5/16/2010

Give Nothing But Your Presence


"A man's mind may plan his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

 The human intellect chatters about a divine plan. But God is the being whose sole purpose is Presence. I can either walk in that Presence, or stumble into the future. 

Baba Ram Das said, "The best gift you can give another is your presence." I would add that, in fact, the only gift you give is your presence. 

One might object, "I must have a purpose for my future. Purposeful work gives my life meaning." Another might add, "I give more than mere presence. I work many hours in community service to build a better future for the sick and the poor. And it's hard work!"

Your efforts I commend. But in the final analysis, what matters is the quality of those hours, not their quantity. The material sum of all our work is but a drop in the bucket of what must be done. Whatever we do in the physical realm will never be much compared to the need. It is the quality of our presence, not the quantity of our labor, that inspires others to carry the work on after us, and to do for themselves what we once did for them.

Only if we are fully in the now during work, offering our work to the Lord of Presence, will work be fruitful in its inspiration. Thus the Bhagavad Gita teaches us to turn work into worship: "Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward... and do thy work in the peace of Yoga." (2:47) "He who in his work finds silence, and sees that silence is work, he truly sees." (4:18)

But the wealthy giver of charity may also object: "I have donate my hard-earned money to build hospitals, support shelters, provide aid for Third World people. I worked hard for that money. Is this labor and money not more than presence?"

No. In the end, all work and money express but our presence. Money is not neutral: it is karmic. Our money reflects the quality of consciousness we have in its making. How do we know that our money does good simply because we give it to a good cause? Millions might be wasted by corrupt inept bureaucrats and government officials. We know, for example, that during the supposed rebuilding of Iraq after the American invasion, billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer aid simply disappeared. The karma of that war's conception infected its aftermath.

If money is earned in anxiety, with a restless and unhappy heart, it will be spent on things that produce restless unhappiness. If money is earned in a distracted state of mind, it will be dissipated through inefficiency. If wealth accumulates in greed or corruption, even when given in charity it tends to be wasted by the greedy and corrupt, before it feeds one hungry mouth.

Yet if wealth is earned through work done in the divine Presence, then even if we only have one dollar to give, that dollar will purchase what is needed, in its special moment, to nourish and inspire a man or woman of destiny who will change the world.

So Jesus teaches us to "take no thought for tomorrow." Be present in each breath, each footstep. And in the words of Black Elk, the Sioux prophet: "Let every step you take upon the earth be as a prayer." To walk cheerfully in eternal Presence is true wealth.

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