A new lifestyle has been thrust upon the world by a tiny virus. How we respond to it will redefine our families and households.
By Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
In many parts of the world, the covid-19 pandemic necessitated that governments institute stay-at-home lockdowns. This, in turn, forced many employers and educators to restructure their businesses and schools so that employees and students could work productively from home. It is becoming clear that unanticipated consequences have been created, including the very real possibility that the temporary stay-at-home world may be morphing into a permanent work-from-home world for large segments of society. Here are two prominent examples that illustrate this trend.
Forbes magazine offered this in a May 13, 2020, article: “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in a paradigm-shifting, COVID-19-inspired move, informed his employees that they can continue working from home ‘forever.’ Understanding this option is not suitable for everyone, Dorsey is keeping the door open for those who wish to work within the traditional office structure. He’s leaving the decision to either work from home or at the office in the hands of his employees. Given the time frame of reopening, coupled with the opportunity to remain working from home, this new program means that it’s highly conceivable that the vast majority of Twitter employees will work remotely for the foreseeable future—or forever.”
The New York Times, on May 21, 2020, wrote: “Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, told workers during a staff meeting that was live-streamed on his Facebook page that within a decade as many as half of the company’s more than 48,000 employees would work from home. ‘It’s clear that Covid has changed a lot about our lives, and that certainly includes the way that most of us work,’ Mr. Zuckerberg said. ‘Coming out of this period, I expect that remote work is going to be a growing trend as well.’” Another trend that has been accelerated by COVID-19 is telemedicine. To treat patients during the COVID-19 crisis, physicians have by necessity greatly increased the use of telemedicine. Many project that the use of telemedicine will continue to rapidly grow. A May 19, 2020, article in Tech Republic states: “We’ve been telling doctors for years that by 2024 there will be more virtual visits per day than in-person visits. COVID has brought that date two years, maybe three years, forward.” We know some doctors who are already practicing telemedicine from their homes.
Let’s look now at a Hindu perspective on the trend to work from home. Remote working gives more time, as there is no need to commute. Many live far from their office or school and spend significant hours each day in transit to and from work. With these extra hours in the day, we see four opportunities here to improve life.
Enhancing the Home Shrine
The first is: what better place to put some of that time than in strengthening the home shrine. It is traditional for Hindu homes to center around a special room set aside and maintained to create a temple-like atmosphere in which we conduct puja, read scripture, meditate, perform sadhana, sing bhajans and do japa. My guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, stressed the shrine room’s importance in many of his talks. He knew how it could uplift and inspire. Here is an excerpt from his writings: “All Hindus have guardian devas who live on the astral plane and guide, guard and protect their lives. The great Mahadevas in the temple that the devotees frequent send their deva ambassadors into the homes to live with the devotees. A room is set aside for these permanent unseen guests, a room that the whole family can enter and sit in and commune inwardly with these refined beings who are dedicated to protecting the family generation after generation. Some of them are their own ancestors. A token shrine in a bedroom or a closet or a niche in a kitchen is not enough to attract these Divinities. One would not host an honored guest in one’s closet or have him or her sleep in the kitchen and expect the guest to feel welcome, appreciated, loved. All Hindus are taught from childhood that the guest is God, and they treat any guest royally who comes to visit. Hindus also treat God as God, and devas as Gods, when they come to live permanently in the home. Mothers, daughters, aunts, fathers, sons, uncles—all may perform puja within their own home, and do, as the Hindu home is considered to be nothing less than an extension of the nearby temple.”
The vibration of your home shrine can be strengthened by regularly going to a local temple. Then, when you come home from the temple, light an oil lamp in the shrine room. This action will bring the temple’s religious atmosphere into your home, mystically bringing devas who were at the temple right into the home shrine. They are able, from the inner world, to bless and guide family members and strengthen the home’s religious forcefield.
A second opportunity from not commuting is to spend more quality time with the children. Also, working at home, your schedule may be flexible, allowing you to be focused on your career when the children are at school and be free when they are home. Gurudeva put great emphasis on family gatherings and suggested holding a once-a-week “Monday Home Evening.” Here is his description: “Monday Home Evening is practiced by many religions, including the Hindus. On Monday evening, Siva’s day, the family members get together, prepare a wonderful meal, play games together and verbally appreciate one another’s good qualities. It’s an evening when the television is not turned on [nowadays this would include not using social media]. They don’t solve any problems on that day. They just love each other, and everybody has a voice, from the littlest child to the oldest senior. It’s a family togetherness, one day a week when everyone will look forward to having Mom and Dad at home. That doesn’t mean it will be on Tuesday or any other day if Monday is missed. Family home evening is always on Monday, and everyone’s life has to adjust to that.”
Gurudeva describes this type of activity as true wealth. “Many families find even this is impossible because of their careers. Nowadays people think that they have to have two incomes, three incomes, to be comfortably well off. Money is gained and lost, sometimes rather quickly. As quickly gained, often as quickly lost. But what is wealth? Wealth is a diamond with many facets. One facet of wealth is money, but it is not the only one. A happy family that enjoys each other—that is a great wealth. Doing things together and enjoying doing things together is another great wealth.”
Creating a Balance in Life
A third opportunity is to find more richness and balance in one’s life. Time spent commuting may displace important activities such as a half hour a day of physical exercise. The stress of modern life can be reduced by exercise and by the regular practice of hatha yoga asanas in the home, something that is impossible in most offices. Stress can also be reduced through simple meditation techniques. More time can allow for healthier meals to be prepared and for enriching activities such as local cultural events, outings and learning adventures.
Serving the Community
A fourth opportunity is to give some of this gift of time back to the community. Seva projects can be arranged in which all family members participate. The importance of seva, selfless service, is best impressed on the mind of youth by actually doing it. A great benefit of performing seva is that it offsets the spirit-diminishing emphasis on materialism, working with the singular purpose of building wealth for one’s immediate family. It is suggested that if there are no formal Hindu seva projects in your area, then expand the search into the general community for activities related to improving the environment, disaster relief, or providing clothes, food and care for the needy. In the aftermath of the devastating 2001 Gujarat earthquake, Pramukh Swami Maharaj of BAPS counseled his followers: “When people are facing difficulties and sorrows, our Indian tradition is to offer them solace. We feel that by serving human beings we serve the Lord Himself.”
Of course, there are many more possibilities created by working from home. We hope these four ideas catalyze your creative thinking about new possibilities for increasing the home’s spirituality, enhancing your well being, and serving the wider community while strengthening family bonds.