I want to acknowledge the boldness, heroism and humility exhibited by the US veterans, both men and women, and including Tulsi Gabbard — a warrior and congresswoman. In solidarity, they joined the Native Americans and many others at Standing Rock. They are truly warriors and leaders. I practice the Vaisnava/Krishna tradition. And these vets, and indeed all who have gathered at Standing Rock, are for me paragons of my tradition. Three reasons:
1- There’s a Krishna prayer that “one should think of themselves as straw on the street, be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of false ego, and ready to offer all respects to others.” That’s what I see happening in these photos of the vets.
2 – In my tradition, it’s also explained that you should leave a place cleaner than you found it. So rather than thinking ‘I didn’t make this mess. It’s not my problem’ one should think ‘Ok, there’s a mess here. I didn’t make it, but I take the responsibility to clean it up.’ So these vets are ready to do whatever they can to bring about healing in our nation, even to humbly submit themselves before others. This is courage.
3 – Finally, the Native American elders said their gathering was not a protest, but rather a gathering for prayer to protect the river and the land. This is in keeping with the long spiritual history of India. At Standing Rock I see the spirit of Kumbh Mela, a pilgrimage held every twelve years, by sacred rivers, welcoming all people everywhere to attend. The Kumbh Mela has been going on since time immemorial. The event takes place in northern India in January, the coldest time of the year.
There, and at many other events, people have gathered in large numbers for prayer, chanting the sacred names of God for the benefit of all and the protection of Mother Earth. These gatherings also give the attendees a chance to perform austerities in the form of fasting, bathing in the river’s frigid water, facing a harsh climate, and sleeping on the earth rather than in a soft bed. I’m sure those who have gathered at Standing Rock know what I’m talking about.
America, and the world, sorely needs these types of examples more than ever. But warriors have to be leaders and courageous and generous, all at the same time. It’s not easy. The responsibilities of a warrior/leader are brought in sharp focus in the ancient epic Mahabharata. I think Mahabharata is one of the most valuable stories for healing and for seekers of spiritual wisdom in our time.
The story is about five warrior brothers – the Pandavas – struggling to stand up to tyranny and at the same time keep their humanity. There’s a monumental battle that takes place. One of the most important things for them is to abide in the Dharma, to live with integrity. They strive to live in the courage, justice and humility that is required of them.
But just like the rift in our nation, the Pandavas don’t always see eye to eye. They have their contentious moments, but they work through it. This is the very task set before us today. In closing, I humbly request of those who are organizing various events to include prayer, chants, and sacred ceremony as a show of unity among all spiritual traditions. Mitakuye Oyasin.
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Sankirtana Das (ACBSP) has been on a journey with Mahabharata for over three decades; first offering it as a full-length drama and later as sacred storytelling and more recently in a ‘fast-paced, cinematic’ book. For more on his award-winning rendering of the epic see www.Mahabharata-Project.com
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Gunarnava Sitaram Das for ISKCON Sacramento
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Archbishop Eric Escala, Continuing Anglican Church