Right now, all of us are whirling through space on this tiny ball we call Earth. It is our common home. With each spin, we mark a day. With each revolution around the sun, we all add a year to our lives. On this fragile ball—a mere speck in the inconceivable vastness of the universe—we are born, we grow, we strive, we have our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, and then we pass from view. Our destinies are inescapably linked, yet often we forget how interconnected we all are.
Sri Swami Satchidananda used to say: “We are interdependent, cells of one universal body.” The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the same truth: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Today, we may be on the brink of a global pandemic. The tiny virus that is wreaking havoc is no respecter of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nations, or borders. Personal philosophy, political persuasion, power or position are irrelevant as it sweeps across the world. It laughs at our bluster, our arrogance, our prejudice and the many ways we torment and subjugate one another. Our common humanity—almost eight billion strong— is under attack by a microscopic life form.
From the Yoga perspective, this is an expression of global karma. Karma begins with our thoughts. We sow a thought and reap an action. We repeat an action and it becomes a habit. The sum total of our habits define our character, and our character, in turn, determines our destiny. Just as our individual thoughts have determined our personal circumstances, so, too, our cumulative collective consciousness has produced the world as we know it.
Our continued existence as a species and the very life of our planet depend on our awakening to this understanding. On a practical level, this means we need to learn how to work together to solve our common problems.
There is a fable (author unknown) about a mouse that lived on a farm. Here it is retold. One day, peering through a crack, he saw the farmer and his wife open a package. The little mouse was hoping for something tasty to nibble, but much to his dismay, what emerged was a new mousetrap. The mouse ran into the farmyard and cried: “Everyone beware; there is a mousetrap in the house!
Ignoring his pleas, the chicken continued to peck at the ground. Finally, she looked up and said: “I can tell this is a serious matter for you, but it is of no concern to me.” So the mouse turned to the pig. The pig was sympathetic, but in the end said: “I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it.” The cow just lay there chewing her cud and paid little heed to the mouse.
Feeling quite alone and unsupported, the mouse returned to the house to await his fate. Late that night, the trap was sprung. The farmer’s wife went to check and, in the darkness, did not notice that it was the tail of a snake that had been snagged by the trap. The snake bit her and she quickly took ill. The doctor was summoned and recommended an old-fashioned remedy—chicken soup. So, that was the end of the chicken.
As her condition worsened, friends and neighbors came to tend her. To feed them, the farmer killed the pig. Unfortunately, his wife did not recover and to feed the people who came to the funeral, he had to sacrifice the cow.
The moral of the story can be summed up by a quote from Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” We are all sisters and brothers, members of a global family. Problems anywhere can affect everywhere.
In 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Russia, a reactor exploded sending radioactive debris into the atmosphere. I was living in San Francisco at the time. I couldn’t go outside for a week, for whenever I tried, my skin burned. It was soon revealed that winds blowing in our direction carried the fallout to California. In 2011, Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami, followed by explosions at a nuclear power plant. Several months later, radioactive particles from that event showed up in the milk in Charlottesville, Virginia, 6600 miles away. Our destinies are intertwined, like the multi-colored threads of a tapestry that forms the fabric of time and extends through the far reaches of space.
When there is balance and harmony in people, that same balance and harmony are reflected in Nature; and the converse is also true. This makes me recall the construction of the LOTUS Lake at Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia back in the early 1980s. It was a period of protracted drought, but as soon as the excavation and preparation were completed, it began to rain and continued to do so till the lake was filled. There was a joyful spirit of dedication and cooperation among the people, and the Nature blessed their efforts.
What we are seeing today is a world out of balance: people and nations are polarized; critical decisions are often ruled by greed. Swami Satchidananda once said: “There is consciousness everywhere. The very elements respond to our thoughts. If Nature is abused or misused, you will see a reaction.” And that is what is happening. Extreme weather events and earth changes are becoming all too frequent.
Here is the good news. We are part of the world and by our own thoughts and actions, we contribute to how events unfold. Sri Swami Sivananda declared: “The self-effort of today becomes the destiny of tomorrow.” This is true both on the individual level and on the global level as well, as our combined efforts yield their effects.
Swami Sivananda wrote: “Every thought is a vibration which never perishes. It goes on vibrating every particle of the universe. If your thoughts are noble, holy, and strong, they set into vibration every sympathetic mind. Unconsciously, all people of similar mind take in that thought and then send out similar ones. The result is that you set in motion great forces, which work together to overcome the negativity in the world.” We can begin where we are and carry a positive spirit into our family, workplace, school, and community. We can change our destiny and we can change the world.
Instead of giving way to anger, despair, or anxiety, we can nurture our faith, deepen our practice, and support one another. We can do our best and then leave the rest in the hands of a Higher Power.
Faith has been described as an acronym for “Fear Absent In The Heart.” Swami Satchidananda often said: “Faith and fear don’t go together.” The Sanskrit word for faith is sraddha. Sraddha entails active belief, or faith backed by effort. You believe in something and then apply your will toward it. It is not a passive emotion, but the courage to live according to your convictions. The Islamic saying: “Trust in God and tie up your camel” conveys this approach. This type of faith will enable us to face whatever challenges life may present.
Reflecting daily on the many blessings in our lives will help us to develop faith. Gratitude will grow in our hearts. We will see life through a brighter lens, more aware of all the support and protection, comfort and guidance, that encompass our journey.
In times of duress, we recognize more clearly the importance of spiritual practice—especially taking time to center and enter the peace within. Even fifteen minutes meditation, twice a day, can make a difference. Make this a priority midst all the busyness of life. If you cultivate the habit of starting your day in this way, your heart will become a sanctuary of peace that will sustain you throughout the day. Then offer prayers for the wellbeing of one and all. Let the peace within your own heart embrace and emanate unconditional love and support, strength and stability, for the entire creation.
We can turn to asanas and pranayama to strengthen the body and boost the immune system. A yogic diet and lifestyle will help us to optimize our health. With a healthy body and peaceful mind, we will be equipped to serve others.
Once a young man was praying in a temple when he noticed a supplicant with a painful limp slowly making his way to the altar. Next, a fellow who had been ill for a long time came in. Then, an old woman, weary with age, came to pray. Overcome with all the suffering he saw, the man cried out to God: “Why don’t You help these people? Why don’t You do something?” In answer to his prayer, a voice was heard: “I have done something; I created you.” We are the eyes and ears, the hands and feet, of the divine moving among us.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we are all affected by the circumstances of our fellow travelers on spaceship Earth. We come from different cultures, speak different languages, wear different garments, but we are intimately connected and, in essence, we are One. We come from and return to the same Source. Our bodies are composed of the same elements. The same great Spirit shines through our eyes and reverberates in our hearts. When we support one another—love and give, care and share—divine grace flows within us, around us, and from us to one another. Nature backs our efforts and new possibilities are revealed. Even the impossible becomes doable. An African proverb states: “If you want to go faster, go alone. But if you want to go further, go together.” Together, all things are possible.
About the Author:
Swami Karunananda is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda. In 1975, she was ordained as a monk into the Holy Order of Sannyas. She has had over 40 years experience teaching all aspects of Yoga and specializes now in workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs that focus on the science of meditation, the philosophy of Yoga, personal transformation, and Yoga breathing techniques for better health and well-being. She developed, and for 25 years has taught, the Integral Yoga Teacher Training programs in Raja Yoga and in Meditation.
Swami Karunananda served as president of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia and in California, as well as director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and as the chairperson of the Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, Virginia.
Interested in fostering interfaith understanding and harmony, she is featured in the interfaith documentary entitled, With One Voice. She also compiled and edited the Lotus Prayer Book, a collection of prayers from various faith traditions, and Enlightening Tales as told by Sri Swami Satchidananda. She served as contributing editor for The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, as well as a senior writer for the Integral Yoga Magazine. In her book, Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga, she describes the spiritual path and provides guidance for the journey.