Adventures in Religious Thought: Seeing the Spiritual as Darśana Sees You

In the Hindu religion, there's a complicated term called darśana.  No equivalent English word exists, and it's used in a variety of ways, but one of the most interesting is it refers to the beneficial sighting of holiness.  Darśana can also be given -- that is, a divine being or a saint, or even a feature of nature, like a breathtaking waterfall, can be said to give you the gift of its darśana.  In this way, darśana -- this prosperous, warm, holy feeling of connection -- is a two way street flowing from the perceiver to the perceived, and then from the divine back again to the ordinary human being.

What a beautiful concept!

There is a certain energy in the air right before a thunderstorm, the way Mother Nature seems to be holding her breath, isn't there?  I also feel it in the hush after the year's first big snowfall, and all the traffic's died away and the only noise that remains is the crunch of your footsteps and the sound of your clouding breath.  In the summertime, it never fails to amuse me to watch ducks ripple the water with their little webbed feet.

If you pay attention, the thunderstorm, snowfall and even the duck will give you their darśana, and the respect you have for the feelings they evoke will spill into other areas of your life.  This respect is you giving your own darśana back to them.

Deep down, you are expressing gratitude for life in a new, more honest way.  You're noticing the beauty of the world around you, yes, but -- and this is important -- you're also acknowledging the beauty in yourself, too.

We always talk about how we are grateful for other people, for having things or events that have happened, but that's not an entirely healthy way to view the world.

Be grateful for the world around you, but be grateful for yourself too because darśana is a two way street.

Let's touch on this for a moment too because I think saying "be grateful for yourself" has a tendency to be mistaken for egotism.  Most of the time, we only celebrate ourselves when we do something remarkable. "I made a big sale today!"  "My mom really likes my cooking!"  "My team won the championship!"  This is fundamentally unhealthy, because life isn't about winning.  It can't be -- we can't win all the time.

As an example of how we can celebrate ourselves in a productive but non-narcissistic manner, let's go back to the duck in the lake we were talking about a moment ago.  I don't look at that duck and say to myself, "Well, I would be thankful for the duck if only he'd do something productive with his life."  No -- I am thankful for the duck because he's in the lake being a duck, and doing it quite well, thank you very much.

This is what having darśana means -- it's connection on a level beyond the physical.  It's spiritual.  It's appreciating the worldly for all that it is and refusing to judge things for what they are not.

So the same it should be with all the rest of us.  Be grateful for yourself, for being in the world, for being like the duck.

And you're doing it quite well, thank you very much.

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