While driving a motorcycle through the village of Rama-Sagara several years ago, I felt the shanti. When I smiled, everyone smiled back at me, young and old. They were the kinds of smiles that came naturally, full of joy and great appreciation that a stranger from another land had taken a moment to visit with them. For my part I was glad for the welcome they gave me. The world had momentarily become a better place. Later that day I did an experiment. Instead of smiling, I drove along with a somber expression on my face. When I did this, the people I passed were less friendly. I realized then that everything depends on how we approach the moment. We can choose to smile and brighten up the world...or not.
When I returned to my lodgings in the ancient town of Hampi I sat under a tree looking at the world around me. In a solitary moment the landscape came alive. Women in colorful saris strolling to the temple. Ripples in the water of a ceremonial pool. An orange flag fluttering in the breeze. Monkeys walking single file atop a chain-link fence. Hawks soaring overhead. That evening I watched the sun setting over the smooth gray boulders, rice fields, and banana plantations. I sat on the steps of a temple on the western slope built there, I supposed, for the sole purpose of watching the sun descend. Some people were speaking softly to each other while sitting on colorful blankets; others were walking gently on the land. Everything had its place, as if there could be no accidents -- as if everything was creating the one all-encompassing moment. When the sun sank below the horizon, dark pink waves of clouds appeared in the sky beside a crescent moon, while I sat motionless among the boulders thinking about the innocent smiles of the people of Rama-Sagara, the women in colorful saris, the monkeys walking on the fence, and the ripples in the ceremonial pool.
It is this kind of connection I have so often tried to find, but of course it’s something people can only discover by looking beyond themselves. If there's sin in this world, it concerns those lapses in which we forget the shanti -- the moment we share that connects us with each other and the surrounding landscape.