The DHARMA of DIVERSITY

By: Radha-Krishna Das (Roozbeh Foroozan)

Hidden at the dead-end of an alley in Culver City, between a vegetarian restaurant and a temple, lays the  The Bhagavad-gita Museum: A Treasure House of Spiritual Knowledge, an artistic masterpiece that brings an ageless spiritual wisdom to the aural and visual reception. Henry Thoreau sees our modern world and its literature as puny and trivial in comparison to the Bhagavad-gita and George Harrison, who visited the museum in the late 70s, compares it to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and finds it more attractive than the Disneyland.

What do the Bhagavad-gita and its museum have to offer? Is another theology and philosophy the answer to our brutally conflicting world of –isms?

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SETTING THE SCENE

A blind king is anxiously listening to his minister who clairvoyantly is reporting live from miles away of the greatest trial-of-arms in the history of man. Ninety nine sons of the king, with allies from all over the universe are going to fight till death with their five cousins, headed by Arjuna – the mystical archer. But Arjuna, son of the Wind-god, is despondent seeing his friends and family on both sides ready to lay down their lives. His body is trembling and he can not bear the weight of his mystical bow, which he had seized from Indra, the king of gods.

In his anguish, he turns to his intimate friend, Krishna– the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has assumed the role of Arjuna’s chariot driver.

And thus Krishna begins to explain the first instruction of the Bhagavad-gita; that the perishable body and the eternal soul are not the same: that we are not this body; we are a spiritual spark that illuminates and drives the dead body and it is this spirit soul that differentiates a dead body from a living.

DHARMA

There are quite a few Sanskrit words that are part of English vocabulary nowadays. No one would need a dictionary to understand phrases like “bad karma” or “political pundit”. Dharma is another one of these words interwoven into the English fabric maybe as early as Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel “Dharma Burns”. But what does dharma exactly mean? Many casually translate dharma as “religion” or sometimes “duty”. But there is no exact translation for this word in English. According to Oxford dictionary, dharma is “the eternal law of the cosmos, inherent in the very nature of things.” In other words, dharma of something is its inherent quality. For example, the dharma of fire is heat; the dharma of water is wetness. The dharma of something is the setting in which that something exists naturally and effortlessly.

One may ask why a word may not have an equivalent among more that one million English words?  The answer lies in vastly-different philosophical, social, and cultural setting of Sanskrit and English (or other western languages). For a member of classical Vedic society, a society following the Vedas–books of knowledge, “religion” is observing the socio-economical regulations which are based on one’s nature and qualities. Such regulations are delineated in dharma-shastras (religious “weapons” -books) and are implemented by the government which in turn is supervised by the priests. In this setting, the difference between one’s “religion/duty” and someone else’s “religion/duty” is due to differences in their nature and qualities. It is meaningless to say somebody’s “religion” is better that someone else’s and there is no meaning in “conversion” from one dharma to another.

The dharma-shastras recognize four social roles and four economical classes based on the qualities of an individual. The four social roles include: celibate studentship, married life, retired life, and renunciate life. The four economical classes are priests, managers or warriors, merchants or farmers, and workers. Depending on one’s socio-economical nature, a “religious” person follows his/her dharma or duty and as such he materially benefits in this life and in future. For example, a family man has to provide for his family, be truthful and righteous, maintain internal and external cleanliness, be merciful and charitable towards others, and be in control of his senses and mind. Following dharma, qualifies one gradually to receive spiritual knowledge which ultimately leads to liberation from the cycle of life and death (moksha).

Even in such a liberal setting, the Bhagavad-gita culminates in its final word of its final chapter (BG 18.66), as if stepping into anarchism:

sarva-dharmän parityajya mäm ekaà çaraëaà raja

ahaà tväà sarva-päpebhyo mokñayiñyämi mä çucaù

Abandon all varieties of dharma! Just surrender unto Me! I shall deliver you from all sins. Do not fear!

To make sense of this revolutionary instruction which dismisses all the Vedic principles, we yet need to have a deeper understanding of dharma.

ABANDON ALL VARIETIES OF DHARMA

As already discussed, dharma is the intrinsic quality of something and the conditions by which that something exists naturally and effortlessly. We are born into certain bodies and have been trained and conditioned into certain qualities and as such we have certain socio-economical duties. But ultimately we are not these bodies and spiritually speaking, none of the bodily designations, qualities, and duties applies to us. But what is our spiritual dharma?  What is the condition in which the soul is naturally, effortlessly and happily situated? What is the duty of a spirit soul? That would be our real religion —not the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim religion and so on.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada writes in Journey of Self-Discovery:

“Your essential characteristic is that you want to love somebody, and therefore you want to serve him. That is your essential characteristic. You love your family, you love your society, you love your community, you love your country. And because you love them, you want to serve them. That tendency to engage in loving service is your essential characteristic, your dharma. Whether you are a Christian, a Mohammedan, or a Hindu, this characteristic will remain. Suppose today you are a Christian. Tomorrow you may become a Hindu, but your serving mood, that loving spirit, will stay with you. Therefore, the tendency to love and serve others is your dharma, or your religion. This is the universal form of religion.  Now, you have to apply your loving service in such a way that you will be completely satisfied. Because your loving spirit is now misplaced, you are not happy. You are frustrated and confused.

sa vai puàsäà paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhokñaje

ahaituky apratihatä yayätmä suprasédati [SB 1.2.6]

That religion is first class which trains you to love God. And by this religion you will become completely satisfied.  If you develop your love of God to the fullest extent, you will become a perfect person. You will feel perfection within yourself. You are hankering after satisfaction, full satisfaction, but that full satisfaction can be obtained only when you love God. Loving God is the natural function of every living entity. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or a Hindu or a Muhammadan. Just try to develop your love of God. Then your religion is very nice. Otherwise it is simply a waste of time (çrama eva hi kevalam [SB 1.2.8]). If after executing rituals in a particular type of religion throughout your whole life you have no love for God and your fellow human beings, then you have simply wasted your time.”

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SPIRITUAL DIVERSITY

By: Zoë Muntaner 

WOW,  Pentecost was a diversity fest.  This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

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“Pentecost”by Jean Restaut II, 1732 Public Domain

 

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” ~Acts 2:5-13

That’s how I feel at times when I go to City Council meetings. As if everyone is speaking a different language, but hearing the discussion in their native tongue. Their interests are at stake.  If land use is in the agenda, for sure I’m perplexed and amazed.  Maybe they had some drinks beforehand (I’m not talking about the councilmembers).  It has not crossed my mind until now.  Some people are drunk with power, that’s why I support term limits for City Council.  Is time we bring reform to that area or our government.

Last Sunday was the church birthday.  The night before, I walked to St. Anne’s for a quiet moment of silent reflection and noticed red programs stacked in a stand.  They read:

Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. ~John 20:22-23  

Sin is  particularly interesting to me because, like most humans,  I’ve sinned.  Through confession, I own it in order to move on and change direction.  I show up at life imperfectly.  In the spirit of keeping it real:

“Perfection is shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting” ~Anne Lamott

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” ~John 8:7  

The concept of sin is heavy for most people that lack a broader concept of the word or its meaning.  It was tough for me until I studied other traditions with meanings that allowed me to accept myself the way I am: imperfectly perfect.  Lack of love or missing the mark are two of my favorites.  Catholic guilt is a terrible thing.

“Our virtues are made by love, and our sins caused by the lack of it.”~Hazrat Inayat Khan

On Sunday, I went to yoga class early.  I placed my mat at the back of the room and stretched on my own. My teacher had a substitute.  Fifteen minutes into it, I started to cry.  “What’s going on?  I don’t have time for this, it’s Sunday, I want to have some Zen, not a breakdown.”  Then I remembered going to an Evangelical church in Malibu years ago.  The moment I walked into the classroom where they met and listened to music, I started to cry.  The friend who brought me to the service told me, “Don’t worry, that’s the Holy Spirit, is a normal reaction, just let it go”  Was this the Holy Spirit at work in the yoga studio?  Hmm. Here we go.

By the time I arrived to St. Anne’s my body was feeling ready to receive whatever message was there for me to get. After the service, I approached  the deacon and priest to ask if it would be possible to bless my laptop.  I’ve been  working on some stories for a while now, way before I launched the blog, without knowing their destination.  I want to make sure I’m writing them for the right reasons.  I would like to feel there is purpose behind their publication.  It would be nice to feel I’m transcribing them instead of writing them, to have any sense of ego out of the picture.  I’d like to feel I’m doing some service to the community.  I’d like them to come from a pure heart because, well….the issues are not particularly pure.

Both Deacon Raul Molino and Father Anthony Mbaegbu prayed, it was quite beautiful, poetry, a holy moment.  I cried again, a lot!  The deacon looked into my eyes and said:

“That is the work of the prophet, this is your calling”.

– Oh, no,no,no,no.no!  Father, you don’t understand, I’m just writing a blog, there is no prophetic business in that, I’m a sinner, that’s why I come to church, to heal, not to be scared like that sir!

Saint

He shared some spiritual wisdom. I was scared and stayed for another service.  I sobbed for hours.  If the Holy Spirit manifests itself through tears like my friend told me in Malibu years before, I definitely received it.  No doubt about it.

Father Jorge Guillen is a theology scholar, he gave a memorable sermon with historical background, current church politics, weaved with spiritual insight and guidance.  It was a first for me, it felt like professors you still remember from college because they were real, really good.  I was lucky, he prayed for me after the service and with that, there was some confidence and peace to go about the rest of my day. I stopped by their cafeteria to eat some of the Mexican food the Guadalupanas cook every Sunday and learned more about their community.

I normally attend St. Monica’s at 5:30 PM service with Monsignor Torgeson.   Both of them are Catholic communities but their demographic composition is distinctively different.  St. Anne’s has an element of social justice that is not as evident in St. Monica’s.  St. Anne’s is a little piece of East LA in Santa Monica, most of their services are in Spanish and the one in English is given by a Nigerian priest who is here for his PhD at LMU.  You see where I’m going?  We live in a segregated city.  Is alarming to me that the land use we discussed last week at City Council promotes further segregation by having affordable housing off site.  It could be easily controlled by the City Council.   Wellbeing? Compassion? Diversity?  Seriously?   We can’t call our city any of that if we plant the seeds of further segregation.

Some years ago Jodi Low, Coordinator of the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market told me that perhaps the Virginia Park Farmer’s Market was more attractive to me than the downtown Saturday market because it was in the Pico neighborhood, where the poor community of Latinos and blacks traditionally shop. And …I’m the politically incorrect?  Thank God I know who I am, and recognize the ill-managed social training of some city employees.  However, at this day and age is still shocking someone makes a comment like that in a city like Los Angeles is beyong my comprehension.   Santa Monica is a special pocket in LA.  Since I have to pace myself,  I will leave Laura Avery for next post. I would like to draw from the words of Jesus in his crucifixion:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” ~Luke 23;34

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I have a good radar to evaluate intentionality.  Some people know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care.  Two years ago while in campaign for City Council, I got in the elevator at City Hall to find an employee from the City Clerk’s office who told me: “keep doing what you are doing, they are scared” . My intention is not to scare anyone, my intention is to have an honest conversation about  some issues that don’t align with the so-called City Wellbeing and do not affirm the Charter for Compassion.  After the conversation we can go about the business of making change.  Shall we?  If we keep ignoring the white elephant in the room, you know what happens: “If you don’t pay attention, God will turn up the volume”.  On another instance Rebecca Adams, Administrative Staff Assistant who used to to be in the City Clerk’s office told me -as if she was incharge of the office- “come another time because everyone was busy and they can’t help you”.  Esterlina Lugo was ready to help me, but Adams was set on using her entitlement to make herself feel superior.  It does not stop there.  Last week, I sat on the same table she was sitting with other staff, waiting for the COSW meeting to start, she stood and left with someone I was striking a conversation to wait in front of the door.  This juvenile behavior belongs to a scene in Mean Girls not a city that claims Wellbeing, Compassion, Empathy, Diversity & Inclusion.  This stuff is relegated to films and fiction circa 1950 in the South. Do you agree?

via GIPHY

Am I the problem?  That is debatable.  If you want to keep Santa Monica a city of of racial tension and discrimination, perhaps I am.  On the other hand, if you want Santa Monica to be a real city of Wellbeing, Compassion, Diversity & Inclusion, I believe I’m part of the solution.  I tweeted yesterday a new mantra: “Zoë, just keep writing” , I t came to me in a moment of quiet reflection.  That is my job, to report from the frontlines, shine a light to issues that seem to get no attention but influence a fundamental part of our identity as citizens and our community.

BETRAYAL

I was betrayed on Friday.  Perhaps I had a delayed reaction and was vulnerable and fragile by Sunday, therefore all the crying.  Church was a place to find solace.  One thing is when someone let you down, betrayal is a whole different business.  Is a horrible feeling.

In Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the ninth Circle of Hell is ringed by Biblical and Classical Giants. Nimrod , Ephialtes, and Antaeus are found here. THIS IS ONE TOUGH CROWD!

“The lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven. Well do I know the way.” — Virgil

 

Treachery is the ninth Circle of Hell. This last circle is dedicated to those people who betrayed their loved ones, friends, best friends, countries, cities, guests, and even to their masters.  YES PEOPLE, CITIES!  Are you betraying yours?  According to Dante, the end game is not pretty.  For me the best strategy in Public Relations crisis management is: own it, apologize, change directions.

That is my prayer for you.

DIVERSITY SLAPP

By: Zoë Muntaner

Santa Monica Pony Protester Marcy Winograd Wins – Court of Appeal Dismisses Pony Ride Operators’ Lawsuit as a SLAPP.

In a victory for legislative advocates, the California Court of Appeal (Division 5), a panel of three Justices, unanimously reversed a lower court ruling, and dismissed former Santa Monica pony ride operators’ Tawni Angel and Jason Nestor’s lawsuit against Marcy Winograd as a SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – designed to chill public debate.

In issuing the ruling, the Court said Winograd’s accusations of animal abuse were protected by California’s legislative privilege.

“I’m grateful that the Court of Appeal sided with those exercising the right of petition to change the law and did not allow this chilling lawsuit to go forward. This is a significant ruling for animal lovers and for anyone petitioning their local or state government for legislative change. The Superior Court’s failure to dismiss the lawsuit against me was dangerous, chilling, and disheartening, but fortunately this appellate decision rights that wrong and affirms the importance of robust public debate and citizen activism.” ~Marcy Winograd

The court ruled that the statements in her articles and television interview relate to the supposed poor treatment the pony ride and petting zoo animals received, and either directly or inferentially solicited public support for her petition to cause the City of Santa Monica to take action to end the pony ride and petting zoo.

BACKGROUND

In March 2014, Winograd launched a petition to close the pony ride and petting zoo featured at the city-sponsored farmers market blocks from her home in Ocean Park. She first learned the pony operators were suing her when a reporter contacted her to get reaction to the operators’ lawyers’ press release announcing the lawsuit.

On September 9, 2014, after hearing arguments from proponents and opponents of the pony ride and petting zoo, the Santa Monica City Council voted to seek alternatives to the pony ride and zoo when the operators’ contract expired, and in May of 2015 the City of Santa Monica closed the animal exhibit after twelve years of ponies circling round and round on hard ground – all the while tied to a metal bar.

At the time, the lawsuit was filed some 1400 people had signed her petition – including school board members (now State Senator Ben Allen), former planning commissioners, two former mayors of Santa Monica, a minister at the Church of Ocean Park, and several merchants on Main Street.

While the Superior Court dismissed the entire SLAPP suit against her co-defendant Danielle Charney, the judge left much of the lawsuit against her intact. On appeal, however, she prevailed on the ground of legislative privilege – in other words, the Court agreed that all of her advocacy efforts were connected to the City Council’s legislative decision and were therefore absolutely privileged from civil suit.

Just breathe

“This is a huge victory for those who value robust public debate, the First Amendment, and legislative advocacy,” said Winograd. “This is good news, indeed.” ~Marcy Winograd

“This is an important decision for animal advocates, and for anyone campaigning to make change through our legislative bodies. The superior court’s ruling failing to toss the lawsuit out in the first instance was dangerous, chilling and disheartening. This appellate decision rights the legal ship and properly restores a very heavy burden to be borne by any plaintiff attacking public advocates.” ~Ira L. Gottlieb, Labor Attorney

I LOVE MY FIRST AMENDMENT

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting … you get the drill.

Like Marcy, I am an activist, writer and political citizen who loves robust debate.  I love my freedom of speech so much that I self-funded this platform to express my ideas, because two minutes at a City Council meetings was not cutting it for me, and emails were not working for me to accomplish the goals I set to work at.

“Free speech not only lives, it rocks,” Oprah Winfrey, 1998

Remember the  multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit by Texas cattlemen against the famous talk show host? The Amarillo, Texas, jury, decided the television talk show host did not maliciously harm the U.S. beef industry in a 1996 program on mad cow disease.

 

Oprah
Oprah Winfrey Harvard University commencement address, 2013

 

“I will continue to use my voice. I believed from the beginning that (the lawsuit) was an attempt to muzzle my voice, and I come from a people who have struggled and died in order to have a voice in this country. And I refused to be muzzled.” ~Oprah Winfrey

I’m a media and communications professional, not as wealthy as Oprah, but in the same field.  Lawsuits are part of the game, people get offended and then use the compassion rhetoric to manipulate my speech.  I refuse to censor myself, therefore, I pass each post through a legal advisor to protect the platform.   I’m in the perspective business.  This is my point of view and you are welcome to make comments below.

Purpose

TOUGH LOVE, TOUGH LUCK & MY OWN VOICE

My friend Holly Mosher, whom I’ve written about in this blog, is concerned about my last post because she felt it was a leap to call what Ms. Christopolos said Nazi rhetoric. She wanted me to come from the place of compassion and manners that I laid out in the post.  I value her opinion and that of a small group of men and women who are mentors, advisors and friends.  They supported the post.  They didn’t find anything wrong with it.  Remember,  a month ago I wrote about the time it has taken for me to get the discipline to write again.  After all that trouble, I do a disservice to my readers if I’m not honest with my POV.  I must show up as authentically on the page, as I show in life.  Yes, I’m the Founder of Compassionate Santa Monica, that does not mean that I will compromise my journalistic identity, integrity and style.  I must be transparent in my perspective.  Sometimes, it’s time for tough love, is still love, just a different kind.  Was I compassionate?  You bet I was.  I was compassionate to the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust, the survivors, and descendants that live in and out of Santa Monica.  Ms.Cristopolos comment was inappropriate and offensive to me and others.  Upon research, I found a quote under the inspiration tab of her social media Pinterest that proves my point:

Exist Elena

What you want me to say?   It makes perfect sense. It’s self-explanatory. Those are her terms, she values the statement enough to post it in social media.  Is this a slap to our faces?  You be the judge of that. She owns it, and she shows it.  That is all.

I will always choose love

On the other hand, I exist on a different term,  I’m not perfect, I own my flaws and humbly apologize when needed.  I stand by what I write because it always comes, and will continue to come, from love.  Follow me here: LOVE

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.“
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dare