• Perennial Wisdom

Karma

One day, in about 1978, it was early morning at the ashram and I laid out Swami Rama’s fresh clothes and shaving cream as usual. He was in a jolly mood that morning and let me stay and bother him a bit. He carefully applied his shaving cream, (exaggerating a bit since I was watching, I believe), took out his sharp razor blade, and began scraping it along his cheeks. I loved watching it because when I was a little girl I used to watch my Dad shave that way. A long razor, sharpened on a three-foot leather strap, and pulled along the cheeks and chin as he made unusual faces to pull the face skin in each direction. After that, any man that used only an electric shaver I considered not quite a man. The real shavers were so brave! So as Gurudev shaved, I asked,

 

“Swamiji, did I know you before in another life?

 

And he answered, “Of course! Many.”

 

So I questioned him about some of our past lives together and then asked, “Well, why did I come to this life? What am I supposed to do in this one?”

 

Swamiji stopped shaving, looked carefully at me through the mirror, and said, “Exactly what you are doing. You came here to work for me; to help with my work.”

 

I was so delighted with his answer that I forgot to ask any more questions.

 

Wasn’t it a blessing? I came to work with Gurudev. I thought I must have been very smart between lives. Gurudev had told me about several other lives in which I did special things: meditating in monasteries, meditating in convents, meditating in temples, but this time I came to work. So I thought, “Good! I’m advancing!”

 

When I was in the convent, this lifetime, I joined a religious order whose motto was Ora et Labora — Pray and Work. The saint who founded the order realized that work is as essential as prayer in order to reach sanctity. So it seems that work is a normal part of life.

 

I have thought much about work for yogis. I questioned Gurudev about it quite a bit over the years. He would reply to me and then use that topic for his next lecture. One of the things he said frequently was, “Take life very lightly, but take your work very seriously.”

 

I always thought it should be the other way around: take work lightly and life seriously, but Gurudev said, “No, no. If you do your work well in this lifetime, life is nothing. It is just pure joy for you. Life will then be no problem at all.”

 

When we are working, we are of service to others. Usually our work is not for ourselves. Even when you are painting your house, it is not for yourself; you want your neighbors and guests to feel happy. When you are cooking, it is almost never just for you. There is usually someone else: a child, a husband, a friend, a guest who will come to eat with you. When you eat alone, you are taking care of your body so that it can do work for others, or greet others, or play with others. Whatever we do around work is actually a very big portion of spirituality. Those of us who are not in monasteries, who are living with families or in community, have as our main piece of spirituality the work we do. In the community where lived as a nun, the time of work and prayer was just about equal. On Mount Ethos the Christian monks live their day by having more hours of work than of prayer.

 

The question that comes to mind next is exactly what I asked Gurudev. “Is all work spirituality?” And he answered “Yes.” The only kind of work that would not be spirituality is that which is intended to hurt others. It is a kind of “bite in the butt” spirituality, however, because eventually it will get you. Hopefully your conscience will quickly speak up and say, “Oh! What am I doing?” That is the only kind of work that you cannot call spirituality right up front.

 

Sometimes students think, “Ah, when I am meditating I am a good person, a spiritual person. When I am attending a lecture or hatha class I am a spiritual person, but the rest of the time I am not.” Why does such erratic thinking even emerge? Every single moment of every single day is your spirituality. Everything you do is a gift for the Divine. One way to make that easier to understand is a little practice. When you are going to work visualize what you will be doing shortly. It might be working on a computer, pulling weeds, teaching children, riding the bus, scrubbing a floor, anything at all. Visualize it clearly and offer it up to the Beloved. “Here is my gift for you today.” That automatically blesses the work and blesses every other action you will do that day leading to or following your work.

 

Guess what happens then? You will cut down on human faults. You won’t lose your temper as much if that is your habit, because eventually you will remember that you offered everything to the Divine today. You won’t try to do better than your co-worker for more praise or more power, because you offered up all you do. It’s not yours anymore, right? You will selflessly help others because you don’t need payback. Everything you do will have a blessing on it. Pretty soon the environment around you will change. It will become very powerful, reminding you of your Beloved. So offer everything you will do, all the work of your day, before you do it.

 

What should you do when you are frequently doing work that you hate? What if you are doing work that is eating you up inside? I used to talk with Gurudev about that also. He told me that there are two types of people that do such work. Some people do work they dislike because there is no other work for them to do; they may live where there is no other option. Secondly, some hated work is done by the type of person who is afraid of doing something else, afraid of change.

 

What should you do if you are one of those people? Give the decision to the Divine. Offer up the work you are doing with a prayer: “Beloved, I do not think that I can serve humanity in my current job. I really don’t like it and I wish to switch to something else. Please help me find what would be best for me.” Then get busy looking. Don’t sit there and wait for God to drop a job in your lap! If you cannot change your work, then do the hated work while your mind is working on the people around you.

 

My mother once worked on an assembly line making men’s electric shavers while all her children were at school. She put little screws in each shaver as it passed in front of her. I asked her once how she could do that for so many hours every day. She answered, “Oh, I was thinking of all of you. Then I would travel. The job was so simple that my mind was free to go wherever I wished.”

 

Thus Gurudev said that if you are in a job that you don’t want, change it. If you are in a job you cannot change, change what’s around you. Change yourself. Those of you who have a job that you love, that you are good at, that uses your talents, will grow very much spiritually because you are working on yourself! You do good work and you keep trying to get it better.

 

Let’s say you are typing. How many errors do you make? Soon, if you concentrate and keep working well and undistracted, you will make fewer errors, or none at all. You’ll make better margins or lay the page out better. If you work on the telephone, ask yourself how many hours it takes before you lose your temper and are not kind to those on the other end. OK, next week lengthen your time of being nice on the phone. The week after that you can try to get another half hour of kindness in there. There is always something that we can work on spiritually. No matter what our hands are doing, everything is work on ourselves. That is the main part that needs changing. It is us that needs the change, usually not the manual work we do. The people around us need to feel love whatever we do. We don’t need to change them, we just need to love them! Then, of course, when they feel loved, guess what happens? They change. When they begin to feel that we really care about them, they begin to feel happier, and pretty soon they are being kind to us, and after that they do their work better. Soon you think you are in heaven and you don’t want to go home at five o’clock!

 

The more you grow in your work, the more you learn about yourself—your talents, your weaknesses, your character. You are sitting right out there so you can just step back and look at yourself. The attention you apply to your work can be applied to seeing that personage carrying your name. Not only do you see it, but you are able to see how everyone around you sees it. When that happens, you will be able to make any change in your personality that you feel is best. And then, you will go deeper into your meditation practice.

 

Don’t separate the two parts of your life by saying, “This is my spiritual part and this is my working part.” Growth does not function that way. Yoga is a transformation of your entire life. It is a balance, between your body and your mind and your soul. A perfect balance.

 

What do you do when you make a mistake at work? Over the years I have been observing that women have been taught that we can never make mistakes at work. Never. So we think we never do, and if by some strange chance we do make a serious mistake, we try to hide it. If we hide it well enough, we can claim that we did nothing wrong. All the other workers, of course, know what we did, so then we have to go into denial and hide behind unusual behavior, sometimes including dishonesty. So the best thing to do is practice satya—truthfulness. Just be truthful about your mistake. “Oops! I goofed. I’m sorry. I’ll correct it.” End of sentence.

 

The worst thing that can happen next is that you’ll get fired, which means it was not a good job for you in the first place. The next thing is someone will realize that you are a human being, which isn’t so bad. Men have been human beings for a long time and no one really gets too mad at them. (Excuse me, gentlemen, for leaving you out of this section, but this is a serious problem that women have to deal with.) The best thing that can happen when you make a mistake is that you can learn more about yourself, which is what we are trying to do in the first place. How should you deal with yourself when you make a major mistake? “Oh, I’m doing the work that I offered up and I just blew it.” Be truthful to yourself; admit what you did, apologize, and correct it. Then drop it. It is gone, finished. But you have grown so much! You have acknowledged that sometimes when we are in the body we do stupid things. Admitting failure and correcting the error always means major growth.

 

When you work with people, you have a special grace, because you are given the opportunity to see the Beloved in different faces every day. The divine is in everyone, and when we do work we are serving the divine, as we have seen. It does not matter if it is a male or female, an ugly face or a beauty, a kind person or an angry one; it is all divine. Sometimes the divine hides very well. Often it is hard to see the divine person in a given situation, but it is there! Sometimes the body it inhabits does not know it is there, but you know the divine is there. What an honor it is to be able to work with people and serve! We could all be walking around earth never looking at people, never speaking to people, never serving anyone. Then we would probably have to keep reincarnating a million times! The fact that we bump each other and play with each other and serve each other means that we are dealing with the divine all the time. The more you see the divine in others, eventually you will realize that you have divinity within yourself also.

 

When you are a yogini or yogi, everything you do is Guru’s work. You can be saying “me, me, me” your whole life, taking care of yourself and putting yourself first in everything, but you will not be as happy as you would be giving it all up for your children, your husband, or the one you love. In our world, it seems that the culture is selfish. Watch advertising, or movies, or even comedy on television. The people there are so selfish, so self-centered! That is not normal; if it was you would be so unhappy. Your spiritual growth totally depends upon giving yourself away.

 

Gurudev used to be a marriage broker, planning and scheming with his students. “Ah, we’ve got to marry this one off,” he’d say. Then he would pull people together, looking at all the karma they needed to work on and say, “You two should marry!” And they would. I asked once, “Swamiji, why are you doing this? Some of these people you tell to marry want to be monks, or remain single, or take vows of renunciation. Isn’t that better than being married?” He looked at me like I had just lost my mind and said, “No! That is not better. People grow spiritually when they are with someone else! As long as you are by yourself, taking care of yourself, loving only yourself, and making everything go your way, you will not grow.”

 

Every relationship is holy. Sometimes it is absolutely loving, and sometimes it is World War III, but that is all right. You are still growing because underneath it all, you love each other. This same thing happens at work. Sometimes it is war and sometimes it is Christmas Day. That is because all of us have “bad” days: we wake up feeling tired, we get a cold, we have negative news, we want to see a relative but have extra hours we must first put in at the office. Sometimes the weather turns us off, sometimes we stay up too late the night before watching something wonderful or talking on the phone so the lack of sleep puts us in a bad mood. That happens to every human being. What we have to watch out for is ourselves.

 

If someone snaps at us, the first thing we usually do is think that the other person is against us. “What did I do? Why does he think of me that way?” goes through our mind over and over. Often the angry word has nothing to do with you! Maybe he snapped because he did not get his six hours of sleep and is tense. Or he has indigestion. Or his wife is angry with him. You can carry this worry around with you all day, making your work hours miserable, snapping at someone else, and going home in sadness. Perhaps the next day you get up enough courage to ask, “Why did you snap at me yesterday?” And that person, surprised, will say, “Did I do that? Wow! I’m sorry. I didn’t know I did that. I was really distracted after some bad news.” Our minds trick us often. We typically “make stuff up” in our minds and then apply it to others. How did we learn to do that? We all do it so well.

 

Let’s drop it all. Give it away. If someone does something harmful to you, look at the person and offer a little prayer in your heart for him or her. Then go on as if it never happened. You will be happy. Don’t accept the negative energy you believe people are passing on to you. It is probably not even there.

 

We meditate so we can get rid of all the trash in our minds and then go to the divine. Remember? When you truly do that, there will be times during your workday when you will actually feel as if you were in meditation. Whatever you do, try to do it to your best perfection, do it with love, and offer it to the Beloved. Talking on the phone, meeting people, hugging people, scolding people, adding columns, changing diapers, shopping for food, typing, designing a website, washing a floor, pulling weeds, it’s all the same. What is your mind doing? That is the question. Watch your mind while you work. You will then be in active meditation, called karma yoga.

 

That is what Gurudev came to do in this lifetime. He worked with thousands of people, built institutes, schools, a hospital. He taught huge groups and individuals. He tied together science and spirituality, offering himself up as a subject of study. Sometimes he would be so tired. He’d let us press his feet, drink the hot cup of tea we offered, and then jump up and go back to work. One of the great saints from the Himalayas came down from the mountain to go to work! And at night, he meditated. The more we can copy that life, the more we will live well. What are you doing at work? Where is your mind at work? Offer it up. You will then be nearer to reaching enlightenment.

 

 

 

  • Perennial Wisdom

Difficulty with Words

Sometimes words get mixed up. That happened often when Swami Rama spoke to us in the 1970s, the early days of his Western teachings. After each talk, he’d ask Justin and me how he did. “Any mistakes?” he’d gently query.

 

One day Gurudev saw a bright T-shirt that a student just purchased. He liked the color of the cloth and the glowing sparkle of the letters spread across the front, so it was given to him at his request. When he later walked down the corridor, I was busy at work on his next book and the newsletter, both of which were due to be sent to press the next morning. Peeking into the door of my office and not wishing to disturb my work, he quietly went to his suite, had his secretary make his tea, and had another student bring the shirt, wrapped in pink tissue paper, down to my office.

 

“Swami Rama sent this gift to you. He said it reminded him of you,” I was told by the special-delivery student. I stopped my typesetting, slid open the pretty wrappings, and found a T-shirt with the glaring phosphorescent word “BITCH” printed in 4-inch letters across the front. I was devastated!

 

My mind screamed, “Is that what he thinks of me? I am working night and day for that man and his mission and this is my reward? How can he do this to me? Does he not appreciate me or my work? Does he think I am a terrible person? How can he possibly call me such a name? Why did he say it reminded him of me? Why? Why? Why?”

And then, of course, the mind shifted gears and began thinking, “Maybe I am a terrible person. Maybe this is his way of telling me easily. Perhaps I should just leave the Institute. Maybe I’m hurting his work. I must not be treating this saint in the right way and the universe is punishing me!”

 

On and on and on. In anger and growing grief, I threw the shirt into the garbage and stomped into my room for a cry. After venting my rage and letting my sadness fall in tears, I dug the shirt out of the trash, deciding to keep it as a reminder of my emotions. I never thanked Swamiji for the present; I never mentioned it. Nor did he. I just worked harder.

 

Five years later we flew to India together. Swami Rama invited a group of American students to travel to the Himalayas with him. After packing Gurudev’s bags and getting him ready for travel, I pulled my clothes out of the closet, sending the hateful T-shirt falling to the floor from the high shelf where it had hidden for a long time. Ah! An idea suddenly hit me. Being absolutely sure of my teacher’s great love and concern now, I no longer needed adulation from him, nor could I be so easily shocked as before. Spiritual growth was war with any inflated ego, and war was a treat for a triple Aries, the Greek God of War!

 

The shirt stayed in my suitcase during the wonderful pilgrimage to the high mountains and the holy shrines. Finally the day I was waiting for arrived. Swamiji called for a group photo to be taken on the banks of the Ganges at our ashram in Rishikesh. The photo was to be given to each group member as a memento of the trip. I ran to my room, unpacked the emotion-rich T-shirt, pulled it on, and strutted up to Swamiji, smiling broadly.

 

Across his face swam love, then curiosity, sudden remembrance, then laughter, then strong embarrassment. His face turned red and I knew that he understood the meaning of the word emblazoned across my chest.

“Tree,” he said quietly, “you can’t show that shirt in a picture! I’m sorry! It was a joke, a joke! Oh, please don’t show that shirt. It no longer fits you! Throw it away!”

 

So, I hid the shirt, standing behind my husband for the photo, just my face and arm sticking out a bit. After the shooting, Gurudev called me to his room, provided that I brought him the shirt. It was then that I learned his misuse of the word bitch. “I thought it was something like a witch with many powers. When you did not come to thank me for it, I thought you didn’t like it. Now I know what it means. That’s not you” he said sweetly.

 

Of course, with a master like Swami Rama, I could not be sure of this explanation either. But it had drawn out the God of War, the strength of personality, which is what, years before, he told me he wanted to see in me. And with a saint like Swami Rama, one could always find deep love, even in a single mis-understood word.

 

Don’t Come Down

 

Sometimes Swamiji would decide that I was not to come to see him each morning as usual. He would have someone else, usually a new ashramite, make his morning chai or breakfast.

 

The first time it happened I was devastated. The night before Gurudev had received some beautiful flowers delivered from the town flower shop. I opened them for him and put them in a vase, reading the little card to him. Swamiji started talking about flowers then. He told the story of himself plucking the blue lotus and being scolded by his Master. I told him that he himself was like a flower, like a lotus, with his feet very clearly in the mud of running an Institute and working with foolish American students while his head shone above the water of daily life into the light of the divine. “Yes,” he answered tongue in cheek, “and you are like the stubborn weeds that always wind around the lotus stems!” We had a good laugh over this before the topic moved on to the next piece of work and I was sent to make a phone call.

 

The next morning Samskriti came to tell me that I should not disturb Swamiji that day. Morning seemed very long and at lunchtime I worried about his meal until I saw Shari bringing a tray past my office door down the private corridor. In the late afternoon I missed him much, hoping that my phone would buzz with his voice. Nothing. I worked all evening, saw a few people run down the corridor towards Swamiji’s office, but no word to me, no reason to check, no need for my help. Of course my mind began to worry: “I must have done something wrong! Perhaps he no longer loves this poor student.”

 

The next morning after my practice I could stand it no longer. I wrote out a little slip of paper, folded it, and placed it on the breakfast tray being carried down to my Gurudev. On it I had written: “Even weeds need a little morning sunshine! May I see you?”

 

Within ten minutes my phone was ringing. I was summoned. When I walked into Swamiji’s apartment, he was sitting at the table with a big smile. “OK, weed,” he chuckled, “can you make me a cup of tilk?” And all was back to normal

 

 

 

 

  • Perennial Wisdom

by Manuraj

 

Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself when you have slipped into thinking that other people's problems are pretty easy to understand and fix? While your problems are, how shall we say… “more complex”? It makes me squirm. I catch myself thinking like that and try to remind myself how fast the mind can jump to a faulty conclusion that all too frequently goes unchallenged.

 

A close parallel is the almost magical allure of “if only". The reoccurring conviction that if only I had such and such; more money, some property or different property, more things, or different things, or a life partner, or a different partner, or a different job or a better job, or if I was taller, shorter, thinner, younger etc. then…I would be happy. No, youwouldn't. That's another faulty conclusion. Part of being alive is having problems. We always have them. We know the problems of a child are different from an adolescent and an adolescent's problems are different from the problems of an adult. The specific problems may differ but we will always have some an assortment of problems. You might appease the discontentment for a while but it always returns. Most of us are discontent, restless, side stepping what we are trying to avoid, chasing desire after desire, searching to fulfill that indefinable sense that something is missing in our lives. Too often we exchange what we want most for ourselves for what we want at the moment.

 

It is inevitable that we will remain discontented for as long as we search for the answers to life's deepest questions outside of ourselves. Swami Rama often said, “Nothing outside of you can give you what you are looking for."

 

I was reminded of all of this the other day when I ran across my copy of Leo Tolstoy's A Confession and What I Believe. Yes, that Leo Tolstoy, Count Leo Tolstoy, the one that wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy is considered to be one of, if not the, greatest novelist in history. While this is high praise, what makes him interesting to me is what happened to him after he wrote his great popular works. How he came to write what he wrote and said that compelled the Russian government to ban his books, most of his admirers to shun him, and the Russian Orthodox Church to excommunicate him and how his home became at the same time a destination of pilgrimage.

 

And how his newfound beliefs changed the world.

 

The gist of the story, as it was told to me (an apocryphal version no doubt), goes something like this. Tolstoy was riding into a small village. He was thinking about himself and his life. He was deeply unhappy and disillusioned. He sees two serfs using pitchforks to remove manure from a wagon. He hears them talking and laughing and in their laughter he hears the unmistakable tone of genuine happiness and contentment.

 

This is the last straw in a series of inner promptings that had been going on in him for some time. He thinks to himself, “I have as much in my life as any man has a right to expect and maybe more than any man that ever lived.” And it was true.

 

He was a Count; his family’s nobility had been bestowed by Peter the Great. He was rich, he owned thousands of acres of land, thousands of head of livestock and horses. He was powerful, holding the fate of hundreds of serfs, literally in the palm of his hand. He was a world-famous author and considered by many to be the best that ever lived. He was welcomed in all the Royal Courts of Europe. He was multilingual, speaking French fluently as well as several native dialects. He was an accomplished educator that started schools for the peasants and wrote textbooks for the schools that came into common use throughout Russia. He led the life of one born to the military class. He was a decorated officer that served with distinction in the Crimean War. He was an expert horseman, a good wrestler, he loved to smoke, drink, gamble, and was no stranger to women of questionable virtue. He had settled down, was now happily married and had thirteen children. But his despondency left him almost inconsolable.

 

Tolstoy refers to an ancient Indian story in his book A Confession, to illustrate the situation that he found himself in. A man is walking home from his fields at dusk to the village where he lives. He sees a tiger stalking him and in a panic runs away from the tiger. He runs so fast that in the gathering darkness he slips and falls into a well. As he is falling inside the well he reaches out and grabs a vine that breaks his fall. Hanging there he looks down and sees a huge cobra that is coiling to strike him. He frantically looks up and sees that by now the tiger is peering over the edge of the well, hungrily waiting. As the man adjusts his grip on the vine he sees a black mouse and a white mouse moving in a circle, methodically eating the vine he is hanging from. The awareness dawns that his situation is hopeless. At that moment he spots a trickle of honey, fallen from a beehive in a tree branch suspended above the well that has fallen onto the vine. He licks the honey.

 

The black and white mice are the days and nights of our existence while we await the inevitable. The honey represents the mundane pleasures of the world we savor while we resign ourselves to our fate.

 

If this was your life and his unhappiness was your unhappiness, what would you do? What is your unhappiness? What are you doing to fill that sense of emptiness, how do you console yourself about your inevitable death? How do you want to be remembered? What kind of your own thoughts are you afraid of?

 

Tolstoy was haunted by the fear of his own death. Over and over again he asked himself, what had meaning in his life that would transcend or survive his death? He began to have thoughts of suicide to the point that he quit hunting so he wouldn't have access to a gun. He hid ropes and cords that he could use to hang himself.

 

He could not dismiss his death or put the thoughts of it aside. His despair was palpable, and the happiness and contentment he heard in the laughter of the serfs haunted him. How could this be? He had everything and they had nothing. He was miserable and they were happy.

 

As Tolstoy pondered his situation he reasoned that what gave the serfs solace was their religion. So Tolstoy threw himself into religion. He exacted heavy penances upon himself, prayed and studied. But as time went by he noticed that the priests and clergy were inconsistent or indifferent to the rules of conduct and worship expected of the members of the church. Tolstoy was appalled at the hypocrisy he observed and left the church.

 

He then reasoned that if it couldn’t be their religion in which the serfs had found their happiness; it must be their faith. He became convinced that it was the faith that they had garnered from their Bible. Tolstoy was very skeptical, based on his experience, that the clergy of the Church could be trusted to have faithfully translated the Bible as it was written in Greek. He thought it was much more likely that it was translated to promote dependence on the Church and its clergy.

 

To confirm his suspicions, Tolstoy had himself tutored in Greek and poured himself into the task of learning Greek fluently. He used his considerable influence and resources to acquire the Gospels in Greek. He then set about retranslating the Gospels, not book by book but by the chronological events in Christ’s life.

 

He published the work in two volumes as, A Harmony and Translation of the Four Gospels. The format he used was like a newspaper. The text appears in three columns down the page. The left column is the Greek text of the Gospel. The middle column is the translation of the Church. The right-hand column Tolstoy translates as what the text actually says. Needless to say, the Russian Orthodox Church was not amused.

 

The storm over Tolstoy's inner world began to abate as he was filled with his own growing faith. He came to understand; that whatever rational criticism could be made of faith, that it was faith alone that introduces a relationship between the finite and the Infinite and that the questions of life cannot be satisfactorily answered without faith. He felt that the divinity in Christ's life was not supernatural, but more importantly to him, that Christ taught mankind how to live and that if you live seeking God, you will not live without God.

 

Like Scrooge on Christmas morning, Tolstoys’ faith unleashed a rapid sequence of life changes. One of his first acts was to petition Czar Alexander to pardon the assassins that murdered his father. He stopped smoking, drinking, and gambling. He became celibate. He became a vegetarian. He wanted to renounce his role as an estate owner and his wealth and position in society but his wife and family prevailed in their objections for some time.

 

He believed with great passion that the passage in Mathew 5:39 from the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whoever shall strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (King James version) was to be taken absolutely literally. He became an anarchist in his thinking because governments ultimately resort to violence to implement their policies. He was positive that a primary instinct in man was to not kill. He was adamantly opposed to conscription because military service and war corrupted the nature of the individual. Be this time his books were banned in Russia and were being printed by revolutionaries in Geneva, Switzerland. The church excommunicated him in 1891.

 

In 1894 he published, The Kingdom of God is Within You, a book written by a world class writer at the zenith of his powers that was living his faith. It reflected the zeal of his spiritual convictions and contained scathing indictments of the morality of governments and religions. Most scholars feel that it is his finest nonfiction work.

 

Tolstoy became aware of a small religious sect called the, “Dukhobors,” the name means “Spirit Wrestlers”. They were pacifists that accepted the authority of God but rejected the authority of the Czar. They also rejected all religious icons and some groups believed in community property and even rejected the Bible preferring their own oral tradition that they called the, “Book of Life". Tolstoy identified with their beliefs. Czar Alexander persecuted them to force them to abide by his conscription decrees. The Dukhobors were hounded, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and murdered for their resistance.

 

Tolstoy took up their cause and used his considerable moral, political and financial influences to come to their aid. Living what he believed, he continued to reach out to others that were suffering injustices at the hands of their governments.

 

The South Africa of 1894 was perpetrating racism on its citizens. A Quaker by the name of Coates was taking his evangelical message to its many victims. He was socially active in his community and soon became acquainted with many young people that opposed the government's racist policies. He became fond of a young Indian gentleman of his acquaintance. The man was an attorney who was becoming active in politics. Coates gave him many books and writings on Christianity and Christ. The young man was a voracious reader but remained unconverted. Coates passed along Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You.

 

The young man would later recount in his autobiography that the book, “overwhelmed” him. “Before the independent thinking, profound morality, and the truthfulness of the book, all the books given me by Mr. Coates seemed to pale into insignificance.” The young man was Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi. The world would know him as “Mahatma". Some years passed and when Gandhi was sent to prison in 1906 he reread the, Kingdom of God is Within You. He found correlations and inspiration with Tolstoy's thinking. He shaped a political activism that involved nonviolent civil disobedience to actively seek social reform and called it "Satyagraha", truth-force. Gandhi avidly read as many of Tolstoy's works as he could find.

 

Finally, Gandhi wrote him and they developed a warm correspondence. The last letter that Tolstoy ever wrote was to Mahatma Gandhi. Later as Gandhi experimented with communal living he named the community Tolstoy farm.

 

An additional faulty conclusion that many of us have, is that the events that happened before we were born are ancient history, the implications of those events are from so long ago that they couldn’t affect us in a tangible way.

 

Sometimes it is helpful to get a historical perspective to put things in context. The year 1894 is closer than you might think. When Gandhi sat down to read, The Kingdom of God is Within You, the first time and Tolstoy was espousing absolute pacifism as Christ’s authentic message; a five-year-old boy, the son of Alois Hitler was growing up in Austria. A fifteen-year-old youth named Iosif Dzhugashvili graduated with honors in Russia from the Gori Church School and was awarded a scholarship to Tbilisi Theological Seminary. He would soon become involved in politics and take the pseudonym “man of steel (Stalin)" to protect his anonymity. Sara Roosevelt was personally supervising the education of her twelve-year-old son in Hyde Park. A four-year boy that was named David Dwight was called Dwight David by the Eisenhower family in Abilene, Kansas. And a one-year old bouncing baby boy in Hunan Province in China, who was too young to read, would one day write a little red book.

 

The despair that drove Tolstoy to search for the meaning in his life led him to a faith he could live. The ripple effect of his faith survived two World Wars and the changed we live in.

 

He inspired Mahatma Gandhi who led India to independence via nonviolent civil disobedience. The Reverend Martin Luther King used Gandhi's techniques and precepts to advantage in the great Civil Rights movements of the 1950's and 1960's in the United States. Time and again we see peaceful demonstrations, and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience used to advance the cause of social justice.

 

What remains is for you to come to your own terms with what it is in your life, which has enough meaning to transcend your death. Tolstoy was unable to live without faith. Can you? And if not, what kind of faith do you need? Faith in what?

 

Swami Rama said, “Remember, the concept of God is not God. But if your concept of God doesn't help you, what good is it?"

 

What will be the ripple effects of your search for meaning?

 

 

Manuraj