for ISKCON News on May 31, 2013
A new book out this month promises to help readers deepen their spirituality and their relationships by being compassionate to both themselves and others.
In Revealing The Heart: The Practice of Compassion
, author Sukhavaha Dasi shares the story of her own personal struggles and transformation.
She explains how to progress in spiritual life and gain a deeper understanding of life in general by being deeply honest and carefully choosing words that are self-respecting and respectful of others.
Revealing the Heart uses language that makes sense to members of all faiths. “It’s about being a soul having the human experience, so it’s relevant whatever tradition we’re in,” Sukhavaha says.
But, she adds, “It does have a specific flavor for devotees, which makes it more potent and relevant for them.”
Indeed, Revealing the Heart could hold the key to making ISKCON a society that values people over projects. Specifically, it could help members to become more introspective, doing deep “self-work” that brings them to a more mature state in their spirituality and improves and heals their relationships.
The idea for the book came to Sukhavaha after she did exactly that for herself.
“After practicing Krishna consciousness for twenty-seven years—giving up everything, living in the temple, following the four regulative principles, and chanting my rounds—when I hit menopause, everything fell apart,” she says. “I thought, ‘How could this happen? I should be a pure devotee by now, not an angry, frustrated old lady. What happened here?’”
Sukhavaha began to work on herself, practicing introspection and taking seminars on various aspects of personal development. She integrated her new discoveries in compassionate communication with her Krishna conscious understanding.
“For twenty-seven years, I had collected a lot of money and got a lot of results, building ISKCON temples and so on,” she says. “But my relationships with myself, with Krishna, with my kids, and with the devotees, was kind of like, okay, what can you do for me so I can do this service? That was it.”
Sukhavaha realized that many others must have the same problems.
“I thought that sharing my story might make other people feel a little more at ease about talking about these things,” she says. “And they wouldn’t have to wait twenty-seven years to work them out. They could start right now!”
Revealing the Heart began in 2010 as a project with ISKCON guru Bir Krishna Goswami. But over time, it turned into Sukhavaha’s own, much more personal story.
The book is broken up into four sections. The first, “Where Is My Compassion?” talks about what real compassion is, and what blocks it.
Section Two, “Practicing Compassion,” discusses how to apply practical techniques of compassionate communication. Some of these are drawn from Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.
“Compassionate Communication is a way to practice slowing down so that we can get more of a sense of what’s going on inside,” Sukhavaha says. “Rather than my mind controlling my speech, my speech can slow down enough so that I can use it to control my mind. It gives me a practical way to apply the basic teachings of the Bhagavad-gita on controlling the mind.”
In the third section, “Fertile Soil for Compassion,” Sukhavaha talks about what she has learned and practiced in her own life.
With refreshing openness, she recounts how has a young devotee, she left her small children to travel and raise funds, visiting them for just a few days once in a month or two.
She also includes her recent actual letters of apology to her now grown sons and daughters, and their responses. Both are very moving and show an incredible example of how we can take responsibility for past actions, without unhealthy self blame, and create deeper compassionate connections with persons we may have hurt in our lives.
In the fourth and final section of Revealing the Heart, “Compassion in Action,” Sukhavaha talks about how to bring compassion into our lives, and how to connect it with Krishna consciousness.
“First you must pull the weeds that are inhibiting the growth of compassion,” she says. “Then you practice planting the seeds; then you make sure the soil is fertile; and finally you deepen the roots of compassion.”
Throughout her book, Sukhavaha also gives personal examples of how compassionate communication transformed her relationships.
One particularly powerful story is that of an old friend of hers who was extremely upset with her, and hadn’t spoken to her in a long time. When he finally agreed to speak with her, he spent the first hour offloading a barrage of anger and blaming her for everything that had gone wrong in his life.
Realizing she had hurt him deeply, Sukhavaha simply listened and responded empathetically, without either defending or blaming herself.
“I can hear how upset and angry you are, and how much you would like to be appreciated for all the sacrifices you made,” she would say. Or, “Yes, I can hear how angry you are that I have not facilitated certain expectations you had of me. I hear that your needs for understanding and care and support were not met.”
After an hour, Sukhavaha’s friend calmed down. They talked for another hour and a half, and he acknowledged her transformation: “You really have changed.” He then began to share with her in a more vulnerable way, and their friendship began to mend.
“I felt so blessed,” Sukhavaha writes in her book. “We conversed for another hour and a half and by the end – I was ‘in love’ with this person. I touched his heart and he touched mine. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had.”
She further explains: “This is the power of empathy. Every time we clear our emotions and needs, through self-empathy, we create a space of compassion for another. Through self-empathy we can tame ourselves. Using empathy, we can tame others.”
Many copies of Revealing The Heart have already been sold in India, where Sukhavaha volunteers at the Barsana Eye Camp, and readers are already responding.
Devotees at Mumbai’s Chowpatty temple were so impressed by the book’s contents that their Bhaktivedanta Hospital is now hiring Sukhavaha to train its spiritual care department in empathy.
“I train them that it begins with yourself,” she says. “Because if you can do the work with yourself, then you can do it with others. But if you don’t really do it with yourself, then you’re just doing a formula.”
While Sukhavaha says our society is now a more healthy one than in the early days, she believes there is still a lot of pain and work to be done.
She hopes that devotees will use her book as a springboard to the spiritual and personal transformation which she believes should be ongoing throughout our lives.
“My hope is that it will deepen devotees’ connection to Krishna and all of Krishna’s parts and parcels,” she says.
She quotes a verse spoken by the Lord in the Srimad Bhagavatam: “Showing compassion to all living entities, you will attain self-realization. Giving assurance of safety to all, you will perceive your own self as well as all the universes in Me, and Myself in you.”
“That’s what I want for everyone,” she says. “To be able to really connect at that deepest level, and have authentic respect for the soul going through the human condition.”
To find out more or to order a copy of Revealing the Heart: The Practice of Compassion, please write to Sukhavaha Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org.