Hands of Mary
Hands of Mary, offer me to your Son,
That he and I through you, be made but one,
One heart that beat: "Father Thy will be done".
Hands of Mary, offer me to your Son,
That he and I, through you, be made but one.
When one loves it is the most natural thing to 'offer' something beautiful to the beloved. To the one we love best we will offer our very best gifts. Behind the gift, and what makes it really precious, is of course, the love of one's own heart. It is sure that God never sees the size of the. gift, but the purity of the love with which it is offered. In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna says:
"He who offers to me with devotion only a leaf, or a flower, or a fruit, or even a little water, this I accept from that yearning soul, because with a pure heart it was offered with love. " (9.26)It is with our 'hands' that we lay this gift at the feet of the Beloved.
This line "Hands of Mary, offer me to your Son" perhaps makes one think immediately of Mary lifting up her Son -- her most precious possession -- and offering him to God in the Temple, when he was .forty days old. Here we ask her to offer us -also precious to her -- to her Son, that through her, we may be united to Christ. With our hands we can touch, hold, love, lift, do, make, create. We can, through the work of our hands, participate in the creative activity of God.
We can offer "the work of our hands" -- a Biblical phrase -- through Karma Yoga. 'Yoga' means union, one-ing (yuj in Sanskrit, jugum in Latin means yoking). There are various yogas -- ways of being united to God. Thus Jnaana Yoga is the way of knowledge -- associated with the head. Bhakti Yoga -- the maarga (path) of loving devotion -- associated with the heart. Karma (meaning 'work' here) is a yoga that unites us to God through our hands. Raaja Yoga -- the king among yogas -- is Dhyaana (meditation, or what the Christian West calls 'contemplation'). It does not matter which of the many 'yogas' we practise -- according to our spiritual temperament. Any or all of them, if practised sincerely, can bring us into oneness with God.
One sometimes associates Karma Yoga with the beginning of one's spiritual life. But the longer I live, the more I see how difficult it is to practise this yoga truly. It demands death to oneself. In the Yogic tradition the young aspirant is made to begin with Karma Yoga because it is by far the best way for self-purification. How? Through nishkaam karma -selfless service which is nothing less than a daily dying to self. For it means seeking no fruits, results, success or praise for oneself. Now this -- if you have sincerely tried it -- is not easy. All of us at least implicitly seek success or some reward for our work and we justify ourselves by saying, "We are only human". This is why it is not an easy yoga to practise. Mary, needless to say, was adept at it. She learnt early enough to expect nothing.
In fact, precisely at the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple according to the law of Moses, she was warned by the old man Simeon, as he took the Child in his arms and sang his "Nunc Dimitis": "...a sword will pierce your own soul to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." This may have surprised the young mother, and may be it was yet another word uncomprehended, which she pondered in her heart often and which probably became really clear only at the end of her Son's life.
It sounds easy but in fact it is not, to offer God all our works "only for His Glory" and wholly through a "purity of intention". Two phrases often found on Catholic lips but very rarely practised in truth. One way of testing if what we really do is Karma "yoga" (or only "karma" !") is to see how we respond when our work has not been successful as we had hoped or when we have plainly failed -- in spite of trying our best. Do we remain serene and smiling as we would have been had we succeeded gloriously? That indeed is true Karma Yoga. But if there is any sadness, frustration, disappointment, discouragement, then we have yet along way to go before we reach the equilibrium that is yoga. "Samatvam yoga uchyate" (B. Gita2.48). Yoga is equanimity. This is one of the many definitions of yoga in the Bhagavad Gita.
But this equanimity is only possible for one who loves God. Sri Krishna says to Arjuna: "Offer in thy heart all thy works to me, and see me as the End of thy love. Take refuge in the yoga of reason, and ever rest thy soul in me" (18.57) "Rest thy soul in me" reminds one of Our Lord's invitation to all "who labour and are heavily burdened" to come to Him "and I will refresh you, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light". For one who .loves, no burden is too heavy.
How, in practice, can we form the habit of offering all our works in the spirit of Mary or of yoga? Sri Swami Chidanandaji gives us three very simple steps which he calls:
Three points of a Complete Course of Saadhanaa
1. Before you begin any action imagine and try to feel that what you are about to do is a grand bhajan (hymn) of the Lord.
2. As you go on doing the work, every now and then try to feel that the work is not being done by you, that you are a mere instrument and it is the omnipresent power of the Lord that is working through you.
3. When you have finished the work, do so as an offering to the Lord. Let your last action be a whole-hearted arpanam (offering); Krishnarpanam/ Christarpanam.
If we try to practise these three points:
-- a devotional quasi-hymn of praise,
-- a dip into one's depths where dwells the real Doer,
-- a depositing of the deed at His feet which really says "the results are now in your hands", then all that we do will become yoga.
Mary surely worked like this, with love, seeking nothing for herself. She can be called the Model and Mother of Karma Yoga. Everything we do, small or big, can thus become an arpanam or an archanam -- as .'offering' is called by Narada in his Bhakti Surra. The Gita says:
"Whatever you do or eat or give or offer in adoration, let it be an offering to me, and whatever you suffer, suffer it for me." (Bhagavad Gita 91.22)I It is one of the forms of loving devotion. But the highest of all forms of Bhakti is prapatti -- total surrender.
One heart that beats: "Father, Thy will be done".
When Mary offers me to her Son, she offers all of me -- all I am, all I do. And she offers me with only one intention -- that He and I become one. This is indeed the role of the Mother of the Lord. She does not come in the way of my union with Christ, as some Protestants used to think. On the contrary. She is the mediatrix, the means of union with Him. Union or 'oneing' becomes total when one's surrender is total: when one yields to God one's every desire and thought, all one's hopes and loves; when no shred of one's being is left unoffered. Only then can one truly say as did Jesus in Gethsemane: "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt". This complete aatma-nivedanam -- (offering of the spirit) -- is the meaning too of the last prayer Jesus made on the Cross: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit".
Such abandonment is what makes the mystics who are so madly in love with God mad enough not to be worldly-wise, but to trust in God for all their needs. "Here l am" -- as Mary said when she uttered her "Ecce" to the angel. "Do with me, for me, in me, through me, whatsoever You want. I abandon myself to you". This was a favourite prayer of a French saint, Madeleine Sophie Barat -- foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart. This is the spirit that can honestly say: "Father, Thy will be done", not occasionally, nor when one happens to be reciting the 'Our Father', but every moment of every day. For at each moment one knows God gives us only the very best thing for us; He could never give the second-best. And at every moment He, as our master, gives us the grace to live that moment. One moment, one day at a time; never two at a time. "Give us this day, our daily bread", Jesus taught us to pray.
Another 'Marian' woman from Bengal, also called Maa -- Mother -- Maa Aanandamayee (Mother full of bliss) taught this supreme saadhanaa as a means of constant union of bliss:
"If moment by moment you welcome existence such as it is, as the Grace of the Guru at work, I promise you that you will reach your Goal soon. No one yoga or saadhanaa is more efficacious than another. What matters truly is the time you allot to it. How can one consecrate all one's time to saadhanaa?To be "one heart" with God can be understood in various ways according to the path or yoga one is treading.
Learn to see and accept all that comes to you as Guru-kripa (the grace of the Guru), as a challenge or an opportunity. Hence this difficulty, this fatigue, this anxiety, this bad news, this contradiction, this joy, this beauty, all are the means of saadhanaa".
For a bhakta, this union will be usually that of a lover with her Beloved. The soul -- always feminine to God -- is 'oned' with Him in a close embrace, but the two remain distinct. As Sant Tukaram, the poet-saint of Maharashtra put it, "I like to taste sugar; I do not want to become sugar". Most Christians -especially the traditional ones -- think of union with God on these lines. One fairly recent instance is the Roman document sent by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some Aspects of Christian Meditation. Here it is insisted upon that the Creator-creature distinction must always be kept, and a warning sounded to the West as well as to the East: "Within the Church, in legitimate search for new methods of meditation, it must always be borne in mind that the essential element of authentic Christian prayer is the meeting of two freedoms, the infinite freedom of God with the finite freedom of man". Christian prayer is "defined properly speaking as a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God".
This 'dialogue' however, is one form of 'prayer'; it is not 'meditation' which implies silence of thought. Besides, even in the Christian tradition, there have been bhaktas, saints and mystics, who have spoken of becoming so 'one' that one's finite freedom disappears into the infinite freedom of God.
Shankaraachaarya speaks of three stages of bhakti. The first is the above -- where the creature and the Creator are seen as remaining distinct. The second is like the tree and the creeper -- a little as Our Lord put it: "I am the Vine; you are the branches". The third stage is like the drop of water in the river. It is interesting that St Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna and other woman saints, have spoken in like manner.
God is Infinite, and infinite are His ways of loving. "In any way that people love me in that same way they find my love: for many are the paths, but they all in the end come to me," (Bhagavad Gita 4.11) Or as another translation put it: "Those centred on me, full of me (manmaya), accede to my own mode of being". The Upanishads, as well as the Fathers of the Eastern church say, "we become what we meditate", And "God became man so that man (humankind) may become God", (Simon the New Theologian -and other early Fathers).
One heart that beats: "Father, Thy will be done", could mean any one of these three modes of loving union. Our collaboration with the Divine action is never really 'creativity'; it is disponsibility, availability, adhesion, waiting, surrendering, a total Yes -- Fiat -- OM! Being passive, feminine! The oneing, yoking, yoga is really done by the Only Doer -- God.
Vandana Mataji SSH founded Jeevan Dhara Ashram in the Himalayas and works for the recognition of the authenticity of Hinduism by Christians. This article is an extract from the book "And the Mother of Jesus was there" by Vandana Mataji, Jeevan Dhara Society, 1991.