September 2014 By Aparna Sharma When it comes down to brass tacks, all the religions, all the teachings, all the practises, distil into the simple capacity to be kind to the other, says Aparna Sharmaa “So many gods, so many creeds, So many paths that wind and wind, While just the art of being kindIs all the sad world needs.”-Ella Wheeler Wilcox Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa had been appointed the priest in the garden temple of Kali in Dakshineshwar in West Bengal. One day, he fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to Goddess Kali. This was too much for the manager of the temple garden, who considered himself responsible for the proper conduct of the worship. He reported Sri Ramakrishna’s insane behaviour to the owner of the property.Sri Ramakrishna has described the incident: “The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kali temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of Consciousness. The image was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water vessels were Consciousness, the doorsill was Consciousness, the marble floor was consciousness – all was Consciousness. I found everything inside the room soaked, as it were, in Bliss – the Bliss of God. I saw a wicked man in front of the Kali temple; but in him also I saw the power of the Divine Mother vibrating. That was why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that all this was the Divine Mother – even the cat.” Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa found no difference between feeding a cat and offering prasad to the Goddess That is the only state where true compassion, true love, true karuna ever resides. Compassion, kindness, karuna, maitri, metta, empathy, love – they are all different names for the same thing. The thing that caused a drunken, man-killing elephant let loose on the Buddha to suddenly quieten and go down on its knees as the Buddha calmly touched it. It is what caused a raging mad bull running through a narrow lane to go back the way it came as Swami Vivekananda stood still. It is what caused a deadly cobra to go back when Ramana Maharishi merely looked at it calmly. It is what causes an enlightened being to come back to the earth again and again to remove the suffering of all sentient beings. Shantideva’s profound resolve is a reflection of the deepest kindness: “For as long as space remains,For as long as sentient beings remain,Until then may I too remainTo dispel the miseries of the world.”The highest expression of loveOsho calls ‘compassion’ the ultimate flowering of love. “When your love is not just a desire for the other, when your love is not only a need, when your love is a sharing, when your love is not that of a beggar but that of an emperor, when your love is not asking for something in return, but is ready only to give – to give for the sheer joy of giving – then add meditation to it and the pure fragrance is released, the imprisoned splendor is released. That is compassion; compassion is the highest phenomenon.”In the absence of self-realization, the practise of kindness, generosity, or selfless seva, is a doing. But once we realize our true self, then kindness is not something we do, it is something we are. Then kindness flows inward-out. It is our very nature. It is no longer addressed to anyone in particular; it simply overflows in all directions and all dimensions. Every action one then does is in service to that wholeness, from self to self. Nobody is excluded from it. And it is so vast, it can contain the whole universe. “The word kindness has a gentle sound,” says Irish poet, John O’Donohue. “When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive…” Poet John O’ Donohue: Kindness makes you feel understood and seen It makes people open up and relax. It gives the sentient being a faith in the gentleness of life. It softens the glance, lightens the heart. The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “When you begin to see life from this point of view, your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind which is spinning and spinning, can just relax. You begin to see that everything is spontaneously arising and that things are not “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.” “How did the rose ever open its heart?” asks Hafiz, the Sufi poet.“It felt the encouragement of lightAgainst itsBeing, Otherwise,We all remain TooFrightened”.That light is kindness. When someone is kind to us, non-judgemental, caring, not harming in any way, we can, for once, drop the armour, drop the mask. Have you ever thought why your room is the only place you can be with your hair uncombed? Says Asha Ganguly, a Kolkata-based teacher, “There have been occasions in my life when instead of chastisement, I met with great forbearance. On one occasion my father was in hospital with a brain haemorrhage. On leaving the hospital with a relative I disliked, I refused to stay at his house, and instead asked to be taken home. The next day, the relative launched a bitter tirade against me to my poor mother, worn and anxious after spending days by the bedside of my father. But my mother responded with great dignity and restraint, and told the man that at this point of time, this was not something she wanted to enter into. I remember almost bursting with gratitude towards my mother for not humiliating me in front of that man. I have never forgotten that sense of deliverance and gratitude. It was transforming.” What is kindness? Kindness is what “leads God to give us green pastures, quiet waters, and the restoration of our souls when we’re weary,” says The Holy Bible. And “In kindness He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young”. Kindness is the capacity to step out of our own head, out of the narrow confines of the ego, and feel for the other, to put ourselves into the other’s shoes, and to connect with them. It may be as trivial as treating a beggar with dignity by placing a coin carefully in his hands, or it may be as huge as sacrificing your life for the sake of the other. Without kindness, this world would have been too cold, cruel and selfish for anyone to survive. The spiritual teacher, Mooji, says that in any moment, especially in a moment of calamity, if only we could see how many angels surrounded us, we would not be so anxious. How many angels The very first validation of kindness is in our being born. Nowhere does the gentle sway of kindness become more visible than in the existence of a newly born infant. The infant is swaddled with love and tenderness from the moment of its birth. How it is adored and looked after. Its helplessness, its beauty, and joy draw the very best out of even the worst of us.In its very existence, the baby inherits all the love, all the kindness of the universe, for ‘To be born is to be chosen.’ Some primal kindness chose us. Compassion and quiet wisdom is present all around us. There is a gentle hold of kindness to support us in the very earth beneath our feet as is in the immenseness of existence within us. As Rilke says, – “to be here is to be immense.” Our very nature Kindness is the very root of our nature. It is not something we need to acquire. Yet it is obscured by the thick crust of ego and conditioning that keep us locked in selfishness, insensitivity, or fear and hurt. Says Mitali Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based teacher turned writer, “When I was made the school prefect at a young age, my head swelled. I became a harsh, shrieking authoritarian with no regard for the feelings of my juniors or classmates. Juniors shuddered at my sight, and classmates called me arrogant. Then one day I happened to leaf through the pages of my childhood album. As I saw an image of me as a young child, peering innocently at the world with huge wide open eyes, something struck me. I changed afterwards. Determined to recapture my pure self, I became kinder to rule-breakers, and forgave many of their trespasses. I realized how cruel I was being in considering my juniors to be inferior to me. When I became a teacher later on, this inner transformation earned me huge love and respect from my students. I was patient in the face of their unruliness, and never demanded their respect. This, in turn, made them willingly obey me.” The art of givingSince it is the ego that conceals our natural kindness, one way to wear it down is through practicing generosity. By actively giving up on what we have hitherto accumulated, we counteract the insecurity, fear and selfishness that keeps us isolated from the rest of our kind. Our society trains us to be acquisitive, to accumulate, insure, protect and hoard. We tend to grasp and hold on to everything we come across – houses, vehicles, valuables, mates, children, pets, educational qualifications, skills, careers, experiences and travels. And there we miss the point. For spiritual living is not about accumulating but about giving up, letting go. You may protest that you don’t have enough energy or enthusiasm to give anything away. That you are already feeling overwhelmed, or impoverished. In that case, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn, advises, “Perhaps most of all, you need to give to yourself first for a while. Then you might try to give to others a tiny bi
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