Theosophy

Small Acts with Great Love

Tim Boyd –  USA, India

Envisioneers Tim 2

Tim Boyd, a passionate speaker, a profilic and profound author 

It is an understatement to say that we find ourselves living in challenging times. Right now any direction we look, there seems to be some looming crisis. In H. P. Blavatsky’s “The Golden Stairs” the person who aspires to wisdom is charged with “a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked”. But where do we begin with those who are unjustly attacked? Certainly there are human conditions of unjust attacks, person to person, nation against nation, but there is also the natural world, which is under an unrelenting and unjustifiable attack from humanity as a whole.

In these moments, not just within the Theosophical Society (TS), but in the world, it seems that many people are reaching out for some spiritual grounding — a sense of something more real than the turmoil they are experiencing. While there is such a thing as genuine spirituality, from my point of view an untested spirituality is somehow not real.

On a sunny day, with good health and a pocket full of money, spirituality is not a difficult thing to proclaim. However, the course of every life is filled with challenges. One of life’s great challenges is to discover and exhibit what is in fact real. The great saint Kabir made the statement: “What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through. If you have not lived through something, it is not true.”

For some years I worked in hospice, caring for the dying. When people would die, it was often unsettling and confusing to the people they knew in life. Friends and acquaintances, when speaking to the loved ones who remained, did not know what to say. Very often people would say things like “he/she is in a better place”, “it’s God’s will”, or “at least you had 10 good years together (or 15, 20, and so on, years)”. These kind of remarks are more a sign of people’s personal discomfort, unfamiliarity, and perhaps fear of this moment. But it is something that comes from this category of unlived truths. To someone who is grieving, they need companionship, not pronouncements. Too often, people fail in that regard. Until we have lived it, it is not true for us. Without having had the experience within our heart, spiritual sounding words can flow too easily from our lips.

When we talk about a human life, all of us are experienced in it. Each of us is here for a very short period of time — if we are lucky, 100 years — but it is short, and filled with crises and joys. During that time many things happen, and we try to make sense of them. Very often the deepest meaning we find is in some outlook related to spirituality. An American humorist once made the point that “Life is full of miserableness, loneliness, and suffering, and it’s all over too quickly.” Crises and loss seem to be the main ways that we deepen, as well as joy. Every life has its share of them. So when we think about what life is, it is many things. It is growth and creation, also it is destruction and decline. The great spiritual Masters throughout the ages have repeatedly tried to draw our attention to the fact that it is all of these things at once. Try to ignore any part of it, and we limit our access to truth.

Periodically I reread the Bhagavadgitâ, and always I find new insights. It is a source of great enjoyment and instruction whenever I get to the chapter where Arjuna recognizes that Krishna is not merely a friend, or a knowledgeable charioteer, but that he is, in fact, the supreme Lord. Arjuna asks him for the boon of seeing him in his true form. Krishna obliges, and when Arjuna sees all that, his hair stands on end. It is much more than what he could have expected.

What is described as being seen within this “true form” are all of the devas (angels) and gods, innumerable eyes seeing in every direction, fires coming from his body “burning up universes”. The Gitâ is the conversation that results from Arjuna’s indecision on the cusp of the battle between two warrior families, his family, the Pandavas, and his opponents, the Kauravas. Arjuna sees all the warriors of the Kaurava family, flowing into the infinite mouths of Krishna, and being crushed in his teeth, but also all of humanity is flowing into the mouths of Krishna. As much as life is creation, it is equally destruction.

When we talk about Oneness and Brotherhood, often we limit our consideration to Light and enlightenment. Oneness is a solidarity, a shared, mutual experience of life. But life is a sharing in both its lightened and dark aspects — in enlightenment and in ignorance, equally so. There is no such thing as one without the other. It is an immature approach to the spiritual life to want the icing on the cake and not the cake.

In spiritual traditions around the world there is a term that comes up again and again — emptiness. It is a term which is equated with wisdom or enlightenment. You find emptiness in the Sufi tradition, in Buddhism and Christianity as well. The idea expressed is that the deepest wisdom, or connection with the Divine, is related to this experience of emptiness. Saint Paul talked about the experience of communion with the Divine, saying: “To be absent from the body is to be present with God.” To be absent (empty) from all of the senses, from all the experience with desires that we treasure is to be present with the Divine.

In Buddhism emptiness is highly emphasized in the six pâramitas (perfections, or virtues). HPB’s The Voice of the Silence lists seven. In all of the approaches to the perfections, the final one is prajñâ — wisdom. A great emphasis is placed on that in the sense that patience, perseverance, morality, and all the other perfections, even meditation, or dhyâna, are deepening, and each one is regarded as an antidote to different conditions of the human mind. But they would say: “When in doubt, look to wisdom.” When in doubt try to connect with whatever your experience of emptiness, or wisdom, might be. So what is this emptiness?

I spent a good deal of time during my life actively involved in a Buddhist approach to spirituality. This whole consideration of emptiness is central in Buddhism, but it breaks your head when you first encounter it. It is hard to get a handle on it, necessarily so. One of the great presentations of this Wisdom Tradition is called the Heart Sutra, or the Prajñâ Pâramita Sutra, in which the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara gives the teaching to a disciple of the Buddha. In it, his sole focus is on wisdom and emptiness. To me it is revealing, because the entire discussion is about what wisdom is not, not what it is. From beginning to end it is a negation of everything that we might think wisdom could be.

The Bodhisattva tells the disciple that emptiness is the original character of everything: It is not born, not annihilated, not tainted, not pure, it does not increase or decrease. Then he goes on to talk about how with emptiness there is no eye, no ear, no nose, no body, no mind. And he goes on layer after layer of what it is not. This emptiness the sutra attempts to convey is not a void. In a sense it is a Space-like understanding, and Space contains everything.

As individuals we move and function within space; nations, houses, ideas, all are within space. It is probably our closest metaphor for God, or the Divine, something that is present everywhere, that participates in everything, out of which everything comes into being, yet it is completely unaffected by anything created or destroyed, by ignorance or enlightenment. Understanding this is described as the pathway to enlightenment. Enlightenment does not arise because we sit in meditation, or from the things we do for others, or ourselves. All of these things need to take place, but wisdom only makes itself known to us when every category in which we attempt to contain it drops away. That is the difficulty.

Very often the statement is made: “With age comes wisdom.” As someone who has entered the category of “old”, this is a statement that I have to disagree with. A more correct statement would be: “With age comes the possibility of a deepening wisdom.” One of the things that aging does is that it strips many things away from us. All of us who in our youth were active, perhaps even vain, proud of our good looks, our hair, our smile, find that with time the hair thins and disappears, that youthful vibrancy diminishes. With time our attachments to many superficial things can lessen. This can have the effect of allowing us to see something that is more real, that was always present, but hidden by our youthful involvement in a range of activity that has faded away.

Many of us find ourselves drawn to some form of spirituality because we feel it will benefit us, that in some way peace and tranquility, are possibilities for us if we follow this avenue. While this is certainly true, when we think in terms of the enlightened beings such as Krishna, the Buddha, and we study the way that they had to interact with the world, it might not fit with our normal ideas. For example, Krishna, in the Mahabharata, is not only fully engaged in a war, but he has chosen a side in the war. He is not merely an all-seeing witness of the violence, he is on the side of Arjuna and his family, and assists them in the battle. So, there is this war, where he seems to be favoring one side, but in the end he claims everybody in the universal experience of death. All is completely equal.

There is a well-known story about one of the people that the Buddha had to deal with. There was a great murderer called Angulimâla. He was given the name because when he murdered his victims he would cut one of their fingers (anguli) and place it on his necklace (mâla). He was famed and feared for this. On one occasion the Buddha was near the forest where the murderer was staying, and he decided he would walk there alone. His disciples warned him of the danger, yet he went alone into those woods where Angulimâla lived. As the Buddha was walking, Angulimâla spotted him and told himself: “I have another victim!”

As the Buddha was meditatively walking through the forest, Angulimâla started to run after him. The Buddha continued walking slowly, never increasing his pace, but somehow the murderer could never catch up. He ran faster, but he could never bridge the distance. Finally, he shouted: “Stop! What are you doing?” The Buddha kept walking and said, “I have stopped!”, to which Angulimâla responded, “No, you haven’t!” This dialogue repeated itself until the Buddha said: “I have stopped from violence, from killing, from the pursuit of desires that harm others. You have not.” At that moment this dialogue sank in, and the murderer went on to become one of the great disciples sitting at the feet of the Buddha.

These are stories about the vision and effects of a genuine spirituality, but it always comes back to us: How do we behave? What do we do based on the situations we are facing in our world? Recently the news around the world is about a new war that has broken out between Ukraine and Russia. How do we help? What do we do? Often the thinking and conversation runs to who is right and who is wrong. Based on our judgment we decide and then often take the next step of creating an enemy. Within us we identify and create an enemy, and in so doing we become participants in the process of war-making. Nothing good comes out of war, except what it generates as an enlightened response among people.

One of our TS members who periodically comes to Adyar to visit with us, is from Russia. In talking with him the other day, he said he has to return now, because his visa is expiring. He is not involved in the war, but when he returns home he will find that, as a consequence of war, his life savings will have been reduced by sixty percent. More than half of the value of his lifetime earnings has vanished almost overnight. The job he worked for many years is also gone. Why? because he works for Google, who, as a party to sanctions against Russia, is no longer operating in his country. He also is “unjustly attacked”.

I received a letter from one of the representatives of the TS in Russia. It was not addressed to me, but to his “Ukrainian brothers and sisters in the TS”. It was a very brave thing for him to do, because that letter could land him in jail. It was a letter of open support for the Ukrainian people and a statement of the fact that the people of Russia are not an enemy to them. He wrote it knowing that already thousands of Russians have been imprisoned for writing or saying similar things.

Many of the millions of Ukrainians who have left their homes in war-torn areas have arrived in Hungary, a neighboring country to Ukraine. In that country the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) and other groups are inviting refugees, people they have never met, into their homes. People in America are putting together homeopathic medicine packages, food, clothing, toys for children to send to them. Globally there is the question “what can I do for all who are affected by senseless and unnecessary violence?” And there is a response.

These are some of the things that fill our attention in these times, and every time there are issues like this. The difference now is the growing awareness that we are globally interconnected. If it was not clear already when the pandemic rose up and a small virus brought every coun-try and economic class to their knees, we become aware that this is one life that we share. It comes back again to “what do we do?” There is no prescription for that.

Mother Theresa is well known for having said: “We can do no great things.” Most of us want to do the great thing that will change the world, that will end war, poverty, hunger, and unloving behavior. All of this we would do if it was within our capacity, which, as individuals, it is not. But her full statement was: “We can do no great things; we can only do small things with great love.”

We can care for the people within the circle which we inhabit. We can think of the people beyond our reach. We can devise ways to support those things that support others. It spreads. You do not throw a rock in a pond and the ripples stop; they spread. This is worth remembering if we ever feel powerlessness in the face of very challenging times.

Wherever we are, small acts with great love invariably reach beyond the boundaries of our locale.

This article was also published in The Theosophist VOL. 143 NO. 8 MAY 2022.

The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the MAY, 2022 issue click HERE

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