It was moving this week to see how the world responded to Stephen Hawking’s passing. Universally admired and loved he was remarkable man who exhibited almost superhuman capacities wrapped in a vulnerable disease ravaged body. Stephan Hawking’s indomitable zest for life sustained him throughout decades of physical adversity that one can only marvel at and reflect upon, with almost disbelief at his super abundant brilliance, humour and courage.
The legacy he leaves for us, through his example, is a recognition that we rarely fulfill the innate gifts we each hold and that the primary obstacle we face within ourselves is not a lack of talent or ability but a disconnect from what the yogis call “atma bala sparsha” or conviction. The Sanskrit term actually is translated as the “strength that arises through the touch of the Inner Self.”
Commonly referred to as ‘self belief,’ from the yogic perspective conviction conveys principles and qualities that supersede the strong ego sense and personal will that typically drive a sense of self confidence. The yogic conviction arises from a deeply felt knowing that “shakti” or universal power is moving through rather than happening to you. Instead of having the perspective that one is the individual author of self directed work, it is the fully active yet detached participation in life without attachment to the outcome that yoga calls “skill in action.” This alignment with the cosmic sense of natural order and “dharma” is what enables unshakable trust to take seat in one, which will be tested again and again.
Sri Ramana Maharshi had a disciple who had lived in his ashram with him under his tutelage for twenty five years. One day the teacher approached the student with the following instructions: “You are to leave the ashram immediately, you are never to see me again, you are not to work, you are not to ask anyone for anything, and you are to dedicate yourself exclusively to meditation. Now get going!” And he did just that, and thrived. Innumerable accounts exist of mature or highly developed practitioners being sent into difficult external circumstances to test their resolve and conviction.
Another example is the equally challenging experience of A C Bhaktivedanta Swami, who arrived in New York City as a 70 year old man without a nickel in his pocket and only the clothes on his back, having been sent by his teacher to found the Hare Krishna movement in the West. After disembarking from the ship that had brought him from India, he went and sat on a park bench in Union Square in Greenwich Village and began to chant. He sat and he chanted and he sat and he chanted.
Forty years later while visiting downtown Manhattan I went to the same park, where two generations later, his disciples were chanting in the same square. Of course, this organization grew into an enormous international spiritual movement, from an old monk sitting on a park bench.
Mother Teresa once said “I am not capable of great things, but can do small things with great love.” The ability to meet what presents itself in life with equanimity, steadiness and simply the resolve to do our best while remaining open hearted can work miracles, whether from a park bench, a wheel chair, whoever and wherever we are.