Be the change


2017-05-MAY-Be-the-change_0BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD

Focus Of The Month – May, 2017

yad-yad ācarati śreṣṭhas / tad-tadevetaro janaḥ / sa yat pramāṇaḿ kurute / lokas-tad-anuvartate
A great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.

Bhagavad Gita III.21

The streets of Calcutta were dangerous and dirty. Thousands were infected with leprosy, cholera, and other contagious diseases. At overcrowded hospitals, nurses were forced to turn away dying patients onto the cockroach-infested streets. A group of activists, led by Mother Teresa, risked their own health to treat the sick and poor, even though most could not be saved. Why would Mother Teresa dedicate her life to working in the most unsettling conditions for people who did not have anything to give in return? She responded by saying, “I see the divine in every human being. When I wash a leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”

The great leaders of the world – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai – all share certain characteristics. They are clear communicators as well as great listeners. They have a firm and steady grounding that reflects an unwavering commitment to their cause. They inspire and empower. They are also confident, honest, and discerning. There is another quality each great leader has, that perhaps outshines all the others – humility.

Business philosopher Jim Rohn says, “Humility is almost a God-like word. A sense of awe. A sense of wonder. An awareness of the human soul and spirit. Humility is the grasp of the distance between us and the stars, yet having the feeling that we are part of the stars.” In other words, humility is seeing yourself in others; it is seeing all life as holy.

The word humility is derived from the Latin humilis, which is translated as “grounded” or “from the Earth.” The Chandogya Upanishad teaches tat twam asi or “you are that.” This mahavakya, or great saying, relates to the idea that everything is Brahman, that the supreme Self and the individual self are one and the same. If you are Brahman, and the tree is Brahman, then you and the tree are one. The yogi has the humility to understand they are the same as all that exists on Earth. Its natural resources support life, so it is our responsibility to support the Earth just as much.

According to Vedic scripture, we are currently living in the Kali Yuga – an era of conflict and struggle – and great leaders are especially needed. If we want to see peace and happiness in the world, then we must live the kind of life we want to see. There was a point in time when humanity lived in harmony with nature. We only took from the Earth what was necessary to survive. Now, each year, humans kill billions of animals and destroy millions of acres of land. We are fighting wars over natural resources and the Earth can no longer sustain us. The business of taking all the earthly resources we want was once thought of as progress. We have instead regressed, causing billions of humans, animals, and plants unhappiness.

A great yogi offers strength to others so that they too can learn to be steady and joyful. Humility allows the yogi to be the change they want to see in the world. We can consider progressing in a different way, one that would help us rediscover our higher consciousness and realize that we are the same as the stars and shine just as bright. We can also lead by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.

April Dechagas

Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”


shyam1
courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

When I was a child growing up Africa,  we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.

Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy  – ananda.

Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.

Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!

Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.

All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.

As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace

Radhe, Radhe!

Jeanine

WHAT IS THE USE?


09_Sept-Whats-the-UseFocus Of The Month – September, 2016


shariram surupam tatha va kalatram yashashcharu chitram dhanam merutulyam
manashchenna lagnam guroranghri-padme tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim

Even if you have good looks, a beautiful lover, great fame and mountains of money, if you are unable to bow at your teacher’s lotus feet—What is the use? What is the use? What is the use? What is the use?

Shri Adi Shankaracharya from Guru Ashtakam

Thousands of years ago, as a way to encourage his students to realize how precious their lives were, the Buddha invited them to imagine a vast and deep ocean with a golden life preserver floating on its surface. The Buddha then asked, “How rare would it be for a turtle living at the bottom of the ocean to peek her head for a breath through the middle of the golden life preserver just at the right moment?” In unison, the students answered, “Indeed, it would be very rare.”

Life is that rare and precious. It is so rare and precious that we wouldn’t want to waste it. This invitation to not let our lives go to waste is what this verse from the “Guru Ashtakam” is calling for. When chanting this verse, we embrace worldly life and the desires that accompany our human birth: a healthy body, a loving partner, heaps of money to cover our rent or mortgage and do the things we enjoy, a successful career, respect in our social circles, knowledge that is not only book-based but experience-based as well. This prayer gives us the permission to recognize and accept all of that without judgment or harshness, but it also comes with a warning.

If we always keep ourselves busy, acquiring and attaining all that comes and goes without being genuinely open to learn, to practice and to transform ourselves, what is the use of all we have acquired? Without our minds intent on “uplifting the lives of others,” as my dear teacher Sharon Gannon would say, and without allowing ourselves to be overcome with humility, devotion and a feeling of being part of something greater than ourselves—a lineage or a community to cherish and celebrate—then what is the use of all we have attained? What is the use—tatah kim?

We all lead very hectic lives. It can often feel like we are wandering aimlessly without a focus or purpose. The Sanskrit word samsara describes this feeling. It means “same agitation” lifetime after lifetime (sam means “same,” sara “agitation”). It’s a feeling of being stuck at the bottom of the ocean, in the lower realms of existence, not being able to see where we’re going. It is said that humility and devotion are like the two oars of the boat of sadhana (conscious spiritual practice) that takes the student across the ocean of samsara.

Humility requires accepting that everything is in flux, that the things we acquire and attain come and go. Hence, humility allows us to embrace impermanence and to remain open to the inevitability of change. Humility cuts through our resistance and our crazy urge to remain in a protected bubble where we get only what we want, where life unfolds only on our terms. Humility softens us to the point where we can move with fluidity and show up for life and its unpredictability. Humility grants us the openness and courage to move in a direction that feels purposeful.

Moving in a purposeful direction, we inevitably begin to feel a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. The English word humility is derived from the Latin humus, which means “earth, ground, soil.” When we place our forehead on the earth, on the floor in front of an altar, at the feet of a teacher, when we bow to the circumstances of our life, we humbly offer something of ourselves and acknowledge our longing “to be”—to be an instrument, to be of use, to be part of a community of men and women who honor the earth, celebrate life and have devoted their lives to practice and share methods that will stop us from wandering aimlessly in search of things that will never feel like enough—the perfect body, the perfect lover, the perfect career, the perfect house, the perfect investment.

A guru is anything that removes (ru in Sanskrit) this common misunderstanding (gualso translates as “misknowing” or “ignorance”). When we devote ourselves to recognizing that our life experiences—the birth of a child, the loss of a job—can clear away our confusion, can be our guru, we become struck by the poignant clarity of how precious and rare the life we share with every sentient being is.

The practices of Yoga are designed to nurture humility by encouraging us to cultivate kindness, compassion, connection and receptivity no matter what is going on in our lives. Through practice, our devotion to all that is guiding us to stay on course and to remain open will naturally arise from within, reinforcing our understanding that a life well lived is a life that puts us in touch with something larger than ourselves and allows us to get out of our own way. This very notion can shatter the limited and fixed view of ourselves, of others and of the world. Such a life is rare and precious. Such a life will indeed never feel wasted.

—Rima Rani Rabbath