Seeking God

It is the heart that is important

My Monday tips for my team this time were taken from a talk I’d given on one of my recent Buddhist discussion meetings. It was the concept of: ‘It is the heart that is important’. Happiness (the real, everlasting kind) doesn’t work outside-in; it works inside-out. So we need to work on our inner life state and on ‘polishing our hearts’.

To make it easy to remember, I had divided this concept into five parts, each of which corresponds with a letter in HEART. (A lot of this material is directly from Buddhist literature; I have simplified it.)

H stands for Happiness

Why is that, in the same situation, one person responds vibrantly while another grumbles? It is because happiness is an internal condition, something we feel in our hearts. Happiness is not found in ‘stuff’, nor does it matter how rich and famous you are. There are lots of people who do have these things but are still unhappy. And such external circumstances are changeable and impermanent; no one knows how long they will last. So the aim is to have an ‘unshakeable inner state of happiness’, one that nothing can destroy. One that nobody can violate. That’s what we have to work towards.

Our happiness is our own responsibility. There is no knight in shining armour who will come and hand it to us. We have to work on it every day, bit by bit. Do one thing every day that makes you happy. Spend time on yourself. Contribute to making a better world. Joy is in us; we just need to unleash it.

E is for Eternity

Eternity refers to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation. As Indians, we are all pretty familiar with this ancient theory that says our lives do not end with our current experience of it. Our thoughts, words and deeds are our karma all put together, and as we sow, so we reap. The aim to live life with such faith and joy that even at the time of death, one can say with a heartfelt smile: “What a wonderful life that was! Now, where shall I go next?”

A vast universe exists in our hearts, in our lives. But most of us invest time and effort only on enriching our current material reality, and just not enough on our spiritual practice. I once read a quote by Neale Donald Walsch that said, “Earthly possessions are not what you came here to gather. Do not worry about your earthly possessions. Place your attention on your heavenly goal–the evolution of your soul–and you will find peace even while on earth.”

A is for Attitude

Faith is not just a matter of praying or meditating a certain number of minutes a day. It is also a matter of our heart, or the attitude with which we live every aspect of our lives. The attitude in the depths of our being determines everything. Whether we are happy or wind up in a state of suffering, everything is the exact result of our attitude. What’s in our heart is communicated to the universe.

When we do something, do we approach it with a negative attitude – grumbling, “Oh, not again! I hate this!” – or a positive attitude, telling ourselves brightly, “All right, here’s a fresh opportunity to grow and learn!”?

This subtle difference in attitude can make a huge difference in our lives. It can change things 180 degrees. A proverb says, “Do not complain that the rosebush has thorns but rejoice that the thornbush has roses.” Our perception changes our reality.

R is for Radiance

‘I have decided to shine bright; it does not matter how dark the room is,’ says the candle. When we light up our hearts, we simultaneously light up our families, our societies and the land that we live in. No one is immune to life’s problems. The storms of karma appear in many unexpected ways – as problems at home, at work, with our children and so on. But every time we overcome a challenge, we change our destiny and that of our loved ones. Precisely when things are tough, that’s the time to encourage those around you with a bright smile. If the situation seems hopeless, create hope. Don’t depend on others. Ignite the flame of hope within your own heart.

When our hearts shine like the sun, everything seems to shine brightly. Rather, we can make everything shine. When we ourselves become the sun, all shadows disappear.

T is for Transformation

Until we do not feel a shift within ourselves, we have not progressed, really. Can we look back at our life and say, “Wow, I’ve come a long way”, or do we feel that we’re stuck where we were decades ago? That’s where the concept of transformation comes in. When our life state changes, the world around us changes. There’s a quote by Daisaku Ikeda that goes: “When the fundamental engine of our ‘one mind’ – our inner attitude or resolve – starts running, the gears of all phenomena of the 3000 realms are set into motion. Everything starts to change. We move in a bright and positive direction.” Like a bud blooming into a flower, a seed into a tree, and a caterpillar into a butterfly, transformation is the essence of progress.

H. E. A. R. T. It is the heart that is important.

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Finding God

New year, old treasures

It was close to midnight on December 31st, and my kids, partner, dogs and I were watching two movies simultaneously on TV (switching during commercials, you get the drift) with the lights dimmed (to set the party mood apparently). Suddenly, I noticed it was about to strike 12 on the living room clock. I stood up and hollered out a funny countdown, “10, 9, 8…” My family all got up too and my younger one turned on a news channel to get hold of the exact time. According to her, there was still a minute to go, so she shouted at me to hold on, “Stop mom, hold on, hold on, start from 60…” But I was on a roll, and when I reached zero, I began clapping and cheering and hugging everyone. In the midst of all this chaos, laughing, shouting and cross-countdowns, the dogs were suddenly pulverized into unimaginable excitement. From sleeping by our feet in silence, they began jumping up and down with us, wagging their tails furiously, their whole bodies contorted with joy! It was hilarious! We laughed till our sides ached, only adding further to all the noise and bonhomie.

I recalled this moment while reading this New Year post on Tiny Buddha, where the author asks questions that provoke you to seek mental and emotional clarity. One of the questions was, “At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?” and I could not help but recall the happiness of that moment with my family at the dawn of 2013.

Another question that provoked deep thought in me was, “What is the one job/cause/activity that could get you out of bed happily for the rest of your life? Are you doing it now?” For all my life, I have been pushed out of bed every morning for reasons other than personal choice — either school or college, or family responsibilities once I was married, or kids’ school timings, or now the dogs’ pee schedule. So ensnared am I in the duties of a householder that it has never struck me what on earth would get me out of bed if I didn’t have them. This question forced me to think about it, and I realised that I am not at all inclined to get out of bed otherwise! Whether this is inbuilt personality coding or social conditioning or simply habit, I don’t know, but the fact is, there is no job/cause/activity that can drag me out of bed besides doing something for someone else, someone I care for — the kids, mostly, and now the man and the dogs. There’s nothing else I would bother to leave my warm bed for. (My friend P had asked me several years ago what I’d be doing if I was not a single working mother. I had said impulsively, ‘I’d be living in the Brahma Kumaris ashram in Mount Abu, doing seva (service to humanity).’ I don’t know why I said this. I am not a member devotee.)

And then the next half of the question arose: Am I doing it now? Of course I am. Of course I have been doing it for years… ever since my firstborn set foot in the world 16 years ago when I was 22. Together, my kids have ensured I have had something to get up for all these years, and now that they are grown up and don’t need me, the man and dogs have taken that space. (In the distant future, it may just well be seva in an ashram.)

You could say, oh this is terrible, this is such an “Indian woman syndrome”, where is my personal goal-fulfilment in this, what is my personal passion, what about life outside family, ambition? But in response to yet another question in the post, “What are the top five things you cherish in your life?”, my answer was “My kids, partner and parents.” That’s it. I couldn’t come up with even one more thing (well, maybe now the dogs clubbed together as one) no matter how hard I tried. Home? Wealth? Job? Financial assets? Looks? Health? Blog? God? I grilled myself but the answer was the same: Without those five top things, all others are pheeka (tasteless). Yes, I even taste God only through them.

If that’s the case, if my family is what I most cherish, then getting out of bed for them every morning is not a chore; it’s a gift and a privilege. How many people can say that they are already doing what is most important to them every day of their lives? How blessed am I? How complete is this life? Ya Khuda, you spoil me with the width of your benevolence. I light up in gratitude to think of it.

And then to read such a post, and look within and see the treasures of the heart (this phrase was used by Nichiren Daishonin to mean something greater, but I love it and am using it here in a more emotional sense) that lie in abundance within me, within all of us… what better way to start a new year? Thank you, Universe, my SenseiTiny Buddha, Blake Alexander Hammerton, my family, my dogs, my people, my planet. This has been the greatest New Year’s gift ever.