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Book Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Words to Live By
A Daily Guide to Leading an Exceptional Life
Eknath Easwaran
Nilgiri Press 10/05 Paperback $16.00
ISBN: 1586830168


It is always a pleasure to turn to the writings of Eknath Easwaran (1910 - 1999), a gifted spiritual teacher whose meditations are both inspiring and down-to-earth with practical suggestions. While many others have tried to impress us with their knowledge, this authority on mysticism stayed the course with tips on how to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and peace in everyday life. For almost forty years he taught meditation and his Eight Point program for calming the mind and living high ideals.

This collection of teachings is formatted as a daybook. Easwaran uses some his favorite quotations from sages, philosophers, and poets as catalysts to spiritual growth. One of the major sources of trouble for many of us is the mind with all its tricks, opinions, likes and dislikes, and impatience. Easwaran addresses this subject with an incisiveness that is refreshing and edifying. Here is a piece on negative thoughts:

For instance, here is a piece on negative thoughts:

"We can think of thoughts as hitch-hikers. At the entrance to the freeway, we used to see a lot of hitchhikers carrying signs: 'Vancouver,' 'Mexico,' 'L.A.' One said in simple desperation, 'Anywhere!' Thoughts are a lot like those hitchhikers. We can pick them up or pass them by. Negative thoughts carry signs, but we usually see only one side, the side with all the promises. The back of the sign tells us their true destination: sickness and sorrow.

"Nobody is obliged to pick up these passengers. If we do not stop and let them in, they cannot go anywhere, because they are not real until we support them. There is sympathy in the world: pick it up. There is antipathy in the world: don't pick it up. Hatred destroys. Love heals."

Ever felt that your habitual ways of thinking are a burden you are carrying around? Check out this passage by Easwaran:

"Do you want to be free? Most of us are held hostage in life by our likes and dislikes. We are bound by countless little preferences in food, clothing, décor, entertainment — the list goes on and on. . . . The way we respond to small matters reflects the way we will respond to the larger matters of life. If we can begin to release ourselves from our little likes and dislikes, we will find that we are gaining the capacity to weather emotional storms. Then we can begin to face whatever comes calmly and courageously."

Easwaran has a way of phrasing things we've read about before that puts them in a fresh perspective. He talks about worrying about something in the past or future as "setting up our own haunted house and peopling it with our own special ghosts." In another meditation he characterizes us as making "a Sears catalog" of our fears because we have so many of them. Another favorite of ours is his description of the ego as the versatile actor in the repertoire theatre of our life who wants to play all the roles.

Easwaran praises the freedom and happiness that self-forgetfulness brings. It is similar to when an artist disappears into his or her latest creation. He talks about the ways lives have slowly been changed as people practice kindness on a daily basis and refrain from responding in anger to slights or humiliations. All of us have more of an impact on others than we know. Here is a story about Francis of Assisi and a peasant who was for him a spiritual teacher:

"Near the end of his life, while he was making a mountain journey, Francis's health failed. His companions went into a farmyard to borrow a donkey for him to ride. On hearing for whom it was intended, the peasant came out and asked, 'Are you the Brother Francis there is so much said about?' Receiving a nod from one of Francis's companions, he added, 'Then take care that you are as good in reality as they say, for there are many who have confidence in you.' Deeply stirred, Francis kissed the peasant in gratitude for this reminder.

"We are not poor friars living in medieval Italy, but the lesson is the same: let us remember that our lives set an example for others. No one can say his life doesn't matter, her words don't matter."

Throughout his years as a teacher, Easwaran had a love of spiritual quotations from sages in all the religious traditions. You will find many juicy ones on the pages of this paperback that can be dipped into again and again for inspiration and personal renewal.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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