“When people perform service as sacrifice, the universe itself becomes elevated and sublime. The whole scheme of nature is centered not on grabbing but on offering selfless action. Each selfless act done by anyone contributes in an important way to the mysterious whole.” ~ Bhagavad Gita III.15
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.
Jivamukti Yoga Sydney began offering free classes to the crew of the Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker a couple of years ago. When I would see the crew in their signature black t-shirts in class, keen to get their bodies moving after a day of dirty, hard work in port, the words lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu rang in my head. The antu at the end of this mantra is a promise that I will do something to alleviate the suffering of others, and here were people in front of me who sacrificed so much to live up to the promise. The crew of the Bob Barker inspired me through their actions, and more importantly they made me realize that I had the power within me to act.
I discovered, during my four months on the Brigitte Bardot, that the biggest step of all is to leave our comfort zone. Yoga teaches us to do this every time we come to the mat – as a beginner, it might be coming to our first class, or even more so, coming back after the first class. As we move through the practice, it’s summoning the bravery to turn upside down, or putting our bodies in evermore-awkward positions.
The first step outside my comfort zone on this adventure was into manual labor on the Bob Barker, which I had never done before. It was hard work but because the actions weren’t for me, because they were an offering, it was much easier than it otherwise would have been and there was joy in it, even when I was covered in dirt, paint dust, diesel and sweat. We see this in yoga class too – when we offer our practice up to someone else, suddenly that third wheel doesn’t seem as hard.
This initial step led to a very uncomfortable leap onto a small(ish) fibre glass boat. During last year’s campaign, the Brigitte Bardot, didn’t even make it to the whale sanctuary. A week after leaving port it hit a storm and almost had one of its pontoons ripped off by a wave. Knowing this definitely gave me pause, when offered the position. I was there to cook two or three vegan meals every day for a crew of 11 with not all that much cooking experience. I didn’t know if I could do it but when fear or uncertainty arose, and it often did, I remembered the mantra, lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
Living on a boat for four months is one way to leap outside our comfort zones, but it is by no means the only way. Every single one of us has the power to act as peaceful warriors in our world. Every single one of us can do something to alleviate the suffering of another. It could be volunteering at an animal shelter to walk dogs, or committing to picking up rubbish on the streets or beaches for a month, or donating money to your favorite NGO, or cutting all animal products from your diet, or living in a tree to save old growth forests or becoming a Jivamukti yoga teacher, or countless other kind acts.
Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödron talks about everyone’s potential for becoming a warrior of compassion in her book, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness. This book was integral to my own journey to action. She says:
“Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude’. Bodhi means ‘awake’, ‘enlightened’, or ‘completely open’. Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring…
“Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors – not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering.”
The first reaction to seeing suffering can often be to close the heart, because compassion hurts. Compassion literally means to ‘feel with’. Feeling with a whale with an exploding harpoon in its back, or victims of war, or a mother cow who has her baby taken away for milk, can be confronting and our instant reaction can often be resistance. However, getting into that hurt can help us awaken to something beautiful – the expansion of our love beyond just those closest to us. As the Sufi poet Rumi said, ‘The wound is the place where light enters you’.
If we can first sit with a heart open to the cries of the suffering ones, not fortifying it with anger, but rather softening around the heart space, we can then begin to offer up our actions and contribute to a world with less suffering. When the problems of the world seem just too big, we can begin to overcome the feelings of helplessness, by letting go of attachment to results, letting go of blame and agitating for even incremental change. We can all awaken that powerful world-shaking part of us, because it is right there inside.
The monkey God Hanuman didn’t realize how powerful he really was – he had forgotten his divinity. However, when he was called upon to save Sita, who had been kidnapped by the Demon Ravana, he took his leap of faith and found the power within to act courageously. Many of us shrink before the opportunity to reach our highest potential, because we don’t have faith in our own divinity. When asked to be the cook on the Brigitte Bardot I had serious doubts I could do what was asked of me – but with faith I took the leap and it turns out I could. And so can you for whatever it is that is calling you – because faith is stronger than fear.
Sea Shepherd has had a huge victory in the Southern Ocean this year – the whaling fleet has now left the whale sanctuary and they will have taken less than 10 per cent of their catch quota. All Sea Shepherd crew will soon be safely on land after successfully protecting over 900 whales, who are now free to migrate back to warmer waters. However, the actions of Captain Paul Watson and the crew of the four Sea Shepherd ships would not have been possible were it not for the crew who came before them, the donors, supporters and onshore volunteers who all planted the seeds for this year’s success.
The third and final installment – exploring interconnectedness, satsang and how seemingly small actions can lead to big change.