By Swati Chopra March 2008 Once one is on the path, nothing can remain as it was before. If there is some transformation, and it is genuine, from deep within, it will affect every aspect of one’s being. For me, one of the ways this has manifested is through awareness of the interconnectedness of life and its innate sacredness. This has led to an attempt to live consciously, gently, kindly. I try and be attuned to how my actions impact the earth, the physical and emotional environment around me, people I come in contact with, and the residues and impressions they leave on my own heart and mind. For I find if I hurt another, the greatest wound is inflicted on my own being. When I am able to forego a reaction born out of anger or jealousy or other afflictive emotions, the greatest good is done to me. Living consciously has come to mean eschewing habits that harm the earth and all forms of life on it. Vegetarianism, conserving water and electricity, ‘need-based buying’ rather than ‘greed-based shopping’, wearing natural, handmade fabrics, limiting the use of plastics and other such products that pollute land and water, and opting for organic produce when possible, are some ways in which I attempt to translate high-minded spiritual ideals into lived experience. For me, the path has a strong ethical aspect. Ethics as in not moral injunctions or religious strictures, but values that help one actualise insights gained on the meditation cushion once one gets off it. I see ethics as tools that engage spiritual understanding with the mess and chaos of the world, that bring the wisdom and compassion of self-realisation to bear on the injustice and inhumanity we are faced with in samsara. Ethics form the ties that bind our inner, spiritual selves with our outer, in-the-world selves. I see them as inseparable, and through the connective tissue of ethics, the former can inform the thoughts and actions of the latter. For instance, I see the gap that exists between beautiful expositions of the Divine as universal oneness, and the simultaneous existence of a social system that denies basic human rights to a section of its own population, as being ethically untenable. As also the hypocrisy of worshipping the Divine Feminine in temples, and the widespread practice of female foeticide and infanticide, and the general devaluing of women. These arise from a gap between worship and practice, between the spiritual and the worldly, philosophy and reality. Connecting with the innate oneness of life has enabled me to see the need for strengthening the connection between spirituality and its expression in the world, through a re-imagining of ethics based on a spiritual understanding of life as opposed to a materialistic one. It has become difficult for me to turn away from issues that I might have earlier categorised as social, political or environmental problems. In short, not mine to bother about. Now, in my work as a writer, I am increasingly focusing on ethical, conscious, compassionate ways of dealing with so-called worldly issues. Can we find something in the nature-worship and earth reverence of old and indigenous cultures to counter climate change? How can the values of aparigraha (non-possession) and limiting one’s wants and desires function as an antidote to the greed of consumerism? How can dana, giving, and seva, selfless service, draw us out of our urban selfishness? Is there a way of translating worship of the Divine Feminine into greater respect for living, ‘real’ women? Could the slogan vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family) carry a solution to war and genocide? Could compassion and non-harming be credible responses to oppression? In asking these questions, I must also look within myself for answers. I must try to live them, walk my talk. And that I find the greatest challenge, and growth experience, of my life as a seeker. Swati Chopra is author of Dharamsala Diaries (Penguin, 2007), and Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana (Brijbasi, 2005). Website: www.swatichopra.comContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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