CONSERVATION BIOLOGISTS call the elephant a "keystone" species. Just as an arch cannot
stand without its keystone, many other species, and sometimes entire ecosystems, would be lost
without the elephant. On the African savannah, the elephant’s foraging creates a mixture of
woodlands and grasslands, making the savannah y hospitable to many more creatures, from the
zebra to the giraffe to the baboon. In drier climates, it provides water y not only for itself but for all
the other species by creating new water holes and even digging wells. Because of the elephant, a
huge, hungry animal with gentle habits, they, entire ecosystem flourishes.
I believe that we human beings are meant for no less a role. Today, because of our skills and
technology, human society has assumed the position of keystone in the vast, delicately balanced arch
of nature. Like the elephants in the forest, our lives affect all the other creatures, plants, and elements
around us. They all depend upon us for support and protection.
In one way, our influence now is far from benign. Rather than supporting the rest of life, human
beings often seem to be at odds with it. Scientists tell us that many of our social and business
activities are not only driving other species to extinction but are threatening the water, soil, and
atmosphere on which our own lives depend. We seem to have trouble relating even to our own
species. The tension and alienation of our inner cities, the increase in poverty and homelessness, the
drug abuse and high suicide rate among our young people all suggest that we lack the wisdom to
protect ourselves, let alone the rest of nature.
Yet in another sense, there is great promise today. Around the world — even in some of the
countries most troubled by poverty or civil war or pollution — many thoughtful people are making a
deep, concerted search for a way to live in harmony with each other and the earth. Their efforts,
which rarely reach the headlines, are among the most important events occurring today. Sometimes
these people call themselves peace workers, at other times enviromnentalists, but most of the time
they work in humble anonymity. They are simply quiet people changing the world by changing
The purpose of this book is to encourage those people and the changes they are making. In it, I hope
to under- score the tremendous potential of such "tremendous trif1es," to use G. K. Chesterton’s
phrase, for improving our lives and the world we live in, and I will be offering some practical
suggestions on how to make those changes more satisfying and more powerful.
Through such unobtrusive, almost inaudible work, the changes we would like to see in the world
around us can begin immediately in our own lives, making us more secure, more contented, and
more effective. Each of us has the capacity to become a little keystone, a healing and protecting
force in the family, with friends, at work, in the community, in the environment.
Such little changes can seem painfully small when compared to the kinds of crises we read about in
the headlines, but through my personal experience I have become convinced that there is no
instrument of change more powerful than the well-lived life. Having had the privilege of growing up in
Mahatma Gandhi’s India, walking with him, Studying his life, and trying to live by his example, I can
say that his simple, loving life has done more to benefit the world than all the speeches and policies
composed by politicians in this century — however eloquent, however well- meaning.
Once, while Mahatma Gandhi’s train was pulling slowly out of the station, a reporter ran up to him
and asked for a message to take back to his people. Gandhi’s reply was a hurried line scrawled on a
scrap of paper: "My life is my message?
This is the message which all our children are waiting and hoping for. In the coming decades they
face the daunting prospect of inheriting our world, with its debts, its national antagonisms, its injured
environment. What they are often trying to express through anger or rebellion is a need to be loved
— not through words or gifts, but through our personal example. "Say it with flowers" is not enough.
We need to say it with our lives. How else will they know that living in harmony with each other and
the earth is possible?
Taken together, these small daily efforts to improve our ordinary lives add up to a very powerful
force that, in the years to come, can become a kind of spiritual revolution, providing a firm
foundation for the kind of political, economic, and ecological improvements we need to make.
In the past two centuries, the world has seen several revolutions. Some of them have brought
salutary changes, while others have brought only suffering, but I would venture to say that none of
them has brought us the peace our minds are hungering for or the love our hearts are thirsting for.
Without such a spiritual foundation, I don’t think any political or economic policy, however new,
however brilliant, can till the crying needs of humanity or protect the earth from the pressure those
unfilled needs exert on it.
What I am referring to goes well beyond what we normally call social change. While I have the
deepest respect for all those working selflessly to serve the world, many of the so-called "reformers"
I have seen both in India and this country have an unpromising approach. They look down from the
soapbox or pulpit and say, "Let me reform you, Diane, and you, Steve, and of course you, Bob."
If Bob says, "What about you?" they reply, "Oh, that can wait. Let me start with Diane and Steve
and you." That is a familiar refrain in international politics, inter- national economics, international aid,
even international education. But the great spiritual teachers of all religions — men and women who
have devoted their lives to the art of living in complete harmony, like Francis of Assisi, Teresa of
Avila, the Compassionate Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi — say, "Oh no! You start with yourself" There
is not much purpose served by preaching to others or by talking at them. The only way to influence
people for the better — your family, your friends, your club, your class, your clinic, your society,
even your enemies — is through your personal example. Harmony with the environment — the
alleviation of our environmental crisis — and harmony with others — the easing of our social,
political, and economic difficulties — both begin with a third harmony: harmony with ourselves.
Even though they may not realize it consciously, people absorb something deep below the conscious
level when they see a man who is at peace with himself, a woman who finds her happiness in making
life a little better for the community. It is the same mental dynamic as advertisers use in their roadside
billboards. While you are traveling on the freeway, you may not notice the billboards consciously, but
a certain part of their message seeps into the unconscious, and influences you the next time you go to
Similarly, when you are able to live with joy, giving your time and energy to improving the quality of
life for all, you are not only fulfilling your highest destiny, you are also helping all those around you to
grow to their full height. As you will see from the challenges outlined in this book, this is not an easy
path. Self-transformation is arduous work, especially at first; but each tiny change brings with it the
joyful awareness that your life is gradually becoming a force for peaceful change.
Nothing is more important today. Much effort is going into the search for substitutes for
environmentally harmful products, like the chlorofluorocarbons which damage the ozone layer or the
chemicals which pollute our ground- water, but what we need just as urgently is a substitute ‘for the
real culprit — a way of life which demands ever- increasing amounts of material resources while
providing ever—decreasing satisfaction. To replace it, we need more than just a plan for efficient
energy use or designs for solar- powered cars, although these are always welcome. We need a way
of life which gives back more than it takes, enhancing the world around us rather than exploiting and
polluting it. So, while the chemists search for substitutes for CFCs and the engineers seek to make
solar and wind power profitable, the environmental crisis is challenging us all to undertake an even
more important search: the search for a sustainable, fully satisfying way of life, based not on
exploiting the external environment, but on taking full advantage of the riches inside us — the nobility,
compassion, and desire for peace that lie hidden in every heart. This is not work that can be done for
us by corporations or governments; we each have to do it ourselves.
Yet we do not have to do it alone. My grandmother, who was my spiritual teacher, always used the
tamarind is tree to illustrate the power of ordinary people. The tama- rind is a big tree, with very
small, thin leaves. On a hot day, the people of my old state of Kerala like to sleep in its shade. The
leaves are so numerous and are packed so close together that they protect us from the tropical sun
just as if they were one large canopy. "Little Lamp, you don’t have to look for big peop1e," Granny
would tell me. "Look for little people like yourself, then band together and work together in
So don’t be intimidated by position or power or wealth. If little people like you and me work
together, we can do a great deal to transform the world.
Back of the Book
Eknath Easwaran has healed thousands of people by teaching them how to live at peace with
themselves and their world. your Life Is Your Message is his seminal work, offering a vision of
personal growth that brings together the quest for inner fulfillment, the desire to contribute to the
world, and the need to enrich personal relationships. By showing us how interconnected these three
are, Easwaran persuades us that making small daily changes in the way we think and live can change
the world around us.
Practical and inspirational, humorous and profound, Your Life Is Your Message shows
readers they can be more loving, more focused, more capable of living out their ideals by providing a
set of practical spiritual disciplines to bring about these changes. It is a book that will transform the
lives of all who read it.
About the Author
Eknath Easwaran is respected around the world as one of the great spiritual teachers. He was
Professor of English Literature at the University of Nagpur, India, and an established writer, when he
came to the United States on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959. As Founder and Director of
the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and the Nilgiri Press, he taught the classics of world
mysticism and the practice of meditation from 1960 till his death in 1999.
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