Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-05-02
A letter in Hinduism Today used the phrase "our people." Gurudeva never used this phrase. He reached out to everyone he encountered making no distinction. He also helped people broaden the scope of "my people" such as with the slogan of Kauai "One island, Many peoples, all Kauaiians" which is bringing the different groups of Kauai into one community. Gurudeva said that Hindus must be a part of their local community.
I was reading 'Hinduism Today' this morning, the upcoming issue. I ran into
an interesting letter from Sanjay Goel, "Abolish Misunderstandings. I would
like to thank the staff of Hinduism Today for their quality work and
dedication to the Hindu community. This magazine's devotion to its purpose
and strong commitment to their community has helped Hindus and others around
the world understand this great religion. There are so many illusions and
misunderstandings that your publication helps to abolish. Without your
commendable works our people would be at a great loss. Thanks."
Typical, wonderful letter of praise, right? Doing a great job. Well, the
phrase that stood out to me was "our people". Of course,"my people, our
people", is an interesting phrase, you run into it regularly. Someone says,
"My people, our people." So I was pondering, "Well, did Gurudeva ever say
that? Did Gurudeva say, "I am doing this for my people?" No, he didn't do
that, did he? I never heard him use that phrase, "my people". Gurudeva
wouldn't look at it that way.
One of the qualities of Gurudeva that was seen at the time of his passing
was the wide range of people that wrote in notes of condolence and the wide
range of people that went to the cremation ceremony. The Mayor was there,
Roselle Bailey was there, people from varying backgrounds. Gurudeva had
touched each of their lives deeply. It showed that Gurudeva somehow didn't
restrict his influence to "my people". He reached out to everyone who he
encountered in one way or another. He didn't distinguish between people he
was meeting as 'his people' and the people he was meeting who weren't 'his
people'. He didn't distinguish at all. Anyone he contacted in person, over
the e-mail, he responded to them as a human being. A human being. He didn't
make any distinction. He even influenced others to broaden their scope,
broaden the scope of who are 'my people'? A classic illustration is on the
island here and the culmination of this effort lead to the slogan, "One
Island, Many Peoples, All Kauaians."
So, even on Kauai we have this phenomena of 'my people'. 'My people' to one
group means Hawaiians. 'My people' to another group means the Filipinos. 'My
people' to another group means Japanese and so forth. Gurudeva put a lot of
energy into broadening that concept so that everyone on the island would
think of 'my people' as everyone else on the island. We are all Kauaians.
We have something in common here, this is our community.
Learning from Gurudeva, clearly there needs to be many 'our peoples', not
just one. The community is one of them. The community of Kauaians is a
group, that Gurudeva taught all of the monks, to support. We have a certain
number of projects, a certain amount of our energy, certain amount of our
money goes into helping the community. Gurudeva even spoke on this regularly
to Hindu leaders in the US, encouraging them to make sure that their Hindu
community interrelated with the broader community in which they lived. He
said, "This is very important in order to be accepted. You have to give to
the community in which you live. You have to feel a part of it, be a part
of it, not be isolated from it."
He also spoke in terms of 'our people', as being the whole country. Anyone
who moved to the United States to live here permanently needed to think of
himself as an American, not simply as an Indian or a Sri Lankan or European
but as an American, to take on that identity.
There is an interesting example we saw on '60 Minutes', a number of years
ago. '60 Minutes' gives me lots of good examples. It was on the Vietnam
Wall. The segment was on the designer of the Vietnam Wall, who is a Chinese
woman. At the time she designed it, she was very young, just out of college
in her twenties. There was some concern about the Vietnam Wall being
designed by a Chinese, because the Vietnam War was with Oriental people. So
here an Oriental is creating the monument, so there was some resistance.
She was being interviewed and being asked about her background and she said
she grew up in the Mid-west and her phrase was, "I am as American as apple
pie." That is how she described herself, I remember that phrase. She had
the right idea, she knew she was American. She wasn't Chinese, never been
to China. Her background is Chinese but she was American. She grew up in
America and she thought of herself as American, totally.
The idea here is, if we catch ourselves using the phrase, 'my people, our
people', or we hear someone else use the phrase, think carefully about it.
Make sure we are using it in a positive sense, in a good sense, in the sense
that is creating unity. Make sure we are not using it in a negative sense,
in a sense which is creating disunity and limits.