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Moral Intelligence

Elephants: Jenny and Shirley

By body mind spirit, Cosmic Care, Emotional Intelligence, Environmental Care, Moral Intelligence, Values 15 Comments

Shirley vid clip #1:

Shirley vid clip # 2:

The touching story of Shirley and Jenny, two former circus elephant, who were reunited at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee after a 22-year separation.

The bonding was immediate. Shirley, who was crippled in an attack and traded to a Louisiana zoo, had not seen another elephant in over 20 years. Their reunion is intense and unforgettable.

Please leave a comment below if you are touched by Shirley’s story.

Click here to donate to the Elephant Sanctuary in Shirley’s Honor! 

Shirley (L) and Jenny (R) were reunited after a 22 year separation.

Alan Davidson: My Reading List August 31, 2013

By body mind spirit, Conscious Living, Fun and Fabulous, Health & Wellbeing, Human Rights/Justice, Moral Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence One Comment

Hey happy Saturday.

This week I did a deep dive into a couple of great books. I thought I’d share the focus of my attention and the broad net I’m casting for wisdom…

Joe Hirsch, my friend and long-time ThroughYourBody Mastery member, and I are co-leading a five week book study of Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul: the journey beyond yourself.

Michael’s book is an excellent map for the spiritual journey. I like The Untethered Soul because it distills the wisdom of eastern enlightenment in plain, simple English. Michael also gives excellent techniques for freeing ourselves from a demanding world, freeing ourselves from a fearful mind, and freeing ourselves from a troubled heart.

Last night we covered section three in The Untethered Soul, Freeing Yourself. Here’s a quote for Chapter 8:

The purpose of spiritual evolution is to remove the blockages is the cause your fear. The alternative is to protect your blockages so that you don’t have to feel fear. To do this, however, you will have to try to control everything in order to avoid your inner issues. It’s hard to understand how we decide that avoiding our inner issues is an intelligent thing to do, but everybody’s doing it. Everybody is saying, “I will do every single thing I can to keep my stuff. If you say anything that disturbs me, I will defend myself. I’ll yell at you and make you take it back. If you cause any disturbance inside of me, I will make you so sorry.” In other words, if somebody does something that stimulates fear, you think they did something wrong. You didn’t do everything you can to make sure they never do it again. First you defend yourself, and then you protect yourself. You do whatever you can to keep from feeling disturbance.

Eventually, you become wise enough to realize that you do not want that stuff inside of you. It doesn’t matter who stimulates it. It doesn’t matter what situation hits it. It doesn’t matter whether it makes sense, whether it seems fair or not. Unfortunately, most of us are not that wise. Were really not trying to be free of our stuff; were trying to justify keeping it.

What I like most about co-leading a book study group is the chance to immerse myself in the wisdom of the author, devouring not only his words, but following the bread crumbs to the sources that inspired him. In addition to reading the book, I’m listening to a ten-CD set of Michael’s lectures. Several times in those audio lectures Michael quotes the Bhagavad-Gita.

One of the Gita’s most effective methods of teaching is its portrait of the sage, the person who has completely let go. This portrait is among the finest in world literature.

Hearing these quick quotes from the Gita inspired me to do a survey of the qualities, characteristics, and attributes of the wise and free soul. My survey took me from the Bhagavad-Gita and the Tao to Ching to writers like Emerson, Thoreau, Rilke, and Hesse.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation by Stephen Mitchell

The wise man lets go of all

results, whether good or bad,

and is focused on the action alone.

Yoga is skill inaction.

He wise man whose insight is firm,

relinquishing the fruits of action,

is freed from the bondage of rebirth

and attains the place beyond sorrow.

When your understanding has passed

Beyond the thicket of delusions,

there is nothing you need to learn

from even the most sacred scripture.

Indifferent to scriptures, your mind

stands by itself, unmoving,

absorbed in deep meditation.

This is the essence of yoga.

I’m a huge fan of Stephen Mitchell’s translations. He has such a way of grasping the ancient wisdom and yet translating it into beautiful, poetic English. Here is one of my favorite passages from Stephen’s Tao Te Ching: A New English Translation

Chapter 15:

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it;

all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful

as someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting,

she is present, and can welcome all things.

My final reading this week is a book by my friend I lovingly call Judge Susan. 20+ years ago when I was teaching massage therapy, Susan was my most unusual student. You see Susan was a practicing federal immigration judge by day and by night, she was training to be a massage therapist.

Susan has since retired from the bench and written a wise and deeply moving account of five Asylum cases that she heard while sitting on the bench. I never imagined I would read someone who tapped the spiritual dimensions of what it means to live with an open and passionate heart. Susan has achieved that and written a slim, but powerful book. Here are a couple of my favorite passages from Bench-Pressed: A Judge Recounts the Many Blessings and Heavy Lessons of Hearing Immigration Asylum Cases by Susan L. Yarbrough.

Immediately after I granted any asylum application and extended welcome and good wishes to the person who had been persecuted, I would rush out of the courtroom and into my office, lock the door, and cry for about a half hour. The two words that would always form underneath my tears were thank you—to the Creator for bringing me to that day, for ears to hear, and for a painful and heartbreaking job that nevertheless gave me the power to spare someone’s life. But it wasn’t until I retired from day-to-day physical hearing of the cases that I began to really hear and feel the sounds and echoes and the harmonics and overtones of the blessings they brought and are still bringing to my life.”

Besides the act of saying a heartfelt “I love you” to another sentient being, my greatest interpersonal pleasure in life has come from being able to into someone’s eyes while holding their face or their hands in my own hands and to say, “I am a better person because of you.”

It’s Labor Day here in the states. We get a long three-day holiday to rest, relax, and celebrate the efforts of our labors. Since waking up is the universal imperative of every human being, it’s also our greatest labor, our greatest labor of love.

What are you reading that is inspiring to wake-up and live your highest universal good? What are you reading that was teaching to live with a fierce, wide-open heart? Do let me know.

Have a fab Labor Day…

Alan Davidson

Copyright © 2013


Deborah Norville: The New Science of Thank You

By Conscious Living, Moral Intelligence No Comments

The new science of Thank You, in all it’s languages

Some days, you just want to stay in bed and hope the world forgets you exist. David Patrick Columbia was having one of those days. New to New York City, he was worn down by the hustle and bustle, no longer excited and proud about relocating to Manhattan, as he had been weeks earlier. He’d imagined himself a hot young talent taking the magazine world by storm, only to end up doing grunt work as a low-level assistant on a barely-making-it salary. He couldn’t afford his own place and felt uncomfortable sponging off a friend.

“I was rethinking everything—my ability as a writer, my career choice,” he recalls. That Saturday morning, he wanted to stay in bed. But no, he had to fetch a photo for work.

It was cold, gray and damp when David headed across town. “I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to start counting things along the way that made me happy,” he says. “I just wanted to see how many pleasing things I came across.”

First on his list: a mother walking her baby, all bundled up in a stroller. “That little face just made me smile,” he says. Then he saw a jet in the sky. “Flying has always captivated me.” And so it went. From the sizzling smells at bistros to eye-catching store-window displays, David acknowledged one thing after another that brightened his mood. By the time he picked up that photo, he was feeling thankful he’d made the move to the Big Apple.

“I was reminded that I lived in an exciting, interesting and invigorating place,” he says. “Whenever I’m feeling down, I do this. It makes me feel better.” It’s been more than 20 years since David took his “walk of thanks” across Manhattan. Now he’s a successful entrepreneur in the media business and says his gratitude stroll helps him stay focused to this day.

What if, instead of wallowing in our misery, we all chose to focus on being valued by a dear friend, for example, or the memory of a colleague’s face when she receives a surprise birthday cake at work, or the smooth ride we’ve had to work in the past week? As science is now proving, feeling grateful can actually make us healthier, literally. Practicing gratitude, acknowledging the blessings in our lives and making it a point to recognize the good things can change us positively. We’ll sleep better and exercise more. We’ll feel more optimistic. We’ll be more alert and active. And if we do this over a period of time, we’ll realize that we’re making progress toward our life goals.

A Higher Quality of Life

What David Patrick Columbia discovered in his own life, Robert Emmons, PhD, has proved in his lab. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, Emmons has long been interested in the role gratitude plays in physical and emotional well-being.

Along with psychology professor Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, Emmons took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: hassles, things for which they were grateful, and ordinary life events. The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or was irritating to them, such as “the jerk who cut me off on the highway.” The second group homed in on situations they felt enhanced their lives, as in “My boyfriend is so kind and caring—I’m lucky to have him.” And the third group recalled recent everyday events, as in “I went shoe shopping.”

Gratitude – one of the most powerful forces in the universe

The results: The people who focused on gratitude were just flat-out happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, and they were active in ways that were good for them. They spent almost an hour and a half more per week exercising than those who focused on hassles. Plain and simple, those who were grateful had a higher quality of life.

Others around them recognized that too. “They noticed that these people had more joy, more energy. They could see that they were becoming more optimistic,” says Emmons. The grateful group “even seemed to be perceived as more helpful toward others, going out on a limb to help people.” Emmons was surprised by this result. “This is not just something that makes people happy, like a positive-thinking/optimism kind of thing. A feeling of gratitude really gets people to do something, to become more pro-social, more compassionate.” This did not happen in either of the other two groups.

Emmons and McCullough took their study, published in 2003, one step further. Rather than focus on hassles or blessings on just a weekly basis, they rounded up college students to do it every day. The researchers asked for specific personal details as well: how many alcoholic drinks the volunteers had, how many aspirin or other pain relievers they took, the quantity and quality of their sleep. They also asked volunteers to compare themselves with others: Are you better or worse off?

If you were going to have dinner with anyone, you’d want someone from the gratitude group at your table. Right off the bat, Emmons and his team recognized that there was something powerful about a regular gratitude check. And in a follow-up study, those who found something to appreciate every day were less materialistic— less apt to see a connection between life satisfaction and material things. They were more willing to part with their possessions. The bumper sticker that reads “The one with the most toys wins” was unlikely to be found on any of their cars.

Amplify Positive Feelings

waves of energy can be peaked and improved

The grateful people were less depressive, envious and anxious, and much more likely to help others, a fact not lost on those around them. When others were asked their impressions of the daily-gratitude students, they generally judged the students as empathetic, helpful and pro-social, more likely to put themselves out for others. The study found that the people who were consciously grateful:

•    Felt better about their lives.
•    Were more optimistic.
•    Were more energetic.
•    Were more enthusiastic.
•    Were more determined.
•    Were more interested.
•    Were more joyful.
•    Exercised more.
•    Had fewer illnesses.
•    Got more sleep.
•    Were more likely to have helped someone else.

Related studies have found other benefits as well, all of which could arguably be linked to a grateful mind-set: clearer thinking, better resilience during tough times, higher immune response, less likelihood of being plagued by stress, longer lives, closer family ties, greater religiousness.

Along with thinner thighs and six-pack abs, this is a fairly comprehensive list of what most of us would wish for in life. “I have studied a lot of topics in the nearly 25 years since I’ve been in graduate school, and no topic has gotten more interest from people than this. It’s exciting,” says Emmons.

But the science doesn’t stop there. After being given a little bag of candies, doctors in a study conducted by psychologist Alice M. Isen, a Cornell University professor, were better able to process the facts of difficult medical cases and to think outside the box about what might be causing the ailments. It turns out that this way of being thanked—by receiving a small sweet—had a big payoff.

“The doctors who got the candy didn’t jump to conclusions,” Isen says. “They realized quickly what the domain of the illness was, and they were correct. But they continued to check their diagnosis against new information as it came in.” The doctors who received no candy at all were less likely to be as methodical.

Isen’s hypothesis is that the good feelings generated by something as simple as an expression of appreciation intervene in the release of dopamine, the chemical in the brain

associated with happiness. As Isen explains, dopamine is released when people are feeling good or are excited by a challenge. It activates the parts of the brain in which complex thinking and conflict resolution are thought to be headquartered.

Isen has also found that positive emotions make people more helpful to others. And since helping someone else makes people feel good about what they’ve done, the positive feelings continue and even amplify, creating more good feelings.

The Power of Gratitude

So how do we use all this science of gratitude in our lives? The power of gratitude takes just a few minutes a day. But it requires consistency and an open mind—and dedication. Says Emmons, “I think gratitude is a demanding quality, a rigorous quality. It’s a discipline, an exercise.” It may not come easily, but it can be developed. Here’s how:

Record your thanks.

Take a moment during the day—right before bedtime is usually best—to jot down three things that happened that day for which you are grateful. Anything that made you feel uplifted, that brought a smile to your face or your heart, or will contribute toward your future happiness, works.

After each situation or event for which you feel thankful, write down why this was good for you. Perhaps you received an e-mail from an old school friend who hadn’t been in touch for years, and this reminded you of the good times you had together. It forced you to realize that people think of you even though you’ve had no contact with them, which must mean you’re a pretty special person.

Also, make a note of who, if anyone, played a role in what you’ve recalled for the day and how that person had an impact on your life.

None of this sounds hard, right? Given the choice between this exercise and 50 sit-ups plus 25 push-ups, you’re much more inclined to pick up a pen, aren’t you?

The gratitude journal makes you look at life in a positive, concrete way, reminding you of its interconnectedness in a fast-paced, impersonal world and how much others add to the quality of your life. It forces you to focus on what went right instead of the inevitable things that went wrong. And it enhances your self-esteem.

See the patterns.

Over time, you’ll notice a consistency within the list of items you’re grateful for. Many entries will underscore the importance of people in your life. Others will highlight meaningful experiences. Still other items will be things that began with you, things you created that you can point to with pride and say, I made that happen. It’s called eudaemonia, the happiness or fulfillment that comes from the action itself, not the result of it. Any other benefits that come along—someone is grateful, your project is a success—are icing on the cake.

Catch the boomerang.

Gratitude, when expressed to others, almost always comes back around. People who feel appreciated are more willing to make an effort for those who make them feel valued. In one study, waitresses who simply wrote “thank you” on the check before handing it to their customers received, on average, 11 percent more in tips that those who didn’t. Waitresses who wrote a message about an upcoming dinner special on the checks also received higher tips—on average, 17 to 20 percent higher. In a world where personal connections seem increasingly limited, and sometimes stressful when they do occur, gratitude resonates.

Seize the moment.

Look around you: What’s right with your world? If you have a hobby, practice it. If you don’t, find one. Reach out to others; share something. A small gesture toward another individual costs you little but can bring many benefits. All these actions increase your opportunities to feel grateful.

Says Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, “Gratitude has the potential to change everything from its ordinary state to being a gift.”

Now, that’s saying a lot.

Grace Notes

Gratitude originates from the Latin word gratus—meaning “thankful, pleasing”

The etymology of the word gratitude helps explain it. Gratitude originates from the Latin word gratus—meaning “thankful, pleasing”—which has its roots in gratia, which means
“favor, pleasing quality or goodwill.” Derivatives of the Latin root can be found in many other languages. In Lithuanian, gririu means “to praise or celebrate.” In the 13th century, the short prayer before a meal came to be called grace. And in Greek, the word for “grace” is charis—the root of the word charisma.

“Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You,” copyright © 2007 by Deborah Norville, is published by Thomas Nelson, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214.

Arun Gandhi: Mahatma Gandhi and Visions of Peace

By body mind spirit, Conscious Living, Moral Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence, Strengths, Values, Vision No Comments

The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi talks about how the principles of nonviolence apply to the struggle for gay rights–and how all of us are a vital part of the pursuit for truth.
by Alan Davidson

One of the signs of Mahatma Gandhi’s profound influence was how many people have followed in his footsteps, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Dali Lama. In a very direct hands-on way, Gandhi’s work has been continued by his own grandson, Arun Gandhi, who has opened a center in this country dedicated to teaching Gandhi’s principles.

Another of Gandhi’s followers has been the Rev. Mel White, who has used Gandhi’s teachings about civil disobedience to organize nonviolent protests of the “spiritual violence” against gays preached by the Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, and many of this country’s mainstream denominations. To learn more about Gandhi, Rev. White sought out Arun Gandhi’s help, even traveling to India with him. In return, Arun Gandhi has joined Mel White for six of his civil disobediences.

Arun Gandhi was born in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, which Mahatma Gandhi founded in 1903 when he was first testing his ideas about nonviolence. Arun’s parents carried on the work of the ashram, and Arun felt the center’s efforts probably contributed to the fall of apartheid.

While a young boy, Arun went to live with his grandfather in India for 18 months, during which time the elder Gandhi set aside time every day to be with the boy, despite his demanding schedule. “He thought it was very important to give proper training and proper guidance to young people,” Arun says. “He just found the time for them. He was so disciplined in everything that he did that he was able to allot an hour for me and he did it.”

In working for gay rights and for that which is human in all of us, we felt we could learn a lot from the man continuing Gandhi’s work. Arun Gandhi was happy to talk to OutSmart, and share some of his vision about the ongoing and everchanging search for truth.

Alan Davidson: The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis … how did it come to be in Tennessee? That’s a far cry from South Africa and India.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi

Arun Gandhi: I moved from South Africa to India in 1956. I lived there for 30 years with my wife and family. My wife and I were really involved with the “low-caste, untouchable people.” We did some work with them using Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. It was a very successful program. We were able to change the lives of many thousands of people.

During that work, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to do a comparative study of prejudices. Why do we as human beings have so many prejudices? I had experienced color prejudice in South Africa. Then I saw the caste prejudice in India. I had read about the race prejudice in the United States. So I wanted to do a comparative study of these three prejudices and write a book. I got a fellowship, to come here to Mississippi and study the race question in 1987.

In 1988 my mother suddenly became very ill in South Africa and she subsequently died. I had to go there for her funeral. That was the first time I saw the total destruction of the institute that grandfather had started in 1903, where my parents had worked their whole life to promote the institute and its philosophy. It pained me to see a life’s work gone down the drain. I felt I needed to do something about it. I spoke to a lot of people to start an institute there again and continue, but I didn’t get very much response. People at that time in 1988 in South Africa were not yet ready for change.

So I came back to the U.S. to finish my study and I spoke to a lot of people about this idea. Everybody felt that if I couldn’t do it in South Africa, why not do it here in the United States? And so we started the institute in Memphis. The reason why we chose Memphis was that the Christian Brothers University gave us hospitality on the campus and I

thought it was a very good deal. So I accepted it and, of course, it’s turned out to be appropriate, because Dr. King was assassinated in this city. So it’s the right place to do this work.

You mentioned your parents’ lifetime work in South Africa. I believe a piece of that was with the Phoenix Ashram that your grandfather had started. It was burned and destroyed at some point.

Phoenix was where I was born. It was a living institute. So it was very painful for me to see the whole thing totally destroyed and almost wiped off the face of the earth.

Do you feel the principles that your grandfather began in 1903 and that your parents worked toward contributed to the fall of apartheid?

Yes. I think all of this work that had been done for many years by various people ultimately contributed to the dismantling of apartheid.

Working for Gay & Lesbian Rights

Let’s talk about Reverend Mel White. How did you meet Reverend White?

I first received a letter from him when he was in Dallas. He said he had a small church there for the gay and lesbian community and he wanted to train them in nonviolent techniques. Would I come there and do some workshops? I had the opportunity to go to Dallas for another engagement and he came to my lectures. And we discussed the possibility again. He had to suddenly give up that place and move back to California, and we’ve maintained the friendship. Then I took a group to India to visit Gandhi’s India; Reverend Mel White joined that group and we spent three weeks together on that tour. We became very close friends. He was very interested in Gandhi and his techniques. Our friendship just grew from that.

In terms of what your grandfather started and then Martin Luther King Jr. coming and doing his work in the ’60s with the race prejudice, it seems Mel White is a new incarnation working again–with a different slant on prejudice, but using the very same principles.

Yes. I think he’s done a wonderful job. He has really studied the techniques and is doing a marvelous job of bringing about a change through love and understanding.

And you found yourself demonstrating in Cleveland at the annual United Methodist Church convention and were arrested on behalf of gay and lesbian rights.

Yes, in fact last night I was here in Memphis at a gay and lesbian function. Matthew Shepard’s mother came and spoke to the group.

She seems to be another person who has taken a tragedy in her life and turned it to compassion.

Judy Shepard, founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation

She did. I was just marveling as I was listening to her speak. Grandfather came out of hate. Martin Luther King came out of a hateful atmosphere. Hate has given rise to some very important people and important theories. Not that I am speaking for hate, but you know it’s just a coincidence that another hateful incident has given rise to another wonderful person like Judy Shepard, who has made it her life’s mission to go out and change the world.

The MTV awards were broadcasting live. Eminem is one of the rappers who is known for his antigay, antiwomen, and antirace remarks. Immediately after his performance, MTV ran a promotional spot with Judy Shepard about stopping the hate and stopping the violence. I thought that was a nice way that the broadcasting system could counter-balance that message from the rapper.

Are you involved in other things with Reverend White and gay and lesbian issues?

Mel White, founder of SoulForce

I did receive an invitation from Mel White asking me to come to Washington, D.C., in November. They are having a big demonstration there. [On November 14, 2004 Mel White’s Soulforce gathered 250 people at the National Shrine in D.C. to protest the exclusion of GLBT Catholics by the Catholic Church; 104 people were arrested.] We need to work together to get rid of all this hate and prejudice. It’s not right to hate people because of the color of their skin or their race or their religion or their habits.

Satyagraha & Ahisma: In Pursuit of Truth and Nonviolence

I would like to discuss some of the primary principles that you work with. One of the first problems of teaching these principles is the difficulty of translating them into English. Satyagraha comes from the Sanskrit, I believe.

It’s a combination of two words, truth and force. And it can be translated to mean various things. [Some translate satyagraha as “soulforce,” from which Rev. Mel White got the name of his group, Soulforce.] I usually translate it to mean pursuit of truth. I feel this is closest to what grandfather was practicing when he said we are constantly in search of truth. If we have an open mind and we sincerely pursue that truth, then the likelihood of our finding it would be good.

But the western philosophy comes from the possession of truth. In the west, people feel they have the truth and there’s no pursuit of truth. You know there is a very big difference between the two. When you feel that you possess the truth, then you don’t change or you don’t search for anything, you just hold on to your antiquated ideas in the belief that that is the truth. Whereas, truth, nobody really has the truth, and so we have to search for it. And so I consider grandfather’s philosophy a pursuit of truth.

That’s one of the things that scares me about fundamentalism, whether it is Christian or Islam, or Hinduism, is that possession of the truth. The belief that I have been given the law. And anything outside of that is to be destroyed or disrespected or hated. They don’t look at the scriptures as a text that illuminates the truth.

That’s the tragedy today. Much of the violence and the hate and the prejudices in the world are by people who believe they possess the truth.

There is a quote that Ram Dass is fond of using that comes from your grandfather’s book, “Experiments in Truth.” It’s something like this, ” I am a human being and the truth is ever-changing and evolving, and as a human being I must commit to the truth and not to consistency.” I think it illuminates what you were saying. We as human beings are fallible and the truth is evolving and changing. And that we must commit to that evolutionary process as opposed to appearing to be right or appearing to be consistent.

As I remember it, it was during an interview with some correspondent that he mentioned it. The journalists were perturbed by what they called his inconsistency. He would say one thing today and then a week later he would change. They said, “How do we keep up with you if you are so inconsistent?” And that’s when he made this remark, that the truth is ever-changing. I see new versions of it every day. How can I be wedded to consistency when I am pursuing truth?

One of the things that I respect so much about your grandfather is how he used his life as a laboratory. Even in regards to diet and nutrition, he was tinkering and changing and evolving the effect of food on his spiritual practices and the quality of his life. It takes a lot of courage to experiment in that way all the time.

Let’s talk about ahimsa, which is a real difficult word to translate.

Yes, it is. Most people have translated ahimsa to mean nonviolence, but grandfather translated it to mean love. The reason behind that is, he says when you say nonviolence, then you become sort of dogmatic because there are certain times in life when some violence becomes inevitable. And if you are wedded to nonviolence, then you won’t do anything, you won’t do the right thing.

For instance, the controversy in 1916, when he set up his ashram. At that time the Jains controlled the city. There were many stray dogs and many of them became rabid. They threatened the human population. So the mayor of the city wanted to catch these dogs and put them to sleep because there was no other treatment that they could think of. The Jains felt this was violence and they objected to it. So the mayor came and asked grandfather, What should I do? and grandfather said, Of course you have to catch the dogs and put them to sleep, put them out of their misery. And so this whole thing between the Jains and grandfather went on for several months.

That is when grandfather said there is much violence in nonviolence and nonviolence in violence. If we are wedded to nonviolence, we can’t let the dogs suffer and we can’t let the people be threatened by these dogs. It’s more nonviolent to put them to sleep than to let them live and threaten the world.

That brings to mind a quote from the founder of Aikido, the Japanese martial arts. He says the ultimate goal of war is love. I know people who practice Aikido. They call it the Dance of the Tao, the expression of love in action. How it is really about conflict resolution as opposed to overthrowing or defeating your opponent. It sounds like they are saying the similar thing you described with the dogs.

One of the things I appreciate about ahimsa is that nonviolence, or love, must be in thought, word, and deed … how it has to infuse your whole being and personality.

This is not something that you can put on and off at will, it’s something that has to be a part of your nature. You have to live it. You have to live what you want others to learn. That is one of the reasons why grandfather became so successful in teaching people, because he lived it. He showed by his lifestyle, the importance of what he was talking about.

One of the books about your grandfather that I have found so inspirational is “Gandhi, The Man” by Eknath Eswarren. It’s a very simple book, but really brings out the qualities and the principles. And he talks fundamentally about the Bhagavad-Gita and how that was an influence on your grandfather and his thinking.

Actually, he was influenced by all the religions. One of the most important statements that he made was that a friendly study of all the scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual. He emphasized the word friendly. A lot of people have made critical studies, but not so many have made friendly studies. If we make a friendly study of all the scriptures, we will find the wisdom in all of them. We would then be able to take that wisdom and incorporate it in our lives. And thereby enhance our own beliefs and not diminish our beliefs. So that’s what he did, he studied all the scriptures and he took from every religion what he found important and incorporated it in his lifestyle. He was impressed with the Bhagavad-Gita. He said the Sermon on the Mount was also just as important as the Gita to him. He found tremendous similarities between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad-Gita.

Your grandfather also read Thoreau and his treatise on civil disobedience. And that was one of his inspirations in South Africa.

He had started his civil disobedience campaign in South Africa before he read Thoreau. It was in prison he came across this book and he started reading it. He was so happy and jubilant to know that a scholar like Thoreau was writing about the same thing he was already practicing. He just felt that it was an endorsement of what he was doing and he got more inspiration from that.

Ignorance Is the Enemy

Your grandfather said, “Evil and injustice and hatred exist only insofar as we support them.” This comes back to the definition of Satyagraha and Ahimsa being love. It’s this belief that love is all that there is and that evil is an illusion.

Yes, it’s an illusion. It’s a sort of mental state. You know, if we believe that some people are evil, or some people are born evil, then we will believe in that kind of thing. But there’s no truth behind it, and the truth is people are not born evil, people are made evil by circumstances. So yes, these illusions that we live with, they have no scientific basis.

So it’s the belief that no matter who you are dealing with, that you can call forth the love that’s at the very core of their being.

That’s exactly what it’s based on. That you appeal to the goodness in the person and every person has that goodness in him or her. And it’s just a question of appealing to that.

Your grandfather said that we have a moral obligation to not cooperate with evil just as we have an obligation to cooperate with all that is good. I heard that used by Germans who opposed the Nazis. One of the important distinctions that I repeatedly hear your grandfather made about the British is that they are not our enemy, it’s the untruth, it is the ignorance that is the enemy.

Right. The whole nonviolence concept is to attack the wrong–not the person, but the problem. Generally in violence we attack the person and we forget about the problem. And we think that by eliminating the person, we can do away with the problem. After killing each other, we realize we haven’t really achieved anything at all. One of the examples that I use is Nazism. We fought WWII and we lost 68 million human lives in order to get rid of Nazism. But what we succeeded in doing was getting rid of the Nazis, but Nazism still lives and thrives and threatens the whole world. The hate and the prejudice, that philosophy of Nazis is still there, so what did we achieve with the sacrifice of 68 million human lives if we were not able to get rid of that problem? That is the distinction. In nonviolence you focus on the problem and eliminate the problem instead of focusing on the individual and eliminating the individual.

We Are Violent Every Day

You have done a really good job of mapping out the different kinds of violence, physical versus passive. For all the physical violence that there is in our society, in our world, it seems that the passive is much more pervasive.

Yes, in fact I would say for every physical act, there is at least one hundred passive acts of violence that we commit today. Many of these we do without even knowing it, and that is what creates all this violence in the world. The thing that we need to do, each one of us, is to acknowledge our own violence–and we can acknowledge that only when we learn about it and do some introspection.

Mel White points out that in the gay and lesbian community it’s so easy to think about the hate that is generated by the fundamentalist Christians toward homosexuals. He also points out how many times we have responded with anger and resentment and hate toward fundamentalist Christians. Even though we are often oppressed, we can be just as oppressive in our own views and attitudes and behavior.

Right, it’s the whole question of an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. So if somebody hates something and we hate them back, it’s not going to solve the problem.

I think we’ve come back to the quote that you often use, “Be the change you wish to see.” How we begin to look within ourselves and make the changes within our own inner-self and personality so that we can make a change in the world.

I was very happy, Judy Shepard yesterday concluded a lecture with that quote, “We must be the change we wish to see.”

Satyagraha and Alcoholism

In modern psychological parlance, I hear a lot about the word “boundaries.” Particularly in situations like tragic alcoholism, drug abuse, or violent behavior–how you have to “exercise your boundaries” or use “tough love” to work with somebody who is suffering in that way. How would you suggest using the principles of ahimsa or satyagraha in working with people who are chemically dependent or abusive in different ways?

First of all, not cooperating with them in their evil, whatever evil they are doing. At the same time, teaching them better ways of taking them out of it and reforming them to love and understanding. By condemning them because of what they are doing, we won’t bring about any change. We will only reinforce their beliefs and push then lower down in whatever they are doing.

Judging them in a sense.

Yes. If we respond with understanding and love and yet be very clear that we are not going to support their bad habits.

Well, it’s a fine line of finding that place of noncooperation and yet patiently offering that love and support at the same time.

In grandfather’s case, he had to deal with his eldest son, who got into bad company and became alcoholic and all kinds of bad habits. Then he needed money to support those bad habits and he went around the country taking loans from people on the basis of his father’s reputation. His father then had to make a public statement and ask people not to give him any support in spite of the fact that he was his son. He said, “I disown him because of his bad habits. I would like him to come back and live with me and I would support him and take care of him, but not his bad habits.”


You talk about anger and how it is the initial source of so much of the other violence that we see. You make the analogy about electricity and anger being similar.

Our responses to people are conditioned by anger. We get angry because somebody said something or did something to us, and we respond or retaliate immediately. When we do that in anger, we are being violent; whether passively violent or physically violent. That aggravates the situation and it escalates from there.

So the thing that we need to learn is not to respond in anger. When we are in an angry mood, we are not in control of our minds. When we are not in control of our minds, we end up doing the wrong thing, making the wrong choices. We have got to learn to take time out and regain control of our minds and then make the proper response to that situation.

I don’t advocate walking away and forgetting about it. I do advocate walking away for a little while to be able to gain control of your mind. But we have to come back and face the situation, once we have control of our mind, and try to find an adequate solution to the problem. This is something that we need to work on throughout our lives. I think that it should be a part of our training all the time. We have to continuously develop techniques and control over our minds and not just do it at the moment of crisis.

You’re saying it’s a daily spiritual practice.

Yes, it’s a spiritual practice. It’s a way of being able to control our emotions. The analogy about electricity is that it is a very powerful source of energy. It’s very deadly if we abuse it, but yet we channel it and bring it into our life and we use it for all the good things that we use electricity for. And in the same way, we ought to be able to channel anger, because it’s the same kind of energy. It’s very deadly if we abuse it, but very useful and good if we can channel it properly and use it effectively.

Your grandfather suggested that you keep an anger journal.

He said it is the only way of getting anger out of your system and it becomes your textbook of your emotions. The journal then will give you a guide about what you need to do, what you have done, and how you have changed–then over the years you can study your emotions. So it serves two purposes. It helps you be able to get control of your mind and get the anger out onto paper, but he always advocated that we should the journal with the intention of finding a solution to the problem and not just pour the anger out. You know a lot of people have been writing anger journals and they just simply pour their anger out into the journal. So that when they went back and read the journal a few weeks later or a few days later, they just were reminded of the anger. It all came back to them. But if you write it with the intention of finding a solution, then you get into that mental attitude of trying to work out a solution to the problem.

In our psychologically hip society, we are so good at just dumping. This is a way of vacating and seeing the end of it.

Making Time for Children

You wrote once about living with your grandfather in India. You said for the 18 months that you lived with him that he allotted a certain amount of time for you each day. It is so amazing to me that with all the demands on his time and his attention, he would create for you, a young boy, that time with him.

He thought it was very important to give proper training and proper guidance to young people–you know, whoever was living with him at that time. He just found the time for them. He was so disciplined in everything that he did, that he was able to allot an hour for me and he did it.

I think in our society here in the United States, how many parents are so busy working and running and doing, and yet there is so little quality time with their children.

We are motivated by selfishness and self-centeredness. We are always thinking about what’s good for us and what do we need to do and so on. So we are selfishly motivated. But if we look at what’s good for our children and do what’s right for them, then it would be a very different kind of situation.

Daily Spiritual Practices

Would mind sharing which spiritual practices that you use in your life right now? Certainly selfless service is an important part of your spiritual practice, but what else do you do?

Well, I do meditation, and of course yoga and selfless service as you said.

What form of meditation do you practice?

I do active meditation. I don’t lock myself in a room or anything like that. Wherever I am, sometimes even on airplanes when I am travelling somewhere, I have developed the technique of being able to turn my gaze inward and be to myself even in the midst of all the people. I meditate on some important quotations, important things from scriptures that I’ve taken, important quotations from grandfather’s writings or writings from other important people. I reflect on them and see how they can be incorporated in my own life.

I practice vipassana or mindfulness meditation and I have found that to be very valuable. Mindfulness was the first tool that I had in working with my anger or with my grief that didn’t feel like running away from it. It allowed me to sit with it and be with it in a way that wasn’t destructive.

“We Must Be the Change We Wish to See”

Terrence McKenna paraphrases your grandfather as saying, “In the big picture of things, I’m not sure if what I do is important, but I do know that it is vitally important that I do it.” It impressed me. Somebody like your grandfather who has had such an incredible contribution to this last century and to the quality of life, to say it might be insignificant of what I do, but it’s vitally important that I do it.

A lot of us have this big picture before us and we want to change the whole world. Yet none of us have the capacity to do that. Because we don’t have that capacity, we get so disillusioned and we don’t do anything at all. We realize and bring about a change by doing little things. And those little things add up and we make the change happen.

You’re saying we are crippled by our own fears and inadequacies….

We get disillusioned because we want to change the whole world, and then we realize we don’t have the power to do that, so then we don’t do anything at all. But if we can change one person at a time or one thing at a time, that little change then adds up and contributes to the eventual change of the world.

The ripple effect, and I think we come back to changing ourselves.

Exactly, that is where the old quotation of, “We must be the change we wish to see” in the world.

Conflict resolution is getting a lot of attention these days and how do we constructively do that in a business situation or in our personal lives. And I was wondering if the institute offers programs around that?

What we really focus on more is not just conflict resolution but how do we avoid conflict. Being able to resolve a conflict after it occurs is one thing, but how do we avoid conflict all together. That is another thing that we need to focus on. We seem to ignore that aspect of it very much.

Sometimes I use the analogy of a smoker who goes on smoking. And then develops cancer and goes to the doctor and says, “Cure me of this cancer.” And the doctor says, “You have to give up smoking and change your lifestyle.” And he says, “Nope. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to continue the way I am, but you’ve got to cure me.” Conflict resolution is somewhat like that. If we continue to do all the things that generate conflicts and then we try to find ways of resolving that peacefully. And sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t because we are contributing to fueling the fire so we can’t put out the fire.

In closing, if there were anything you would like to offer to our gay and lesbian readers that we could do to continue to heal the prejudice and ignorance around us?

Well, I would just like to say, don’t feel that you are alone in the world. There are many millions of people who are being hated and discriminated against because of other reasons. We all need to come together to change the world and get rid of all the hate and the prejudice and hopefully create a world where we can all live in peace and harmony with each other. This we can do only through love and respect for each other. Not through violence and counter-hate.

One of the unfortunate things that I see in the gay and lesbian community, even though we are often subjected to great violence and oppression and suppression, we can be just as hateful to other members of our own community.

Last night I saw that. Some gays and lesbians had written some poems and they were reading them (at the benefit with Judy Shepard). Some of them had some very harsh things to say about the rest of the community. I thought that was sort of eye-for-an-eye kind of attitude. Which is not going to get anybody anywhere.

Dalai Lama: Twenty Steps to Good Karma

By body mind spirit, Conscious Living, Health & Wellbeing, Human Rights/Justice, Moral Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence 2 Comments

 Instructions for Life by The Dalai Lama


  1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
  2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  3. Follow the three R’s:
    –  Respect for self,
    –  Respect for others and
    –  Responsibility for all your actions.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
  7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  8. Spend some time alone every day.
  9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
  10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and
    think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
  12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
  14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
  15. Be gentle with the earth.
  16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
  17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
  18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
  19. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
  20. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.


His Holiness The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, is a revered, internationally known spiritual leader. He is considered to be both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. With the invasion of Tibet by China in 1949, the Dalai Lama has consistently campaigned for his country’s freedom, tirelessly traveling and speaking on this subject as well as aspects of Buddhism and how it contributes to peace. For this, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be reborn, postponing their own nirvana, in order to serve humanity. This the 14th Dalai Lama has done in droves.

Born on July 6, 1935, to a farming family in northeastern Tibet, he was named Lhamo Dhondup. At the age of two, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, and he began his monastic education at age six. He had a rigorous educational program, with five major and five minor subjects, covering Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy, as well as poetry, music and drama, and astrology, to name only some of the subjects. At 23 he passed his final examinations at Lhasa with honors and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, which is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

The Dalai Lama assumed full political power in 1950, after China’s invasion of Tibet. He pursued a peaceful solution to the invasion until 1959, when he was forced into exile. Since then he has lived in Dharamsala, in northern India, which serves as the seat of the Tibetan political government in exile. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly appealed to the United Nations for resolutions on Tibet, and also been successful in swaying world opinion to his cause. He proposed the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet in 1987, viewing it as an initial step to a worsening Tibetan solution.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has consistently and tirelessly been a champion for non-violence, not only in his own country, but in the larger world. This has made him an inspiration to millions. He has traveled to more than 62 countries on 6 continents, along the way meeting with presidents, premieres, heads of state, and royalty. He has also enjoyed dialogues with scientists and every day people. He has won over 84 awards, honorary doctorates and prizes, and he is known for his writing, authoring over 72 books, many of which reach bestseller status. His books include, My Land and My People, A Simple Path, How to Practice, The Art of Happiness, and The Universe in a Single Atom.

His Holiness adheres to the Three Main Commitments in Life. His first commitment is the promotion of human values such compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. His second is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religions. The third is his commitment to the Tibetan issue. He will act as a spokesman for the Tibetans struggle for freedom until a solution is reached. His Holiness says he will carry on with the first two commitments until his last breath.