Thought of the Day: People Are Good

The Doomsday Clock may be advancing, but there is still infinite good in the human heart, and peace remains a strong countervailing force.

In such a polarized period of our nation’s history (if not world history), it’s easy to lose sight of the basic goodness which resides deep within each human heart. That goodness often expresses itself in loving kindness, and in this sense there is no disagreement between those who explicitly believe in God, and those who are secular humanists. Both camps can agree that there is something noble at the core of human existence. Some will call it a human quality, others will say it is a divine quality. But loving kindness is one of the things we most urgently need right now. We need not agree on its ultimate source.

As I approach the evening of my life, I find that I remember many things which others have forgotten. I remember them not by accident, but because they were things which helped me build a sense of meaning in my life, and so I treasured those things and kept them in my heart.

With the turning of the generations, and the nature of a market-driven economy, many valuable things are seemingly thrown out, or at least no longer publicized, so that they become for all intent and purposes invisible. They still have tremendous inherent power, but that power is untapped by a later generation which either does not know of them, or does not identify with them.

So it was when it came to me write on the topic of “People Are Good.” I immediately thought of this song by The Roches which had moved me to tears 25 years ago and still does so to this day:

Now, some might think of The Roches as the epitome of Eastern liberal folk-singing types. But in this song they seem to channel the same feeling that one might find in churches across America. “Everyone Is Good” is like a universal folk mass gently proselytizing on behalf of the religion of loving kindness.

This invitation to practice loving kindness applies equally to people of all political persuasions. Yet, at a time when many gentle people of conscience are concerned about the direction in which our nation is headed, I can’t help thinking that these lines apply especially to Donald Trump: “Wouldn’t it be something to be loving and kind/ Forgive yourself for everything having once been blind.”

Activists on the left are not always known for their gentleness, so those lines apply to them too. About two years ago, I commented on how the name “Madonna” has come to mean different things to different people. To some it signifies the mother of Jesus, to others the folk stylings of Joan Baez, while the Googlebot is convinced that anyone who types in “Madonna” must be looking for the brassy pop idol, who recently dropped the f-bomb in her speech at the Women’s March on Washington.

I am reminded of Pete Seeger’s version of words from Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for righteous anger at injustice, and I am no stranger to that emotion — to feeling it and expressing it on my blog. But I also try to be informed by a healing spirit, and an awareness that the deepest truth about human nature is that people are good.

For me, that awareness has to struggle against the many sad things I’ve seen, beginning in childhood. For me, a powerful ally in the struggle to see the good in people has always been Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), who writes:

When we open our heart to the entire world, we are not safe. The evil and destructive qualities of the world can enter into us and utilise us for their own purposes. They can do so precisely because our love, which is our strength, is very limited; our joy, which is our strength, is very limited; our peace, which is our strength, is very limited. All that we have, we have in very limited measure. But at the same time we have to have confidence in ourselves. Although we are not now measureless and infinite, a day will dawn when we will be measureless, infinite and transcendental. How? By going to the Source, to God.

Even though the ignorant world can destroy the lotus in us, that does not mean that we shall have no faith in humanity in general. India’s greatest spiritual politician, Mahatma Gandhi, said something very striking. He said not to lose faith in humanity. We have to take humanity as an ocean. There are a few drops in the ocean that may be dirty, but the entire ocean is not dirty. According to him, we must not judge humanity by the limited experiences we usually get when we associate ourselves with limited persons around us. We have to be careful, but at the same time we have to have faith in humanity. If we lose faith in humanity, then we are doomed, for humanity is an actual limb of our body.

Since we are spiritual seekers, we have to have more faith than an ordinary human being has. We have to have faith even in unaspiring persons although we are not going to try right now to transform their nature. Why? Because we do not have the necessary capacity, or because it is not God’s Will. Even if we do not have the necessary capacity, God can give us the capacity. He can make us strong so that we can help humanity. But that is not God’s Will. God’s Will is for us to help those who are already awakened to some extent, those who are aspiring or who want to aspire, but not those who are fast asleep. God does not want to push them. To them God says, “Sleep, My child, sleep.” But to those who are already awakened and who want to run, God says, “Have faith in My creation which is humanity and have faith in yourself, for it is you who are ultimately going to represent Me on earth.” We have to have faith in ourselves in order to realise and fulfil God. We have to have faith in God because it is He who has inspired us and awakened us and who is going to fulfil us in His own Way.

If God wants you, open your eyes, close your ears and run. We have to be fully awakened and alert; we have to stop living in the world of sleep before we can find God. We must look all around, not to see the ugliness of the world, but to see the creation in its purest form with our purest eyes. Open your eyes. We must sleep no longer! We must look at the world with the purity that we have and see the purity in God’s creation.

Close your ears. Why have we to close our ears? Because there are things we may hear that will bother and disturb us, such as criticism, jealousy, flattery and praise. When somebody criticises us, how should we regard him? We should think of him as a dog barking right in front of us. If a dog barks right in front of us and we pay attention to it, the dog will not stop barking and annoying us. Then we will have difficulty in reaching our destined goal. We have to take criticism in the same way. People criticise us in every way. They say, “He is useless. He spends all his time meditating and he does not help society the way society needs help.” But what does society want? Society itself does not even know. Nobody can tell us what to do with our life. When we are ready for God, when we are awakened and have opened our eyes, God wants us. At that time we don’t have to pay attention to anybody’s criticism. We have to know that what we are doing is best. It is best even for those who are criticising us, because a day will come when they will give up their ignorance and be inspired to follow us.

— Sri Chinmoy, from A Hundred Years From Now, Agni Press, 1974

Pop culture is disposable culture, so if we view the world solely through the eyes of pop culture, it will be an ever-changing kaleidoscope with no clear vision. Spiritual wisdom is enduring, lasting. It gradually reveals a vast panorama of truth, the truth of how things really are and how everything fits together. This truth does not last for five minutes, or five hours, or five days, but is an eternal truth.

Let us meditate on these wise words: “What does society want? Society itself does not even know.” Society knows that it is dissatisfied, but it does not have a clear vision on how to proceed. Therefore, we need to go on the hero’s journey and bring back wisdom which will eventually help transform society.

The political struggle to build a more compassionate society will be far more successful if it is able to embody these deeper spiritual truths. To bring about a more peaceful world, we need to become students of peace. That is how Sri Chinmoy always described himself:

Interviewer: What is the purpose of your Peace Concert?

Sri Chinmoy: There is only one purpose: I try to be of service to mankind. When thousands of people gather together, I feel that we are working together. I am not the only one who serves. The people who come to listen to my music or to join me in praying are also doing something most significant. We are all trying to bring about world peace. It is teamwork.

Interviewer: So, everybody resonates peace together?

Sri Chinmoy: We are all working together. It is not that I am going to give peace to others — far from it! We shall work together. We are all in a boat sailing together towards the destination, which we call the Golden Shore.

Interviewer: What can somebody who comes to the concert expect to experience?

Sri Chinmoy: It is my prayer that they will get inspiration in abundant measure. Then, the following morning, they will be inspired to do something better in their life. My sole purpose in giving these Peace Concerts is to be of inspiration to others.

Interviewer: Why have you chosen in this lifetime to be a teacher and leader of peace?

Sri Chinmoy: I have not chosen to be a leader and I never declare myself a teacher of peace. I am a student of peace. I have been telling the whole world that I am a student of peace. I go everywhere to learn, and while I am learning, people feel that I am giving something. In the process of learning, we feel that the teacher and student give something to each other. While the student is learning, the teacher also learns something from the student.

Interviewer: What would you like everyone to know about himself or herself?

Sri Chinmoy: That they embody God, they embody Truth, they embody Light. Each individual should feel that he or she embodies God: God’s Divinity, God’s Eternity, God’s Immortality.

— from Edge Magazine, “The Joy of Inner Peace with Sri Chinmoy”

Some will say there is no bridge between the political and the spiritual, that they are at daggers drawn. But Sri Chinmoy clearly identifies that in the person of Mahatma Gandhi, the political and the spiritual were united by a deeper vision. Gandhian principles of non-violence came to inform many successful political movements which achieved lasting change. Therefore, let us not doubt that spiritual wisdom can be a powerful force for guiding and inspiring political change. Spiritual wisdom can bring a certain gentleness and loving kindness without which political movements fail to reach the hearts of those whose help is needed in order to achieve change.

Lasting political change is founded on peace, proceeds through peace, and eventually manifests peace as a flower coming into bloom. This coming to fruition of peace requires not only dedication, but patience. We can cultivate such patience if we are secure in the knowledge that the general trend over time is toward peace. As Sri Chinmoy says in one of his peace songs:

No matter what the world thinks,
Our world, soon, very soon,
Will be flooded with peace.

Sri Chinmoy was a man of far-reaching vision. In this promise of a world flooded with peace, perhaps “soon” means soon in cosmic time — maybe not next week or next month. Still, many people following diverse paths share a sense that peace is definitely dawning, even if gradually, in fits and starts. We may observe many conflicts flaring up, yet Sri Chinmoy finds much hope in the fact that we have avoided a Third World War. In the aforementioned interview, he says:

Interviewer: Do you feel that there is a growing peace on the planet?

Sri Chinmoy: Definitely, definitely! Over the years, I have observed that peace is growing. I have been here in the Western world for 36 years. Previously I saw dozens of times that peace was only talk. We were only talking and talking about peace. Now people are praying to have peace in the depths of their heart. Talking has now given way to experience. In many parts of the world, people are experiencing peace. So the world has made tremendous improvement! Of course, we cannot say that in today’s world there is no conflict, there is no fight, there is no confusion. There is conflict, but in comparison, it is less.

Previously we were afraid that there would be a Third World War. Now, we do not foresee that possibility. The First World War destroyed us and the Second World war destroyed us, but we do not see any possibility of a Third World War. There is mutual compromise, and this is a sign that people want peace. Otherwise there could have been a Third World War by this time.

Yet, even as I write word comes to me that the so-called “Doomsday Clock” has been advanced to two-and-a-half minutes before midnight:

The great scientists who administer the Doomsday Clock make serious points in their analysis which should not be discounted lightly. But I think their training does not incline them to factor in God’s Compassion. I do not believe God will allow this world to be utterly destroyed. I agree with Sri Chinmoy that the trend is toward peace, even if that fragile peace is often threatened by rambunctious leaders.

We can take comfort in his words at a time of fear and uncertainty, for he was truly a man of vision whose peace studies led him far beyond what most of us have seen or experienced. To learn from such a man of peace is well, good, and proper, for peace is not something we can always get from dry books, or from a crowd chanting noisy slogans. Peace is something which may be transmitted in silence from one who embodies peace to one who is crying for peace.

There are those who feel that change must always be extremely loud. According to them, silence has no power. Yet Sri Chinmoy writes:

Silence Speaks

Silence is not silent.

Silence speaks.

It speaks most eloquently.

Silence is not still.

Silence leads.

It leads most perfectly.

— Sri Chinmoy

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Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

Silence Liberates!
Africa-Vision Songs

sri-chinmoy-a-hundred-years-from-now

 

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Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

An interfaith sermon by Revd Canon Barbara Moss

we-can-learnIntroduction

At a time when political candidates may seek to divide the faithful, I’m reminded of this wonderful sermon preached by Revd Canon Barbara Moss at St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge in December 2001. After many years, it eventually disappeared from the Internet; so in reposting it on Christmas Eve 2015, I feel I’m reviving a lost treasure. I sincerely hope that Canon Moss would agree.


Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

When I started thinking about this sermon, it seemed to me that what the title called for was not just one, but a whole course of sermons, and that I was not qualified to preach any of them. However, I was fortunate enough to attend a special celebration, almost exactly two years ago. It was organized by Westminster Interfaith, to mark the new millennium with readings about Jesus, not from Christian sources, but from writers of other faiths: from the Qur’an to religious leaders of our own day such as the Dalai Lama. It is not only Christians who have drawn inspiration from the life of Jesus.

The secretary of an inter-faith group received a telephone call from a woman from a local church. “We don’t get out much any more, we’re all in our eighties, but we’d love to have a Muslim speaker who can tell us all about Islam.” The secretary put her in touch with a speaker, but about a week before the date of the meeting she received another phone call. “We’re really looking forward to Mrs Khan coming, but there’s just one thing. We’re all Church of England, but none of us believes in the Virgin birth, and we understand that Muslims do. Will she be very offended?”

The Qu’ran does indeed tell of the message of the angel to Mary. Joseph does not seem to play a part in the story; Mary gives birth alone, and when the people accuse her of having “brought an amazing thing,” she points to the baby, who speaks in her defence.

They said, ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?’ He said, ‘I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet. He has made be blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again.

The Qu’ran also honours Jesus as a worker of miracles, while making it clear that his wonders are the works of God:

Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount my favour to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! You made out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by My leave, and you healed those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! You brought forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from violence to you, when you showed them the clear signs, and the unbelievers among them said: “This is nothing but evident magic.”‘

I found that this passage helped me to come to terms with the miracles, and the key is one that it is not mentioned in the bible, though it comes from early Christian tradition. According to the story, Jesus as a little boy of 5 made sparrows out of clay and breathed into them, and they flew away. I had thought that this story showed the young Jesus as rather too much of an apprentice wonder-worker — a bit like Harry Potter. In the light of the Qu’ran, I see it, rather, as a parable of that life which was in Jesus, who came so that we might know what it is to enjoy life in all its abundance.

For all the great honour it ascribes to Jesus, the Qu’ran condemns two central teachings of Christianity: the crucifixion, and the divinity of Christ. Muslims, and Jews, have difficulty in understanding how Christians can claim to believe in one God while talking as if there are three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to the Qu’ran, it is absurd that God should have a son, and an offense to suggest that God would allow his prophet to suffer the shameful death of crucifixion. The Qu’ran was given to Muhammad, on its own account, because the words of Moses and Jesus had been misunderstood.

Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu, and for him the problem with Christianity was its claim of exclusivity. He could not believe that Jesus was the ‘only son of God,’ nor accept that ‘only those who believed in Jesus would have everlasting life.’ For him, Jesus was a great teacher, and, in his teaching of non-retaliation, ‘a beautiful example of the perfect man.’ Gandhi’s Christmas message has much to teach us about what it means to follow Christ:

As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we have to look forward to him. When real peace is established, we will not need demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life but in corporate life. Then shall we say Christ is born. Then we will not think of a particular day in the year as that of the birth of Christ, but as an ever-recurring event which can be enacted in every life… It consists in the living of life, never ceasing, ever progressing towards peace. When therefore, one wishes “Happy Christmas” without the meaning behind it, it becomes nothing more than an empty formula. And unless one wishes for peace for all life, one cannot wish for peace for oneself. It is a well-evident axiom like the Axioms of Euclid, that one cannot have peace unless there is an intense longing for peace all round. You may certainly experience peace in the midst of strife, but that only happens when to remove strife you destroy your whole life, you crucify yourself. And so, as the miraculous birth is an eternal event, so is the cross an eternal event in this stormy life. Therefore, we dare not think of birth without death on the cross. Living Christ means a living cross, without it life is living death.

So Gandhi accepts the crucifixion as an essential part of his understanding of Jesus. He also addresses that central tension of Christianity: God’s kingdom has already come, but it has not yet come. In the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come; For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.”

Many of the contributors to Celebrating Jesus came, like Gandhi, from the Indian subcontinent or from the Indian religious traditions. Some write of Jesus as a divine manifestation alongside Krishna and the Buddha. The Sikh statesman Dr Gopal Singh wrote an extended poem, “The Man Who Never Died,” which won the approval of the Pope as speaking of Christ in a way that Christians had failed to do in two thousand years. The Dalai Lama, who responded to Pope John Paul II’s invitation ‘to come together and pray and fast for peace’ at Assisi in 1986, sees parallels in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the Buddha. But for my third reading I have chosen an extract from a poem by Sri Chinmoy, founder and leader of a religious tradition related to Hinduism and based on meditation, in his book Brother Christ.

I see an empty church.
Where is the Christ?
Where has he gone?

I see an empty temple.
Where is Sri Krishna?
Where has he gone?

I see an empty heart.
Where is God?
Where has He gone?

I saw the face
Of the suffering Christ.
I cried and cried.

I felt the heart
Of the forgiving Christ.
I smiled and smiled.

I clasped the soul
Of the illumining Christ.
I danced and danced.

Sri Chinmoy illuminates the paradox of our age: the abandonment of formal religion, witnessed by empty churches and death-of-God theology, while at the same time there is an intense spiritual thirst. His response in this poem, however, is not to deny the revelation of God in Jesus, but to take inspiration through meditation on Jesus.

The CMS missionary Max Warren once said that whenever you encounter anyone, of any faith or none, you are standing on holy ground; God has been there before you. The readings we have heard this morning show that we can indeed learn from the traditions of the world’s faiths, not only about their own beliefs, but also about our own — sometimes because we find ourselves in agreement with them, sometimes because clarifying our disagreement helps us to understand how it is that God speaks to us. Like the pilgrim entering the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we enter into dialogue humbly and with bowed heads.

I finish with the world peace prayer, originally from the Hindu Upanishads, then popularized by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and frequently used at interfaith gatherings.

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

Note:
The quotations from the Holy Qu’ran translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, from Mahatma Gandhi’s The Message of Jesus Christ, and from Sri Chinmoy’s Brother Christ, are taken from Celebrating Jesus, edited by Daniel Faivre et al., and published by Daniel Faivre SG, 2 Church Avenue, Southall, Middx., 1999.

— Revd Canon Barbara Moss

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20080917012003/http://www.ely.anglican.org/parishes/camgsm/sermons/S2002l/bm1sermon.html

Correction: The book by Sri Chinmoy is actually titled Brother Jesus.


Sri Chinmoy, collage from videos by Niriha Datta

Sri Chinmoy, collage from videos by Niriha Datta

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See also: Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful