12 May 2008

vinoba, thank you

I am also learning from Vinobaji, the "spiritual disciple" of Gandhi and leader of the Bhoodan and Gramdan pilgrimages, walking India for many years in search of moral purity and land reform. In his talks on the Bhagavad Gita, which he gave extempore in jail, he writes:

Once a gentleman wrote to me, 'we have decided to recit lord rama's name a certain number of times. please join us and inform us how many times you are going to do daily.' the gentleman was acting according to his light. i do not mean to disparage him. but should we count how many times we have taken the name of the Lord? It is not a thing to be counted.

a mother cares for her child. does she publish the report on it? were she to do so, we could just say 'thank you', and be free from our obligations to her. but a mother does not submit any report. she rather says, 'what have i done? i have done nothing. it this a burden to me?" karma ceases to be karma when one does it with full dedication with the aid of vikarma (purity of intention in mind). karma then becomes akarma (actionless action, renouncing the fruits of the action).

it is impossible to describe this state. one can at best give a rough idea. the sun rises daily. but does it rise to remove darkness, urge the birds to fly and set men working. it just rises and that is all. its very existence makes all the world go round. but it is not aware of it. if you thank him for dispelling darkness, he would be at a loss to understand what you are saying. he will say, 'have i really done so? please bring a little darkness. if i could dispel, then only i would claim any credit for doing so.' can we carry darkness to the sun?

im reading this in the light of the recent cycle yatra with europen velophotographer tomas werner and the incessant maddening kindness we were shown. at every point our hosts -- none of whom expected us -- would refuse the idea of a thank you. this is of course very common, perhaps even definitive, of indian culture. they never use the words please and thank you. until now i had understood this practice as acceptance that actions were done out of duty and did not necessitate judgement or approval. but vinoba goes deeper. he says that our actions cease to be actions, to bring karma upon us, when they are included in our being, when they cease to be outside of us.

i have friends so kind, so compassionate, that talking to kids on the street or brightening peoples' days or giving away everything they have is not an action. it is not something to be remarked upon or even noticed. only after they have taken care of the starving old woman will they even note they are two hours late for whatever evening plan they had. it is not karma, it is inside one, it has become, vikarma.

or as my flute teacher, who is 80, says in his scratchy baritone when i thank him (im not learning i guess)
"thank you"

as in:

"thank you, sir"
"yes, hmm, thank you"

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