From August 28 through 31 of the year 2000, two thousand of the world’s preeminent religious and spiritual leaders representing the many faith traditions, gathered at the United Nations in New York City for a “Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders” to pledge themselves to work for peace. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of Hinduism Today, was among the Hindu delegates. Speaking at one gathering, he delivered the message: “For World Peace, Stop the War in the Home.” The talk was also published as his Publisher’s Desk column in the November/December 2000 issue:
“When asked by the United Nations leaders how humanity might better resolve the conflicts, hostilities and violent happenings that plague every nation, I answered that we must work at the source and cause, not with the symptoms. That is what we do in ayurvedic medicine, focus on the causes, on establishing the body’s natural balance and health. That way, we are not always working with illness and disease, we are spending time and resources instead to establish a healthy system that itself fights off sickness. To stop the wars in the world, our best long-term solution is to stop the war in the home. It is here that hatred begins, that animosities with those who are different from us are nurtured, that battered children learn to solve their problems with violence.”
The summit caused me to reflect on the difference between a religious leader and a spiritual leader. The conclusion I came to is that a religious leader is a leader of a recognized religion. A spiritual leader is someone who is expert in uplifting the spirit of others. Some religious leaders are also spiritual leaders, and some are not. Some spiritual leaders are also religious leaders, and some are not. My Gurudeva was definitely both. In fact, he was an expert in uplifting the spirit of others no matter what their religion or ethnicity. How did he accomplish this? By speaking encouraging words. You, too, can be a spiritual leader. Simply make it a point to say something encouraging, complimentary and high-minded to everyone you meet. Their day will be brighter because of it, and so will yours. Your words may be just what they needed to escape a moody morning and discover a new energy for the day. Isn’t that what spiritual leaders do, change the energy, elevate the spirit so people connect with their intuition and open themselves to the highest course of action for the day?
When encountering people you know, you can ask about some aspects of their life, such as their children or recent travel, and show an interest in their well being. Gurudeva was skilled at this form of empathy. As a result, he was an important source of upliftment and encouragement for many people on Kauai from all walks of life.
Meetings are excellent opportunities for encouraging others. Listen attentively to each individual’s ideas, and when they are good ideas be sure to compliment them. If someone is a bit shy in presenting an idea, make a few encouraging remarks to help him or her feel more confident. Control yourself by not dominating every meeting with your ideas and presence.
Another way to be a spiritual leader is to uplift others by expressing gratitude for their help, friendship and presence in your life. Those who are full of gratitude lack nothing. They are filled with divine energy, complete, with nothing to require for their further happiness, nothing to regret. Their spirit is whole, their life is rich beyond measure. So, naturally, they are the spiritual leaders to others who feel less than perfect in their lives. Gratitude may seem an ordinary thing, but it is the touchstone of spiritual maturity.
Showering your gratitude on others teaches them of their own fullness. One of the first ways to do so is to greet everyone with a good morning, afternoon or evening, and a smile. Keeping your mood elevated lifts everyone around you. Being kindly reminds them to show others kindness. Be the opposite of a complainer.
Unfortunately, it is an all-too-common way of our times that when something is done that is good, helpful or loving, it is overlooked, treated as something expected. No acknowledgement is shown, no appreciation is expressed. But if a shortcoming is seen, everyone is swift to point it out, and often in an unkind manner!
Let’s look at some common examples of not being grateful or expressing appreciation. 1) The mother of two teenage boys works hard every day to take care of her sons’ needs at home and at school. They take her efforts totally for granted and never say, “Thanks, Mom.” 2) A wife is faithfully attentive to her husband’s needs and supportive of his career. The husband never bothers to acknowledge her constant care. 3) A husband works hard to financially support his family, even toiling weekends to earn extra income. The wife, thinking it his duty, never expresses any gratitude for his tireless efforts. 4) A supervisor takes extra time with his staff to help improve their skills and advance their position. But not one of them ever expresses thanks for his leadership.
Gurudeva developed two sadhanas in this area, one for gratitude and one for appreciation. He advised fulfilling the sadhana of gratitude first, then the sadhana of appreciation. The sadhana of gratitude is to take out paper and pen and list all the good that has come into your life during the past five years. As memory is stimulated, the list will grow. Gurudeva suggests that if you find yourself not able to even recall one good thing, write several times, “I am a spiritual being of light maturing in the ocean of experience.” This will stimulate a positive memory, which will soon be followed by more. Feelings of loving appreciation will begin to flow toward those who helped you in the good times. Feelings of acceptance and forgiveness will also well up for the bad times. This sadhana echoes the wisdom found in the Turukural’s chapter on gratitude: “It is improper to ever forget a kindness, but good to forget at once an injury received.”
Focusing on the good things in our life leads naturally to the sadhana of appreciation. This sadhana is to approach those to whom you are grateful and tell them, while looking deep into their eyes, how much you esteem and value them. Be specific. That is the key. Don’t just say something general, like, “You are wonderful.” Rather, point out specific qualities so that the person knows you really, deeply feel what you are saying, that it is not just a surface compliment. Convince him or her that you are sincere by your kind words and smiling face.
To prepare yourself for the appreciation sadhana, you can practice on yourself! Stand before a mirror, looking into your eyes, and say aloud, “I am grateful to you and appreciate your being in my life.” You can then describe some of the many good actions you have done during the past five years. Once you feel comfortable appreciating yourself, you are ready to begin appreciating others. This exercise helps overcome any shyness you may feel.
Special events are great times to express appreciation. Birthdays are perfect opportunities, as are Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day. In many nations there is even a bosses day. A few years ago a number of our youth devotees in Malaysia held a surprise Mother’s Day event. They wrote to me about it: “After the normal satsang events, bhajans and meditation, we announced our surprise, got each amma (mom) to come forward and stand in front, and each of her children put a huge garland on her and gave her a bookmark, a card, and a beautiful single rose package (all done by us), and prostrated to each amma’s feet, hugged her and wished her well on this day. By now, most ammas were already busy wiping away tears from their eyes!”
One of the obstacles to expressing appreciation is the fact that, unfortunately, no one else is doing it. Extra courage then is needed to be the first to do so. For men, the culture may say without saying that real men don’t express appreciation. In that case, even more courage is required!
A less personal way to express appreciation is in a note accompanying a gift. A gift that you make yourself conveys care and heartfelt sincerity.
My guru encouraged us to express appreciation to family members and friends, spiritual mentors, business associates and community leaders as often as we can. Remember, when sharing your love with others, be specific, smile and realize you are helping change the world for the better. Those you uplift will learn from your example and later uplift others in their life.
He wrote: “We are essentially pure souls temporarily living in a physical body. We can and should use our God-given gift of free will encased in love to make a difference in the world today, even if it is in a small way. All of us making the same difference together do so in a big way. Shishyas should be grateful to their gurus, husbands to their wives, wives to their husbands, parents to their children, children to their parents, students to their teachers and teachers to their students. It’s far more effective to praise others and appreciate what we have than to find fault and complain about what we don’t have!”