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Archive for March, 2007

Prayer 6 – Peace

The final Prayer for the Day broadcast in this series.

The news can be an odd phenomenon – for many of us it is a 24-hour, all-pervasive obsession.

We pick up stories from all over the world and practically spontaneously begin to comment on them. In some countries our ability to openly discuss any subject we wish on the planet is a great freedom, even a luxury.

But I suppose what disappoints many of us is the nature of the beast itself: the unfortunate fact that bad news travels so much faster than good news. To our shame we seem to have a distasteful appetite for the horror and conflict in the news. We can’t blame our journalists for feeding us the platter we have ordered. We can’t even blame our politicians if they sound lame or scandalous. We elected them. We have even elected the reality TV celebrities we love to hate.

But we do have a desirable aspiration for peace, harmony and love. I meet the only person I can blame for the lack of these attractive qualities every morning – when I look in the mirror. As much as we get our daily dose of world news, we should also take some time to feed our aspiration for the spiritual, and grow in goodness. Here is a beautiful prayer from the Bhagavat Purana, an ancient Hindu scripture that can help nurture this aspiration:

May the entire universe be blessed with peace and hope. May everyone driven by envy and enmity become pacified and reconciled. May all living beings develop a biding concern for the welfare of others. May our own hearts and minds be filled with purity and serenity. May all these blessings flow naturally from this supreme benediction: May our attention become detached from the mundane and absorbed in the rapture of pure love of God. Hare Krishna.

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The youth of today, that’s the problem. They have no respect, not like we had in our day. Not for old people, the law, our leaders, religion, anyone. How many times have we heard, or even spoken words like that?

The unfortunate reality is that for some young people it’s true, but it’s also true for people of older generations.

Recently a good friend of mine shared an experience he had – and a lesson learned. He was visiting his parents for a family reunion. All was well until his father started to do one of those things that always got his back up. As was his usual habit he became intolerant of what he saw was his father’s intolerance and made an issue of it. The exchange became vocal and loud. No one backed down and his father left the room. It was only then that he became aware that his four and six-year old boys had also left the room.

My friend’s wife sympathised with him but reminded him that his father was older now and may be finding it difficult to see his role in the family. This could excuse his father’s insistence on position and respect. She also observed that the boys were upset by the conflict and that they may grow up to treat him as he treated his father, if that’s their example.

My friend was appalled at his behaviour and apologised to both his father and to his boys for the incident. And so I pray,

Please Lord help me to cultivate respect. When I meet those who have more than me, let me be very happy; when with those who have less let me help them achieve more; and with my peers let me praise them and not have to compete. Hare Krishna.

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The dentist has become an indispensable person in most of our lives, and indeed, for some of us an inspiration for prayer. It’s a sad fact that the dreaded whirr of the drill and the clinical smells of the surgery has caused much anxiety.

But the course of dental hygiene is running more smoothly and improvements have been made to the extent that even a reformed dental coward, such as myself, can relax under the glare of those big lights.

And dental hygiene is a serious business. We can bleach our teeth until we look celebrity-esque, we brush and we floss and we massage our gums with an array of implements never before available to mankind.

In Hindu culture, as in many religions, purification is considered important, but more important than dental hygiene, for a Hindu, is mental hygiene. How clean are our thoughts? How pure is our intention? How pure is our heart, our feelings or our motivations? The bad breath of selfishness is certainly pungent but what can we do about such subtle impurities?

Among Hindus prayer, or “vandanam”, is considered a very powerful method of self-purification. And prayer is available to all of us, as much as, in fact even more than our local dentist is.

This leads me to a beautiful and very ancient prayer originally spoken in Sanskrit but translated it goes,

Whether we are pure or impure; if we are beginning our spiritual path or are the most qualified; if we simply remember the Supreme Lord, whose beauty is without comparison, we will become purified both inwardly and outwardly. Hare Krishna.

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There’s a wonderful gesture that pervades the culture of hospitality in India: people put both palms of their hands before their heart and slightly bow their head as they say to us ‘Namaste’.

In its simplest understanding it’s accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and should be reciprocated accordingly – ‘Namaste’. It means “I offer my respect to you”. The gesture itself is called a “mudra”, a form of non-verbal communication and is considered to be powerful and prayerful in itself.

On a deeper level of meaning namaste also has emotional and spiritual significance. A good basis of all our social interaction is respect. Namaste physically shows respect and confirms it by word. Beyond that, by playing with the syllables in the word namaste we find that it also means “not me but you”: symbolically giving up our pride in front of another. And the most profound meaning being, “the Divine within me offers respect to the Divine within you”. A recognition that we are all spiritual in nature.

So this simple and ubiquitous greeting has a prayerful meaning on many levels of understanding: a simple social interaction, an affectionate well-wishing and recognition that everyone is touched by God.

As a prayer, it honours the sacredness of each of us and recognises our equality. By sharing this prayer with you today I offer you respect, I recognise that I am not more than you, and I praise God within you. In saying this prayer you’ll miss the mudra of me joining my palms together, but at least I can say,

Namaste. Hare Krishna.

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Prayer 2 – Holi

All over the UK Hindus are celebrating the festival of Holi. Traditionally this festival takes place just after the crops have been harvested and the community becomes very jolly. At Holi all social convention breaks down and during the festival everyone is covered in gulal, coloured powders of greens and blues, yellows, reds and purples. A friend throws a bag that bursts on you and then you are squirted with water. Everyone is fair game. Equality practised at is terrible best.

And, as with all festivals there are the stories that give them life. One of the most interesting is that of Holika, the sister of an evil king, who is employed to force Prince Prahlad, her nephew to renounce his great love for God. Holika was a great yogi and she had the benediction that she could not be burnt by fire, so she carried Prince Prahlad into a blazing fire to rid the kingdom of his goodness. The story goes that in agreeing to act against the universal benefit Holika forfeited her benediction and she was burned to ashes while Prince Prahlad inherited her power and survived. It’s a story celebrating the victory of love and integrity over hatred and greed.

Uncomfortably, I always feel more like Holika than Prince Prahlad after hearing that story. Prince Prahlad is an emblem of goodness and peace. Yet, if I’m not a peaceful person myself, serenely controlling my desires, my anger and my greed, I can’t feel that I can credibly promote peace. So I need help.

My dear Lord! I am my own worst enemy. I don’t have a peaceful mind or a peaceful heart. I depend on your enthusiasm and your confidence so that I can begin to become a worthy example of your peace. Hare Krishna.

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BBC Radio 4 commissioned me to broadcast six prayers in their ‘Prayer for the Day’ slot. The first was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today, Gaura Purnima. I will post the others as they are aired.

Today in England small groups of Hindus, from the Vaishnava persuasion, gather together to celebrate the saint Shri Chaitanya, who lived in India 500 years ago. Shri Chaitanya is renowned for his beautiful chanting of the names of God, and his inspiring personal example of humility.

There’s something about humility. Once you claim to have it you’ve lost it. Yet, it’s such a universal principle, appreciated by every culture in the world. And we all have our humbling experiences.

I have one that happened on live TV news. The interview was going very well. There was a touch of the combative about it. One of those, “Where was God during the tsunami?” interviews. Questions coming thick and fast but I was ready for all angles, on top of my game. Yes, I was as proud as a peacock. Then one of my front teeth, a crown – that has stayed religiously in place for 25 years – fell out in mid-theological flow. There I was defending God, in all my righteousness, only to be reminded that my pride is as false as my front tooth.

I survived to tell the tale – we usually do. But if we can honestly reflect on these experiences we will find them most instructive. They will help mould good character and nurture wisdom.

We can practice being humble. We can pause with Sri Chaitanya, that exemplar of humility, as he prays for strength to,

….serve God in a humble state of mind, thinking ourselves lower than the straw in the street… more tolerant than a tree… ready to offer all respect to others and expect none for ourselves. In such a state of mind we can serve the Lord, and chant his name constantly. Hare Krishna.

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