The advent of the New Year is always a joyous occasion that kindles hope, enthusiasm and optimism in all of our hearts. Amma prays to the Paramatman that in the coming year both the world and each individual within it are filled with peace, harmony and prosperity.
This past year bore witness to a lot of sorrow and suffering. Thousands fell prey to the bullets of terrorists. The death toll in Africa caused by the Ebola virus was shocking, so too the recent mass shootings in Pakistan1 and Assam2. Recovering from these tragedies is not easy.
One may ask, “How can we keep smiling amidst all this suffering?” It’s true; it’s not easy to remain happy in times of such hardship. However, becoming unhappy and depressed is not a solution. If our hand is injured and we just keep crying about it, it’s never going to heal. It will only get infected. The practical thing to do is to tend to the wound and apply medicine. Let us not lose hope and optimism regarding the future. Losing hope and optimism renders¬ us like birds that have lost their wings. Just as such birds can no longer fly, we will not be able to soar high into the sky of life. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our mental strength. In reality, just like any other decision, happiness is also a decision. It is the firm decision, “Let anything come my way, I will be happy. I will be courageous.”
Love for the goal will give us the inspiration to continue striving to attain it. Then, even if we experience pain, it will not cripple us. There will be sweetness even amidst the pain. A mother is ready to bear the weight of her baby and undergo all the pain of labor because of her love for her child and her desire to be united with it. It is our love for the goal that gives us the strength to face all obstacles.
When New Year’s arrives, it’s very common to hear people say, “The previous year passed so quickly. It was gone before I knew it.” In truth, time goes neither fast nor slow. What makes it feel fast or slow is the situations we face and our attitude towards them. We may have been really busy, but we need to ask ourselves, “Why was I so busy? Was I busy trying to attain the ephemeral or the eternal?” The advent of the New Year is a good time to introspect and evaluate our spiritual progress. If we feel that we have regressed, we need to take a resolution so that we don’t allow ourselves to slip further. We should ensure that we start to move forward again.
New Year is also a subtle reminder that one more year of our time on earth has come to an end and our meeting with death is another year closer. No one can escape death. It can come at any time. We should ask ourselves, “If death were to come now, would I be able to face it with a smile? Or would I tremble with fear and insecurity?” If we have truly understood spirituality, we will have no fear whatsoever. We will see everything in its proper place and not develop unintelligent attachment.
Life is like living in a rented house. We cannot live there permanently. One day or the other, we will be asked to leave. If, while one is renting a house, he is also building an even more beautiful and spacious house of his own, then he will have no bad feelings when he has to leave. On the contrary, he will be happy. But if he has failed to find a permanent place to live, he will always be worrying, “Where will I go when I’m asked to vacate?” Similarly, just as one shifts from a rented house to a house of their own, we should also be prepared to shift from this rented house—the body—to the realm of the Self, which is our true home.
Every attachment we create to the world further depletes our mental strength. Initially we may feel it’s just a small attachment and there is nothing to fear. However, as the attachment grows, we find ourselves falling slave to it. Soon, we become like a beggar before it. Then it becomes our master. Attachment to God is different. Faith in God helps us to cultivate values like love and compassion and helps us to speak good words and perform virtuous actions. Attachment to God, or to the guru, helps us detach from our dependence upon the world and become Self-reliant.
In olden days, New Year’s was seen as a holy day. People would visit places of worship and take part in prayers for their wellbeing and pray for the strength to perform good actions. It was also a day to feed the poor and other forms of charity. Today, the “holy-ness” of the holiday has disappeared. New Year’s has become just a time to get drunk, dance and celebrate. One doesn’t need to get drunk to celebrate. When people forget the true meaning behind a holiday and use just it for empty celebration, it becomes like eating the peel and throwing away the fruit. We cannot lose the values that make us human beings.
“Does God exist or not?” is not the relevant question at this time. Ask yourself, “Is there suffering in the world or not?” and “How can I remove that suffering—both mine and that of others? What can I do to put an end to it?” These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, especially on New Year’s.
Why do we find newness in a new year? Is there any real difference between the 31st of December and the 1st of January? It is our mind that creates this sense of newness and hope. If we are constantly engaged in actions that foster our own wellbeing and that of the world, we will find newness, vitality and enthusiasm in every moment. If we use the present moment in this way, it is enough. We shouldn’t put off for later what needs to be done today. We should fully immerse ourselves in doing good deeds. We must strive to see the world with a loving and joyous outlook, every single day.
If we want to live meaningful lives, we must keep five things in mind:
1) Never squander an opportunity to help others.
The help we render others will awaken joy, not just in their hearts but in ours as well. For example, if we feed an orphan, the child’s hunger will be appeased and we will be able to see the happiness on his face. How much contentment we will feel seeing that child’s happiness! This is the visible fruit of that action. There is also an invisible result—the punyam [merit] created by the action. So, never miss the opportunity to help and serve others.
2) In the coming year, we should avoid using harsh words. Never speak ill of others.
Doing so will disturb our own mind as well as those of others. Never forget that all good and bad originate in words.
3) Ensure that spiritual practices like chanting your mantra and meditation are not missed, even for a day.
These daily practices remove the impurities accumulated by the mind during the course of every day. They also bestow enthusiasm and peace. For example, suppose we have to reach our office at 10 a.m. Before we go to sleep at night, won’t we try to ensure that everything is ready, so that won’t be delayed at all the next morning? When we are focused on a goal, we will put forth utmost effort with enthusiasm and ignore all distractions.
4) Strive to spend at least a little time in Satsang.
Studying the scriptures and spending time in the presence of Mahatmas are ideal forms of Satsang. How much time do we waste in unnecessary talk and gossip? We can use that time to read inspiring spiritual books.
5) Every day, pray with all your heart to the guru or God for purity of mind and the strength to perform good actions.
If one wishes to make spiritual progress, this humility and devotion are absolutely essential. We should make a vow to be humble. When we are humble, it will automatically make us receptive to the factor of grace.
All of us want the world to be filled with more goodness and beauty than it is at present. We must do our part to create that world:
A new year without war and terrorism…
A new year wherein no one experiences hunger or poverty…
A new year wherein everyone is given an equal opportunity to grow and develop…
A new year wherein there is mutual respect among everyone, regardless of sex, religion or skin color…
A new year wherein human hearts unite in love and unity…
We can dream. To make that dream a reality, let us be willing to undergo self-sacrifice.
What makes the life of a plant fulfilling is its sprouting, flowering and bearing fruit. When this happens, a plant lends goodness and beauty to the world before. In truth, even when it withers away, a plant nourishes the earth and future generations. Let us pray that, our lives can be of similar benefit.
God has given each of us a face. Whether it expresses love or anger is completely up to us. If we smile all the time, it will make others smile too. If we have love and peace within, it will create such feelings in others as well. Then the whole environment will be filled with happiness. In this manner, in this coming year, may we be able to make our families, countries and world blossom more fully in love. Let us step into the New Year with this prayer. Amma wishes all of her children a very happy 2015.
1 On December 16, 2014, a terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar left, nearly 145 people dead, 132 of them children.
2 On December 24, 2014, separatist militants killed 81 tribal villagers in the Indian state of Assam.
(The above has been excerpted from the message Amma delivered in Amritapuri Ashram in the early hours of January 1, 2015.)