Peace for the New Year
At this time of the New Year, most people are closing their balance sheets, closing their accounts and their books. However, the time of the New Year should actually be a time of opening our accounts and opening our balance sheets. I don’t mean our financial balance sheets, rather I mean the balance sheets of our lives, our inner accounts. It is a time in which we must ask ourselves, “Where do I stand?” Is the world a better place now because I have lived? Have I improved the life of any creature? Have I made a positive impact on my world? Have I grown closer and closer to God – the ultimate destination?
The incidents of September 11 have forever changed our perspective, forever changed our values. I read a beautiful piece recently which someone sent to me:
Last Christmas we were thinking about all the things we didn’t have;
this Christmas we are thinking about all the things we do have.
Last Christmas we were placing wreaths on the doors of our homes;
this Christmas we are placing wreaths on the graves of our heroes.
Last Christmas we were letting our children play with toy guns;
this Christmas we are teaching them that guns are not toys.
Last Christmas we were lighting candles to decorate;
this Christmas we are lighting candles to commemorate.
Last Christmas we were trying not to let annoying relatives get the best of us;
this Christmas we are trying to give the best of ourselves to them.
Last Christmas we thought a man who could rush down a football field was a hero;
this Christmas we know a man who rushes into a burning building is the real one.
Last Christmas we were wondering how to give our children all the things that money can buy-the hottest toys the latest fashions, the newest gadgets;
this Christmas we are wondering how to give them all the things it can’t-a sense of security, safety, peace.
Last Christmas we were singing carols;
this Christmas we are singing anthems and bhajans
Last Christmas we were thinking how good it would feel to be affluent;
this Christmas we are thinking how good it feels to be alive.
Last Christmas “peace on earth” is something we prayed for on Sunday mornings;
now it is something we pray for every day.
The above writing is beautiful and it exemplifies how people’s lives across the world have changed. However, we must ask ourselves if we are working to change ourselves or if we are just hoping that the rest of the world will change. Peace begins inside. Only when we are peaceful and calm inside can we possibly hope for peace on the outside. The events of September 11 have disturbed not only the peace of our external world, but they have also severely disrupted the peace of our own internal worlds.
How, then, to restore that peace? How to make a shift towards that calmness, equanimity and serenity which we must attain – inwardly – if we want to be part of making the world a better place?
I will give you a special spiritual “Multivitamin” which you can take every day to create, maintain and restore your peace of mind, body and spirit. This multivitamin is made up of three parts:
A) MEDITATION : I always say that meditation is the best medication for all agitations. People have so many troubles today, mainly related to the stress in their lives. To address this anxiety, this sleeplessness, this inability to simply be content, they may take pills or fill their lives with excessive material “pleasures”. For example, when people feel stressed they may attempt to forget about it by going to the movies, or by getting drunk or by indulging in simple sensual pleasures. Yet, these are not solutions. They do not address the underlying issues. They are simply band-aids to a wound that runs deep beneath the surface.
Yet, meditation will truly calm the mind, fill the heart with joy and bring peace to the soul. And the serenity and joy lasts throughout the day and throughout your life. Meditation is not like a simple diversion which works only as long as you are actively engaged in it. Meditation is not like a pill which quickly wears off and carries unpleasant side-effects. Rather, meditation brings you into contact with God; it changes the very nature of your being. It brings you – immediately – back to the world from which you truly come: the realm of the divine.
As you sit in meditation you will realize the insignificance of that which causes anxiety; you will realize the transient nature of all your troubles. You will realize the infinite joy and boundless peace that comes from God.
So many people avoid meditation though, because they “don’t know how.” Sure, there are many complex, esoteric and challenging meditation practices that some people learn. However, this is not what I’m talking about. Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly, being with God. It can be as simple as following your breath in and out, in and out, as it enters and leaves your body. So, please do not avoid meditation because you have not been officially taught a fancy technique.
Just sit, cross legged, spine straight and close your eyes. Relax. Breathe deeply. Then focus all of your attention, all of your awareness on your breath, as it travels from your navel to your third eye (just between your eye-brows and a little above). Watch it ascend and descend. Feel the divine energy, the soft, peaceful vibrations entering your body, filling your body with light and joy. Then feel yourself be emptied of this air, let yourself surrender all the breath in your body back to God. And let that breath, that exhalation, carry all your worries, all your anxieties, all your fears, with it. Then, when the new breath comes, filled with divine serenity, there will be more room for it.
This is all you have to do now. But, do it. Make a time that is “meditation time.” It’s okay if it’s only 5 minutes or 3 minutes. Don’t worry. Just do it. Do not say, “Well, I don’t have an hour to sit so I won’t bother” Commit 5 minutes to meditation each morning. Then you will see the magic of it.
But always remember that meditation is more than just sitting in dhyan with your eyes closed. Meditation is not only about giving this divine “medication” to ourselves. Rather, true meditation is also being medication for others – helping all, serving all, healing all. This is the type of meditation so greatly needed today in the world. We must not just go out to retreats, do our own private meditation or sadhana. Rather, we must become the medication for the world. We must use that which we have to benefit others.
B) NO REACTION: We must learn to be calmer in our lives. We must learn to remain still and unaffected by all that happens around us. I always say, “Be like the ocean. The waves come and go, but the ocean stays.” Even a large rock, thrown from great distance, with great force, will only cause temporary ripples in a small area. Most of the ocean will remain unaffected.
Yet, we are always jumping into the ocean, right into the waves, letting them carry us. This is our choice. We must learn, instead, to be like the ocean, itself, unaffected by these small, transient things.
So many times we act as though we are the waves of the ocean. Up one minute, down the next, changed by every gust of wind, by every passing boat. Yet, we are not these waves. I am using the analogy of the waves of the ocean, but you must realize that the waves I am really talking about are the waves of anger, anxiety, jealousy, greed, and lust that are just as vast, just as strong and just as restless as the waves of the sea.
We are not waves, pulled this way and that by every passing breeze, by the daily changes in the moon. Yet we act like that.
We act as though we are light bulbs and anyone who wants to can simply switch us on or off. Isn’t it true? Can’t the slightest comment or look or action of another change our mood 180 degrees? Isn’t it so frequent that we are in a wonderful mood and a stupid person at the grocery store is rude to us, or someone on the freeway passes in front of our car, or a friend is cold and distant. Any of these things can immediately switch our mood as though it were a light bulb.
So many times I hear people say,”Oh, I was in such a good mood, but then Harish called and told me what Mina said about me,” or “Oh, that phone call just ruined my day.” And the same works the other way. We are sad or depressed and we get a nice phone call or letter in the mail or we eat some good cookies. Then we feel better.
How is that? How can one phone call, or one rude comment from a person have so much control over us? Are we so volatile in our emotions that others have more power over our moods than we, ourselves, do?
Aren’t we more than this? Aren’t we bigger, more divine, deeper than this? Isn’t there more to this human existence than the law of action and reaction? We must learn to keep that light switch in our own hands and to give it only to God. Otherwise we are switched on and off, on and off, all day long and the only effect is that the light bulb burns out!
Let us take whatever comes as prasad, as a gift from God. Let us remain calm and steady in the face of both prosperity and misfortune. We must not lose our vital energy in this constant action and reaction to everyone around us.
But how? How to remain unaffected by the waves of life? This is called spiritual practice! I always say that one of the best ways to learn “no reaction” is through silence. When we are anxious, angry, tense or frustrated, we tend to say things which we later regret; we tend to let our words fuel the reaction in our hearts. So, let us learn the power of silence. Silence on the outside will lead to silence on the inside. This is why so many saints and other spiritual people have “silence time”; it’s a time of remembering that we are more than our reactions, a time of tuning in to the Divine Insurance Company, a time of charging our inner batteries. So, let us learn to meet life’s waves with silence – that will make “no reaction” much easier to achieve.
There was once a huge elephant crossing a wooden bridge high above a raging river. The bridge was old and rickety and it shook under the weight of the elephant. As the elephant was crossing the bridge he heard a voice, “Son, Son” the voice said. The elephant looked around him, but he was all alone. “Son, son,” the voice continued. When the elephant reached the other side of the river, he saw a small ant crawl onto his nose. “Son,” the ant cried.”We almost collapsed that bridge, didn’t we?” Our weight was so great, so immense that the bridge almost collapsed beneath us, didn’t it, son?” Now, of course the elephant knew that the ant’s weight had been completely irrelevant to whether the bridge would have collapsed. And, of course, he knew that the tiny ant was not his mother. However, what good would it have done to engage in a battle of egos with the ant? Instead, the wise, calm elephant simply said, “You are right, mother, our weight almost broke the bridge.”
The elephant retained his serenity, retained his peace and joy. And the ant, for what it’s worth, was allowed to continue believing in its own greatness. But, how many of us could be like the elephant? Aren’t we always trying to prove ourselves to others? Aren’t we always ready to shoot down anyone who trespasses on our egos?
We must emulate the grace and divinity of the elephant who knew that the only harm would come with the fight. So, we must make “no reaction” the sutra, the mantra for our lives. Then, and only then, will we know real peace.
C) INTROSPECTION : So, in the morning we begin with meditation. All day we practice no reaction. And at night? Introspection. At the end of the day, a good businessman always checks his balance sheet: how much has he made, how much has he spent? Similarly, a good teacher reviews her students’ test scores: how many passed, how many failed?
By looking at their successes and failures, they assess how well they are doing. Are the businessman’s profits greater than his losses? Are most of the teacher’s students passing the exams?
In the same way, each night, we must examine the balance sheet of our day: what were our successes, what were our failures. And for all the successes, all our “plus-point” we must give credit to God. For, we have truly done nothing but let Him work through us. All credit goes to Him. He is the one who saves us, who maintains our dignity and our success.
Just imagine if God had put one television screen on our foreheads and everything we thought was broadcast for the whole world to see! All our reactions, all our inner sarcastic comments, all our judgments, all our weaknesses….just imagine. We would never succeed nor would we have many friends! Isn’t it true?
So, it is by His grace that the world does not see our thoughts, only He sees our thoughts. We thank Him for His grace, for His unconditional love, for His hand guiding our actions. We can say, “Thank you, God, for bringing success to this venture,” or “Thank you God for letting me truly make a difference in someone’s life today,” or simply, “Thank you God for all that went well today.”
Our failures, we must also give to him. The fault is ours, definitely. Yet, He is so forgiving and so compassionate that He insists we turn these over to Him as well. We must say, “God, please take these minus points. You know that I am weak, you know that I am nothing. See, see all my failures, all my minus points for even just one day. I cannot go even one day without accumulating so many minus points. But, still you love me. Still you protect me from having the world see all my minus points. I am so weak, but you protect me.” In this way, each night we check our balance sheet, and we pray to God to help us have fewer minus points, to make us stronger, to make us better hands doing his work, to give us more faith, more devotion.
Let us begin this introspection with the New Year. As we introspect on our last year, we must give our failures to God. Then we close that account. We close the book on bitterness, anger, grudges and pains, and we must begin the New Year with a fresh page of hope, faith, love and forgiveness.
So many people wait for an “ideal” opportunity to forgive another or to do good work in their lives. But, our lives are so short. Why not live them in love, in goodness, in giving?
When Alexander the Great was nearing death, he made one strange request. He said, “When I die and when there is the large procession with my casket through the town, I want you to place my hands, palms up, outside the coffin.” His attendees were shocked. The entire body was supposed to be inside the coffin, safely sealed. But Alexander the Great insisted. When they pressed him for the reason, he replied, “I have conquered the world. I have attained more than any man before me. There is nothing I lack, nothing I covet, nothing I cannot buy or own. Yet, as I die from this terrible illness, no amount of money can save me, and when I leave this world I must leave it empty handed. I want my hands – empty as the day of my birth – to serve as a symbol to the world that no matter what you accomplish, what you achieve, what you earn, on the final day you leave it all behind.”
Let us, then, vow to live the next year (and then every year of our lives) in peace, in love, in serving others. Let us vow that we, in whatever way we can, will help to make January 1, 2003 a much safer, healthier, more peaceful world than January 1, 2002. Let each one of us take on the responsibility as ours. Each day as we sit in our introspection we must ask, “Am I fulfilling my vow to do whatever I can to bring about peace, love and safety in the world?”
It is these vows – not simply vows to lose weight or make more money – to which we must pledge ourselves this year.
May God bless you all with health, happiness, peace and prosperity in your bodies, hearts, minds and souls.
With love and blessings today and forever.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Muniji)