Gutter Spirituality

The other day, a friend posted this video on their facebook page:

The video is about Narayanan Krishnan, who lives in India. In this 2-minute video, he tells his story: He used to work for a nice hotel in Bangalore. Then one day in 2002, he passed an old man on the street who was starving. He was moved by compassion. He quit his job and now serves food to the hungry full-time. He also cuts their hair, washes them and gives them a shave.

He saw a need. He was moved by compassion. He works to fill the need.

I was inspired.

Someone else shared this video on facebook the other day:

You don’t have to watch the whole thing. It doesn’t get any better at the end.

In this second video, a lady talks randomly on her webcam about alien invasions and global conspiracies. It actually sounds very spiritual, in a “new age” kind of way. In fact, lots of spiritual people talk about this type of thing. It’s all the rage in spiritual circles to talk about aliens, crop circles, global conspiracies, shifts in planetary consciousness, etc, etc. Some of it is just crazy talk. But actually a lot of what “new age” people stand for, can be useful in inspiring us to change our thinking to a more peaceful state of consciousness in which we all get along and love one another.

What bothers me, though, is that a lot of the “spiritual” talk is just that – talk.

Of the two videos, I found the one of the Indian man to be far more “spiritual” in nature. Sure, he talks about very physical issues (like fecal matter) and doesn’t say anything about angels or God or global shifts in consciousness. The only time he mentions religion is to say how much of a hindrance it is to his work. But Krishnan’s story is about bringing our lofty spiritual ideals down into the physical world, where we are – right here – right now – and treating all human beings with compassion in very concrete ways.

Regular readers may notice that, despite my Eastern-mystical way of looking at the world, I tend to bring up biblical stories and quote Jesus. That’s because I was raised on that, and I still think Jesus had a lot of good things to say. One story that fits here is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” To summarize: a religious debater asks Jesus what the most important commandments are. Jesus responds: To love God and to love your neighbor.

Religious guy says, Yes, you’re right! But who exactly would this neighbor be? (Although the story isn’t clear, I suspect he’s trying to weasel his way out of loving people who are not technically his neighbors – people who live beyond a certain geographic limit, perhaps, or maybe people who he doesn’t like.)

Jesus doesn’t answer directly. Instead he tells a story of a guy who got beat up by robbers, and another guy (a foreigner) who came along and helped him. The moral of the story ends up being: it’s not about where you’re from, or your ideals, or what religion you claim, but what you do that matters.

It’s about bringing those lofty ideals of peace and love down into the dirty world of a Bangalore gutter where some old man is eating his own shit to survive, and bringing real, actual food to that man, feeding him, caring for him in actual, physical ways. It’s not about what caste the man is from, or whether he deserves to be fed, or whether the poor old man is subconsciously responsible for creating his own experience of lack.

We make spirituality real by caring for each other in real ways.

And what better time for that than Christmas?


About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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6 Responses to Gutter Spirituality

  1. Banu says:

    I loved this comment at the end, “…or whether the poor old man is subconsciously responsible for creating his own experience of lack.”

    I am also confused by the idea of us having chosen our sucky parents (some of us) and that we created the circumstances in our lives… etc. This might be true but how do we decide who to help? I have been struggling with not knowing when and how much to help people and while there are personal reasons for this (being dysfunctional etc…) but one o the reasons is what I said above. Any comments?

    • Craig says:

      Banu, that’s a huge topic. Actually several. I hope I’m not the only one to add a response.

      How do we decide who to help? Do I give a dollar to the homeless man who wreaks of alcohol? Do I lend a bit more money to a friend who just can’t pull his life together? Do I take on a client who seems to want validation more than help to change?

      I have a hunch that my acts of compassion have more to do with who I’m choosing to be in that moment, than anything to do with the final result. If the homeless man takes our money and buys some mouthwash to get drunk on, have I failed in my effort to help him? If my client never takes my advice about how to heal her problems, have I wasted my time?

      And if I decide not to give the homeless man a dollar, does that make me selfish?

      What I saw happening in Krishnan’s story is expression of unconditional love. He chose to be loving, regardless of the outcome, and regardless of how the old man came to be there. He did not first try to determine whether the old man deserved love. He did not try to find the root cause of the hunger. He simply took the opportunity to express love by feeding someone who was desperately hungry.

      I believe we are forgiven if we do not feel inclined to help or capable of loving a certain person at this time, given the circumstances. But I also believe it is rewarding to help those in need – especially if we feel particularly called to help. And this is not about “fixing” the problem but rather about exercising our right as human beings to be unconditionally loving.

      One time, years ago, Mother Teresa was interviewed on an Arizona radio station, and the host asked her if there was anything that he or his listeners could do to help her cause. She did not ask for anything. The host insisted. She responded by telling him to go downtown and find a hungry person and feed that person.

      If I think in global terms about what the world needs, and how inconsequential I feel to the task of fixing all the world’s problems, I quickly become overwhelmed and paralyzed. But if I can help one person who needs it, right here and now, the task becomes manageable, and I am able to express my divine right to love in small but real ways.

      That’s my two cents. Not sure if I really answered your questions, so feel free to jump back into the conversation.

  2. Tanya Lowry says:

    They will show up in your life and request your assistance directly…as you work on self…they come to you. You can only love (help) others within the capacity that you are able to love (help) self.
    Just your mere presence and smile can change someone’s life so never underestimate your potential and impact. Possibilities abound…let it flow.
    Be Love,

  3. Banu says:

    This is an important discussion, I think.

    Craig, you said, “I have a hunch that my acts of compassion have more to do with who I’m choosing to be in that moment, than anything to do with the final result. ” I agree with this and like how you emphasized not focusing on the result. I wonder if attachment to the outcome of our help (or good doing) may signify that we shouldn’t have helped that person in the first place ( and not in the way that we have helped) ?

    Tanya, “You can only love (help) others within the capacity that you are able to love (help) self.” rings true for me but that still doesn’t bring me to a place of managing the need/desire/temptation to help. Maybe those of us who haven’t rescued themselves try rescue everyone else?

    Hmmm. I sometimes feel despair because I feel like I don’t move or heal fast enough and exhaust myself along the way. I really want to relax about my own path and healing and allow it to happen. I haven’t been able to do that either. 😦 I am a pity party tonight, aren’t I? 🙂


    • Craig says:

      I often feel like I’m not doing enough, healing enough, etc. This feeling must also be released. “This too, this too” as the zen monks would say.

      I’m no expert in enlightenment, but it seems to me that being attached to the result is not the most enlightened way to live. I don’t know. I most commonly do things to get results, so I guess I’m nowhere near enlightenment. And that’s okay for now.

      I’ve been hearing a lot of “relax and allow” lately, and also a lot of “get out there and do it.” I am looking for a balance that is beyond a simple understanding of either “relax” or “do” on its own. I have yet to find that balance.

      I’m no stranger to pity parties, but I often find that they do not give me the results I need. 🙂 But don’t beat yourself up for having them, either. 🙂

      As for rescue of self / rescue of others, if I’m having difficulty dealing with my own problems, I find it extremely tempting to focus on the problems of others – on what they should be doing. This, of course, helps no one.

      Banu, thanks for carrying on the conversation. Your questions and comments help me clarify my own thoughts.

  4. Banu says:

    That’s what these discussions are for, aren’t they? We learn from each other. I think it”s beautiful.

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