Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanks & Giving! Not Necessarily the Same Thing!

The American holiday -- Thanksgiving -- is soon to arrive. Many will pause, however briefly, to give "thanks"............there's "thanks" but there's also "giving."

It just so happens the Ananda center here (near Seattle, WA) is hosting a Gala Fundraising dinner Sunday night (November 16). We are starting a three-year campaign of pledge-raising to service loans for the construction of a building known as the Fellowship Hall. The Hall will be next to the meditation temple and completes the original site plan for the use of the property here.

Our Sangha (or "fellowship" or "congregation") here in the greater Seattle and Washington state area has long been an active, creative, and forward thinking group. I think this must reflect a characteristic common to the northwest: self-initiative for the good of all. Both the Temple (which opened in December 2006) and, next year, the Fellowship Hall are tangible, practical expressions of our members active and generous "giving." If we were to count our membership for and by itself, we do not need these buildings for our own purposes. They are a gift to untold numbers yet to be blessed and inspired.

Reflecting, as indeed one does and should this time of year, upon the many reasons to be thankful, let us also reflect how we can be "giving." Gratitude without giving back is like offering sympathy from a safe distance (and taking no action). And if there's one thing our planet needs, it is an attitude of giving back, rather than taking or feeling a sense of entitlement.

One of the great currents of consciousness on our planet is the slowly growing realization that all life is interdependent and we can live and prosper best if we think and act for the good of all. Voluntary cooperation -- creative and intelligent -- for a greater good allocates resources far better than Adam Smith's narrowly defined self-interest. Self-interest is expansive when it goes outward to include the well-being of others and it is contractive when it is limited to oneself, or stops at a predefined boundary such as one's family ("Us four and no more"), tribe or group.

Much of the twentieth century saw the involuntary imposition of "giving" and sharing in the form of communism. Nothing imposed upon others against their will can be said to be "giving." 

I admit that some days when I survey the headlines from around the world I can get discouraged, but that's not really the big picture. How could it be, what with the extensive travel, education, and admixture of cultures in every city and country in the world? 

It is grim, admittedly to consider this, but I am certain that if you were to graph the numbers of people, military and civilian, who have died during the twentieth century in and around wars, purges, pogroms, pandemics, famines, and genocide, we would see a decline in those grisly statistics as the twentieth century progressed and has moved into the twenty-first century. (That's not to say that trend is unalterable and permanent, but, for now, at least, it's in the right direction. I strongly suspect our planet will have to suffer much, much more before the tide towards peace and cooperation turns strongly enough to remain for a very long time.)

It's the "giving" part of Thanks-Giving that I am thinking about. I live in the Ananda Community near Seattle, WA and our community is part of a worldwide network of intentional communities with a supportive and interconnected web of businesses, services and organizations. To create this from nothing has taken the efforts and resources of thousands of dedicated people for whom narrow self-interest has been sublimated into a greater cause. The result is a bunch of joyful and creative people -- not just here in Seattle, but all over the world! Our first movie, in fact, is called Finding Happiness! (see the masthead for this blog)

Americans are a practical people. Ananda has never been funded or endowed and we've had to learn to be practical at the grass roots where real people have to work together to create and sustain themselves and our services to the public. Paramhansa Yogananda, the twentieth century spiritual leader and author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," counseled Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, to "make your ideals practical." That counsel and that necessity has been integral to our experiences in America, in Europe and, more recently, in India.  

One who receives a precious gift and says only "Thank you," but does not otherwise reciprocate in some meaningful form dilutes the meaning of the gift. (Of course, a precious gift should only be given in appropriate circumstances!) Nonetheless, let's not just give thanks alone but give to an ideal and cause greater than our own in practical ways of time, money, creativity and harmony!  Gratitude is an appropriate and necessary beginning to the awakening of consciousness and recognition of our connection with others. It should ignite, however, the desire to give in return!

This world, sorely pressed as it is, by plagues, natural disasters, war, hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse and injustice, sorely needs Givers to spread the message of our Oneness in God: the message of Self-realization. Wish us "well" in our building of the Fellowship Hall, too!

Thanks for reading.....