Thought for the Day - Akhandadhi Das
Good morning. Twenty-six years ago today, the two Live Aid concerts raised 150 million pounds for food relief in Africa. And again, this week there has been an amazing response from the public in Britain to the drought and refugee crisis in Somalia. It’s a reminder that famine won’t go away easily. The causes remain the same – undependable and unexpected acts of nature combined with man-made politics, war and unrest - a deadly cocktail of man and nature creating displacement and suffering for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.
Several Hindu texts comment that it is mankind’s eagerness to control both Mother Nature and fellow man which generates our greatest woes. This tendency to dominate is seen as an attempt to emulate God within the small sphere of power and influence we wield on Earth. It manifests in our efforts to subdue nature, to force it to comply with our plans and to extract its resources without concern of future ramifications. Similarly, as individuals or government and corporate forces, we follow narrow, self-interested ambitions which contribute to increased inequality, scarcity and exploitation.
The Isha Upanishad suggests that the remedy to such ills can be found only in a change of consciousness: it asks us to switch from trying to be competitive lords of all we survey to being cooperative servants of a common purpose. The justification is in the words of its first text: “Everything that is animate and inanimate within this world is in the care and ownership of God.”
Within the Isha Upanshad, God is regarded as the common cause of all existence and therefore the natural focus for unity and cooperation in human endeavour. That contention seems at odds with the divisive effects of religion in our modern world – as illustrated by continuing events in my home town, Belfast. But, the sages of the Upanishads were not purveyors of religious doctrine or promoters of particular religious affiliation. Their interest was in exploring universal truths linking human life to its divine source.
The Isha Upanishad continues: “Therefore, one should only accept those things necessary for oneself, which are set aside as one’s quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.” This concept of accepting only one’s quota has been thoroughly debated over the centuries. It’s not a fixed amount and will vary from person to person.
I’m drawn to the interpretation that one’s quota entails what comes from moderate and honest endeavour without exploitation of other people or natural resources. Many of us enjoy better-than-average circumstances in this world. In that case, accepting our quota as a blessing from its original owner conveys the responsibility to use it wisely and well to serve those whose own quotas have been unfairly diminished.