What is the Nature of Nothingness? Happiness, of course.

Philosophy-FighterOn occasion I find myself in the midst of spiritual conversation.  Sometimes this conversation can manifest itself as a spirited debate about the nature of nothingness or if this whole entire world is in fact just an illusion.  There might even be people present who believe themselves to be right and that others are wrong (as if one can ever be certain about nothingness, doesn’t nothingness preclude certainty just by the nature of being nothingness?).

My answer, if ever I am asked, “What is the nature of nothingness?” is Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.

May all beings in all worlds be peaceful and happy.

The reason that is my answer is that it is useful. It might not be directly related to the question, but it is relevant to what is important.

So many times when there are these heated spiritual debates about the nature of nothingness or “is a table really a table when to a termite it would be dinner?” with each person doing their darnedest to prove their point and come up with the right answer, I just think – who cares? Does it matter if a table is really a table?  Does this make me a more loving and conscious person?  And by conscious I mean aware and mindful of my connection to all of life, not more knowledgeable about the exact nature of tables.

There are many spiritual topics that we can go in mental circles about, and that might be entertaining, so have at it – have fun.  But before we start taking it all too seriously and worrying about who is right and who is wrong and who is the more enlightened about the nature of nothingness, I think the main question we need to ask is – does this help me make the world a better more compassionate place?  Does this help alleviate suffering for anyone?  Does this bring more love to the world?

When I moved to St Augustine I discovered a sweet peaceful little retreat center west of town called Chinmaya Mission.  I had not heard of Swami Chinmayananda before but I 220px-Sourire_coul_2have grown to hold him with sweet affection in my heart and I am grateful to have this Hindu refuge as part of my Interfaith life.  When I was getting to know more about him, I was reading the Chinmaya wikipedia page and it says their motto is “To give the maximum amount of happiness to the maximum number of people for the maximum amount of time.”  And I thought, that is the most perfect mission statement I have ever seen.

So often we have these lofty spiritual goals to “Uplift Humanity,” “Awaken the Divine in the human spirit,” or even “Liberate humanity from the illusion of attachments” etc etc etc.  And these are all good things, all worthy missions, and I have participated in several groups with similar purposes – but sometimes it’s hard to know what it really means, how is this mission really changing real life for real people?  And it was so refreshing to see a mission statement that goes so directly for what matters most.

So, the next time you are grappling with high minded esoteric existential questions and you feel like you don’t quite understand the complexities of it all – just come back to this question:  Does this give the maximum amount of happiness to the maximum number of people for the maximum amount of time?

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu ~ May All Beings Everywhere Be Happy

Amma prayersAbout 3 weeks ago I was browsing Facebook.  I have my doubts about the merits of Facebook, as when I spend too much time flipping through post upon post I feel my brain turn to mush and my productivity draining out of me, yet I do believe, when used responsibly, it can be a force for good.  And here is the proof.

On this occasion I came across a picture of Amma standing amid a crowd and the caption said she was leading the chant “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” – a sanskrit chant that is translated as “May All Beings in All the Worlds be Peaceful and Happy.”

It was just a quick glance, I didn’t even click on the “read more” option and scrolled down to the squirrel in front of the Buddha statue and the mini-pig jumping in a pool.  I regretfully admit that I spent more time watching the video of the dog walking on its front legs for a full two minutes peeing than I did reading the post from Amma’s Facebook page.  But through the mercy and blessing of Amma, after I saw that picture I all of a sudden had that chant stuck in my head.

I have had chants stuck in my head before after attending a community satsang or burning a hole in my Krishna Das CD. But this was unusual because it’s not a chant I have chanted before and it’s not a chant I even knew at the time – yet I found it repeating itself in my head even as I was scrambling for the words.  It was like my mind was involuntarily half-mumbling this chant over and over, all of this going on internally as I was busy going about my day.

After a couple of hours of mumbling a chant I didn’t know I looked it up on you tube and found this version by Wah – and then I had something to listen to on the outside that matched what was going on inside.

Since I was being given this blessing (it is infinitely better to have a sacred chant stuck in your head than for example a song “all about that bass” which can also happen) – I gratefully learned the chant and joined in with my conscious mind whenever I did not have some other task requiring mental concentration.  I chanted under my breath at my desk at work.  I chanted as I drove to and from work or anywhere else for that matter.  I chanted as I walked my dog Peachy in the evenings.  I chanted as I cooked dinner in my kitchen.  I chanted as I brushed my teeth morning and evening.  And for almost two weeks I felt the chant going constantly in the background even as I was engaged in conversation or attending meetings at work.Amma 14

In first reading the meaning of the chant, it seems like a prayer – like a request, asking God or the universe or some all-powerful being somewhere for all beings everywhere to be peaceful and happy.  So I thought, great – what a good thing to do as I’m walking across campus to pick up the business department mail – even if it looks like I’m mumbling to myself, I might as well be praying for peace and happiness for all.  But as I continued to chant “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” I started feeling that it is much more than a prayer – it is a state of consciousness.

In chanting those words I was getting in touch with the part of God that holds for the peace and happiness of all souls, of all Her children.  I was noticing that each time I sat down to meditate I had an easier time going into a state of peacefulness, slipping right into a calm steady happiness as soon as I closed my eyes.  One time when I took Peachy down to the fort I sat down on the grass with some live musician playing in the background and plenty of tourists milling about, and as soon as I closed my eyes and focused on the chant I could feel the vastness and eternity of God that is IN and behind and underneath everything as this state of peaceful happiness.  I could feel this chant as God holding everyone – all beings in all the worlds – with this loving happy presence of peace.  I could feel all the tourists around me, the musician playing across the street, all the people in all of St Augustine being held in this Presence.  And not just now, but beyond time.  It was like I could feel this constant loving Presence of happiness holding all beings through all of time – through the most ancient days of this ancient city, I could feel this Presence, somehow connected from where I was sitting to these men and women from long ago.

I realized that this chant is not just a prayer – it is not just asking “May all beings in all the worlds be peaceful and happy.”  It is the actual state of consciousness of Peace and Happiness that is just a click away from all of us – right next to us, right under every cell of our beings – there It is, just waiting for us to shift, to let go into It.  So, in chanting this prayer we can merge with God’s own wish for all beings everywhere to live in peace and happiness, and in praying the same prayer God prays, we become just a little bit closer to God ourselves.

Amma 10Just a few days after this experience I saw yet another post that read “Amma’s intention is that each person somehow grow closer to God.”  So, for this blessing, I thank Ammachi and Facebook!