The Answer Lies Within


What Is the Relationship Between the Science of Meditation and the Practice of Human Rights?

Roundtable In Observance of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Friday, 24 October 2008; Noon—1:30 p.m.


How Can the Science of Meditation Affect the Practice of Human Rights?

Swamini Sri Lalitambika Devi


When we ask the question, How can the science of meditation affect the practice of human rights? the first thing many wonder is how to meditate. Is it more effective to focus on a mantra or the breath? Should the eyes be open or closed, and can an activity like painting or jogging be considered to be a meditation?

I rode over here today on a crowded subway. Suddenly, I found myself listening to the bits and pieces of conversation in the car. Just breathing and listening. Was this meditation?

The answer to all of these questions is, "yes."

Meditation is simply that which shifts our consciousness from the personal to the universal. As we discover the wellspring of inner peace, we begin to act in ways that benefit all beings.

When we meditate, we realize that there is no choice between you and me, between my land and yours, between your religion and mine. Life is about what we can accomplish when we work together.

Great change will take place as we focus on what we have in common, rather than on what divides us, and when we look at how to accomplish a goal together, rather than how to overpower one another.

Have you recently tried hanging a picture on the wall? Some of us may be more adept at this than others. Some of us may have had the experience of going through several bent nails before we get one into the wall. Some of us may even have had the experience of having the hammer slip and accidentally banging our hand. The natural reaction in this instance is to take hold of the hurt hand with our other hand. After all, the two hands are a part of the same body. Just so, in the world, we are all one body of humanity.

If our brothers and sisters are without food or clean water, we must reach out. If basic medical care is not available, we must reach out. If women are being raped or sold into prostitution, we must reach out. If children are being exploited as laborers or soldiers, rather than receiving an education, we must reach out.

There is another human right that is often overlooked. It is perhaps the easiest right to fulfill. This is the human right to give. Giving does not require a special occasion, a commemoration, or a holiday of some kind. It is simply to act, on a daily basis, according to our true nature.

Human nature, or the soul, is like the sun. The sun shines without condition or limit. It depends on nothing outside of itself to shine. And it needs nothing in return for the nourishment it offers.

Sufi poet Hafiz describes the nature of the soul, comparing it to the sun, in one of his poems. He writes, "Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that—It lights the whole world." (From the Penguin publication The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, 1999 Daniel Ladinsky.)

It is through meditation that we realize our true nature to be like the sun, ever-giving and ever-fulfilled. As we realize the truth within, the question changes from should we give? to how should we give? It is possible to give on several different planes. We can give on a material level by offering funding or donated supplies. We can give on a subtle level, by volunteering our time, planning conferences and educating, and offering support. Sometimes nothing more is needed than a moment of time and a smile, or a hand to hold. We can also give spiritually, by praying or meditating for the well being of all.

With this wealth of ways to give, it is important to have an overview of a situation, so that we can give what is needed. During my studies in India, my teacher trained us never to give money to people who were begging on the street. Rather, she said to give what was needed—food or clothing. I took this to heart.

When I returned to New York City, I began buying meals for people who begged for change on the street. People were happy to receive a deli sandwich, or a burrito, depending upon which stand happened to be on the corner. There was, however, one problem. Sometimes, I needed to be somewhere by a certain time. I wasn't able to stop, to go into a restaurant, and to wait in line to buy a person something to eat.

As a result, I began carrying pieces of fruit in my purse to give away. I usually carried apples. Apples don't bruise easily, and they stay fresh for many days. I would offer these apples to anyone who asked me for change. Most were receptive.

One day, however, I offered an apple to a man who wouldn't accept it. At first, I was concerned that he might be running some kind of a scam, collecting money only to support a destructive habit. Then he explained. He wouldn't accept the apple, because he couldn't eat it. He didn't have any teeth.

This was a good lesson. We may have the best of intentions to give, but we need to give what will be useful. It is important to work with the particular needs of a person, and on a global level, with the culture, and belief system of those whose human rights we are supporting. We can work from within a given system rather than imposing values upon it. On the flip side, we can also take inventory of what we have to offer, and match our means and our skills to a particular need, be it global, or right in front of us.

Let's return now to the question, How can the science of meditation affect the practice of human rights? It is through meditation that we unite ourselves with the power and flow of grace in the universe. In this way we can be an instrument of positive change. As we sit in meditation, we become a vibration of peace and healing that can spread throughout the world. We sit. Then we act. Then we sit again in meditation.

It's as if we were dying a piece of cloth. We dip the cloth into a vat of dye, then leave it out. As the color fades, we dip the cloth into the dye again, then leave it out. Eventually, the cloth becomes colorfast. Just so, as we meditate and then act, and then meditate some more, we become able to act in the world while remaining united with truth within—that of selflessness and unconditional love. We become colorfast, or, so to speak, lightfast.

I will leave you with a Vedic mantra.

purnamadah purnamidam
purnat purnamudacyate
purnasya purnamadaya
purnamevavasisyate

This is full, complete, or perfect. That is perfect.
The perfect brings forth the perfect.
As the perfect gives of itself,
It remains, full, complete, perfect.

Om shantih. Peace. Peace. Peace

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