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Can We Be as Giving as Mother Teresa?

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Can We Be as Giving as Mother Teresa?

Discovering a Divine path through selfless compassion.
Andrew  Harvey
Andrew Harvey More by this author
Nov 23, 2010 at 09:00 AM

A plump Indian businessman, dripping with gold and diamonds, came one day to visit Mother Teresa, fell at her feet, and proclaimed, “Oh my God, you are the holiest of the Holy! You are the super-holy one! You have given up everything! I cannot even give up one samosa for breakfast! Not one single chapati for lunch can I give up!”

Mother Teresa started to laugh so hard her attendant nuns grew scared (she was in her mid 80s and frail from two recent heart attacks). Eventually, she stopped laughing and, wiping her eyes with one hand, she leaned forward to help her adorer to his knees.

She said to him quietly, “So you say I have given up everything?” The businessman nodded enthusiastically. Mother Teresa smiled. “Oh, my dear man,” she said, “you are so wrong. It isn’t I who have given up everything; it is you. You have given up the supreme sacred joy of life, the source of all lasting happiness, the joy of giving your life away to other beings, to serve the Divine in them with compassion. It is you who are the great renunciate!” To the Indian businessman’s total bewilderment, Mother Teresa got down on her knees and bowed to him. Flinging up his hands, he ran out of the room.

The tremendous and simple secret that Mother Teresa was trying to communicate to the businessman is the message at the core of all the world’s spiritual revelations—that lasting happiness springs only from true love of the Divine, the world, and others, a true love that expresses itself tirelessly in wise and compassionate action. The other side of this tremendous secret—also proclaimed by the world’s spiritual traditions—is that this true love of the Divine and others, when expressed in wise, compassionate action, can lead not only to lasting inner joy but also to profound transformation of outer reality. As Robert Kennedy said in 1966 so eloquently and accurately, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

When the inner joy Mother Teresa spoke of, the joy of compassionate service, is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing economic, social, and political institutions, a radical and potentially all-transforming holy force is born. The radical holy force I call Sacred Activism.

A Sacred Activist is someone who is starting to experience the inner joy and outer effectiveness of this force, who knows that the profound crisis the world is in is challenging everyone to act from our deepest compassion and wisdom, and who is committed to being, in the face of growing chaos, suffering, and violence, what Robert Kennedy called “a tiny ripple of hope” and a “center of energy and daring.”

Millions of people all over the world are now waking up to the need to become Sacred Activists. What we are being asked to do is not to “fix” the existing system but to radically transform it so we no longer, by our choices, threaten our lives and the lives of millions of species. And we can only do this by radically transforming ourselves.

A Brief List of Eleven Things You Can Do Today to Begin Aligning Yourself with the Power and Hope of Sacred Activism:

  1. Write down one thing that has made you grateful to be alive today.
  2. Write down “off the top of your heart” ten things you would say are sacred to you.
  3. Think of someone who has hurt or betrayed you and make a commitment to work on forgiving him or her.
  4. Read a short text from any of the world’s spiritual traditions that inspires you with the love-wisdom of the prophets and mystics who know God directly.
  5. When the text that you have chosen starts to light up your spirit, pray a short prayer that aligns you with the pure deep love that is longing to use you as its instrument in the world.
  6. Make a real commitment to spiritual practice. If you do not yet have a practice, start now with a simple meditation.
  7. Now turn to your life and the people in it. Call up a friend who is grieving, ill, or looking for a job, and ask what you can do to make the burden easier.
  8. Make a commitment to skip one meal in the coming 24 hours and send a check for the money you would have spent on it to a reputable organization dealing with world hunger.
  9. Make a commitment to find out which people around you are in distress and invite six of your friends to help find out what is needed to help them.
  10. Make a commitment today, even if you are having financial difficulties, to tithe between five and ten percent of what you earn to a cause of your choice.
  11. And finally, make a commitment to keep some small change in your pocket so you can always give something to one of the growing thousands of homeless in our streets.
About Author
Andrew  Harvey
Andrew Harvey is an internationally renowned religious scholar, writer, and teacher, and the author of over 30 books, including the critically acclaimed Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, as well as Journey to Ladakh, The Return of the Mother, Continue reading