This month, I want to talk about the difference between what we do on the outside and how we really are on the inside. I want to talk about external actions versus internal transformation.
In the Western world, February is the month of love, the month of Valentine’s Day. Across the world, people spent billions of dollars on cards, chocolates, flowers, balloons and other external expressions of their love. Although Valentine’s Day is not a traditional Indian holiday, it has become almost universal these days.
So, since it has become such an integral part of so many people around the globe, I think we should talk about it. On February 14th, we paint everything with pretty red hearts and we say, “I love you. I love you. You are mine. I am yours. Be my Valentine.” That is February 14th. But how are we on February 15? Does that undying expression of love last even through the night? When our loved ones ask a favor on the 15th or the 16th of February, do we remember that we told them, “I am yours. You are mine,” or do we revert back to our old patterns of selfishness and selfcenteredness? We say these things with our tongues, but do we mean it with our hearts? It is our heart which must change, our heart which we must give to our beloved, not merely a box of chocolates. Valentines Day is a holiday of the heart, but too frequently we make it only a holiday of the wallet.
The real way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to make every day Valentine’s Day. Make every day a day in which you give thanks for the loved ones in your life. Make every day a day in which you repeat “I love you. I am yours. You are mine.” And, most importantly, make the heart and the actions match the words.
I have heard of a couple, married for 50 years in which they never had a fight, never a disagreement, and in which their love at the 50th anniversary was as alive and magical as on the day they were married. To what did they attribute this success? Each morning before getting out of bed, they said to each other, “I love you and I am so lucky to begin this day by your side.” Each night before sleeping they again said, “I love you and I am so lucky to end this day with you.” Simple, easy, fast and free… yet how many of us could do this? Rather, we forget the simple, beautiful expressions of love and appreciation, and instead revert to material gifts and fancy dinners in the hope that this can make up for a dearth of true feeling. It can not.
Lastly, we pour out our words of love to the people in our lives. We spend hours agonizing over what to buy them for this holiday, how best to express our feelings… But, who is our real Valentine? Who is the one who is always there for us, any time of any day, any day of the week? Who is the one who is always forgiving, always compassionate, and always willing to listen? Who is the one who never yells, never scolds, never calls us names? Who is the one whose arms are always open, who is always waiting for us? The answer is: our Divine Valentine…God. He is our real Valentine. Yet, how much time to we spend telling God, “I love you?” How much time do we spend with Him? He is the only one who will never leave us, who will never betray us, who is always there for us.
I hear people who are unmarried, or who are widowed, or whose spouses are travelling say, “I don’t have a Valentine.” Our true Valentine is always there – we came into the world in His arms, and it is to Him we will go when we die… So, let us open our arms and open our hearts to our true Valentine. Then, we will never be lonely again.
Now, the great festival of Holi is coming. Holi is a time when we will paint each other with bright colors. It is a time when we rejoice in the victory of pure, divine Prahlaad over his sister Holika. The story – in a simple, condensed way – says that Prahlaad was a young, beautiful, pure, divine devotee of God. However, Prahlaad’s father was a powerful king who believed that everyone should worship him. At Prahlaad’s refusal to do so, due to his single-minded love of God, his father decided to have him killed. Prahlaad’s aunt (his father’s sister), Holika, had been given a special shawl as a boon from God (for various austerities she had performed). When she wore this shawl, she could not be burned by fire. So, Prahlaad’s father and his sister devised a plan in which she would wear her shawl and hold Prahlaad tightly in her arms as they sat in fire. In this way, Prahlaad would be killed, but she would emerge unscathed.
However, as divine plan works, a strong gust of wind came and blew the shawl off of her, as well as carried pure Prahlaad to safety. Holika was burned in the fire of her own evil.
I said, at the beginning, that the theme of this month’s message was the difference between what we do or say on the outside and how we really are on the inside. Holika had performed certain austerities by which she was entitled to this boon from God. On the outside, she was “pious.” But, on the inside she was not pure. Prahlaad, on the other hand, was a simple, pure, loving devotee of God. It is this which saved him. This inner purity and inner piety is what truly save us, what truly make our lives divine.
So many of us go to temple, do the rituals, offer money to the priests, and chant a certain number of malas. Then, we go out and act in selfish, unpious, dishonest ways. These may not necessarily take the form of big transgressions. It may simply be the way we speak to our children, or to our loved ones. It may simply be the way we try to cheat those with whom we do business. It may be the way we sit and gossip about others.
All the rituals and puja in the world can not make up for a lack of piety, honesty and compassion. The goal of going to temple is not just to perform rituals; the goal is to become spiritual. God is happier with pure, innocent, devoted Prahlaad than with all the austerities and rituals performed by his father and aunt.
LET THIS HOLI BE A TIME WHEN WE CHANGE
NOT ONLY THE COLOR OF OUR FACES,
BUT THE COLOR OF OUR HEARTS.
LET US NOT ONLY “PLAY” HOLI,
BUT LET US BECOME HOLY.
LET THE ONLY COLOR THAT TRULY PENETRATES OUR BEINGS,
BE THE COLOR OF GOD.
FOR, ON THE MORNING OF THE 21st
THE OTHER COLORS WILL WASH AWAY.
BUT WE MUST LET THE COLOR OF GOD BE INDELIBLE
IN OUR EYES, IN OUR EARS AND IN OUR HEARTS