Be close. Be happy.

The call of the vedas is both ancient and ever new. It is both in the scriptures and in the world I live in. It is both in me and outside me. It is in my thoughts, words and actions. It is in what I see and hear. It is the conscience and the yearning in every human being across the globe, across every religion, every continent and country, across every societal strata, in man and woman, in child and the aged, in the wealthy and the poor. In every which way I look at and dissect my fellow human beings, I can hear the call of the vedas in that. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says this call is in fact the yearning of every single creature in the universe.

Lead me from the temporary to the permanent; from ignorance to knowledge; from mortality to immortality.

asato maa sat gamaya. tamaso maa jyotir gamaya. mrutyor maa amrutam gamaya

 This call is the language of sanatana dharma. It is the language of the heart, of Love.

This truth drove home so powerfully when I recently read “Just Mercy”, a deeply moving and at once an inspiring book  by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan Stevenson calls this book a story of justice and redemption. I think it is truly an account of mercy and love, of exemplary service to the vulnerable among us in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

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Bryan Stevenson, a black American, born in an extremely poor family, went on to do Harvard Law and dedicated his whole life to fighting for and freeing the vulnerable poor in the USA who were caught unjustly and illegally in the trap of death penalty. His grandmother was the daughter of people who were enslaved in the States. He says , “The legacy of slavery very much shaped my grandmother and the way she raised her nine children. It influenced the way she talked to me, the way she constantly told me to “Keep close”. When I visited her, she would hug me so tightly I could barely breathe. After a while, she would ask me, “Bryan, do you still feel me hugging you?” If I said yes, she would let me be; if I said no, she would assault me again. I said no a lot because it made me happy to be wrapped in her formidable arms. She never tired of me pulling me to her. “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close,” she told me all the time.”

“Keep close”. These are magical words that open the doorway to feeling secure and peaceful.

I don’t “keep close” with my fellow human beings. I keep them at a distance instead. There are several reasons for this – wealth, power, societal status, education, family lineage, skin color, language, religion and so on. But truthfully speaking, whatever reason I give, it all boils down to only one reason in the end – my selfishness. Because I don’t keep close with my fellow beings but keep them at a distance instead, I become afraid, insecure and unhappy.

The scriptures say “Vasudaiva kudumabkam.” The whole world, the whole universe, is one family. This statement is not an optional practice or a choice to adopt or reject. It is the truth. If I don’t mentally embrace this expansive outlook and be loving to everyone as members of my own family while keeping physical relationships within the bounds of morality, I violate this truth. How can I be happy then? When someone else suffers, whether I realize it or not, acknowledge it or not, I too suffer.

“All are one. Be alike to everyone, my child” said Jesus Christ. “Dear brothers and sisters” is how Swami Vivekananda addressed the gathering in Chicago many years ago, teaching me I must think of others as brothers and sisters. Bryan Stevenson’s grandmother said this powerfully – Keep close (because) you can’t understand most of the important things from a distance.

“Keeping close” with others means truly caring for the welfare of others over my own. “Keeping close” is the essence of the prayer, “may all beings in all worlds be peaceful and happy. samasta lokaah sukhino bhavantu“. Out of all the prayers He receives, this is the prayer that pleases Bhagavan.

Keep close. It will benefit you.

 

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