The restrictions imposed by the pandemic can give us time to plan and manifest a positive future for ourselves and our family
By Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
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The covid-19 pandemic is proving itself a time when the daily difficulties faced by individuals and families are far greater than usual. Under the stresses of lockdown, masks and social distancing, life may be overly focused on the current moment’s challenges without giving adequate thought to the future. Seeing these dynamics inspires me to suggest we set aside time to establish goals for what we want to be doing when the pandemic is over. That done, we can put in motion supporting plans that will make those goals achievable.
The need for goals and plans applies to you personally, all your family members, your workplace and any nonprofit you are involved in. One reason this is particularly important is that post-pandemic life is not going to be identical to pre-pandemic life. Important changes will have taken place, and goals and plans must take that into account. What kinds of changes? Remote working will be more common, and children’s education may need extra attention to compensate for the limitations of months of online study. Temples may face restrictions on large gatherings for some time to come, which brings a need to develop alternative spiritual activities.
My guru divided the planning process into four steps. He wrote a sutra which states: “Siva’s devotees approach each enterprise with deliberate thoughtfulness and act only after careful consideration. They succeed in every undertaking by having a clear purpose, a wise plan, persistence and push.”
Let’s look first at the idea of “clear purpose.” Another term for purpose is goal. Economic goals, of course, are the ones that are usually in the forefront of everyone’s mind—meeting monthly needs, saving for retirement and for the children’s education. Educational goals generally are a secondary priority—and that goes for the children’s secular and religious education as well as adults’ acquiring new skills. Ideally goals encompass the spiritual, social, cultural and physiological aspects of life. Examples in each area might be:
• spiritual: yearly pilgrimage to distant temples, learning more hatha yoga
•social: special family outings, participating in service or education programs
•cultural: attending performances of music, art, drama and dance; learning a craft, an instrument or new songs
•physiological: regular exercise, improvements to diet, home, habits and clothing; caring for the environment
Moving on from clear purpose to a “wise plan”—I have had opportunities over the years to talk to many people about achieving their goals and later ask if they were successful. There are many reasons for lack of success. But, when it comes to a goal that is complicated, the reason for being unsuccessful is usually the lack of a wise plan. The plan was not carefully thought through. It wasn’t detailed enough. It was an impulse list more than a practical plan. When it comes to planning any complex task, it is best to consult with others. On your own, you won’t necessarily be able to figure everything out. You need to talk to someone who is experienced in that field. For example, Hawaii real estate has its unique ups and downs. If you are thinking of buying a home in Hawaii, you should talk to people who know about Hawaii real estate. Otherwise, you can purchase at just the wrong time and suffer the consequences. In any major business venture where you’re putting your life savings on the line, it is prudent to hire a consultant to make sure you get the best advice available.
The third part of the sutra is “persistence.” Let’s start with an example of non-persistence. You know someone with chronic back pain. They have a clear purpose: they are desperate to eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, the suffering. Their plan includes engaging a physical therapist who gives them exercises to do. The person does the exercises for a month and stops. Then he goes to an ayurvedic doctor. The doctor suggests a regimen of herbs. That’s easier than exercise, and he manages to take the herbs for two months and then slowly abandons the program. Six months later, as the pain persists, he goes to another doctor for yet another remedy. That’s human nature. We tend to have a solution in front of us but we don’t stick to it; we don’t fully implement it. We lose patience and want to try another approach. Not surprisingly, we don’t achieve our clear purpose; we don’t eliminate back pain, if we jump from one solution to another.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to change a plan when it is clearly not working. On this Gurudeva wrote: “Changeableness means indecision, not being decisive. How can we discriminate between this and the strength of a person who changes his or her mind in wisdom because of changes of circumstance? A person who is changeable is fickle and unsure of himself, changing without purpose or reason. Persistence describes the mind that is willing to change for mature reasons based on new information but holds steady to its determinations through thick and thin in the absence of such good reasons. The decision is based on wise discrimination. Having made a solid decision in the first place, only reconsider it in light of new information.”
Persistence or perseverance is important in overcoming obstacles. We have a great plan, clear purpose, we’re moving forward and we hit some major obstacles. In the Hindu world it is sometimes thought, “Oh, Lord Ganesha is blocking the plan; I’m not supposed to do this,” and we stop. Encountering an obstacle doesn’t necessarily mean that you should abandon the plan. Some obstacles are best broken through, and some need more careful analysis, guided by Ganesha. Intuition will guide which is which. Sometimes the problem is simply that we are being unrealistic. One of the points I often make is that the larger a project is, the more obstacles you should expect. How many obstacles has our monastery encountered in the project of building a hand-carved granite temple in Hawaii? Lots! By persisting, each barrier was overcome. Therefore, once you create a clear purpose and a wise plan, make sure you are being realistic in terms of the number of obstacles you anticipate before you start the project. Then, when obstacles come up, you can smile instead of getting discouraged. You say, “Oh, obstacle number one, here you are. Welcome. It’s been about three or four months since we started; that’s about right.” You’re not surprised or disheartened.
The last concept in Gurudeva’s sutra is “push.” Push, in this context, means willpower—the ability to power something through, to accomplish it. An example of lack of push is the student who wants to do well in school, who plans to get up early in the morning and study hard but sleeps in regularly. The result? He does not excel. The plan is there, but the willpower to fulfill it is not. Willpower can be compared to a muscle. Muscles are so interesting. The more you use a muscle, the stronger it gets. Most things go away when you use them. Take a jar of rice. You use it; you end up with an empty jar. Money: you have money in a bank account, you use it, the bank account ends up empty. But willpower is the opposite. The more you use it, the more you have. Similarly, the more you exercise a muscle, the stronger it becomes, the more it can do. Therefore, you need to make sure you are adequately exercising your willpower. Fortunately, there are many opportunities throughout the day. Gurudeva gives a clear guideline. He says to strengthen willpower, you need to do two things: finish every job you start, and do it to the best of your ability—and even a little better. That strengthens your willpower.
There’s another “p” which Gurudeva added in some of his writings, and that’s “prayer.” He wrote, “Be sure to initiate your wise plan with prayer.” In other words, go to the temple and have an archana done, for example, to Lord Ganesha, and start the activity out with religious blessings. It is also helpful, particularly for major activities, to begin on an auspicious day. Hindu astrology can provide information as to which days are auspicious and which days are inauspicious for starting new endeavors.
A clear purpose, wise plan, persistence and push, initiated with a prayer, is definitely a powerful combination for successfully achieving your major life goals. The current pandemic gives abundant time to reflect on the future positively.