In one of our sessions, we read about the nature of the Atma, and how important it is to recognize that all creatures, every living thing, is an embodiment of that Atma. The Atma, according to the Gita, is indestructible, infinite, without beginning or end. And, regardless of what form it came in, what class, what caste, what status, we needed to acknowledge that Universal Atma in every one we encountered. I was immediately overcome once more with remorse.
That very morning, my gardener and his wife had come by to do the lawn. It was a terribly hot day and I offered to bring them cold water, for which they were very grateful. I ran inside, filled a pitcher full of ice and filtered water and then went into the pantry to grab two paper cups. My heart sank when I realized I was completely out. All I had were my own glasses. I stood in front of the cupboard hesitating. Sticky and dirty from hours of gardening in the hot sun, my gardener stood outside, sweat dripping from his face. I couldn’t bear to use my glasses which I knew would be covered in dirt and grime once they were used.
As I stood there, I was overwhelmed by guilt and shame. I knew even without reading the Gita, that we were all equal. I knew that what I was feeling was wrong. I knew that I could stick my glasses in the dishwasher and they would come out clean. And yet, I couldn’t resist running back into the garage one last time to see if we were really out of plastic cups. We were, but I managed to find the two last bottles of spring water and incredibly relieved I offered those to my visitors instead.
I admitted to the group what I had done, and while they all said I was being much too hard on myself, I think it’s important as we proceed on this journey to be just that, to ruthlessly examine our own discriminatory behavior.
It isn’t enough to read the Gita and assume we are making progress. It’s equally important to apply what we learn in our daily lives, to be brutally honest about our shortcomings, and to practice the precepts we learn.
Our homework for the week was to make an effort to recognize the Atma in everyone we came across, and to be mindful of our tendency to create false boundaries.
Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons