From my last post, you will read that I bought two books after a lot of thought because I have been trying to decrease the numbers of books I have, not increase them. These two books have turned out to be quite amazing, just right for me. They go to show that when you buy something with thoughtfulness, then it truly is the right thing for your life.
I am writing about the first book- ‘Works of Henry David Thoreau’. I love his writing- ‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.” Pure poetry in that prose!
However, it was not just Thoreau’s writing that captured my attention. That book had been a gift to someone visiting India (I am from India!) from his parents. On the frontispiece which I have photographed above were these inscriptions and I reproduce them as they might be too small to read. The mother had written, ‘I hope you will enjoy the readings of Thoreau and through his writing, gain a better understanding of his words, “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” ‘ The father had written, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it. Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that. Thoreau’s words are as timely today as when he wrote them. If you do that you too will soon possess the more perfect Indian wisdom.’
Perhaps the son was going to India in search of spirituality and wisdom. Perhaps his life was complex and difficult. Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps he did not like to read too much or he would not have enough time. His parents were worried about the journey and gave him this book as reminder of their love and encouragement. How beautiful! Even more beautiful that this book came my way as a reminder, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it. Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that!’ I am doing just that- thank you to the parents and the son who made this possible for me.
The power of the mind has been in the news this week a lot- from Indian mystic who claims to have lived on ‘cosmic energy’ harnessed by the power of the mind for 70 years (yes, 70 years!) to the volunteers at the University of Minnesota who managed to fly model helicopters through hoops using the power of thoughts (you can see it on youtube if you like).
What many new age thinkers have been saying based on age old traditional wisdom, has now been proved scientifically. Buddhism talks about the one-ness of mind and body and for too long, mind and body have been treated separately by medical practitioners and science. So it is worth looking into what we have been thinking when we fall ill- did we have negative thoughts about ourselves or for others? Does a particular food or surrounding trigger off negative emotions or depression? How does lack of exercise make you feel?
While it is not always practical to remove ourselves from negative environments or people, we can limit their presence and as soon our interaction with them is over, we can send out positive thoughts to them and ourselves. I did that recently with a woman I met on the street- although I initially felt angry at what she said to me, as I walked on, I continued to smile and send her smiles as well. I had the most amazing day!
As Daisaku Ikeda says- “One thing is certain: That is that the power of belief, the power of thought, will move reality in the direction of what we believe and conceive of it. If you really believe you can do something, you can. That is a fact.” I truly believe this now. So do start using this from now on- it may be the best thing you have done for yourself and for others!
Some days it is difficult to write and I struggle. On such days, I silently pray for inspiration to come to me and- it does! On the way to the doctor this morning, instead of cycling, I decided to walk. This walk takes me by the train station I had mentioned in my post dated May 14th 2013. I saw this quote written on the board today-
When I saw two men working there, I asked them if they knew the person who wrote the message on the board. It turned out that one of them was that person. We had a brief chat and I told him how much his daily words inspired me and that it was such a special thing to do, especially when the newspapers are full of doom and gloom and most boards at train stations only had news about train delays. He said that he did not know if his words inspired people as they hurried past to get to the trains or whether someone even looked at the board- he just did it because perhaps they inspired his own self. I thought exactly so, that is why I write this blog every day! Now I know, just pray for inspiration to come to you and it will.
I was worried that I would not be able to blog today. My computer just closed down for no reason and would not start up. I thought that I would have to go out to get a new one, then thought about how much it would cost, which brand I should buy, how I would bring it back home, how I would transfer my work from my old computer into the new one… and so on. I was just getting unhappy and worried. My head was winning over my heart!
Then I just decided not to worry and just enjoy the evening with my family. I called the computer engineer and he was to come to take away the old computer to rescue all the files the next day. I had a lovely dinner with my children after which I started to think about all the good things that had happened today. In light of all the good things, the computer problem was only one bad thing. So I decided, all in all, it had been a good day. Then a miracle happened. Suddenly the computer burst into life.
I rang the computer engineer to cancel his appointment and then started writing this blog. No one knows why the computer stopped working and then started again- we did Internet searches later to understand why this may have happened, we changed the fuse, looked at all the connections- but we could not figure out why a machine stopped working and then started again. For no reason it seems.
But to think again, I think there was a reason- things happen for a reason. Even this had a lesson for me- I am a perpetual worrier. So my wonderful computer I like to think, taught me a great lesson about not worrying. I must use this new lesson of not worrying from now on. As Nichiren advises-“Never let life’s hardships disturb you. After all, no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life…”
Crowded spaces, walls, rooms- never work for me. I see that the best paintings and displays in the museum have spaces around it. A little emptiness is good not just for things but our lives too.
I have been trying to give away something everyday this year to create a physical emptiness and also cutting back on things I do to create a spiritual space in my life. This spiritual emptiness (like when children say, “I am bored!”) is especially good for your head and heart. It is said “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I disagree- we have to stop and slow down in order to be more productive. Others agree with me- not only have many ‘slow’ movements sprung up around the world (slow food being a good example); but also websites and books promoting ‘idleness’.
My best ideas come to me when I am still and a little ‘bored’.
Lao Tzu says-
“Thirty spokes on cartwheel
Go inward towards the hub that is the centre
-but look, there is nothing at the centre
and that is precisely why it works!
If you mould a cup
you have to make a hollow
it is the emptiness within it that makes it useful..”
(Lotus flowers in Kew Gardens. Photo credit: Author)
Earlier I wrote about the four universal sufferings that human beings experience, no matter what their status, wealth or fame. Buddhism says that these are the sufferings of life, illness, ageing and finally death. The lotus flower is especially significant in Buddhism. Mired in the muddy pond, beautiful blossoms bloom, undeterred. Life is like that- we live in world with evil, suffering, corruption and injustice but we can still blossom despite it. In fact, the ‘muddy’ world allows us to show our brilliance and creativity just like the relationship between the lotus and it pond; and the ‘muddy pond’ of our world supplies us with the right materials to manifest our highest potential.
Lotus is the only flower that carries the mature seeds inside it, signifying the simultaneity of ’cause and effect’ i.e. whatever you ‘sow’ you reap instantly in that it ingrains a particular effect on you. Thus, whatever you think or do, creates the instant effect of changing something inside you whether it is immediately visible or not. We can learn from the lotus flower that by having positive and creative vision and taking action, we are instantly changing ourselves and our world.
Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher, says-“…we can transform the sufferings of being born into this world into the joy of living life to the fullest; the sadness and loneliness of ageing into the pleasures of fostering the younger generation; the challenges of illness into an opportunity for elevating our state of life; and even the sorrow of death into a song of eternal triumph”.
It is said that you should be nice to people on your way up in your job as you will probably meet those people on your way down. This applies not only to work but to life. Buddhism tells us that we are not separate but people with the same problems- life, ageing, sickness and death- no matter who were are. You can be the Prime Minister of a country but you will still suffer from the problems that life, ageing, sickness and death throws at you.
I have had people in my life who have been really bad towards me. I realise now that they were immature or probably suffering deeply themselves to treat others like this. However, I made the humiliation and suffering they inflicted on me as sources for further creativity. ‘Turning poison into medicine’ as Buddhism says. These people will also go through these four universal sufferings- the same as me. As Nichiren says in this beautifully evocative piece of writing-
“How long does a lifetime last? If one stops to consider, it is like a single night’s lodging at a wayside inn…Once you awaken to the uncertainty and transience of this world, you will find endless examples confronting your eyes and filling your ears. Vanished like clouds or rain, the people of past ages have left nothing but their names. Fading away like dew, drifting far off like smoke, our friends of today too disappear from sight. Should you suppose that you alone can somehow remain forever like the clouds over Mount Mikasa?
The spring blossoms depart with the wind; maple leaves turn red in autumn showers. All are proof that no living thing can stay for long in this world.”
Therefore in life, it is best to tread softly as W B Yeats has said. To treat our fellow passengers in this passage of life and time with respect while respecting ourselves too. For even if we don’t meet them again on our way down or up, we will always meet the four sufferings. When someone disrespects me, I always tell them but then I let it go like the autumn leaves that blow away in the wind. In order to respect your own creativity and life, I have learnt to let go of these people and what they did or said and felt so much better for it.