Spirituality in Action: Yogic Perspectives on Suffering and Social Change

Embark on a profound exploration of suffering, compassion, and activism in this enlightening community conversation that unravels the connection between spirituality and addressing societal change. Discover practical ways to incorporate spiritual practices into your activism and witness the transformative impact of merging compassion with action for the betterment of all.


HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Thank you all very, very much for being here. It is a great pleasure to have you all here with me and an honor for me to be here with you. I'm especially grateful that you are taking the time to join us for this particular conversation. Our purpose for this conversation on the problem of suffering is to explore some difficult questions, and for you to share your thoughts and your feelings with me and with one another. 

I wanted to kick off our conversation on this very sensitive and very important topic by pointing out that I posed this conversation as a conversation about the problem of suffering as opposed to the problem of evil. And the reason for that was that the problem of evil is, first of all, something that requires a definition of evil. And that can be a subjective definition, or it can mean different things culturally, like in Western theology and philosophy, evil can mean one thing. And in eastern and in specifically Vedic philosophy and theology, evil has a very different connotation. 

Suffering is a more universal topic that applies in pretty much all cases. And so I specifically pose this as a discussion about, about suffering rather than about evil. And this, I think, allows us to broaden the conversation into areas of ethical, philosophical, theological, and personal questions. 

So just a recap of what I posed in inviting all of you to come and participate in this conversation. The ethical questions that are brought up for me revolve around the question of what universal principles of right and wrong should inform our response to suffering in any given situation. And there's an underlying premise to that question, which is the assumption that that there are universal principles of right and wrong, that there's actually an objective standard of morality. 

One of the things I would like to encourage you to do in the course of our conversation is look for the assumptions underneath any question or proposition and ask yourself, do you accept the assumption? The philosophical consideration is really a simpler one, which is the very basic question of why is there suffering? Philosophy is meant to ask questions about “why”. And this is a very basic question: why does suffering exist at all? As opposed to what are the specific causes of suffering? What is the overarching cause that introduces suffering into the world of our experience? 

This question is a very basic question of theology that has been batted around for hundreds of years: how can an all good and all powerful Supreme Being really exist if there is so much suffering in the world? And that, of course has the underlying premise of if there is a Supreme Being, then it would have the attributes of absolute or ultimate power and absolute or ultimate goodness. 

And then finally, the personal questions that have been coming up that I've been hearing from some of you is the challenge of how much attention should I pay to all the suffering that's going on in the world? Life is just so busy. I have so many things that I have to pay attention to. I have my own spiritual practice that I'm trying to maintain in order to stay sane in an insane world. And paying attention to the news and what's going on just is upsetting, and knocks me out of my own pursuit of personal well-being. I've been hearing from a lot of people who are yoga teachers or in a position where people approach them for insight, for wisdom, for a way to not lose it that they feel a responsibility to at least know enough about what's happening in order to address the needs of people that they have a relationship with, or even feel some level of responsibility to. 

Yoga philosophy, and particularly devotional yoga philosophy does have or does address issues of ultimate cause and effect. It does address issues regarding the nature of a supreme being and whether or not such a supreme being can exist. It offers us the idea of dharma or harmony with cosmic order as a guiding principle for responding to suffering and injustice, and things of that nature. And it also offers us tools and guidance on how to balance our responsibility to know what's going on in the world, with our responsibility to engage in self-care, to cultivate our own peace of mind. One of the functions of yoga philosophy is to provide us with the means by which to recreate the revelatory experiences of the authors of yoga wisdom texts.

So with that, I'd like to offer you all an opportunity to share your thoughts. How are you feeling about things? What are the things that are affecting you the most, and how are those things affecting you? And what, if anything, are your thoughts on any of these questions on any of these ethical, philosophical, theological, or personal questions? 

Rebecca. Go ahead.

REBECCA: Thank you. I wanted to come to this seminar so badly because your email, I really felt I feel the same way that when I look at the news, I always think, what? Why not me? Like, why are some people in situations where they are? I mean, I'll just say, like in Israel right now and Gaza, those why are those people there? And I'm here like it you know, it doesn't make sense. And so I guess it comes down to karma because that's the only way you can make sense of it. 

But I think I kind of need to take that a step further and really try to understand it in a situation like that. Like, why is it that I get to live somewhere, that I'm safe and I have a roof over my head, I have food, I have water, I don't have to worry about bombs falling on me, but other people don't. And I can't look at all those people and say, I think they deserve it, you know what I mean? I'm all mixed up about that kind of stuff.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: All right. Thank you. Rebecca. Other thoughts. Along these lines. Stanley. Go ahead.

STANLEY: Thanks and thanks so much, Hari, for hosting this and allowing us the space to share. Kind of related to Rebecca’s point, what I found really, really challenging in the last month is that on this topic of suffering and continuing with the Israel/ Palestine example is that there is so much suffering on both sides, and I feel very torn personally, because I can understand that. 

For example, friends in the US who have ties to Israel are suffering. I can also understand that, you know, my sister's husband, who's Palestinian, is absolutely suffering, but I feel like so many of us are almost somehow forced to choose a side. And that's really hard for me to I don't I don't want to choose a side. 

And I feel that I don't know how to respond to people. Because there are friends who are posting things that are very pro one way, friends that are posting things that are very pro another way. And you know what I'd sort of like is a cease fire, and I can't find the words to support people who I feel like I'll alienate myself from them in a way, without knowing how to react. And I suspect that maybe other people might feel a similar way.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Yeah. This is one of the problems we have in the world that things are not easily made into, like black and white, this or that, easy choice, obvious choice situations. It's really, really complicated and finding a balanced way to respond empathetically to people on either side of a conflict can be very, very challenging because as soon as you say something comforting to one it seems like you're siding with them from a political or ideological standpoint. This is a very, very difficult thing to navigate. 

Stanley, thank you very much. Carla. Go ahead.

CARLA: I totally hear what the first speakers have said and yourself.  And I have been thinking about this, since the beginning of this, this particular latest conflict. Like the previous speaker I do have, I have friends all over the globe, from one side of the world to the other side of the world and very dear friends. The challenge is to stay calm. I can't stop that war. 

My approach has been to try to reach out and ask them, how are they doing? And that I love them, and that I just want them to know that. And that's what I do. And most often I have received responses saying, thank you for thinking of me. I'm really feeling awful right now. No one's calling me. People aren't talking to me. And this is whether you're Ukrainian, French, African, Israeli or Palestinian. And I'm very glad to hear people using the word Palestinian, because for a while there, people were being codified by the word Gaza. And I was in my head going, when do we stop, start calling it just Gaza. You know, why are we dehumanizing these people? I don't even know if I'm Jewish. I don't know, my family left Europe at a time when there was great conflict and nobody talked about anything, and everybody's dead. 

So again, my approach is I have a gratitude attitude of gratitude for being where I am personally. And I don't know how I got here except for one foot at a time. And I don't know why the graces are on me except for I want them to be. And I suppose the only thing that I do try to do is I don't participate in the social media. So the little bit of news I brought it down, the little bit of conversation, I steer it and direct it toward gentleness because it seems to me that we can't stop fighting century after century after century. 

And if the divine being is within us because we are created out of the divine being, then doesn't it take our concentrated effort to allow that divine being to rise to the surface like cream, and to just try to keep that cream there? So that's how my day is being handled right now. And I pray a lot for everybody. As you know, anytime I eat, there goes the prayers. So that's if any of that's helpful. God bless. God bless us all because we all need it. And I don't know who God is, but I'll accept everybody's.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Carla, thank you so much. You brought up so many really nice points there. One of one of which is that, you know, resonated with me as I was listening to you. I live in Washington, D.C. and if you live in Washington, D.C. long enough, you will eventually know people who live everywhere because people come to D.C., stay for some time and then, move, move somewhere else. 

There are two Washington DCs: a permanent DC, has been here for a long time, and then a transient DC. Case in point: Anita and Robert are friends who are living in London. I'm going to get to you in just a second, but I want to point out that Celeste brought up something that Carla you alluded to and that I was also thinking about as I was listening. I'm concerned also that we react much more to the suffering of those who are familiar or look like this while forgetting or ignoring the equal suffering of those who may be more different, for example, those in Sudan, if you are not of African descent. And that's true. 

You know, Carla, one of the things you brought up is how we hear in social media or in the news reporting how people, different people are referred to. And that also influences how we think about people and policing our thinking so that we are always reminded that we are you know, witnessing the experiences of other spirit souls, other people is really important, irrespective of whether they look like us or they come from the same area, part of the world that our descendants came from, that that our ancestors came from, that, you know, from whom we are descended, etc. 

So thank you very much. Anita and Robert. Go ahead. 

ANITA: Hare Krishna. When Stanley was speaking I was thinking about how Robert and I, we've lived and worked in a world of foreign policy all over the world, and we we've worked in war zones from Afghanistan to Iraq and Egypt. 

Seeing what's happened coming out of Ukraine and of course, most recently, which has been going on for decades as Carla mentioned in Israel between Israel and the Palestinians…. As Stanley was saying, how do you how do you pick a side? And when I think about that, especially since I work in this arena where our government itself is definitely taking positions of certain sides… we do have to look at the people. 

All people love and all have families. And they, whether you're an Israeli or Palestinian or Ukrainian or Ghanaian, whatever that position is Sudanese. They have children. They want to have a roof over their heads and they don't represent a side. They represent the just the people of the world and God's children. 

When I am speaking to people about that, that's how I speak about it, is that I feel the strife and struggle in all beings, you know, in all their hearts, because I imagine what it would be like. And then going into the second point, what would it be like if right now you had to leave your home and go to another country where they don't speak your language with a backpack? And what would you really have? And that really comes to the essence. 

I pray for these people of Palestine and Israel and other countries thinking, I pray that they have that source, because that's the only thing really that is left, the only thing they can do when they're when their house has been demolished by a missile or something, all they have is their faith. And having lived in the Middle East for many, many years ourselves I'm grateful in a way that those countries are so connected to their faith, most of the people we've met. So I pray that that gives them the resilience they need.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Anita, thank you so much. It’s particularly helpful to hear an empathetic point of view from someone who is professionally involved in foreign policy the way you are. Because you know, you're able to see both the policy making process of governments and the people who are affected from a close-up position that a lot of us don't have. So that's particularly valuable. And I appreciate your contributing to the conversation. 

Rob. Go ahead. Thank you.

ROB: You know, for me, it's hard not to have a sense of disbelief and almost egoic outrage at these things that are happening both large and small, foreign and domestic. How can we be at this level of society and still be having these conflicts, whether it's between governments or just, you know, between drivers on the highway? I mean, how long is this going to take for us to wake up? 

There's an exasperation. I'm not claiming to be enlightened or awake in any way, but I'm just dumbfounded at some of the behavior that that we witness every day. And it seems like our behaviors are getting worse the more advanced we become in our in our lives. And yeah, I just have despair sometimes around that.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Rob, thank you for sharing that. And you brought up a one of the points that I've been thinking about a lot. Which is that we like to think that we're making progress and that that progress, that evolution of consciousness is positive is going to be taking us in a direction of greater peace, greater understanding, greater care for one another. And yet it appears that just the opposite is happening, that conflicts are getting worse, that, man's inhumanity to man is increasing rather than decreasing. We think, how can this be? Why aren't we learning anything? The answer appears to be no. If anything, things or things appear to be going in exactly the opposite direction. And that's very bewildering when we operate on the assumption that evolution itself ought to be taking us in the direction of higher consciousness rather than lower consciousness, greater empathy rather than less. 

One of the very challenging aspects of yoga philosophy is that it does not actually have a very encouraging view of our prospects for finding happiness in the material world. Someone asked me recently, isn't there a way, by collective will, to change the timeline, to move ourselves collectively in the direction of a world without suffering? Because we quite naturally think that that ought to be possible, that suffering is such an unnatural condition, and therefore we are repelled by suffering. And yet it seems unavoidable. 

We hear about three different kinds of suffering in yoga philosophy. Adhibhautika, which is miseries arising from one's own mind and body. Adhyatmika, which is miseries arising from other living beings, which is much of what we're talking about right now. The friction, the conflicts between living beings causes suffering. And then adhidaivika the miseries arising from nature. Mother Earth's activities of everything from an inconvenient rain to hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions. 

So for example, one of the things we're kind of focused right now on conflicts between human beings and in various areas of the world. But we have also seen suffering visited upon Mexico recently in the form of a kind of unexpected high-level hurricane that pretty much destroyed Acapulco. And these three miseries, the three-fold miseries of material life, are understood to be hardwired into the world. Not something that can easily be overcome just because of the design of the material world itself. 

So I'm curious to know how you feel about this position that yoga philosophy takes that the world itself, or at least the material world, the world of our experience, the world we find ourselves in… as the Bhagavad Gita puts it: from the highest level of the universe to the lowest, all are places where time will bring about unwanted suffering, if not, if no other in no other way than in the form of death which takes everything away, which nobody, nobody wants under any circumstances. Hannah, I know you had your hand up before. I just wanted to recognize you in case you wanted to put your hand back up and share with us whatever you had in mind. 

HANNAH: Yeah. A lot of what I was thinking was said, but I suppose what I, I just wanted to share in the hope that maybe somebody can give guidance.   

I just know that for me suffering and seeing suffering around me in the world, whether it is the conflicts that we're talking about or also just the sort of suffering that the human species inflicts on the other beings we share the planet with. 

I mean, I live in South Africa. There's a lot of suffering here on a daily basis, just linked to poverty and crime. And for my personal practice, it is a challenge. Like some others said it’s definitely sort of egoic reactions, anger, upset or wish that people knew better or could do better, but also a sense of despair. With what you're sharing now, I suppose what I would like to learn more about is, given that these forms of suffering are baked into reality here, how do we still fulfill a purpose, within that context. 

I suppose that's sort of where my mind's at. I can't really find a way to say it more clearly. Hopefully it came across somehow.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: I think I understood. I'll echo it back to you as best I can. If we accept the accepting the proposition that the suffering is baked into the world of our experience, then how do we respond? What are the guiding principles of our response to a world that in which suffering is inherent? Does that sum it up?

HANNAH: Yeah, yeah it does. Thanks.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Okay. Before I have anything to say about that, I would like to know if any of you have anything to say about that.  If that is, something that is also of concern to any of you, this overarching idea of how we respond. 

Paula, go ahead.

PAULA: So how to respond is basically my question, along with a lots of other things. But that's like the top of my priorities right now. 

I have a Jewish client. She has friends in Israel. One of her very close friends was within a like a city block of a place that got bombed recently. She has been very distraught. She also conveyed to me the last time I met with her that she had a conversation with a Holocaust survivor. And the Holocaust survivor told her that what was more distressing than the atrocities committed by the Nazis was the silence of the German population that knew that something was going on and didn't say anything. 

She is very perplexed as am I, because nobody talks to her about the stuff that's going on between Hamas and Israel right now. And I really didn't know how to respond other than to just listen to her concerns and maybe address things one on one. But I am struck by her comment about silence. And here in the United States, I'm not sure what we can do other than to support each other. And I think that's where my question comes about how to respond to her with support. 

But I don't know enough about the history of the war over there to take a side. Nor do I want to take a side as Stanley said, so if anybody has any suggestions, I'm listening.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Yeah, this is important. In the civil rights movement in America there was also this idea that what is painful to someone who is being discriminated against is not just those who are actively discriminating, but the many people who didn't say anything about it, wouldn't say anything about it. There's there is a saying about this that you know, it is the inaction of those who are witnesses to suffering that is more painful to those who are suffering than the actions of those who are the perpetrators of suffering. 

As Stanley pointed out, there are so many difficulties in being vocal in trying to be supportive. It's also very difficult for people to feel safe speaking about their opinions. If you say something negative about the actions of the Israeli government, you are perceived as anti-Semitic. On the other hand anything spoken about by members of Congress that supports Israel unconditionally becomes a reason to charge them with not seeing the Palestinians. Silence is complicity. 

In my devotional community there's there are many members of the bhakti yoga community from Russia and many from Ukraine, and that now becomes very problematic because you want to say something, be supportive and it invites problems. So this is this is a real challenge that you brought up is how do we speak to the suffering of others and focus on the suffering and not the ideological or political agendas or the competing worldviews and get caught up in the idea that you must take one side or another side, and anything you say in support of one is said against the other. 

I saw a few other things pop up in the chat, so let me just go there to see. Marty offers: the fact that suffering isn't likely to stop makes me think of surrendering the outcomes results to Krishna. So specific to the Krishna bhakti tradition. I can't remember the specific verse in the Gita that speaks to this, but this has given me comfort when I feel overwhelmed. 

So this speaks to the idea that we can and should act by doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. You know, if the world is inherently a place of karma and suffering, then why bother? Why do anything? Why? Why act? 

Here's my sense of this: we have a responsibility to be agents of mercy, not dispensers of justice. When human beings take it upon themselves to be dispensers of their conception of divine justice, that's when catastrophe happens. That's when holocausts happen. That's when people get burned at the stake, thinking we can just expedite someone's journey to hell on God's behalf. The ultimate egoism.Men never commit atrocities with so much enthusiasm as when they do it, with the idea that they're serving some religious purpose. So that's the thing to fear. 

Our goal is the alleviation of suffering, not the dispensation of justice. I think we're called upon to do the right thing because the right thing to do, knowing that the ultimate result of what we do is not actually within our power to determine that there are other forces in the universe far, far greater, that have a much bigger picture than we can ever possibly have that will determine what the results are. And what we do should be motivated by compassion for any suffering being. 

One of the things I read recently as I probed my own thoughts and tried to access different sources of knowledge that might have something worthwhile to say about this topic, I read something in one of my own initiating guru’s books that compassion is not a material quality, it's an extension of our spiritual consciousness. 

In other words, it is natural for the soul to have compassion for other people, for other beings. And so we act on the basis of that natural compassion to the best of our ability, knowing that we are very small, that we are very limited. That there is a very big picture that we are not ever in a position to see all of, and we just do the best we can for the sake of all beings. 

Lisa Marie. Go ahead.

LISA MARIE: Thanks. For me, I think it's about just like trying to hold the suffering of others and just accept that it exists, you know, not necessarily like trying to change it, but maybe when someone comes to me, like with suffering, to just get really curious about it and to ask questions of it and try to understand their suffering more. 

Which maybe helps them to understand it, which maybe helps them to move through it in some way.  I’ve been, uh, coming across this concept of the tale of two truths where there's multiple truths. And so I am actually interested in your talking about this concept of multiple truths where somebody can say, well, how are you? And you can say, well, I'm okay, and maybe that's true. But then when you start asking them questions about, okay, maybe they're not okay, and maybe there's actually other truths under there, or maybe, oh, well, this thing happened or that thing happened and I'm actually not okay. And maybe that's true too.

But then also in yoga theory, we talk about the ultimate truth that we're all like interconnected… there's sort of these multiple truths that are happening, like in the Middle East, right? There's multiple people who are wrong and there are multiple things wrong. There are multiple things right. It's not like a clear cut this is right, this is wrong. There's a lot of different perspectives with a lot of different truths. And then there's that ultimate truth. 

So I feel like the way that I handle it is I try to hold the space for the suffering and not necessarily try to be the one to change it or solve the problem, but to just hold the space and just accept that there is suffering in the world. And that maybe it's part of our journey's process. Maybe humanity needs the suffering. I'm not saying that we want it or that it's good that it's happening. I don't know, maybe there there's some larger transformation that is connected to it.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: All right. Thank you. 

LISA MARIE: Thank you.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Yeah. You brought up a couple of interesting issues. The idea that there are relative truths and they look different according to different perspectives.

You know, one of the reasons why there is an ongoing conflict in the Middle East is because there are competing worldviews that are mutually exclusive to one another and therefore cannot be reconciled. So you have a relative truth from one worldview and a relative truth from another worldview and somebody outside of both of those worldviews may see a little bit of truth here, and a little bit of truth there, or a little bit of illusion here, a little bit of misunderstanding there. 

And then the question is, if we accept the idea that there is an Absolute Truth and that all relative truths are playing out in the context of an Absolute Truth and how does knowledge of an Absolute Truth help us navigate through relative truths? 

We have examples of that in yoga wisdom texts. The situation that sets the stage for the speaking of the Bhagavad Gita is a situation where some of the combatants find themselves having to take a side, even though they see the truth of the point of view of the other side. So this idea of the complication of relative truths and how to navigate it, yoga wisdom texts are aware of that and speak to that. And it's one of the values of deferring to a time-honored source of wisdom when it comes to applying transcendental knowledge to worldly problems. 

Karen. Go ahead.

KAREN: I just wanted to… I don't know if the word is pushed back or maybe ask you to go a little further, but this is related to something you said just a few minutes ago about our work is to move from mercy and not seek push for whatever you said. Justice. 

I'm very motivated by wanting to make right from wrong. And feel as if a lot of the movements in United States history at least, have been motivated by that same. And if people just looked to mercy of things, it wouldn't have moved us as far. And in particular in this situation besides the really difficult question that you've said a lot about is in the face of great suffering, what do we do? But one of the things that I find particularly upsetting is the - in part because of all the internet and social media and all that - we have this push for humanitarian aid at the same time as the government of my country, the United States is actually aiding and wanting to give military aid to create the bombs and the missiles that create the humanitarian crisis. 

And so we're going to support the entity that drops the bombs and we're going to actually give them those bombs. And then but we're going to bring in humanitarian aid. I mean, it's just I don't know, even know quite what to do with it. It's very dissonant to me. And it's just shocking, ludicrous, bizarre. You could make a great movie out of it. You know, it's like, I don't know what to do with that other than try to protest and call attention to, no, I don't really want more aid to Israel. But then, of course, you know, I look like as Stanley said, that I'm somehow anti-Semitic. No, that's not the point. So those are all the things I was wondering if you have anything to say about.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Yeah, I do, thank you. Karen. You brought up some really, really great things. 

The cognitive dissonance that comes from watching your own taxpayer dollars be simultaneously used to create a humanitarian catastrophe and try to solve a humanitarian catastrophe at the same time. It's totally bewildering. So I definitely hear you on that. 

I want to make a fine distinction to the first thing that you felt you were pushing back on the idea of mercy versus justice. So in that context, I'm speaking of the kind of “activism” that very specifically makes the assumption that we know what God's justice is and we will become vehicles for dispensing that justice. This is very dangerous. As opposed to pushing back on injustice. 

In the very beginning of our conversation, Rebecca brought up this idea of karma, which is a really difficult concept to understand and certainly very difficult to accept when we talk about suffering. The idea of karma hinges on the idea of an eternal soul or an eternal individual spiritual being who has never come into being and will never go out of being and transmigrates from one life to another life to another life since time immemorial. In other words, there is no tracing when one comes into this material world, accepts a life, and begins to generate karma reactions to actions.

This proposition that we are all eternal spiritual beings having temporary material experiences is the logical basis for social justice. And the reason I say that is because the idea of social justice depends on the idea of equality. 

The idea of equality only works on a spiritual level, because materially none of us are equal. Some people are smarter than others. Some people are more beautiful than others, some people are wealthier than others. Some people are more powerful than others. Some people are more famous than others. None of us is equal. Some people are better at math… everybody is better at math than me. Some people are better at science, some people are better at art, some people are better at music. There's just no equality on a material level. 

On a spiritual level, that's where our equality is. And therefore, the same concept upon which the idea of actions that generate reactions that show up in future lives depends is this concept upon which our fight against injustice depends because it establishes equality. 

When I talk about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do… when we see an injustice, then fighting that injustice is the right thing to do. We don't take into account whether it's someone's karma to take birth in a particular kind of body, in a particular country at a particular time, when they're going to be discriminated against, when the whole system is designed to put them at a disadvantage. Otherwise we'd say, hey, just your karma. Oh, well, sorry. Sucks to be you. 

No, we don't do that because we are agents of mercy. We don't care about their karma. We care about their suffering. And therefore, when we see an injustice, we don't concern ourselves so much with the question of how did they karmically get put in this position? The same way we don't concern ourselves with how did the fire start? If the house is on fire, the house is on fire. You get out of the house, you figure out how the fire started later. 

So that's what I mean by we're in the mercy business, not the justice business. It doesn't mean that we don't fight injustice wherever we see it, according to our understanding of what constitutes an injustice. It means that our motivation for doing the right thing is that because it's the right thing to do, and we are interested in alleviating suffering, not in the imposition of or the carrying out of or passively standing by being complicit due to our silence in the suffering of others, whether it's karmic or coming from some other thing. Does that help address that issue and explain a little more about where I was coming from on that issue? 

KAREN: Yes, that was very helpful. Thanks.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Okay, good. Thank you. All right, those of you with your hands up, hold the phone for just a second while I check the chat. 

Yeah. People sometimes can't say anything, uh, without becoming victims. You put yourself in harm's way when you raise your voice. And that's a risk that some of us can't afford to take or are unwilling to take one or the other. Stanley's response to an earlier comment was, what I've been doing, instead of putting a lot on social media, is supporting organizations that are providing medical aid, food, etc. to individuals. Yeah, that's a good that's a good strategy. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. 

Okay. Lisa Marie. Go ahead.

LISA MARIE: I was just going to respond to what Karen said about how the US government is creating this cognitive dissonance. They're creating the problem and then also trying to solve the problem at the same time. And it just reminds me of narcissistic abuse. And from my own experience with healing from narcissistic abuse it's like, oh, well, the US government's really narcissist. They're creating the problem. And then they're trying to also they create the suffering or they help create the suffering, and then they try to calm that suffering. 

And what I've learned about dealing with people who have narcissistic personalities is that you're not going to change them. You have to accept them as they are because they're impossible to change. It's just their nature of who they are. It's not a curable personality type. So if the country, you know, if the country is a narcissist, you kind of think about it in the micro and then the macro, what we can change is like ourselves and how we deal with it, how we deal with the with our country and then the boundaries that we personally create. With our government. This is a kind of a comment. Just like a thought.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Okay. Thank you. I'm going to push back on it a little bit, okay? 


HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Because the government is us, the government is we the people. At least that's how this is supposed to be working. And if we accept the idea that the government is just an unchanging, impersonal entity, it negates the possibility of taking our sadness and our outrage and our inability to accept the suffering of others and that we would be complicit in it to the voting booth. And this is something that worries me, frankly. 

I think that building a kind of psychological wall between us and the workings of our government becomes a reason to think there's nothing I can do about it. Therefore, I'm not going to vote. And silence is complicity. So if we aren't politically active, if we don't engage in our civic duty, when we have the opportunity to, first of all, preserve a representative democracy that is in danger of being undermined, actively being attacked by political forces within the government. Then that lack of participation allows agents who will perpetrate even greater suffering to gain power. And then it becomes a vicious cycle of, evil agents gaining power who cause even greater amounts of suffering, which give us more reason to be indifferent and disengage, and nothing I can do about it mentality.

So I think that on the one hand… you know, I grew up in the. 60s, where distrust of government was second nature to any teenage hippie freak kind of guy, which is what I was, and I still harbor you know that that what I think is a healthy distrust. At the same time, I don't think that it's hopeless. 

I think that ultimately governments are made of people and that people can make changes. And therefore, one thing that I feel is important is thinking about how spiritual philosophy translates into public policy. It can and it should. And for someone to be active on a spiritual level means also being active as a participant in whatever society you karmically happen to show up in, and to do the best you can with whatever tools that society gives you to move your government in the direction of mercy and kindness, rather than in the direction of perpetuating suffering or being involved in acts of political expedience, irrespective of the degree of injury that expedience causes. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts. All right. Thank you, Lisa Marie. 

Anita and Robert and then Glenna.

ROBERT: I raised my hand to make a separate comment, but just to respond to what you had just talked about, I actually think this political part of it adds another layer, a layer of urgency, because the United States, with its various flaws, was relatively reliable. You know, you may not have agreed politically with the Republicans or the Democrats, but we are in completely new territory with the US government. And if the election comes up and Trump gets back in the office, the complexion of this country will change dramatically. And what we had been used to and what had been relatively stable is going to be changed, perhaps to a degree that's unrecognizable. 

So for me, this is another layer of suffering, if you will, that I face when thinking about these things. But actually the comment I want to make is how do we reconcile this? How do I reconcile this suffering and not just suffering of of humans, but literally every creature on this planet is suffering: wild animals, domestic animals. I mean, there's a suffering going on now on the planet that's immeasurable. 

A few years ago, I went on a journey, if you will, to, you know, why is this happening? Why are human beings still killing each other? And I was armed with my spiritual knowledge, particularly in relation to the Bhagavad Gita and what Krishna tells us about suffering and why we're suffering and kali-yuga.

And one thing that is completely obvious, and even yesterday, as Anita and I were at the British Museum, where the Brits have gone around the world, and they snatched all these treasures and the theme with every civilization Egyptians, Greeks, Assyrians, Romans. The theme always was one conquering another. It's always been about killing either for territory, resources or ego. 

So when I went on that journey, if you will, several years ago, I said, okay, what's going on is that this is what humans do. We've been doing it forever. There's nothing new that's going on now that hasn't gone on in the past. And in fact, in some ways, the degree of torture that occurred in the past in some way supersedes now. So, okay, you have that this is what human beings do. And here I am now. And then how did I how do we how do I still overlay the knowledge that I have in my spiritual life in relation to this and not contradicting why does a loving God allow this to happen and focus it on this is the structure of the creation.

And it isn't a function of love or lack thereof. It's a function of perhaps the natural operation of life and the plan itself. So having a spiritual perspective, being able to fall back on these answers from the Bhagavad Gita and Krishna, for me personally, is the only life saver. 

Now, that doesn't mean that I don't suffer, because even listening to this conversation, my heart is tight. You know it's tragic. And that doesn't mean stand back. So the question then remains, how do I contribute? What can I do, even knowing that it's going to happen independent of what I do? How do we respond? Do we sit back and do nothing, or do we make some type of contribution? 

And so for me, the answer is, you know, how do I make a contribution, some contribution to the alleviation of suffering, knowing that it's always happened and it's going to continue happening? And I don't know the complete answer to that, of course, but that's the three components I attempt to get my arms around.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Robert, thank you so much. I think it stands to reason that doing something rather than nothing is the right response. How much suffering can we alleviate? Whose suffering can we alleviate? And then how to go about alleviating as much of that suffering as possible. And on what level? 

One of the things that we hear in spiritual wisdom texts like the Bhagavad Gita is something, you know, really, really counterintuitive about how suffering arises in the first place. And what that is in the fifth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the pleasures that arise from contact between material senses and the objects of sense enjoyment are actually sources of misery. For such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and the wise do not delight in them. 

So there's this idea that the pursuit of happiness through the pleasure of the senses is the root cause. Of the miseries that are brought about from unintentional negative karmic reactions to our actions. We didn't plan, obviously, for a bad negative reaction, but somehow it comes it shows up in collective karma how we are not just responsible for our own individual karma, but how we're responsible for becoming entangled in other people's karma and suffering on account of that entanglement. How time takes things away or brings things together. But those things, develop friction. And so they're suffering from the friction between things that are brought together, things have an end, and then things have a beginning, and there can be suffering with the end of one thing… and there can be suffering with the beginning of something if it's the beginning of a negative. 

Destiny, or the will of Providence, is also a factor in the philosophy of the Gita and it's something that's beyond our comprehension, but it's not something that we should just say, oh, God works in mysterious ways and blow it off and not do anything about or question or think about. 

On the contrary, we are asked to engage our critical thinking capacity to hear from these sources of wisdom, and analyze what we are hearing, and figure out how to practically apply it in order to achieve the greatest good. And that greatest good can be on the level of spiritual knowledge that gets to the root cause of suffering. It can be in the practical application of treating the symptoms, as well as the disease that is the source of the symptoms, because you have to do both. 

You cannot ignore symptoms while trying to treat the cause of a disease. You have to deal with both symptoms and the root cause. So you brought up an important point about how do we reference a source of spiritual wisdom to know how to move through the material world in a way that is most beneficial for the most people or living beings that we can possibly be of service to in the course of? Trying to alleviate suffering as best we can. 

So Robert, thank you for bringing that up. Glenna. Go ahead.

GLENNA: I always fall back on yoga philosophy. And for me, ahimsa is a very important concept that I always come back to because my goal is to do less harm in the world, to do less harm to myself, to others, to animals, to the planet. And you know, to me, that means in every moment I have to make a decision about taking action in some way and, you know, deciding what action will do less harm. 

There's a quote from the Dalai Lama, and I don't remember it exactly, but it's, you know, he every day he gets up thinking what can I do to help? But if I can't figure out what it is I can do to help, at least do no harm. You know, that is that's kind of paraphrasing it, but that whole thought process takes me to the Gita, because in the Gita, there's that whole conversation about right action, wrong action and inaction. 

And so for me, it's like trying to be in the present moment, constantly trying to decide what is my next right action that I can take to do that's going to do less harm in the world. Not that every minute of my day, every decision that I make, is exactly what that is. But I do believe that kind of what I'm putting the what the energy and the consciousness I'm putting out into the world makes a difference.

I have a tendency to get pretty angry about the kind of things we're talking about today. The schizophrenia of the decisions and the direction that our country often takes… the hate, the us and them, all of those kinds of things that are happening. I often react with anger and even rage sometimes. 

But that's not what I want to be putting out. I don't want to be contributing to the hate and the negativity out into the world. And that takes working, doing my internal work constantly… using the tools of yoga and my spiritual practice as well as my other yoga practices that are more physical. So, that's where I come back to. 

Plus, I'm a social worker, an activist doing social justice my whole adult life. So that's part of my right action is, you know, taking those kind of actions, deciding where I can put my energy to make a difference, is also a part of that. And contributing so people have food and water and those kinds of things are all part of it. Voting is all part of that. But ahimsa focusing on my right action every moment and every decision is kind of my strategy, I think, for trying to cope and function in the world as we know it today.

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Glenna, thank you so much. One of the one of the really important points that was contained within what you had to say about action and choosing how to act is this idea that we actually have to act, and it's just a question of how will we act? 

One of the things Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad Gita is that it is impossible to not act. That you're going to act one way or another. And it's just a question of how you were going to act. There's no real possibility of not acting. He also lists ahimsa as an article of knowledge that someone who does no harm, who understands the principle of non-violence, is someone who is someone who possesses knowledge. 

You brought up the three kinds of action. I just wanted to take a moment to clarify that because what we hear is, positive action, negative action and inaction. Krishna does not mean the same thing that we usually take inaction to mean. In other words, it doesn't mean the absence of action. Inaction in the Bhagavad Gita means an action that does not generate a material reaction. He goes on to explain that an action in harmony with cosmic order brings about a pleasing reaction. 

Good karma means that you get a material benefit. And negative action - action that is dissonant in disharmony with cosmic order - well, the universe sends back a dissonant response in the form of a negative or unpleasant experience. 

Inaction is an action that does not produce any reaction at all. It's a liberating action. And that kind of action is action undertaken specifically on the path of yoga, and even more specifically on the path of devotional yoga, that an action that is an offering to Vishnu, to the highest truth that one can conceive of, whatever your conception of an absolute deity is. 

An act that is a sincere offering meant for the pleasure of your Ishtadevata - the personal form of the absolute truth whom you develop a spiritual relationship with - that activity carries no karmic reaction and is therefore a liberating action. It not only does not add to the stockpile of karma but it burns up existing karma so that if one is perpetually engaged in spiritual activity, you burn up and play out the string of all of your karma such that you are no longer obligated to experience reactions to actions that obligate you to future lives in the material world, but rather open up the possibility of pure spiritual experience. 

So thank you for mentioning that. Bringing up this idea of action and choosing the first principle of spiritual action, ahimsa, as one's course of action.

All right. We're getting close to the time when we're going to finish up. So I want to invite any closing comments. Anything that you felt was a benefit of being a participant in this conversation? Any realizations, anything that particularly touched you in some way? 

Carla? Go ahead.

CARLA: The one thing that that kept on popping up with a lot of the people that were speaking was, the gift that we have as, as, as yogis is, is finding the calm. And now we are challenged with can we as yoga teachers, therapists, would it be possible for us just in our walk through the next weeks to use our calm in a more extended way and to bring that to the table when there is the conflict? 

I'm sure many of us have people in our own families or our offices or wherever we are that are polar opposites to us. I see how we can be broken apart into many pieces. But can the gift that we have as yogis lend itself to extending calm in our own country so that that can go through the ether and spread to the others?  

Because the one thing that everybody has in common is agitation. And what do we need for the agitation is to, is to bring the calm. And I fear personally, almost to tears the ripping asunder of the experiment that's been happening in this country to work as a unified whole. And so that that's what keeps on springing to my head. Being a yoga teacher is a pretty powerful job. Can we take our calm and really up our game to help our brothers who don't know how to find it? And is that what the moment is bringing? 

Because it is America at that, at that inflection point where we can either, crash or can we rise above our own differences and use the strength of our whole to help the hold in the other place. And that's what I just keep thinking about, because so many things I don't understand. But I know that I don't want the occurrences that have been happening. I know I don't want that, and I want to be able to. You get what I'm saying? 

HARI-KIRTANA DAS: Yeah. And you're bringing up a good point, whether it's, you know, here in America or on the other side of the pond in Europe or on the other side of the other pond in Asia or wherever you happen to be. We cannot give what we do not have, and some of us have calm, and we can bring that to the table. Some of us have rage. And we can bring that to the table to. Some of us have sorrow. All of this can be utilized in service. 

Real renunciation isn't turning your back on the world, letting go of the world. Real renunciation is using everything in the world, inside our hearts, outside of our bodies, in service to the highest truth that we know. So however, we feel… that can be channeled into a spiritual purpose and when we act. For the sake of serving a spiritual purpose in the world. We can move the world in a spiritual direction which is inherently joyful rather than painful.

There is validity to the idea of seeking spiritual solutions to material problems, because when we move in the direction of our true nature and the source of our being, we naturally gravitate towards a joyful condition. And the natural inclination of someone moving in that direction is to take as many people as possible with us. So whatever you've got, if it's calm, if it's rage, if it's sorrow, if it's the ability to hold space for suffering, if it is the ability to offer tangible resources for the relief of suffering. Whatever it is, we can do that. And we should do that. And I hope we all will do that. 

All right. I want to honor everyone's time. And I want to thank all of you for taking part in this conversation here in real time. Or those of you watching the recording, thank you very much for taking the time to participate in that way. 

If you have any comments, any questions, any realizations, anything that you would want to share, any issues that you would like to explore further, then please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to continue to engage with you on this very important issue. 

So thank you all very, very much and I look forward to seeing you all again soon. Take care.

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