“Faith in our capacity to choose”–Daily Metta

August 28:

gandhi-21“An act bears a good fruit only when it is done with sincerity and an awareness of its purpose and meaning.”

–Gandhi (Day to Day with Gandhi, vol. 6, p. 33)

In Gandhi’s spiritual guide book, The Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, reveals to Arjuna, who represents you and me, a vision of the world that can only be understood with the higher mind, the spiritual eye. What are the drives and forces that underlie human action (or inaction)? And how does one live in the midst of the world in the spirit of selfless service, without getting drawn into selfish action? When Sri Krishna has shown Arjuna the path to his fulfillment, he ends his talk by telling him, now “choose the way you feel is best.”

This is a remarkable book, even if we leave the spirituality aside for a minute and focus purely on the psychological aspects of it: First of all, Sri Krishna gives him the vision of the whole. Arjuna sees it with his own “mind’s eye,” (in the language of the text, with a “divine eye” Krishna loans him for the purpose) and with that vision, there is no coercion to follow advice based on an unquestioning faith, accepting something as true without experiencing it.  Indeed, Arjuna gets to ‘experience’ all of it, which is known as one of the heights of spiritual achievement in Hinduism and the Vedanta. Moreover, the entire “song” (Bhagavad Gita means “the song of the Lord”), Arjuna is doing nothing but questioning–and receiving sublime answers; hence “God” or “the Self” appears more as a kind of a mentor than as an unattainable ideal figure. And finally, he emphasizes the power of choice at the end–he doesn’t tell Arjuna that he must do as he is commanded; quite the contrary; now that he has had the vision and experience faith is placed in his human capacities to do the right thing.  

Gandhi took this message to heart and drew it out consciously as one of the core principles of nonviolence: persuasion, not coercion.  Then whatever one does will be done, as Gandhi says, “with sincerity and awareness of its meaning.”  In a sense, when we act with violence we are always unconscious of what we are really doing.  So it makes a lot of sense: give people the information that they need and expect of them to do the right thing. Most of the time, they will. And for those who do not, perhaps they just need to be shown again, or from another approach, or even by someone else from whom they can more deeply understand the message.


Experiment in Nonviolence:

Take the extra time today to explain to others the meaning behind your actions and feelings; and then — the hard but precious part — leave them to decide for themselves. Notice how it draws you closer to them.