Reader comment on Ram Dass's passage ...

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    On Sep 16, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

    Pavi opened the circle by sharing that the piece appeared mischievous to her. I felt something similar, although I’d use the word "cheeky." I like cheeky.

    On the first reading, I found myself agreeing with Ram Dass completely. Indeed, we must be careful before romanticizing the village simplicity. I had a friend on campus who used to live a very simple life and cook everyday. Being impressed, I asked to be assigned as a roommate. By the time the assignment came through, my friend had landed a part-time job and no longer had financial issues. To my surprise, he completely gave up his simple lifestyle, and stopped cooking altogether. I asked him why his lifestyle had changed, and he told me very honestly that he was living simply because of financial constraints. This was a big wakeup call for me, not to judge exterior appearances, while also recognizing that I had no business judging someone else’s life choices. 
     
    On a subsequent reading, I realized that this piece was not about villagers at all. It was about me. I am the villager, romanticizing my own freedom (or simplicity), which means absolutely nothing until I’ve been battle-tested with temptations, and chosen to remain free (or simple). This passage is about the testability of our assertions to ourselves, in the spirit of the old adage, “Smooth seas do not a good sailor make.” :)
     
    In the spirit of cheekiness, our monk-mind can take us on a monastic journey and gobble up inner peace all it wants, but until the monk-mind enters the monkey realm (one example would be the householder realm) to test its attainments, our claims to ourselves stand hollow. Indeed, we would be deceiving ourselves if we remained in a pleasant environment with little exterior turmoil. How do we know we are not escapists? The conclusion of this line of thinking is that as householders, we are in the most authentic space possible to develop our monk mind, much more so than the monastic space, if we could only recognize the opportunity. Reason to rejoice. :)
     
    Cheeky and Gandhi go together, for our "be-the-change" grandmaster had a lot of cheek. Early on in his experiments with truth, Gandhi felt that nonviolence was the best tool for the Indians for they were weak, and did not have the strength to fight wars with the British. His views underwent a sea-change and later in life, he felt that nonviolence was a weapon for the strong, not for the weak-minded. Continuing his cheekiness, he exhorted the Indians to get beyond their cowardice, and go fight wars, shed their own blood and shed other’s blood. Then, they would know the value of nonviolence, and stood a chance of becoming ahimsa warriors. Very much embodying the spirit in this passage, Gandhi had severe tests of ahimsa for himself. He said once to his niece Manu, "If I die of illness, you should declare me a false or hypocritical Mahatma. And if an explosion took place, as it did last week, or somebody shot at me and I received his bullet on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama's name on my lips, only then you should say that I was a true Mahatma." Prophetic words. He did not take his own attainment seriously as he felt he wasn’t tested enough. 
     
    Gandhi’s cheekiness continued when he declared that his own nonviolence was nothing compared to the nonviolence of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (lovingly called Frontier Gandhi, as he came from the Northwest Frontier Provinces; also called Badshah Khan, or Emperor Khan). Khan was a full-blooded Pathan from Afghanistan. Eknath Easwaran’s biography on Khan, "A Man to Match His Mountains," recounts how it was normal in the Pathan culture to kill for honor or be killed for honor, and cycles of violence between tribes was quite common. The British were really afraid of the Pathans and did their best to keep the region divided. In this backdrop, when a Pathan declares that he will choose the path of nonviolence,  Gandhi felt that he could be believed, for he fully knew and was capable of violence. Indeed, the stories of the nonviolent resistance of the Pathans is shamefully forgotten by history, were it not for Easwaran’s remarkable account.
     
    The real message in this passage for me is to be aware of my "villager-tempted moments." Regardless of my decision, am I acting from a foundation of freedom, or do I find myself compelled to act? Do I see the value of my values even when the difficulties in my external circumstances appear insurmountable? 


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