Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who's to Blame? 

We’ve recently witnessed tremendous natural disasters with the 2004 tsunami in Asia and the 2005 hurricane Katrina that has devastated New Orleans and Mississippi. Seeing the devastation, one can easily imagine how our ancestors would have assumed that one God or the other must be terribly angry with them for some egregious misdeed, and is hurling wrath upon the land as punishment. Even in modern times, we’ve had Jerry Falwell claiming that Florida’s hurricanes were expressions of God’s displeasure at Disney World’s recent “Gay Day.” Robert F. Kennedy’s August 31, 2005 article also projects human revenge mentality onto Mother Nature, “As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, it’s worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush’s iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2.”

This is not to deny the role of karma – universal cause and effect – in creating these outer events. Certainly it is worthwhile to consider all options when contemplating what we can learn from the events of our lives. For example, science has recently brought statistical proof that the power of mind and prayer can help to effect healing. When viewing the angry red hurricane discus being hurled into the country from the gulf, one might also consider those millions of emotional people around the world praying to their god for the destruction of America. Then we could respond by keeping our own thoughts and prayers powerful and positive.

All events of life carry potential lessons of personal and spiritual growth, and these natural disasters are no exception. It is natural human tendency to strike out and place blame when we are abused, but when Mother Nature herself is the cause, to whom shall we retaliate? We can’t bomb Her or put Her behind bars. Nor can we kill her, because she is our mother, our very existence. The United States has spent years, lives, and massive resources to avenge a single strike by an enemy to our Twin Towers, responding by bombing even friends and neighbors of these perpetrators. Osama bin Ladin and company can’t hold a candle to the damage caused by Mother Nature, and yet we are not able to respond to her strikes with the usual lower human emotions of anger and revenge.

The experience we are all having in response to these natural disasters is a glimpse into how a great, self-realized saint or sage might experience all of the challenges of life. Those who see God’s Hand in everything do not respond with the same kind of personal anger that most of us would. They see all things, all people, and all actions as sparks of the one divine consciousness that manifests in and as all creation as what my guru, Swami Muktananda, called a “Play of Consciousness.”

Another great being from India named Papa Ramdas wrote several books about his journey of learning to experience God in and as everything while wandering as a penniless pilgrim throughout India. If a train worker threw him off of a train, Ramdas experienced it as God Himself or Herself throwing him off of the train, with a trust that the Divine can only bring blessings, regardless of the potentially negative appearance. One story told about Papa Ramdas gives a glimpse into the way this kind of inner vision would manifest outwardly:

Once Papa Ramdas was dwelling in a cave near a town. As people became aware of his presence they started visiting him and spending time with him. The childlike simplicity and deep devotion with which Papa Ramdas lovingly rendered vibrant spiritual wisdom and stories soon endeared him to the hearts of the people.

Seeing him living without possessions in a bare cave, the local townsfolk started bringing whatever they deemed necessary for his comforts. Soon a cot, a bed, plates, and many other articles were collected in the cave.

The devotees would often visit Papa Ramdas during the daytime, but they left for their homes when darkness descended, and thus Papa Ramdas would remain alone overnight.

Presently, a thief came to know about all the valuables kept in the cave, and one night, after all had left and Papa Ramdas sat alone lost in deep meditation, the thief made his way to the dwelling and ordered Ramdas to collect all his possessions and tie them up in his bed sheet.

To the thief’s puzzlement, the saintly man showed no sign of distress. Sunk in divine bliss, Ramdas started packing, and affectionately handed the bundle to the thief with a benign smile. Taking the cot under one arm and the bundle on one shoulder, the rogue walked off and Ramdas sat down on the stony floor, going back into deep contemplation on his beloved Lord.

When morning dawned, the devotees arrived, and were shocked to find an ever-blissful Ramdas sitting in a bare cave stripped of all possessions. "Papaji", they asked, "Where have all the things gone that were here yesterday?"

Papa Ramdas laughed: "Ram took them away."

The devotees were intrigued: "Which Ram, Papaji?"

"Which Ram? There is only one Ram. Ram gave them and Ram took them away." The saint laughed heartily.

It was only then that they realized the greatness of the sage before them. His serene peace and total absence of regret for all that was gone taught them how free man is when he tears the shackles of attachment.

When natural disasters such as the recent tsunami and hurricanes take place, they give us a unique opportunity to experience dramatic challenges without giving us the option of jumping into lower emotional responses such as personal anger and seeking revenge. Surely, the participants have feelings of upset, loss, and sadness, and perhaps even a general sense of anger, and those who are watching still experience compassion for their sufferings. Yet, along with these feelings comes a sense of surrender to the events, a certain level of equanimity and trust in the course of Nature. As Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “For the inevitable, you should not mourn.”

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed these great and relevant teachings of one who has attained full faith in God’s presence in and as all:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

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