Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The dharma of a duck.

Doing what ducks do.
The 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady was the story of Eliza Doolittle, an English Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist so she can get a better job. Higgins makes a bet with his associate Colonel Pickering that he can remake Eliza into a well-born lady, rises to the challenge but becomes frustrated along the way. He then complains to Pickering: “Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that! Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags! They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags! Pickering, why can’t a woman be more like a man?” and thus echoes the age old desire to have people become more like we want them to be.

The flip side of this story was depicted in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, relating the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. A critical moment occurs in the film when Eric Liddell accidentally misses a church prayer meeting because of his running. It was then that his sister Jennie chastises him and accuses him of no longer caring about God. Eric tells her that though he intends to eventually return to the China mission, he feels divinely inspired when running, and that not to run would be to dishonor God, saying: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Both of these, portray situations of misidentification. In one case it is Eliza who isn’t satisfied with who she is (and is criticized because she doesn’t fit the bill of how Higgins wants her to be), and the other case it’s Liddell’s sister who is discontent with how she thinks Liddell ought to behave. Each story addresses the matter of conforming to someone’s standard.

While neither may seem to have any spiritual connection, in fact these are concerns addressed in both The Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (the embodiment of God) tells Arjuna that he (Krishna) is the essence of all beings and each being has a duty to live up to their created nature. And when they reject that nature, they are in effect rejecting God. “By devotion to one’s own particular duty, everyone can attain perfection. By performing one’s own work, one worships the Creator who dwells in every creature. Such worship brings that person to fulfillment. It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. No one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them. Every action, every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fire is surrounded by smoke. The word “dharma” is used variously, but in the Gita the term is used to mean somethings inner nature, which is manifested without an expected outcome

In 1st Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul instructs his audience concerning spiritual gifts and says, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” Paul continues his teaching by saying, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” The chapter concludes with the notation that when all parts function together the Body of Christ is the result.

Lest anyone think this shoe doesn’t fit and these admonitions don’t apply, ask yourself how many times do you experience having others express a desire that you be more like them (or their notion of how you ought to be), or imposing that same desire on others, wishing them to conform to your image. This desire to be someone other than what we were created to be is one of our greatest flaws. It is most unlikely a duck can ever be anything other than a duck. It is the ducks dharma to be a duck and it is our dharma to be who and what we are created to be, whether endowed with one gift or something very different. A duck swims and we function as our inborn, essential dharma dictates, without apology or self-justification. When these dharmas are performed selflessly it is the same as worshiping the majesty of unique snowflakes with the recognition they are created from fundamental, indiscriminate snow.
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