A Call from Charlottesville

Way back in 1893, the great Swami Vivekananda, an unknown monk from India, traveled to Chicago to participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the Great Chicago World’s Fair, or “Columbian Exposition.”

After days of boring speeches in academic style, the Swami’s first five words led the entire audience to stand and give an ovation. What were those words?

“Sisters and Brothers of America!”

Instead of focusing on differences, the Swami greeted all who could hear him with words showing our ultimate connections. In fact, the Christian organizers of this event had pretty well been thinking that after all the “heathen” participants had been able to present their talks, the entire world was going to “see the light” and convert to Christianity. Instead, the Swami’s talk is practically the only one that is remembered today. And instead, the Swami ended up spending a lot of time in America, teaching the “wonderful doctrines” (a phrase from his speech) of Hinduism to eager Americans.

Of most interest and relevance today, are three sentences toward the end of the talk.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often in human blood, destroyed civilizations, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

Swamiji closed his talk with the following, equally uplifting words:

“I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Please see the following link for the entire text of his speech.

http://www.ramakrishna.org/chcgfull.htm

Perhaps equally important to us today, is the end of the Swami’s closing talk.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

I ask, when are the religious leaders of the world going to step up to the plate and do their part to make Swami Vivekananda’s hope a reality?

When are we going to demand that all of our leaders, religious and secular, renounce bigotry all all levels?

When are our leaders going to fan the warming flames of tolerance, if not universal acceptance, with the same fervor that some currently use to oxygenate antagonism to the point of mutual destruction?

When, at the very least is the United States of America going to stop giving tax exempt status to organizations that teach their pre-logical children that their fellow citizens are going to hell for calling the Divine by the wrong name?

When?

 

All She Wanted

All she wanted was for people to be a little nicer to each other. In her youth, she had been more naive, and then all she wanted was for people to be nice to each other. But now, she had discernment, and realized that was way to much to ask. So nicER. Just a little bit nicER.

She had spent decades wishing for understanding. Understanding for the sake of itself. At that early part of her life, she had perhaps been confused into wanting understanding due to a misplaced belief in the inevitability of beneficial consequences flowing from understanding. She hadn’t encountered David Levy’s book, so she did not know that sometimes, to understand is to change, but often, simply to understand a situation results in no practical change at all.

As time marched on, she got what she wanted. She gained more and more understanding of human nature. Eventually, she understood that there are lots of excellent reasons that most people want money or love much more strongly than they want understanding. Her father wanted money. He told her so. He also told her that it was clear to him that he would never understand people, but he could understand money. Her mother wanted justice. That interfered a little with her father’s accumulation of money, but that is life. We are all conflicted. Because whatever most of us want to sustain our bodies in comfort, most people also want to climb the stairway to heaven.

She had a colleague. A friend. He will remain nameless for the purpose of this article. His actions (the organizations he supported with this time and energy) say he wants the Protestant Christian vision. He spends some significant part of his time hanging out with financial planners, claiming he is working to help the poor to get their piece of the pie. As far as she saw it, investing in the stock market would do nothing to bring the Kingdom of Heaven.

She knows that it is a mistake to believe that the fantasy of financial stability¬† can ever be a foundation of social justice. Those who believe this clearly don’t even bother to flesh out the meaning of social justice, or realize that social justice is both the original and ultimate, and effectively,¬† only real type of justice. The concept of social justice is one of the ideas that the symbol of the blindfolded lady is intended to demonstrate. Justice has to close her eyes to the particulars of the case,¬† and consider the whole picture, which only becomes visible in the metaphorical darkness (freedom from distraction). To quote Billy Joel, it can only be seen by the eyes of the blind. In other words, at least in Western Civilization, we don’t believe in cutting off the hand that stole food to feed the hungry.

She knew that there was more to justice than punishing a book crime. She knew that the judge was supposed to be able to see into the heart and mind of the accused, and weigh the needs of the accused against the resources of the society.

Hunger in a land of plenty is a sin. Hunger in the land of scarcity may be as benign as a sad fact.

She knew, she understood, that her colleague with the misplaced focus on money was a mirror, sent by God to remind her of who she was, by virtue of what she wanted and what she knew. What she didn’t know was why others couldn’t understand that we can never escape the consequences of the wants of others. We can ignore them, at least for a time, but never escape. She knew that wants drive thoughts, and then action.

She knew that thoughtful thoughts have a greater chance to eventually drive elevating action and hasty or superficial thoughts drive actions with higher probabilities of negative unintended consequences.

She sometimes allowed herself to feel depressed by her colleague’s belief that social time spent with part time financial planners who were funding an orphanage in India was the most effective step he could take on the stairway to heaven. But she was usually able to treat the depressive thoughts by reminding herself of the teachings of The Great Merwegon (a fictional wise woman).

For over twenty years, she had devoted herself to cultivating clarity, and to teaching any others who were open to it, to doing the same. She knew that the basest wants are the strongest wants in most, which opened her to criticism for empowering people to hurt themselves and others, as they experimented with the cultivation of clarity.

She ever hopefully opened her mind to arguments that there was a more direct path toward increasing humans’ tendency to being nicer, but, to date, no convincing ones had been offered. With the possible exception of the book highlighted in this link. Instead, she was accused of manipulation, and even brainwashing, by her own father, no less. She would have felt that as a greater burden had she not already worked through the flawed thinking of a past accuser.

To her, that was the saddest thing. That people couldn’t distinguish someone teaching self-empowerment from someone seeking power over them. For now, she rededicated herself to cultivating clarity and teaching the teachable.