ACHARYA DAS: Namaste and welcome. So we are going to be doing another series. This one is called “Becoming A Force For Good In The World” and today we’ll be talking about—on the topic of to be a force for good.
But before we start we’d like to invite you to join us in this kirtan meditation or this chanting as a way of clearing the mind and settling the heart before we begin our discussion.
So you’ll see the mantra on the bottom of the screen. Please sing along as the people that are here with us today respond. I will lead and then you can respond. Thank you.
Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana
ACHARYA DAS: Thank you.
So, becoming a force for good. I think everybody agrees that when you look at the situation in the world - unless you are very isolated somehow or other from things - then everybody will feel a certain degree of being disturbed by the amount of conflict and violence, anger, fear, disease, poverty, all forms of suffering that exist, and we may tend to consider, how can I change things? How can I become a force for good?
The truth is that it is not within our power to actually change anybody else in this world but it is within our power to attempt or try to change our self and this is where the focus needs to be. However, when we consider what it is to do good and how to be helpful, it is necessary to actually think a little bit more deeply so that we can ascertain what are the actual or real solutions to the problems that we are facing or people are encountering this in world.
For example, we may find a neighbor’s child or some kid that is upset about something or crying and we offer them or ask them if they’d like a candy. “Would you like a candy to cheer you up?” And the kid might be totally enthusiastic about the idea of having some candy or candy bar to chew on and without our knowing it, the child may be suffering from a serious pancreatic disorder and have diabetes in which case, particularly if their insulin levels are not very good at that time and you give somebody something like a candy, you can aggravate a situation that already exists.
So it really boils down to acting in wisdom as opposed to acting in ignorance. And this is a really important principle that people should be actually concerned about or be considering. When we talk about wisdom as opposed to ignorance, many of us may even grapple with what constitutes wisdom and what constitutes ignorance.
So I’ll just read a small verse from the Yoga Sutra, from the second pada. It’s the fifth verse and it says that:
Ignorance consists of considering what is temporary as eternal, the pure as impure, misery as happiness, and the non-self, (meaning the body or the mind) to be the real self.Yoga-sutra 2.5
This verse when you look at it, I think for many people they will struggle if they’ve not been exposed to Eastern philosophy perhaps or yogic philosophy. They may be struggling to understand what this really means and the picture that we can get from this is the idea that ignorance and wisdom are opposites, and for me to act in a way that I think is pleasing to me does not necessarily constitute wisdom. That could be I may be engaged in activity that is responsible for difficulties that will come later in my life. And what I am speaking of here is the—in relation to the law of karma - that is when you engage in an action or activity, there will be an equal and opposite reaction that one must experience because of that.
So—but this fundamental idea that there is a need for some guidance in our life, what are going to be the guiding principles if we want to engage in that which is good?
We are mostly quite unaware of how much we have become influenced by the thinking and the ideas of other people. In this world, you’ll see that most people think that, for instance, the way we are living today is the way it has always been, at least in terms of our personal values and a lot the ideas of what is considered as morality and things like that. But it is not actually the case and I’ll give you one example and it is actually extremely dramatic. If we really think about it and consider it, it is extremely dramatic, and something that we are just generally very unaware of. We live in a time, in a culture, that has been very much shaped by this system of consumer economics.
Consumer economics was more or less introduced in a very focused way in the beginning of the 1900’s, the beginning of the 20th century. And the people that were largely promoting it, they had a very clear understanding of what is was that they wanted to try and achieve, and how they were going to do that and it largely required that the people in general, the general masses of people, they had to completely change their value system and what they thought was important and their focus in life.
They were confronted with a population that was largely very much driven by ideas of duty and ideas of responsibility and people were generally quite frugal . They did not unnecessarily spend money. There was no fashion to speak of in the broader society. People more or less wore similar things, different colors, but more or less the same things. And nobody threw something away - a pair of shoes, or clothes - or didn’t wear it anymore until it was actually completely worn out.
And so they needed to inject in people a different set of values, and a different perspective on life. So there was a famous American banker; his name was Paul Mazur. He was one of the first non-family members, the first three non-family members to be taken in on the board level with Lehman brothers. Lehman brothers were, of course, very powerful banking house during this time and he wrote, he said the—
“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”Banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers
I think when we step back and we really consider what is being stated here, it’s like—we’re not talking about conspiracy theories or anything, we’re talking about an actual change that was introduced and it was very purposeful.
What had happened was during the First World War, there was an American, his name was Edward Bernays. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and he had been engaged by Woodrow Wilson to first try and help get America into the water, convince the American people that was okay to join in this World War. And then afterwards, to promote the ideas of democracy throughout, throughout Europe. This American, what they considered was American value. Edward Bernays then was engaged by the captains of industry to try and help them achieve a very clear and specific goal. The big industrialists, they found that the war was actually fantastic for business. It was just like—I mean you blow stuff up (laughter) and then you just replace it with stuff that’s also going to blow up and then you just keep replacing and replacing and you’re manufacturing for the Russians, for the British, for the French and it’s just like, it’s just like, “Wow! This is amazing.”
So we saw factories went into this level of production that they’d never been in before and the profits that were reaped were huge and the people behind the industries and the big bankers were all terribly excited about this and they thought this was fantastic. And then the big question was, okay, 1918 rolls around and they have an armistice and peace and it's like, "Oh my God, this is really bad for business." (Laughs/Laughter) And, “What are we going to do to keep things going?” And so after much discussion, this idea was introduced that what we need to do is change the way people are looking at things. We need to change people's values and how they’re living. We need to create a consumer culture. And this consumer culture, this must be the whole purpose for its existence. And so he says here, this Paul Mazur, "Man's desires must overshadow his needs."
And so, after--this was in around about 1920, thereabouts, 1923-24, that sort of time frame, and so we can see, you know, 80-90 years later we have a totally transformed world where indeed, people are no longer really considered just about needs, they're considered about—more concerned about fulfilling desires. "How do I fulfill my desires?"
So the reason that I'm raising this example is that if we really consider it and think about it and we try to analyze the state of the world and things, we will see that there has been this huge transformation in a relatively short period of time. And we see it like a huge shift that has taken place perhaps since around about the 50s, 1950s or 1960s.
One of the driving principles behind the consumer economic system was the cultivation of envy of what others have and covetousness. Covetousness means looking at what others have and desiring it for yourself. Of course, in Christianity and other religious traditions, covetousness was considered one of the great and deadly sins. In fact, it's meant to be one of the 10 commandments, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods," and here we're talking about a whole economic system that is built on this principle or this idea.
Advertising very much shapes and drives things. The—Eddie Bernays used many of his uncle’s findings in the development of psychology and used them to manipulate, studied how to use them to manipulate masses of people for this particular purpose.
So I think it's really important for us to approach this idea or this desire of trying to do good in this world with some willingness to really consider where we're situated and what it is that's driving us and what it is that we think is actually going to be beneficial for others.
In trying to act in a way that is beneficial for the world, it is good to adopt the idea of-- sometimes you might have heard this idea "Think big, act small". In thinking big it means to actually look at things both with some depth and to consider a bigger and broader picture of how we might be able to be influential. But when it comes to my actions, I must bring it down to a very simple and focused level in terms of the people that I deal with in my life, the people and the shops that I visit, the people that I encounter just in daily exchanges. And if I want to become an instrument for good, I must be very focused on actually what people might consider to be the smaller things in life.
So in our line of--our yogic line, the spiritual line of teachers about 500 years ago, there was an amazing spiritual personality; His name was Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was not only a very great and famous teacher, a spiritual teacher, He is considered by those who follow Him to also be an incarnation of God and that was supported in the yogic scriptures. But he was mostly known as the father or founder of the kirtan or the sankirtan movement which now has become increasingly popular and more widely known as a form of meditation. And in the instructions he gave to those who would follow Him—He said they boiled down more or less into 2 key points: that one is doing good for oneself and the other is doing good for others.
When we talk about doing good for oneself, we're not talking about this very materialistic idea that has become so prevalent in the world today where everybody's going, you know, “Be good to yourself. Give yourself a treat. Give yourself an experience. Love yourself.” I mean these ideas are really contrary to wisdom. They are founded in ignorance for the very reason that when I say or someone says, "I'm going to be good to myself," most people don't even know who they are. They consider their body or their mind to be themself and therefore the idea of "doing good to myself" means giving myself some sort of a treat or something; a sensual enjoyment, something to smell, hear, touch, taste, whatever. This is not very--this is actually thinking that is not going to help a person come to a platform of genuine happiness - to become actually free from distress and the troubles of life.
The path of inquiring, "Who am I?" and the discovery of my spiritual identity as being a spiritual being, an eternal spark of God, a part and parcel of God, and that this body which I am using is simply a vehicle. It is a vehicle that I am using. I don't know if you know this guy, he's a pretty far-out rapper, Prince Ea. So he's put out one short YouTube clip and I think it's "I am not black. You are not white," and it's had like 9.8 million hits and people are really fascinated by it and he actually uses this example that, you know, “I am not this body. I am not the labels attached to this body. It's like I'm the driver of this body in the same way that a person drives a car." So it's quite refreshing to see someone actually present these eternal spiritual truths in a way that is very appealing and a lot of people sort of pay attention to or consider.
The path of spiritual discovery is about an awakening. Awakening is a really good word because it's like you've been living in a condition where you are sleepy and now you've been woken up from this sleepy condition. So this path of enlightenment is actually what we will also consider or refer to as a path of truth as opposed to the path of falsehoods or dreams. So this ties in with what I was mentioning earlier, if I want to be a force for goodness, well I have to have a clear idea of what is good. I have to have a clear idea of who I am and what is in my interest and I have to have a really clear idea of who others actually are and I'm not just referring to people's bodies but who they actually are as spiritual beings and what is it that is actually in their interest or in their good.
The idea of doing good for others means I have to very--I have a very clear idea of how I am going to do that. Within the yoga system there is very wonderful reference to what is called karma yoga. Karma yoga is the process of engaging in activity for my spiritual benefit and for your spiritual benefit, to engage in activity basically in the mood of service; service to others and service to the Supreme, the Supreme Being.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu here had stated that,
It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, his wealth, intelligence and words. By his work, thoughts and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and in the next.Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 9.42-43
So we can see with a close out the last sentence in the verse the idea is the eternal good for all.
What is being spoken about here is something that we have dealt with, with one of our earlier series. The series of the question of identity, who am I, and as part of that series with discussed who am I in relation to what is my essence, what is my natural position and what is it that is my natural function? So in relation to the function we had discussed that the most fundamental and important nature that we have, that is part of our spiritual nature, is the tendency or desire to love, to both love and to be loved and to serve. Not to be the dominator or lord or master of things and look to exploit or use or utilise others for my own so-called benefit. But when I seek to actually engage in a relationship that is based upon the idea of doing good and rendering service to others, I will be able to achieve and experience a form of happiness that is impossible to taste if I am simply living for myself.
You know, the idea of living for myself it became a really huge pop phenomena in the end of the 60s and the early 70s. There were a couple of really famous books that people—they were just flying off the shelves and everybody was reading it. And one of them was called “Looking Out for Number One”. And of course the number one was myself. Not even myself; I mean if I knew who I was that would be a step up. But this false idea of myself.
And then the second one was quite really—it was quite interesting. It was called “Winning Through Intimidation”. And it was basically about how to be aggressive enough to go after what it is that you want and to not be cowered by ideas of basically taking what you want and what you feel you need from others and learning the art of intimidation to cajole people to make it so that they were going to do what you want them to do.
This is very telling of an era through the 70s and 80s and into the 90s and it’s even rolled over into the current time where we see how people are still being very much influenced by these types of ideas. If we are going to attempt to make this world and our lives better it is important that we do become a force for good in our own life and in the lives of others and in order to be able to do that it is really important that we understand some of these fundamental spiritual principles which are really going to make life better for everyone.
So if I am going to, if I’m going to try and really do good for others there are going to be two fundamental principles that I must become aware of. I am going to need to cultivate a certain type of spiritual vision; not a narrow or very short-sighted vision that is based on ignorance. That vision is of two things: one is to be able to perceive all people as being spiritual beings, and the second one is actually quite profound and quite amazing.
In the yogic teachings the word, the Sanskrit word for the self is the atma. Atma means the self but they also have a term, Param-atma. This Param means Supreme, or Supreme Self. Now the reality is is that within the heart of all living beings, not even just human beings, all living beings; anywhere where we see life manifest we should know for sure that an atma exists, an atma resides and it is a symptom of the presence of an atma that life is manifest. Along with each atma residing within the body, within the heart of that atma is the Supreme Friend, the Supreme Being or the Supreme Soul. This Supreme Soul or Supersoul, as it is sometimes referred to, is not me. It is different than me. This is my Lord or it is the Lord of my heart.
And in the Bhagavad-gita there is a wonderful verse. It says,
One who sees the Supersoul equally present everywhere, in every living being, does not degrade himself by his mind and thus he approaches the transcendental destination.Bhagavad-gita 13.29
So with this in mind, if we were to cultivate this vision or this understanding that every person, every person that we see, that we are not just looking at their body and identifying the person as being the body, but we cultivate this knowledge and understanding that within each body there is a living being. The person is the person residing within the very heart of this body that we see, that is animated and moving before us. But not only that. Alongside each living being resides the Supreme Being Who is the Supreme Friend of all. If we cultivate this understanding then it becomes absolutely impossible to treat another being, another living being, with animosity, with violence, with cruelty because we would be very much aware that we are being observed. Nothing is secret; nothing is hidden. I think I’ve got secret things that I am hiding from everyone. It is not really the case. Everything is known to the Lord Paramatma, this Supreme Soul residing within our heart of hearts.
When we started the talk today I joined my palms like this and made Namaste. This word Namaste, it is actually made of two words: “namas” which means—its root form is namaha, which means to offer, not just respects, but to offer obeisances profoundly in great humility to another. “Te” means unto you . I offer you my respects and obeisance.
One of the reasons that this is part of the Vedic culture, the spiritual culture, is because there was this idea, this spiritual idea which was fostered and even ingrained that I should be respectful and loving in my dealing with all others; but not only that, the Lord Himself also resides within the heart of hearts of every living being and so when I approach any person or any living being, I am quite eager to both address them with great respect and to address the Lord residing within their heart.
If we cultivate this type of understanding then it becomes a rock solid and genuine platform to begin the process of being a force for good in this world. If we act on this understanding then automatically the things that we will do, the activities that we will engage in will not be limited, they will not be misdirected. They will help us to grow spiritually and they will have a very profound effect on other people that we are coming into contact with.
So in relation to the equality of all beings, in the Bhagavad-gita there is another verse,
He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!Bhagavad-gita 6.32
This is a quite remarkable verse to really consider and to contemplate on. It contains a great deal of spiritual wisdom.
You know, there is this tendency for people not to look at others with an eye of true equality. We look at other people’s bodies as being different from ours. When we are very much controlled, and I'm going to use that word and stress it, controlled by the idea that I am this body which I am temporarily using, then my tendency will be to look at things through the lens of desirable and undesirable. I will look at other people’s bodies and consider whether it appeals to me or whether it repulses me and that's all going to be based upon how I think I could enjoy the association, company or the body of that other person. Whether it's someone who is singing with a beautiful voice or completely out of tune, whether somebody has certain qualities or capabilities or whatever. I am going to form these kind of judgements and I am going to feel either attraction or aversion. I'm going to feel so-called love or hate towards others, all based on this very limited view of things.
If I want to exist in this world and find actual peace and happiness, and become a force for good, then it is really important that I cultivate this actual and real understanding of who I am and who others actually are. If I begin to act on this understanding then all of my endeavors, all of my relationships, all of my encounters with others will actually become a force for good.
You know it is so important to cultivate this attitude of helpfulness, an attitude of even service, an attitude of gratefulness, an attitude of appreciation not founded on false ideas or falsely, you know, trying to cheer someone up as it were or whatever or tell—I mean there is nothing more painful than looking at a very old athlete, perhaps, who used to be a world champion boxer and now he is completely overweight and he is about 70 years old and someone calls out to him, and he turns and he goes, “You're still in good shape,” and then the guy goes (boxing noises)and he tries to make out that he is still in top form or something and you can see that he’s possibly got some problems in his body. He's not very stable, he can't stand up very well, he couldn't run if he tried, you know. He's like seventy plus years old or eighty years old. And people feel that doing good is to try and pamper someone's, what we are going to refer to as, ego or false ego. Where they can live in some past so-called glory. No. Your glory and your greatness is not tied to this body or the achievements of this body. Your glory and greatness is tied to the fact that you are an eternal spiritual and glorious being, a part and parcel of God. It is your right to exist in a state of love, of tremendous blissfulness. This is where your actual glory lies.
But with that understanding it doesn't mean that you become neglectful of people. When people are suffering from different material conditions you should seek to still offer comfort and help, but there needs to be a genuine spiritual foundation to it.
There is so much good that can be done by visiting older people, relatives, friends, even volunteering in different types of organisations and engaging in so many activities. What they do is they nurture, they nourish what is our real spiritual nature, the nature to love and the nature to serve. They contribute towards an awakening. They encourage us on this path of spiritual cultivation.
So becoming a force for good in this world is going to be founded on this principle of actually understanding my spiritual identity and really understanding the identity of others.
We can perhaps at some future time get into some of the practical examples associated with the endeavour to try and become a force for good.
Thank you very much for joining us.
So we will have a short kirtan. I will chant the mahamantra and I invite you to join with me. I will lead and then you can follow along with the people that are here with us today.
So thank you very much for joining us and we hope to see you again next week with the continuation of this series.