I’ve been wondering how, aside from staying home, I can be of service to those for whom the coronavirus pandemic has become an all too reasonable source of dread.
Jess, a good friend and fellow yoga teacher who’s been studying the Bhagavad-gita with me for a long time, recently asked me about this very thing. She has a sister who’s a front line health care provider and the rest of her family is understandably terrified about what might happen to her.
Jess has taken the essence of the Gita’s teachings to heart. And by integrating those teachings into her daily practice, Jess is riding out the storm of this pandemic from a safe inner space.
Out of love and compassion, she quite naturally would like to share her spiritual insights with members of her family in the hope that they, too, can experience the same kind spiritual equanimity she’s experiencing.
But this can actually be quite a challenge. The obstacles to sharing our spiritual perspectives with the people we care about the most can not only be frustrating; they can give rise to doubts about the impact our spiritual lives have on our most important relationships. As Jess put it to me:
“Śaraṇaṁ is the lovely experience of surrender to Krishna. It allows one to experience connection to all beings because it lets us fully see and feel Krishna all around us. It’s also been my experience that śaraṇaṁ brings freedom from fear. And right now, I’m looking at the world and seeing Krishna in all of his energies and not experiencing much fear or anxiety.
However, many of my loved ones who are not on this spiritual path are fearful and anxious. I can’t just tell my anxious family “hey, chill out and surrender to Krishna!” For the first time ever I feel like my connection to Krishna is not facilitating a connection to others and their suffering.
So my question is: how do we support and connect with others and their suffering when we see the world through a very different lens? How can we actually talk about reducing fear when our personal experience of śaraṇaṁ will look kinda crazy to those people?”
I thought this was a great and timely question.
Krishna’s conclusive instruction in the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) is to let go of all secondary principles of spiritual practice and simply look to him, Krishna, for shelter. He specifically uses the Sanskrit word śaraṇaṁ, which means ‘surrender to’ or ‘take shelter of.’ And he adds the phrase ‘do not fear’ to emphatically indicate that confidence in his protection is the key to genuine fearlessness.
It's natural to want to help our friends and family become fearless. But Jess is right: we won't comfort anyone who’s distraught about the coronavirus by saying, 'don't worry: you're not your body and Krishna's in control so just see how the material energy is working under Krishna's direction and look to him for shelter and everything will be okay.'
Such attempted reassurances will only cause confusion and anxiety rather than clarity and relief for those who have no information, to say nothing of realization, about how the Gita advises us to respond to such catastrophic events. This is why Krishna advises us not to disturb the minds of those who aren’t seeking spiritual solutions to material problems (Bg 3.25-30).
But Krishna also tells us that kindness and compassion for all beings are the natural symptoms of someone who is blessed with a saintly character (Bg 16.1-3). So, in times of crisis, how do we constructively and compassionately offer spiritual insights to friends and family who don’t share the same frame of reference for them that we have?
In the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (Bg 4.11), Krishna says, "However one approaches me, I reciprocate with them in precisely that way." Therefore, we can follow Krishna's example and lovingly reciprocate with our friends and family members according to the way that they approach us.
In the course of our loving reciprocation with them, they may notice how events that are throwing the whole world for a loop aren't knocking us off balance. And if they notice, then they might ask, 'how can you stay so calm in a situation like this?' That’s our cue to share the gift of spiritual wisdom with them.
If what we do isn't perceived as being helpful then it's not helpful. So this is a case where taking the initiative can backfire. The trick is to inspire people by our personal example of consistent kindness and equanimity and wait for them to ask us how we manage to keep our cool when all around us are losing theirs.
Hari-Kirtan das offers free access to over 100 hours of recorded Bhagavad-gita classes that offer a deeper understanding of modern calamities and practical guidance for moving through them. Find them at hari-kirtana.com