Faith in god has always been a part of my life, and particularly has sustained me during the most difficult periods. Having faith in something, being able to focus on a favored deity, an ishta devata, as many Hindus do, has helped me through times of emotional and physical distress. So I was really glad to see that Karen Beattie’s Rock-Bottom Blessings: Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost, was featured in the Patheos Book Club this month. Thirteen years ago, I began a two-year journey of surgeries and rehabilitation that took me through disability and depression – one that often left me standing on crutches at the altar of our sanctuary, in front of the primary deities Sri Lakshmi Narayana, singing this prayer…
Twameva maata cha pita twameva
Twameva bandhushcha sakha twameva
Twameva vidya dravinam twameva
Twameva sarvam mama deva deva
You alone are my mother and my father,
You alone are my friend and beloved companion,
You alone are my knowledge and my wealth,
O Supreme Lord, you alone are everything for me.
I found it was easier to focus on the Divine within myself and in others, and find the positive in my circumstances when I was standing in front of the murtis, much like a small child can count more easily when they have cheerios or M&Ms (although these can disappear quite easily). The experience of being dependent on others – God, my spouse, friends, sometimes my 5- and 3-year old children – also left me feeling very strongly about independence and interdependence, developing an awareness of and appreciating my limitations – and wanting to soar beyond them and live life to the fullest.
As I contemplate going to the temple this weekend and singing the same hymns and prayers that I have over the last 15 years of living in Michigan, I seek prayers to help me with a different kind of crippling – the incapacitation I feel as I listen to the stories of what is happening in Syria. On the one hand, I want to go in and “do the American thing” – protect those babies, those children, those victims of crimes so horrific my heart knows nothing but tears. After all, the Hindu concept of dharma, the idea of fulfilling our responsibilities, is what motivates my work for all types of social justice. But I remember that “doing the American thing” is also taking responsibility for those within our nation: those babies, those children, those crimes so horrific my heart knows nothing but tears. When a couple of children are fighting, it may be the responsibility of an adult passing by to separate them – but when one is on crutches and trying to manage one’s own children, I’ve discovered it is better not to intervene.
This seems also to be the opinion of Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, who says “Syria’s civil war is not America’s problem.” Perhaps it is better instead to seek peace – starting by chanting the shanti mantras or peace prayers, that are part of the Sunday routine at the temple.
Om asato maa sadgamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mṛtyormaa amṛitam gamaya
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace
The conclusion of many Hindu prayers is this threefold shanti – the repetition categorizes the peace required for three types of disturbances: adhi-daivikam, adhi-bhautikam and adhyatmikam. The first refers to that which is outside of our control, the second, to what comes from the world around us – things that we have some control over – and the third, one that we can have total control of: disturbances stemming from the self or the atma. So this weekend, I will pray for those in Syria and around the world, and give thanks that I live in a democracy where my voice can be heard. Then I will find ways to speak out, because I don’t want America to cripple itself with debt even further while setting off yet another tinderbox in a volatile region. Perhaps by calling my Senators and Representatives to advocate on these issues, through this yoga of action, I can create peace for myself and the world in which I live.