tree. In the Gita, therefore, Lord Krishna, with only our welfare in mind, requests us to surrender fully to Him. Kali, or material nature, is trying to convince us that to neglect this request is against our own best interest.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains that beyond the repeated creations and annihilations of this physical universe exists a transcendental world, which is eternal and is never destroyed. He also declares that those who surrender to Him can easily enter that transcendental world. Since Krishna is in charge of Kali, He can order her to release His surrendered servants. By ourselves we are helpless to escape Kali’s grip, but she readily obeys Krishna’s commands.
Krishna’s inconceivable time energy also exists in the transcendental world, hut Kali, time’s devastating feature, is absent there. Transcendental life, therefore, is not marred by repeated creation, sustenance, and annihilation. Instead, time only sustains, and therefore the residents of the transcendental world are free to eternally serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, without any hindrance. So, whereas Kali brings birth, death, and other suffering, time’s transcendental feature supplies Krishna and His devotees with unending and ever-increasing spiritual happiness.
That spiritual happiness is available, even in this temporary world, for anyone who takes up devotional service to Krishna. From the very start, a devotee begins to realize that he is not the body but is a pure spiritual soul situated within the body. He therefore tolerates the body’s inevitable decline, caring for his health only so that he can enthusiastically render service to Krishna. And as the devotee advances spiritually, the pleasures of devotional life make bodily miseries appear insignificant. Even death is of no consequence for the pure devotee, since at death he enters the transcendental world.
So, what is time? Time is a vehicle for suffering—or for unending happiness. The choice is ours. Either way, time is sure to always remain a source of perplexity, because it is an inconceivable energy of the Supreme Lord. Better to be perplexed by time’s unlimited potential to bring spiritual enjoyment, however, than by its power to destroy.