By Catherine L. Schweig
On this day of Thanksgiving…
I contemplate how in eastern traditions, one of the most precious blessings one can receive in life—and be deeply thankful for—is a drop of divine grace, or a kripa-bindu. These come to us, over the course of our lives, in many forms and through many wonderful and unexpected sources.
Broadly defined, the instruments engaged by divine grace are limitless, including people, places, music, literature, works of art, etc. We can feel ourselves touched by divine grace through any of these avenues. Traditionally though, enlightened gurus—or teachers who inspire us to our core—are regarded as the primary source of kripa-bindus.
Practically every spiritual tradition around the world engages—to one degree or another—the concept of divine grace. While descriptions of this phenomenon may differ slightly, divine grace is generally characterized as that which makes us feel like the best version of ourselves. It opens our wings and helps us soar in ways we never imagined we could. Divine grace uplifts and inspires us, leaving us with a comforting sense of being an instrument in harmony with the divine universal song.
Bindu means drop, dot or seed in Sanskrit.
Like seeds scattered upon a fertile soil, sources of inspiration in our lives become the starting points for inner awakenings. When we are grateful for such awakenings, they start bearing juicy fruits. Vedic texts describe these fruits as spontaneous urges to identify with that spiritual substance that rests beyond the fleeting and divisive designations of race, gender, nationality, political stance, etc. According to the ancient rishis, or sages, when we cling too tightly to temporary senses-of-self, wars erupt within and all around us.
The world’s longest epic poem, the Mahabharata, from which the famous Bhagavad Gita emerged, is about such wars. In this ancient text, one of the foremost rishis is named Kripa. He was a teacher to both the Kaurava and Pandava princes, who were preparing to march into battle against each another. These princes represent the dark and light sides of humanity and within each of us.
As Kripa bestows his teachings to the dark and light sides alike, without discriminating between them; divine grace doesn’t either: it reaches all of us, regardless of whatever particular circumstances we may find ourselves in. This is because guru-kripa, or the guru’s grace, is characteristically causeless. For one does not have to earn divine grace, or be deserving of it, as it originates in a realm that transcends temporary dualities.
Divine grace originates in love and kindness.
Lately, it can feel as if there is a shortage of love and kindness in our world as we watch the Internet being plunged in a deluge of angry and frustrated feelings flung outwards towards others like out-of-control boomerangs. Harsh judgments are flying in all directions, fear stalks and friendships are dissolving. When the boomerangs return, the combative feelings morph into their wounded counterparts: depression and hopelessness.
The overall effect has left many feeling overwhelmed and uninspired, to say the least. Where is kripa when we need it most?
Although kripa doesn’t need an invitation, the yogis attract divine grace into their lives through gratitude. Through that indescribable sense of abundance that genuinely humbles us. Through shifting our focus from lamenting for what we lack, to celebrating all that we are blessed with. It all starts with letting go. This is called atma-kripa in Sanskrit: the grace that originates within our own soul. We access it by letting go, or emptying ourselves of conditioned perspectives that affect our receptivity to it. This emptying becomes a lifelong process.
While cultivating gratitude we become more receptive to the divine grace that is already touching us in our lives, we stop energizing the wars and discover a deep well of peace already existing within us: one from which we can draw unlimitedly and share with others.
I still savor one of the sips I had from that well 27 years ago, early one morning, in my guru’s ashram in India. It is one of the times in my life for which I am most thankful for, as I had no doubt at that moment my cup runneth over. I was filled to the brim with a tangible sense of being loved, and with the realization that divine grace can touch us at any time in our lives. Especially when we least expect it.
That day, the warm, salty breeze twirling in from the Indian Ocean played with a thin, blue cloth dangling in the doorway; the way circumstance played with my patience.
I had traveled half way around the world to attend the teachings of my spiritual master, only to discover all his classes were given in Indian dialects that I didn’t understand. So different from the English correspondence we had exchanged the year prior.
As the classroom was small, I—the only English speaker among them—was gently escorted each morning by one of the monks out of the bright classroom and into the dark, pre-dawn courtyard to make room for the other students. Eventually, I came to interpret the end of the daily prayers and rituals as my cue to exit the building.
Yet how I wished I could have stayed inside! Instead, from my little straw mat outside I listened intently for words I could grasp, hoping to decipher some meaning from the little bit of Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali I knew. Determined to participate, I hung onto every voice pitch fluctuation, waves of laugher and occasional sighs that flowed out of the room.
The classes started out as a challenge for me.
Every day I had to resist feeling left out, forgotten. The blue curtain that hung in the doorway: a reminder that I had been excluded. Sometimes, the classes would go on for hours. Others, it would rain, and I would have to squeeze myself under the awning so I wouldn’t get wet. But I did so quietly, without protest. Eventually, I also did so gratefully.
One day, I realized that while the others were being illuminated by the words of our teacher, I was the only one in the ashram who was able to watch the sunrise every morning. In eastern traditions, the sun represents the enlightened teacher on the outside, as well as the illuminating atman, or soul, on our inside. Each morning, as I soaked in the glorious sunshine—sitting in padmasana on that little straw mat—I was able to move from feeling excluded to feeling a part of a much grander picture than I could ever imagine.
Each time I widened the lens of my perceptions, I felt more peaceful in my heart.
Gently, I let go of my expectations of what my stay at the ashram would be like, and found myself embracing what it was. I meditated and practiced pranayama. By the end of the week I had also let go of the sounds filling the classroom and the frustration that I was missing all the classes. Instead, I absorbed myself in the sound of the mantras my guru had given me: a wonderful way to greet the day.
Before I knew it, my heart swelled with gratitude.
Shortly afterwards, it happened. While chanting with eyes closed, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. When I opened my eyes all I saw was my guru’s loving smile. “This is for you,” he said in a kind voice, handing me an old book. “It contains all the lessons I’ve been speaking on this week. My own guru wrote it! His English is much better than mine.”
I gasped, felt myself blushing and smiled shyly at a loss for words. With that, my guru disappeared into the classroom to finish lecturing, leaving the blue cloth that dangled in the doorway dancing in the sea breeze.
Catherine L. Schweig has practiced yoga in the Bhakti tradition since 1986. Her regular treks into nature, and relationships with others, are a valuable part of her spiritual journey. Passionate about inspiring women to honor their voices, in 2012 Catherine founded the Journey of the Heart: Women’s Spiritual Poetry Blog, through which emerged a trilogy of poetry anthologies, the latest is Poetry as a Spiritual Practice: Embracing the Awakened Woman (Golden Dragonfly Press 2016). Catherine is also the creator of the Vaishnavi Voices Poetry Project. As co-founder of The Secret Yoga Institute, with her life partner, Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., she designs yoga workshops and publishes in various yoga magazines, and co-authored Yoga in the Gita: Krishna & Patanjali, The Bhakti Dimension, (Golden Dragonfly Press, 2016) with Braja Sorensen. Catherine lives in Virginia with her partner, younger son and cat, where she also makes vegan, Waldorf-style dolls. You may connect with Catherine on Facebook, email her or visit her website: catherineghosh.com
Editor: Alicia Wozniak