Swami Kriyananda often asked Jyotish and me to accompany him to various appointments, and we always relished the chance to spend time with him. On one such occasion, we found ourselves seated in the dentist’s office waiting for Swamiji to be called. (Our dentist, a good-hearted man, confided to us that he always booked an extra thirty minutes when Swamiji had an appointment so that he had time to talk with him.)
As we waited that day, I casually picked up a women’s magazine from a pile on the table and began leafing through it. A photo display caught my eye showing new fall fashions for the office. The models looked so convincing as they portrayed highly focused women at their desk or at meetings.
Then the thought struck me, “But these models don’t actually do anything—they’re just wearing the clothes!” I happened to be sitting next to Swami, and shared this frivolous thought with him.
Taking my comment seriously, he replied, “Perhaps you wouldn’t want to be doing that job, but someone needs to do it.” I understood what Swami was telling me on a deeper level: Never judge anyone, but respect their reality and their right to live according to their own lights. His reply had a long-lasting effect on me.
Today we find people increasingly separated from one another by mutual judgment and misunderstanding. These barriers are only heightened by physical distancing due to Covid-19, polarized political views, and racial and religious intolerance. In the face of this profound, and growing, nonacceptance of others, the question we need to ask ourselves is: “What can I do to build bridges of understanding, acceptance, and unity?”
Swami Kriyananda wrote a beautiful essay called “Understanding People,” which is found in his book Religion in the New Age. In it he tells us how to achieve true understanding. “Go within,” he says, “if you would know the truth.” We can understand everything better, he adds, the better we understand ourselves: If we would know ourselves, however, we must go within even more especially. “If we would understand others, moreover, we should make an effort to relax, first, at our own center, and then try to relate to others each at his own center.”
Here are some thoughts to help you build bridges of understanding.
Try increasingly to relax into your own center in meditation. With this, it becomes easier to relate to others’ realities. Theirs may be very different from our own, but they have their own rationale. We may not agree with their perspective, but we should at least try to respect it.
Never judge anyone, but accept them as they are. Yoganandaji says that divine consciousness is “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.” Each one of us is unique. And a spark of divinity dwells in every aspect of God’s creation. By rejecting anyone or anything, we separate ourselves from the whole.
This doesn’t mean that we should accept injustice, bigotry, or dishonesty. We needn’t, however, judge the people who express them. See those qualities for what they are, and move on. Let’s not become intolerant of others’ intolerance.
Finally, realize that each soul is on his own journey towards greater awareness and inner awakening. It isn’t up to us to change or improve them; that’s their responsibility. Respect their process, and have faith that God is guiding each one of us in His own way—however winding the path we sometimes choose—towards the same end: Self-realization.
Swami concludes “Understanding People” with these words: “Seek ways, then, to befriend and help them [other people]. All creatures, indeed—each one in his, her, or its own way—are parts of your own one, greater Being.”
Towards a greater understanding for all,