What Can I Do?

Today's young adults in India are overwhelmed with the enormity of modern life outside their homes. The leap they have to take in one generation into the technical world is equivalent to what Western cultures accomplished in two or three generations. The urge to have the material comforts of the West is great, yet the ideals of traditional Bharata are not to be abandoned, for let's face it, these ideals have endured to keep a culture viable for thousands of years. Without such an ideological base, in the same amount of years, the West has changed and churned and revolted, only to find itself in a deeper quagmire. So it is time to ask, what are these values that sustained Bharata? Can they be of use in today's world?

India is the repository of the spiritual wealth of the planet. The question is 'Will it continue in this sacred role?' This wealth is not based on stacks of old books rotting in libraries, for this wisdom is beyond intellectual knowledge. This wealth is a living reality, for it can only be known through personal experience. The uniqueness of India is that, at any given time in its long history, there are persons who have experienced this inner spiritual wealth'not just one, but many. In resonance with India's many-faceted traditions and cultures, these persons are unique in regard to their languages, their customs, their integrating divine experiences, and their expressions of that experience. They are the living messengers of this wealth that has been with humanity since the beginning of time. It's our divine birthright.

Since it is an inner wealth, it cannot be perceived by the external sense organs that we use to see and feel the material world. The Upanishads clearly state that this dilemma is a quirk of living in the human body. [See what I mean'no other scripture of any religion gives us such deep insight into our nature.] We humans are presupposed to look out through our sense organs, while our essential wealthlies within. Further, the presence of this essential unchanging inner wealthpresupposes us to continue wanting something permanent. We continually project that inner essence out into the external world'thinking that we are going to find permanence outside ourselves.

In this pursuit of an everlasting happiness, peace and well-being, we stack up heaps of material objects and intellectual knowledge, all with the good faith that one more item, one more good feeling, one more idea will bring us the 'peace that passeth all understanding.' We have even created heavens to perpetuate our concept of a permanent reality that extends beyond death.

So if the outside is a reflection of the inside'even though in a filtered mode'the question arises: Can we affect the inside by working on the external reflection? Since the reality within is permanent and stable, it is true that there is no way to affect it. However, what we can affect is our perception, awareness and consciousness of this reality within.

Every generation of Indians has understood this basic Truth on some level. Until recent times, Indians have honored this Truth in some way in their daily lives'a trip to the temple, a ritual in the home, a charitable donation. At this time in India's history, I am concerned about the loss of this Truth through the trend toward materialization. Certainly, the Indians have the right to live well, yet how do we define 'well.' A TV in every home? A TV in every room? A TV in the car? A microwave in every kitchen? Is that enough? Personally, I've never had a TV and never intend to have time to waste watching TV. I don't need a microwave because I only eat fresh, or lightly steamed, foods. I recall being in a simple, but, large home in Coimbature that was the abode of a large extended family. I can assure you these happy folks were living 'well' without a TV or microwave. So all standards of 'living well' are subjective. Each one has to define it according to their personal vasanas'and not those of the family or society. So even though the Truth of sanatana dharma continues to endure, we have to find ways to bring it into our present situations.

What Can I Do Now?

First, the only way to preserve this 'eternal knowledge' is through learning about it, comprehending it, and then taking some action towards honoring its ideas concerning the oneness of the Divine, the creation, and humanity. Through the process of working in the temporary realm of the world, more and more understanding comes about the permanent reality. How can that be'since the external is contrary to the inner spiritual wealth? That's the trick of nature too; the external is the body or manifestation of the inner spiritual essence. As wild as it may seem'the Creator loves the creation. And, standing in any street in any Indian city, one would have to concur'the Creator loves diversity. As we expand our awareness and acceptance of the creation in all its expressions, our mental barriers begin to fall away.

Stretch your intellect'.

I have watched with rapt attention the entire series of the Mahabharata film that was directed by Ravi and B.R. Chopra. The presentation is phenomenal. What a magnanimous gift to humanity! It will be a contribution as long as intelligent humans exist on the planet. If you watch the plot carefully, your intellect will have so much to weigh and consider that the task could last a lifetime. There are no simple, easy answers in the creation.

Every Indian needs to understand the significance of the traditional ritual. . . daily ritual was a mainstay of old India. Every ritual, every puja, has some inner significance that supports activity in the world. Investigate, understand'then act in your life with that understanding. We don't have time for the old rites, so we have to create new rituals in order to center and connect ourselves in the milieu of the modern world.

At this time, I practice only one ritual daily, one copied from a custom in Kerala. Each evening, the first light that illuminates my home is the glow of a candle. [In Kerala it would be an oil lamp.] In this simple act, I connect with the wisdom of the East, my love of the creation, and the eternal silence within myself. This peaceful integrating moment supports my activity in the world. I live in a small, peaceful village, whereas someone living in a city would have to find rituals to fit in that lifestyle. A ritual might be that every time one has to stop at a red traffic light, s/he would reflect mentally: 'The universe is giving me an opportunity to stop and enjoy this peaceful moment of simply being with myself with nothing to do. I honor that Intelligence.' So the rituals served a purpose in traditional life, and they can still be useful in keeping us centered in modern life too.

An excellent resource for your intellectual investigations is Sushama Londhe's incredible website, Indianest has many relevant articles that will help in understanding of your country and its traditions. My website,, recounts my adventures, trials and tribulations of a three-year journey throughout India. In reading it, you will learn a lot about your country and countrymen in all aspects'culture, religion, philosophy. The Creator loves diversity!

Extend yourself'.

We are not enlightened sages living in huts on the peaceful river banks; we have to remain involved in the world. We do want some happiness, and the longer it lasts the better. The best way I've found to find some enduring happiness is to find it beyond myself'in other words to 'extend myself.' Extending myself means expanding my personal view, expanding my concept of my community, and expanding my connection with the world. In other words, using my extensive knowledge and my physical body, I take some action for the benefit of others.

I remember in a satsang with Swami Chinmayananda in Bangalore nearly 30 years ago. He looked around the room, shook his head, and remarked, 'Here we are after some 20 years. I've grown old talking Vedanta and you have gown old listening. But what have you done? What difference has it made in your lives? Have you even changed enough to show some kindness to a neighbor?'

The concept of changing ourselves or others brings up the question: Is the creation complete and perfect already, or is there scope for human input? Is the creation a fixed, static done deal, or is it a process? Think about it.

Somehow, humans, especially in their youth, have a desire to be unique, to make a mark in the world, even to change the world in some positive way. By understanding the knowledge of life as given in the scriptures and extending ourselves into our community and world, we gradually come to understand the nature of the world and our place in it. We want to be heroes, but I think that sometimes we become too preoccupied in making a big mark, whereas, a lot of smaller scratches, which are more easily attained, will eventually add up to a very big mark.

Some things are so simple that we overlook them. One service I do regularly for my family and friends is to have a homeopathic kit with all the first aid remedies with me at all times. If someone has anything from a toothache, a cold, a fall, to a crushed finger. I can help them have immediate relief in most cases. (See the link to list of homeopathic remedies for first aid.)

So to expedite this idea of serving our communities, I suggest that we share ideas and resources for projects. Usually, we don't have to look far to find something that needs improving. For example, I noticed that the water in my condo was so hard I couldn't even get my dishes clean. It didn't seem fit to drink. So I set out to inquire why the water in my area was so much harder than the norm. I found the answer. The local copper mine is polluting the underground aquifer from which the water company pumps public drinking water. All of the water company officials thought, 'we can't do anything.' I collected all the data and compiled it into readable tables . . . then I went to the newspaper and the local authorities, who did very little. So I went to the Arizona state authorities'and, after a year of persistent work on my part, next month my community will have better quality water. I accomplished something only because I took the time and trouble to inform myself of all the water regulations and to write newspaper articles for the public and intelligent letters to the authorities. I had the simple thought: 'I can do something.'

Recently, I read a story of a woman who noticed there were more ruts in the streets in the poor areas of the city than in the wealthier neighborhoods. She called it to the local authorities' attention'so they would repair the streets. Again, just as with my experience, she ended up having to go to higher authorities. In this case, there had been some purposeful neglect. The contractor had thought no one would complain, so he did not do the work he had been paid to do. In the end, a couple of officials lost their jobs, the incompetent contractor lost his work, and the potholes in the streets got repaired by a competent company.

These two examples are of substantial projects, but they only took our time and concern'no money was required. Everywhere you look there are projects: Cleaning up a play area for children, planting a tree for shade in the neighborhood, creating a community garden (flowers or vegetables?), helping someone mend a fence, and how about'fixing the gaping holes in the sidewalks in Bangalore. We are all waiting for someone to do something about it. How about you? Are you some ONE?


So you continue extending and expanding yourself through experience in the world. Extend and expand until one day you will hardly know who you are because you have grown so much' then pop' one day you understand the external and the internal are ONE. In the later years of his career, the behavioral psychologist, B.F. Skinner wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity, which suggested that we should sacrifice our individual freedoms to further the goals of an ideal society. In other words, our aspiration is to awaken ourselves to our own humanity through serving an ideal beyond ourselves. Had Skinner inadvertently happened on to the 'eternal truth' through his own experience.

I love the story about Swami Vivekananda's first visit to U.S. It is reported that during the World Religions Conference he was housed in the women's dorm of a University of Chicago. Of course, the young women honored and respected him. However, they just had to question him about the song he was belting out when he was in the shower. He explained that it was a prayer for the well-being of everyone. Again, they questioned him, 'Swamiji, you were praying for everyone. Here we just pray for things for ourselves.' He replied, 'But I am part of everyone too! So when I pray for everyone, I'm also praying for myself.' So this is the attitude. It only appears that we are giving up our freedom for the sake of others, when, in fact, we are one big family. Whatever we do to benefit the society benefits us!

Often it takes some advice, experience, resources, or courage to get a project off the ground. We can create a message group to post and exchange ideas and share experiences. Eventually, we could create a website of relevant ideas, projects and inspirations. Right now, I'm working on an article about Rabindranath Tagore, a universal person, who was a wonderful combination of emotional sensitivity and sharp intellect and action in the world. I feel he had relevant insights of invoking our humanity through arts and education and service.He was a 'human being' rather than a 'human doing.' The article could be a new section for www.IndiaNest.comAnother possibility is creating an entry for Want to join me in doing some research?

Let's get together and help one another!

Discuss this article on our Forum  

Topics for discussion:

  • Is the Creation complete and perfect or can I contribute to the process?

  • Suggestions for intellectual projects to understand, appreciate and integrateSanatana Dharma into my daily life.

  • Suggestions for service projects in my neighborhood or extended community.


More by :  Nancy Freeman Patchen

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