Hesed – Lovingkindness

“A little spark of the Universal Spirit is enshrined in all living beings…

The karma yogi believes in this mystical fact of the universe and keeps himself or herself always aware of this truth.”  [1]

Swami Chidananda

When we help a person who is in need it is an act of lovingkindness. When we recognize the Divine essence in that person, it is an act of tikkun olim, of repairing the world. Our physical action reveals one more spark of God on this material plane of existence, thereby transforming our world.

Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav teaches that our acts of loving-kindness power the universe. All of the blessings in the world flow out from this spiritual source. Tzedakah (charity) and hesed (lovingkindness), he proclaims, are the basis of our humanity – the very definition of a human being.

His disciple, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov, tells us that because humans have free will, we have been given the special task of channeling God’s grace into this physical reality. Each time we choose to be compassionate to others, each time we choose to be generous, we build a bridge of lovingkindness that links the higher with the lower worlds.

Our lovingkindness, however, is often tainted by pride and ego and by judgment and criticism.  Our ego says, “I am helping this poor fellow, what a good person I am.” Our judgmental side declares, “How could he have fallen so low?”

Swami Chidananda shows us a path to overcoming our judgment and pride. When we do an act of kindness, he says, we should work with the attitude that “even this is a manifestation of Your grace. It is Your power that has worked. If I have compassion or consideration, it is Your compassion.” [2] Whatever we do, we should not take the credit unto ourselves but rather offer it up to God. If we work in this way, there will be no negative effects upon us. We will become a clear instrument through which God’s perfect compassion can flow into the world.

Another obstacle that we face in our attempts to perform acts of lovingkindness is the limited vision that we have. We intend to do good, but that is not always the result of our actions. All of us have had the experience where we set out to help someone, but find instead that we have only caused them more pain and suffering in the end.

This truth was brought home on a global level during the Western nations’ early attempts to provide foreign aid. There were many cases where well-meaning projects accidently caused terrible harm to both the indigenous people and also their environment. Slowly, we have begun to understand that helping others is not such a simple affair.

This limited vision, this perspective of right and wrong and of cause and effect, is an integral dimension of our reality.  This material point of view is an intrinsic part of our physical consciousness. It is a natural outcome of the space/time continuum in which we live.

The Zohar describes two Great Beings who overshadow the world: Arich Anpin, the Greater Countenance, and Zeir Anpin, the Lesser Countenance.  Arich Anpin dwells on the plane of keter (the sephirah or chakra of the crown) and is total compassion. There is no trace of judgment in His consciousness. His emanation is just an unmitigated outpouring of Divine Grace. Zeir Anpin, however, dwells on the plane of tiferet (the sephirah or chakra of glory). His consciousness is closer to that of this physical plane of existence. Therefore, there is a mixture of both judgment and compassion in His interactions with humanity.

The Divine Grace of Arich Anpin is portrayed in the Zohar as thirteen wellsprings of compassion pouring forth from the beard of the Greater Countenance. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that each of these 13 pathways represents another aspect of God’s compassion: He is infinitely patient, He does not hold on to His anger, He always seeks to be merciful, He overlooks our shortcomings and see only our good deeds, He wipes away our past transgressions and even turns them into act of merit. If we want to become truly compassionate, the Baal Shem tells us, we need to emulate all of these different aspects of compassion in our dealing with others. If we learn to act in this manner, then our own compassion and lovingkindness will gradually become complete.

If we truly believe that God is in everyone, it will transform the way in which we see others. It will change the way in which we interact with every person that we meet. It will shift the manner in which we approach every situation. By constantly practicing the spiritual discipline of serving the spark of God in others, all of life will become infused with the Divine presence for us.

Swami Ashokananda, a minister of the Ramakrishna order who lived in San Franscisco from 1931 until his death in 1969, once described his own personal experience of this truth to his western devotes.

In his youth, Swami Ashokananda recounted, he had become involved in doing service work with a community of tanners, among the poorest people in India living on the lowest rung of society. On one occasion, the children of the community developed an infectious disease and became covered in terrible boils. No one wanted to go near them. Without the slightest hesitation, Swami Ashokananda stepped in and took the children down to the local river. There, he scrubbed their bodies with a piece of bamboo to break the boils and cleansed them with a local disinfectant.

“Doing this”, Swami Ashokananda told his devotees, “I felt literally as though I was rubbing the body of God. When I finished, it was as though I had come out of a deep meditation. The sense of the presence of God was vivid.” [3]

Rebbe Natan of Nemirov sees this inner experience as the outcome of fundamental kabbalistic principles. In his teachings, the sixteenth century mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria, speaks of two kinds of light: or yashar, direct light, and or chozer – reflected light. The emanation of energy in the universe is a balanced process; every act has its counterpart, every direct light has a corresponding reflected light. Our act of lovingkindess is such an or yashar, and the vision of God that we then experience is the responding or chozer that it evokes.

When we serve the Divinity in another person, we are doing more than just giving him a helping hand. Our recognition of the Divine spark within this individual empowers him to feel his own Divinity – to be aware of his Divine nature and believe in it. This awareness is perhaps even more important than any specific physical kindness that we do for him. It is this awareness that will empower him to change his life and which will give him the strength and faith that he needs to face the difficulties ahead.

Rebbe Natan believes that an act of pure lovingkindness takes us to a place above time, a place where there is no yours and mine, no merit or blame, no worry about the past or concern about the future. True lovingkindness transports us into a higher reality where all is one and all is at peace. This is why it states in the Ethics of the Fathers (2:8), “Increase charity, increase peace.” The more we do acts of lovingkindness, the more we will bring peace into the world – and the more we will experience peace within ourselves.

[hr]

 

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1.  Swami Chidananda, An Instrument of your Peace, p. 172-3 
  2.  ibid 
  3.  Sister Gargi, A Heart Poured Out, p. 66