Diwali: Strengthening the Inner Light through Service
Deepavali literally means a row (avali) of lights (deepa) or Diwali. In essence it celebrates the awareness and eventual strengthening of the Inner Light. This Inner Light, though not seen outside, outshines all darkness (dispels all ignorance and removes all obstacles), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not in the physical, but as the unchanging, infinite, and transcendent Reality; the Sat (Truth), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Inner Joy). This, for the Hindus, is the very goal of life.
As this budding inner realization flowers then there is universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things. There is inner strength to face what obstacles may come. A strength that our country needs to turn itself around, harness that creative American spirit and put itself on a path of progress where every American can realize his or her dreams.
Last year the Vedic prayer at the White House Diwali celebration captured the spirit: Asato ma sadgamaya. Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya......(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad -- I.iii.28) Lead me from the untruth to Truth. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality.
Diwali is now a holiday uniting the world cultures. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists (commonly referred to as Dharmic traditions) and by those of any, all and no faith. The different stories of Diwali create an interlocked mosaic which is now global. Often, Muslim and Christians participate and artisans of all faiths make the lamps, fireworks and sweets .The lights shine and illuminate the small mud homes and the palatial mansions.
Diwali comes from a tradition of pluralism, a foundation laid by the ancient seers (rishis) of the Vedas. "Ekam Sat Vipra, Bahudha Vadanti. The Truth is One. The Realized Ones describe the One Truth in several ways." And this common value of pluralism is exemplified in the American ideals of "E Pluribus Unum," or out of many, one.
The ancient ones (rishis) creatively brought Vedas to life through the festivals. The Festivals are the bridge between the philosophy and the practical application for people in all strata and regions. They exemplify the struggle between good and evil and that ultimately victory is of good. And this good needs to be visibly celebrated. These joyous occasions remind us, and future generations, that it was only through the selfless service of those who sacrificed that the victory is attained. Service and giving, being a karma-yogi, are an integral part of multifaceted Vedic Hindu traditions. The spiritual purification (sadhana) comes from giving resources of any kind - material or spiritual or physical...whatever one can give, without any expectation.....
"Service which is given without consideration of anything in return, at the right place and time to one that is qualified, with the feeling that it is one's duty, is regarded as the nature of goodness. Bhagavad Gita 17.20"
Charity plays an important role during Festivals and this tradition is continuing in America. As the immigrant community becomes part of America it is invoking the spirit of Hindu/Dharmic festivals and the cultural heritage to expand seva (community service).
Seva during Diwali, DhanSeva (resources empowerment), means bringing in light, especially in the life of those less fortunate than us. President Obama's Diwali message re-emphasized it. The community is considering many different service ideas: financial education; health camps; guidance in yoga; giving to local food banks for Thanksgiving; to local schools/libraries; donating rooms to Veterans in hotels/motels, etc.
In America the pluralistic Diwali celebration is bringing communities together and mobilizing us to serve those who need it now. Lets us face it, the country with nearly 10% unemployment has difficult decisions to tackle. We must have the moral courage to face them now.
Surely, America's focus on compassionate service combined with Dharmic tradition of inner growth (self-development and self-reliance) will strengthen the country. Can it unleash the increased potential for innovation and empowerment, both financial and spiritual? As our stories and festivals illustrate eventually good will overcome, knowledge will prevail; but we must have the moral strength to sacrifice and standup now for what is right in the long run.
We must turn the country around and have a collaborative environment for creativity and collaboration where surely our future generations will advance from strength to strength. We must ignite the inner light in our hearts, become optimistic about the future and get beyond what seem to be insurmountable obstacles.
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu - May all the beings in all the worlds be happy!
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