Updated: Aug 9, 2019
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” -The Dalai Lama
There’s a wonderful documentary series on Netflix titled “The Kindness Diaries.” In it, an author and philanthropist named Leon travels (mostly in a 1971 VW Beetle) from Anchorage, Alaska all the way to the southern-most tip of Argentina. He carries no money (and will accept no money from people) and relies completely on the kindness of strangers for everything to make his journey—gas, meals, a place to sleep, help out of a ditch, car repairs—literally everything.
He makes the journey to show that there is still goodness and kindness in humanity and to illustrate how kindness spreads—how acts of kindness inspire those who receive them to act kindly themselves. Along the way, he meets people who are doing extraordinary things to help others: from homeless veterans, to homeless dogs, to immigrants seeking community, to orphaned school children, to struggling artists, he finds inspiring individuals offering kindness and compassion to others. Each episode, he surprises those who most inspire him and rekindle his faith in humanity with a generous gift that will allow them to continue their kind acts and to encourage the ripple-effect of kindness.
One of the things that most made an impression on me while watching “The Kindness Diaries” is that the people who are most generous with Leon tend to be those who have the least themselves. Those living in deep poverty easily and lovingly opened their hearts and homes to him, offering him shelter, food, and kindness when they themselves barely had enough to survive. When he asked these generous people why they were so kind to him, they always answered with some variation of, “That’s just what we do. That’s what you do for others.”
As I watched, I thought of Baba Neem Karoli, Ram Dass’s guru. He owned not much more than a plaid blanket in which he wrapped himself. He lived a life of material poverty, but he was spiritually wealthy. His instructions to his devotees were simple: Love everyone, serve everyone, feed everyone, and remember God. In other words, put others first, be kind, and see the divinity in everyone. Those who helped Leon on his way in “The Kindness Diaries” were spiritually wealthy as well, and they deeply understood the importance of human connection.
We live in an age of disconnect. Even though we are “connected” through the internet and social media to perhaps thousands of others, we still suffer from what my teacher Sharon Gannon calls “the disease of disconnect.” Many of us have largely lost true connection to other humans and to animals and have become selfish and self-centered. Sharon Gannon also says that the best thing we can do to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others—this is another way of saying love everyone, serve everyone, feed everyone, and remember God. We have to make an effort to reconnect in genuine ways, to be kind, and to re-member: remembering our connection to all others and becoming a member of humanity again.
Karma is the law of cause and effect, and it has four rules: 1) it is certain; 2) it expands; 3) if you do it, it will come back to you; 4) if you don’t do it, it won’t come back to you. So, 1) there’s no getting around karma. It is certain. The seeds we plant today will sprout and grow in the future. Thus it is wise to plant seeds of kindness. 2) Our actions have a ripple effect, and they expand in ways that we may not even be aware of. Our actions always have consequences. 3) If you choose to act kindly, kindness will return to you in some way. 4) If you don’t act unkindly, unkindness won’t return to you.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna about selfless service, also known as Karma Yoga. A perfect action, Krishna says, is selfless action. Karma Yoga asks us to strive to overcome selfish tendencies and to cultivate other-centeredness instead of self-centeredness. By not clinging to the results of our actions and by giving up attachment to the fruits of our actions, we can bring our minds to a pure, calm state of equanimity. Karma Yoga asks us to be kind to all beings, to lovingly offer up our actions to the divine, to see the divine everywhere and in all beings, to do all we do with a sense of devotion or bhakti, and to give from a pure and loving heart. If we want to live consciously, we must question the motivations for our every thought, word, and deed: What is the intention behind what we think, say, and do? Is it selfish or selfless? The word Krishna comes from the root krish which means “to attract.” Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu (the preserver of life), draws love from everyone. He draws us to him in the hearts of others. If we try to attract love from others, we may end up pushing them away because we are acting selfishly in trying to meet our own needs. It is forgetting ourselves in others’ needs which draws their love irresistibly. In grabbing, we will lose; in giving, we will receive love.
One word for holy beings or divine incarnations (such as Krishna) is Bhagavan. A Bhagavan possesses six particular bhagas or qualities. The first of these is wealth, not in the material sense, but rather in the sense of being able to give limitlessly—of kindness, love, forgiveness, of being spiritually wealthy. The second is power—spiritual power. This is the power to help, to serve, to love, to be kind. This kind of power supports life. The third quality is called dharma, or seeing and upholding the unity or oneness of life. It is the understanding that all of us—humans and animals—are part of an indivisible whole. Fourth, the holy being is respected and held in esteem for his or her wisdom and compassion. The fifth quality is beauty, meaning inner beauty that reveals itself through the limitless capacity of the holy being to give selflessly. Finally, the sixth bhaga is jnana, which is wisdom in living. The divine being has mastered the art of living, meaning they are always aware of the unity of life, of the oneness of being, and live in harmony by putting others first without any thought of personal gain.
While these marks of perfection must be present for a being to be called Bhagavan, as Eknath Easwaran says in his book “Thousand Names of Vishnu,” they hold practical significance for humans: “…these are qualities we should try to cultivate in our own lives if we want to remake ourselves in a higher image. To give rather than grab, to help rather than hinder, to be aware of the unity of life, to depend for our beauty on the qualities of goodness and kindness, to put ourselves last and the whole around us first—this is how we develop these divine qualities which are the natural endowment of Bhagavan, the Lord within."
The Dalai Lama says that, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” His words have particular import in today’s world. If we’re going to survive as a species, we have to choose maitri (friendliness and loving-kindness) and karuna (compassion). We must choose selflessness and kindness toward all beings, humans and animals alike.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” -The Dalai Lama
Here's the link to a "Kindness, Karma, and Krishna" playlist I created on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4Sq1xGAPug14VHL9KG7mwm?si=WI5kJeMpSu2KfR6z54WQ5Q