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Guidelines for Life

Baba Hari DassAs we face both joys and challenges throughout life, we generally have some guidelines that we use to make decisions. Some are provided by religions, by the cultures and traditions we grew up in, how we’ve been raised or what we’ve learned over the years. Years ago, Babaji wrote this set of guidelines for our self-development that are very simple – though not necessarily easy.

* Express love and kindness in your words and actions in dealing with others.

* Express compassion in your actions towards those who are suffering physically or emotionally.

We often have the intention to live by these guidelines, although we’re not always successful. We mean to be open-hearted and kind, but then we find ourselves saying, or at least thinking, something judgemental. Sometimes we don’t even realize that what we’re saying may be hurtful. It takes attention and self-reflection – and practice.

*Anything that comes to you should be received as a gift from Providence.

That means everything that comes to us, not just the “good stuff”; it includes the parts we don’t enjoy. Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Uses of Sorrow” expresses it well:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

* Do not hoard things that are not required.

This doesn’t mean you need to give away all your possessions, but it does mean letting go of things you don’t need, that are no longer serving you. “Things” refers not only to material objects, but also to thoughts and opinions. Declutter on all levels.

* Give away things to those who are in need. Keep busy in selfless service.

Practice generosity of spirit and open-heartedness. It’s a good practice to pass along items to those who need them, but recognize that what’s needed isn’t always material objects. Often a gift of time, helping someone or listening to someone is what’s needed.

* Reduce your needs to a minimum.

Simplifying your life lifts a burden from your shoulders. We live in a cultural climate of ‘more’, the message being that there is never enough, that somehow more will bring us fulfilment and happiness. Of course it doesn’t work. As Babaji says, The world is not a burden; we make it a burden by our desires. When the desires are removed, the world is as light as a feather on an elephant’s back.

* Avoid discussion or reading books that are contrary to your self-development.

This is a practice of self-awareness. What effect does this conversation – or this book or movie – have on my mind? Does it bring me peace or is it showing up in disturbing thoughts or dreams? Pay attention and make choices accordingly.

* Do not indulge in any action that may cause harm to others in any form, directly or indirectly.

This can be understood on many levels. We choose to speak and act kindly and compassionately to one another, yet there are times when we slip up. Once we notice, we can realign and make amends. That’s an example of avoiding harm directly. On a global scale, we can ask ourselves where the products we buy are made and whether our purchases are indirectly causing harm to others.

* Look for good qualities in others rather than looking for their shortcomings.

The old saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” still holds true. If we see only the things we don’t like in others (or ourselves, for that matter), focusing on what’s wrong, we suffer. Thich Nath Hanh recommends asking, “What’s not wrong?” This is a practice of gratitude, seeing the good in ourselves and others.

* Do not get involved in unnecessary talk.

What is unnecessary talk? Anything that is harmful, including gossiping about others and negative talk in general, including self-talk.

* Do not expect praise for your good actions.

Perform actions to contribute to the welfare of life because that’s what’s called for, not because you want recognition. Acknowledgement is not a bad thing – we all thrive on it; it’s the attachment to it that arises that creates problems. Continue to do ‘good actions’ regardless of whether you receive praise or not. The intention to contribute to others is what’s important.

* Anger, hate and jealousy appear in the mind by comparing with others; they should be replaced by love toward others.

This requires us to recognize what’s going on in our own hearts and minds first. Negative states of mind are filled with suffering, and we may need to find compassion for ourselves first. Feelings of anger, hate or jealousy are painful for us and those around us. Once we’ve touched that tender spot that’s hurting in ourselves, we become able to extend love and understanding toward others, recognizing that we all need love and acceptance.

* Be humble and give respect to others.

From our ego perspective, it may seem that our opinions are right, but wanting to be right can destroy connection. We can practice letting go of our desire to be right and to have the last word. We can lighten up and not take ourselves – and our opinions – so seriously. Everybody matters and everybody wants to be treated with respect.

* Pray to God for forgiveness of any undesired actions, done knowingly or unknowingly.

We generally try to do our best. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. If praying to God for forgiveness is comfortable for you, then do that. If not, simply acknowledging that if we’ve done something we regret and making amends as well as we’re able can bring us back to connection with ourselves and others. This is a practice of re-connecting to our deepest convictions.

* Perform your duties towards your family, society and country with pure and selfless intent.

This teaching is about overcoming self-interest in our daily actions so that we can give selflessly and joyously. We forget, then we remember again – over and over.

* Do not let laziness or dullness control your mind.

In a letter to a student who complained about the difficulty of getting up in the morning for sadhana (spiritual practice), Babaji replied, “Kick yourself.” Willpower is necessary. If you want to reach a goal, you have to work for it.

* Be honest to others as well as to yourself.

It’s very easy for us to deceive ourselves. We have lots of excuses and rationalizations. Being honest with ourselves means being willing to examine our thoughts rather than automatically believing them. I once saw a wonderful bumper sticker that said, “You don’t have to believe everything you think.” If we can question our own thoughts, it becomes easier to be truly honest – and also kind – with others.

* Be firm in your spiritual convictions.

Don’t give up. Life is full of tides that go up and down, and our work is to continue to practice, to continue to bring our minds back from the many distractions of our lives, to keep moving toward peace.


All teachings in italics by Baba Hari Dass
contributed by Sharada



Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.