Recently I was introduced to three good books.
The first book: Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope This book was introduced to me by one of my friends. The author refers to one of the verses in Bhagawath Geetha as the central theme of this book:
Every person at any moment in life has activities to be performed which are appropriate for the moment (described as duties (Dharma)). However limited in merit they may appear, it is better to perform such activities of obligation belonging to one self (Sva Dharma) rather than attempting to perform the roles or activities belonging to others (Para Dharma). Carrying out appropriate activities determined by the calling in one’s life, in an enlightened manner undeterred by challenges faced, is the only correct and proper course of action. 18.47
In this book, the author weaves several biographical stories to illustrate what is “Sva Dharma” – the true calling in one’s life. This is also described as the great work of your life. He illustrates the life of Robert Frost and Henry David Thoreau as examples of people who saw their work and life literally in harmony with nature, inter-twined and inseparable. He cites the life of Harriet Tubman who ran an underground railway to free the slaves from the south in America. Harriet herself was a slave and found a way to freedom, before launching her crusade to free others from slavery. He cites the life of Mahathma Gandhi, whose march for freedom started in South Africa as a civil disobedience movement ended with India acquiring freedom from the British rule. While there are many more examples cited, the core of the book is that the principle enunciated in Bhagawath Geetha and as mentioned above. is repeatedly found in all these great lives and in their many walks of life.
The author rightly concludes that the above principle also applies to every one’s life (the life of average Joe and Jane). As a parallel the author also weaves stories of ordinary people and their successes and the challenges they face in carrying out their calling in life. It may be a single minded effort as noted in the life of the great men and women as examples. It may also be the focus on the work we are called upon at different times of our life – doing well at school, caring for the children or elders, being respectful of each other, moderate in our words and emotions such that they do more good than harm, etc. Each of us is called upon to do such work that is ordained for us at that moment. That is “Sva Dharma”. It is easier to say, “I will do this if you will do this or others will do that, etc.” There is no such thing as quid pro quo in one’s duty. I will never know with certainty what other’s duty is (Para Dharma)? But, each of us is required to probe at each moment “What is my duty (Sva Dharma)?” and be certain about that.
The above requires clarity on what is duty (Dharma)? The following verse could be helpful for that:
Work ordained by nature due to one’s place and circumstances in life at any given moment is Dharma. Such activities should not be abandoned. All activities have blemishes associated with them, just as the fire is covered with smoke. 18. 48
The second book : A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell. Stephen has written several books including one on Bhagawath Geetha. Byron Katie guides people through her lectures and seminars on better living. Stephen found that Katie’s views and guidance were derived from her own experiences. Yet, they mirror a lot from the writings of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu. In summary Katie’s advice is this: On any issue or question of concern to you, reverse the role and see how that sounds like. As an example a mother who wants to protect her children could say, “I want them to succeed” and I do everything possible towards that. This has lead to resentment and anger in the children, which torments the mother. She thinks “what ungrateful children are these?” Katie suggests to re-state the situation as “I want them not to succeed”, which leads to the pain and suffering she might endure, if the children are not successful. So, Katie says “You want your children to succeed because you want to see your happiness in their success”. So, the driving force in all your actions is “your” happiness and not really the success of your children! Once this clarity emerges – the light bulb goes on – the mother is able to implement actions, appropriate for the child and its circumstances. The helicopter mother vanishes and a caring and sharing adult emerges. There are many such examples in this book. In order to identify one’s duty, he/she needs to develop a deep sense of non-attachment.
Through the process of reasoning leading to non-attachment, one attains victory over desires and their linkage to the person. Through such process of renunciation or self-control, a person attains the state of supreme existence, where all that exists is “duty”; recognition of activity of any other kind ends. 18. 49
Having attained such a state of tranquil existence, through self-control, a person transforms to a state of unattached active participation in his/her duties (the state of Brahman). 18. 50
The third book: Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything by Iyanla Vanzant. I came across this book while I was surfing the channels on TV!
Book Summary: Forgiveness doesn’t mean agreeing with, condoning or even liking what has happened. Forgiveness means letting go and knowing that—regardless of how challenging, frightening, or difficult an experience may seem—everything happens from which you grow and learn. When you focus on how things “should” be, you deny the presence and power of love. Accept the events of the past, while being willing to change your perspective on them. Only forgiveness can liberate minds and hearts once held captive by anger, bitterness, resentment, and fear. Forgiveness is a true path to freedom that can renew faith, build trust, and nourish the soul.”
If one reads all of the above books carefully, one will see that forgiveness is exhibit A for non-attachment. Non-attachment leads to clarity on what is “duty”, the performance of which is the only course of life. Each one of us is inherently happy – Sath Chith Anandam. In the daily life of infinite activities and events, few haunt us and hence detract us from seeing this larger picture. We see the inherent happiness only when we frame our thinking – specially on these few items – in terms of the life as it is, as opposed to the way we wish it was. This is the “inversion” that they speak about, in Byron Katie’s book. A process of constant negation of the few events, incidents, people or experiences that detract us from the larger inherent harmony in our life is the spirituality in practice. This leads us to a genuine, personal and intense union with the self. Such union with our thoughts/ideas is called “Gnana Yoga”. The consequent action is one’s duty (Sva Dharma) described as the great work of our life.