Woman came to the house today asking if there were children needing polio vaccinations.
I am not here intending to debate the rights and wrongs of the injection.
I do however wish to make one point:
The decline in communicable diseases in Britain and other countries was more marked with improved hygiene before the introduction of immunisation. For all the floors the Victorians were great social reformers establishing the poor laws and to the state project which was the sanitarian movement. So I commend the governments efforts to tackle this frightening disease . I applaud a polio free India.
Still, I wonder if similar problems will continue until public hygiene is improved.
Whether to inspire vaccination, or to clean up your backyard, quantitative statistics rarely inspire, and all to often numbers out of context mislead us. Now as populations grow, increasingly out of touch with each others divergent opinions with in diverse community numbers help give a sense of scale.
Nor do statistics inspire sentiment. Even if we could ensure a higher education in local maths I doubt statistics will trump the visceral shock of a graphic image.
If it bleeds it leads say the media, throwing off the heady logic of the educated off balance, when abstract logic seems meaningless, or shocking the lesser educated with disgust.
But uncovered rubbish by the road is not as iconic an image as say a beached whale, or the lone man confronted by a tank in Tiananmen Square. Remember it took the pack rape and death of a woman to force political action against rape, and yet the continued humiliation of women continues. It shocked India’s tribal sensibilities to respond.
So what graphic image could remind us of the need to keep a cities streets clean? What would inspire India with pride to keep rubbish buried or at least covered?
The 20th-century Hindu sage, Ramana Maharshi said that the Earth is in a constant state of dhyana or meditative absorption. Living in Bhopal, a short drive from where Emperor Ashoka attempted to lay the Buddhas remains I am reminded of the story of his enlightenment.
On achieving enlightenment, Mara, the voice of limitation, death and delusion continued to tempt the Buddha. Mara asked by what authority he could claim enlightenment, and the Buddha extended his right hand, touched the earth, and said, “The earth is my witness.”
“According to a traditional story, at Shakyamuni’s request “the earth quaked, and myriad thousand-fold blossoms rained down from the heavens.” Another account has the Earth goddess herself emerging to confirm the Buddha’s enlightenment, her body half out of the ground.
But there is an older, much deeper story buried just under the surface of this one. Dust around it ever so gently and you will find the finger-bone of a Buddha still bearing witness to the Earth, in spite of all the tales. In this older version, the fingertip itself cries out: “You are my mother and father. You are my liberation. From the beginningless past to the endless future, you and I are one.” That Buddha’s fingertip isn’t a hook fishing for a compliment. Nor is it a request to have his enlightenment confirmed from without. It is an equals sign.”
Religious historian Karen Armstrong observed about the earth witness mudra:
“It not only symbolizes Gotama’s rejection of Mara’s sterile machismo, but makes a profound point that a Buddha does indeed belong to the world. The Dhamma is exacting, but it is not against nature. . . . The man or woman who seeks enlightenment is in tune with the fundamental structure of the universe.”
Now if earth is our mother: Would we pile trash in in our mothers front yard? Would we poison our mothers food? We would not poison our mother, so why do we poison Mother Earth? It is said even after achieving enlightenment, the Buddha at times chose to sleep on the ground. With all the street rubbish, would he want to now?
The boast of Spiritual India hopes to attract in tourists. However, spirituality is an inner transformation that reaches out to light the world. Spirituality softens us, breaking our heart at the pain in the world that it moves us to act.
“The heart that
breaks open can
I am reminded as a child of the “Keep Australia Beautiful” Campaign. Against a backdrop of trash thrown from passing cars, a young girl recited the iconic verse “I love a Sunburnt country, a land of flooding plains ” in tears.
I once suggested advertisers should do the same in India, to perhaps the strains of India’s National Anthem, but some suggested that would be considered to offensive.
But what else will shock us to act?
As D. H. Lawrence wrote:
“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
What if we could find another poem of Tagore or any other of the vast number of poets from India.