Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009
by Jonathan Granoff
The human being has the capacity to demonstrate that which is most worthy of praise: the indivisible unity of being. It is realized through the divine attribute of love. The expression of this capacity is through intrinsic dignity, realized through the nurturing of inner character and the kind of knowledge that emerges from that effort, which is often called wisdom. This uniquely human capacity leads to the clear perception of the inner connectedness and inter-connectedness of all life. It manifests as ethics based on the Golden Rule.
The aspiration to our highest calling -- as a unique creature capable of knowing our uniqueness as well as realizing it -- should not be ignored. In this modern age, cynicism toward higher ideals is like a cancer. We hear so much about man as a beast and the great value of seeking the "bottom line." An appropriate bottom line is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts our common humanity. Below that is where the law of power tends to overtake the power of law. When individuals allow power to overtake the rule of law, personal tragedy is the result. Human respect is corroded and relationships deteriorate. When societies seek power over respect for humanity through the law, war and tyranny ensue.
When nations pursue the Golden Rule and treat other nations as they wish to be treated, peace and prosperity result. When they pursue the quest for ultimate dominance, chaos always follows. One only need compare the result of post-World War I's punishing process and its results with the success of the post-World War II's Marshall Plan and the creation of the UN system.
I am not positing that the world can become heaven easily. I am proposing that when we follow the Lord's Prayer, which calls us to aspire to do God's will here on earth, much goodness results. It is also true that when too many fail to honor the calling to do good works, enormous suffering results. And what we never know is how our own personal commitments affect the whole. What we can know, however, is how such personal commitment affects us. This knowledge is based on experience rather than on doctrines.
We can never aspire enough to our personal highest potential, which might not have a limit. As it partakes of the divine, it certainly cannot be measured or quantified. But, then again, neither can self, consciousness, soul, or conscience. Only objects can be measured, not that which knows them.
We need not bemoan the fact that in our time pursuing the highest ideals, where dignity shines in sacred beauty, is not treated with appropriate respect. One need only look at the trials and tribulations of Socrates or Jesus to remember that those who honor truth above all else might stimulate the most undignified conduct by many. Yet Jesus reminds us that we can forgive all wrongs and preserve the greatest treasures of the spirit. Socrates knowingly gives up his own life fully aware that the law has been misapplied to his individual case but is nevertheless well worth respecting since it is an institution necessary to guide the conduct of many. He gives up his body because he has found something far more precious, the profound presence of divine love for the benefit of others. His actions manifest the presence of the sacred infinite mystery within the finite world.
Can we all attain these standards? Who knows? Can we strive to emulate them? Why not? Both of these men encouraged all to follow in their ways. Both asserted the presence of capacities for human dignity we all too often forget. I had the privilege of seeing this level of dignity in our time and thus have the responsibility of sharing it with you.
I was in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1974, and it was a very hot day. I was sitting at Bawa Muhaiyaddeen's bedside. He was very old, and his ashram was made up of a cement floor, a corrugated steel roof, and a courtyard ten yards from his bed with a variety of animals. There were goats, peacocks, dogs, cats, and a deer that had followed this gentle Sufi out of the jungles when he entered society to teach. I was struck by how the deer was always attentive when Bawa would sing and pray.
Bawa's day consisted mostly of sitting on his bed and giving advice on understanding the wonder and beauty of God. Because he was respected as a living saint, people attributed many things in their lives to him -- both good and bad -- sometimes, things that should not have been blamed on him.
One day a fellow came in absolutely shaking with rage and hatred. I was sitting right by the bed, and the man pulled out a short machete, the kind that one uses to cut bamboo. He was screaming. I understood that some tragedy had befallen his family and he was blaming Bawa. I was close to him, close enough that I could have sucker punched him. He wouldn't have expected it. He would never have seen me coming. But I thought, no, it's not for me to step in front of this sage. I'm here as a student, and it's not for me to intervene.
You must understand the kind of love that Bawa Muhaiyaddeen generated in me, so this was a profound position that I was in. But I knew, deeply, that I wasn't supposed to do anything. I was to watch and not engage.
Bawa attributed all beauty, goodness, wonder, and the miraculous events that happened in creation only to God. He never centralized any events on himself. He did not use miracles as a way of promoting wisdom. He promoted the supremacy of love and the knowledge of the nature of consciousness as the pathway to human realization.
Now Bawa opened his arms fully wide. He had no shirt on, and he leaned his head backward, exposing himself fully to this flood of violence. He looked with the most melting eyes of gentleness at his assailant and said, "My Brother, will taking my life give your soul the peace it is seeking?"
It was as if the molecules in the room began to scintillate and vibrate with the power of love. That love just filled the space we were in like a tangible presence, and the man with the machete became like a puppet whose strings had been cut. He collapsed on the ground and sat up gazing deeply into the sage's eyes. Bawa then embraced him with such kindness and motherly absorption, and said, "Go home and clean yourself, and come back, my child."
I bear witness to having seen somebody respond to ultimate violence with no concern for his own life but only for the well-being of the attacker. I saw the power of divine love in this world in action.
I learned the value of a true human being.
I am sharing with you a secret he told me: "If you treat other lives as your own life and live within the resonance of God's compassion, wisdom will dawn and you will know yourself. If you know yourself, you will know that God lives in you and you live in God."
A person with such knowledge shines with a light that guides others even without speaking. They do not protect the grace of God for they have surrendered themselves into God and reside knowing that God protects them. Thus, they express the grace of God as part of their own being. Such an expression is a unique human potential and the ultimate ground of human dignity.
For generations people who have attained this level of realization have been admonishing all who would listen to see the human family as one and to respect the mystery and sacredness of life. In this modern age -- when our reach is extended through science and technology to the point where we can shred the very fabric of the web of life by following the excessive quest for power through nuclear weapons or through greedily irresponsible business practices that hurt the environment-this admonition has become an imperative.
Persons who have chosen to pursue the secret inner treasure upon which real value is based are capable of presenting a different route. This route is based on nothing new or old. It is based on living to know and honor the Creator of the indivisible unity of being through the attribute of love. A life lived in such a fashion is resplendent with dignity. May we live to know this.
Jonathan Granoff is an attorney, author, and international advocate who emphasizes the legal, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of human development, nuclear disarmament, peace, and security. He is president of the Global Security Institute and a member of the National Advisory Board of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
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