April 8, 2009
Toward the end of Sunday Service a couple of weeks ago, a man I’d never seen before came into the sanctuary looking tense and confused.
Even after all these years, people still walk in expecting a Catholic Church. From his body language I thought he might be one of those.
As I stood by the front door greeting people, he hovered a few feet away from me, until there was a break in the line. Then he rushed over and thrust a piece of paper into my hand. It read “Notice of Demand for Rent Payment or Vacate Premises.”
The poor man was being evicted. He tried to talk, but could only articulate a few words. Fear had robbed him of whatever vocabulary he had. English was not his first language; America not his home culture.
He communicated, though, loud and clear: “I am angry. I am afraid. Help me.”
I mentioned the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto and social service agencies elsewhere. Before the words were fully out of my mouth he dismissed them with a disdainful look and an impatient wave of his hand. I suspect Ananda was not the first church he had visited that Sunday morning.
I didn’t have the money in my pocket to pay his rent. Of course, I could have gotten it, but I felt no inward prompting to do so, even though his suffering touched my heart. He sensed my hesitation and a moment later he was gone.
Another Tale of Woe
A few weeks earlier, I had met another desperate person, a young man asking for food. From the look in his eyes and the marks on his arms, he was obviously a drug addict. I turned away from him without responding, but then thought, “What if I were as desperate as he is and no one helped me?” So I turned back to give him the lunch I had brought for myself. (It was no sacrifice; I easily replaced it.)
I didn’t want to hand it over, though, without making real contact with him. So I put my hand on his shoulder and wouldn’t give him the lunch bag until he looked me full in the face.
He kept mumbling his well-rehearsed mantra, “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” I said. “I just didn’t want to give this to you without first greeting you as a friend.” For just a moment he met my gaze.
Then looking down again he took the lunch and said, “You remind me of members of my family that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
Even though Ananda has no “social service” outreach in the conventional sense, I don’t feel we are being irresponsible. I think a lot of us have “been there and done that.”
I don’t mean this disrespectfully. It is great good karma to sacrifice everything to help others. I believe that before we come to this path of Self-realization, we have to spend many lifetimes serving in that way…like Mother Theresa’s nuns serve, living isolated among impoverished people, taking care of orphans, serving the sick, hungry, and dying. I am sure many of you reading this have the same karmic memories I do of lifetimes spent that way.
It was those very experiences, I believe, that have made us so determined now to serve in the way we do: working to change consciousness, to feed the spirit as well as the body. I think this is “social service” on the highest level.
Loneliness, poverty, war, and the host of other maladies that cause so much suffering on this planet are symptoms of wrong consciousness. With Master’s teachings we are solving those problems at their source.
When Swamiji was urged once to put the force of Ananda behind a particular environmental cause, he responded, “If everyone in the world lived the way we do at Ananda, we would not have any of these problems.”
Of course, everyone in the world does not live the way we do at Ananda. But that is what we are trying to change, by precept and example.
Just the Beginning
If, as Master predicted, the present economic difficulties will grow worse before they get better, the kind of encounters I describe here may become an everyday experience, and much worse. It is not going to be easy. People will naturally look to churches for help in their time of need.
We have to be spiritually ready. Perhaps the day will come when we also feel inspired -- individually or collectively -- to take a more active role in relief work, too. We have to stay open to whatever God wants from us.
Mother Theresa often made it clear that her life wasn’t dedicated to serving the poor. Her dedication was to do what Jesus asked of her. He asked her to serve “the poorest of the poor,” so with her whole heart, mind, and soul she obeyed Him.
The obvious next sentence, which she didn’t bother to articulate, was that if Jesus asked her at any point to serve in another way, she would unhesitatingly embrace that life instead. She was a saint, not because she gave to the poor, but because she had given herself completely to Jesus. It is an important distinction to keep in mind.
In the early years of Ananda, Swamiji told a group of young women who had chosen to live as nuns, “A mother labors unceasingly to take care of her children. If you choose not to have children of your own, don’t think that this choice absolves you from that level of service. In fact, a mother’s devotion is focused on those to whom she has given physical birth. As renunciates, your responsibility is to serve the whole world as your own.”
Give Me Thyself, Lord, That I May Give Thee to All
Master has given us the opportunity to serve in the highest possible way: To bring others to God. More than ever, in these uncertain times, the world needs right consciousness. Wrong consciousness is what has gotten us into this mess.
Whatever outward form of service we feel called to perform, above all, let us not be selfish in our consciousness. In our meditation, prayer, and everyday life, let us radiate calm, joyous, faith in God. This is the sacred responsibility Master has placed in our hands.
I deeply believe in what I have written in these last two paragraphs. But I am not naïve. If Master’s predictions prove true, which I have every reason to believe they will, there will be no simple solutions, no neat conclusions to the dilemmas raised by my recent encounters with frightened, hungry people.
Above all, we must practice now, while it is easier, to attune ourselves to God’s will, so that, if the pressure builds, we will have the strength to stay in the light and serve God in whatever way he asks of us.
In divine friendship,
Welcome New Disciples:
• Sandeep Kindo
• Peter Hickox
• Alfonso Fernandez
• Berta Andrade
• Craig Price
• Niru Bakthavatchalam
• Dawn Banghart (Not shown)
Click HERE to see an album of photos of the Discipleship Ceremony.
To enjoy recent photos taken in our new Ananda Yoga Center, please click HERE. Thanks to Rambhakta for these.
Speaking of Ananda Yoga, you'll find the full schedule of yoga classesHERE.
Up a Tree...
Recently Rick Bonin (Lightbearer, Community Manager and Arborist Supreme) trimmed the big Lebanon cedar tree in our courtyard, and braced its two upper trunks together with a cable. This'll keep our giant friend much healthier and happier.
Here's Rick swinging on his climbing ropes.