Human Excellence: Notes from India

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing
would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

I found some notes from my trip to India. In January 2015, I joined St. Catherine University’s study abroad program, Perspectives in Health and Healing in India. I spent two weeks visiting Delhi, Rishikesh, Sonipat, and Agra. There were 16 students and two professors. We studied Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine, yoga, and meditation.

I went to India because I wanted to experience the culture. I love India’s spirituality and yoga philosophy. I know I was a yogi in my past life. My ancient roots are in India. In my heart, I know this is true.

I’ve felt lonely in my spiritual life – like I was born in the wrong country. I miss the meditative chanting in the ashram, the yogi eyes of wisdom, ancient incense, and the chilly waters of the Ganges River.

I feel lonely because my family and friends do not understand yoga or Buddhism. Several family members have asked me, “Are you Christian?” I always answer “Yes” because I blend my Christian upbringing with yoga philosophy and Buddhism. I believe ancient truths come from India.

I have two wise paths – my Catholic faith and Buddhism. Both paths teach about love, compassion, and discipline. My Catholic upbringing is the rock – my foundation and part of my ancestral line. Buddhism is the river – it keeps me moving toward wisdom and enlightenment.

Even though I embrace Buddhism, my family doesn’t understand it. I’ve often felt estranged from family members because I practice Buddhism. My family and friends question my faith and are worried about me entering the gates of heaven.

In India, I spent some time in an ashram and visited Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya (DSVV) University near Haridwar. Haridwar is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus and is a major pilgrimage center. Many travel to Haridwar to dip their bodies in the sacred Ganges River.

DSVV is a large university in the foothills of the lush Himalayan Mountains. The coral-colored buildings and arches stand out against the green backdrop. The university also includes a meditation center, a health park, and a Hindu temple. When we arrived at DSVV, smoke filled the air, and the sun hid behind hazy clouds.

The university impressed me because of the large campus and onsite productions. DSVV made fabric bags, tapestries, and beautiful rugs from large wooden looms. They also made candles, cards, and picture frames from recycled paper. They even had cows on their campus, and every morning, the students and staff performed rituals to honor the cows. Also, I found it fascinating that the staff sang to the cows to help them produce more milk.

DSVV has a health park called Sriram Smriti Upvan. My classmates and I took off our shoes on the cold, foggy morning to walk the foot reflexology path. We kept our socks on because it was around fifty degrees. The park looked like a mini golf course, except the paths were colorful rectangular acupressure tiles. The path stimulates the acupressure points of the feet. These points connect to various energy meridians in the body, which enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

DSVV built the health park in 2011 to honor Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya, an author and a freedom fighter. It also includes numerous labeled herbal plants along the path. I walked silently along the path until my foot walked over something sharp. My colleagues and I laughed a few times because some tiles hurt our feet.

Dr. Chinmay Pandya, a medical doctor and the Pro Vice-Chancellor at DVSS, gave a lecture just for our group. We waited in a small conference room with two rows of chairs. Several DSVV students served us Chai tea and cookies – a traditional hospitality treat for guests. It was frigid in India! My fellow students and I joked that we brought the cold from Minnesota. The hot tea warmed us up as we sat with our jackets, hats, and scarves. Most buildings in India do not have heat.

After drinking hot tea, we moved to a larger conference room. Dr. Pandya greeted us with a welcoming smile. He looked intellectual with his glasses, orange zip sweater, and orange-colored baggy yoga pants. Dr. Pandya gave a PowerPoint presentation on human excellence. The main message from Dr. Pandya was to have excellence in your life, reach out to humanity, and write something “useful and beneficial.”

what is human excellenceImage by RC Biswas from Unsplash

I wasn’t planning on writing about human excellence, but I received an intuitive message to write it. I want to become a high-quality human being. But I realize I am very critical of myself. I am hard on myself if I do or say something I perceive as wrong. I need more self-compassion. It’s about having a balance – even with human excellence.

According to Dr. Pandya, every person needs three things to acquire human excellence – purpose, compassion, and commitment. These three factors guide human beings to stay on the path of wisdom. The first one is purpose. Humans must seek purpose in their lives and help people. Motivation starts from the heart and mind. The intention starts inward, and the purpose is outward. The purpose of humans is to have meaning in their lives. Meaning is so crucial because it will stop the trap of self-gratification. All living creatures can benefit from the action of the heart.

The second one is compassion. When we have compassion, we care. We need to care about our lives and the lives of all living creatures. A caring heart can feel the mercy and surrender to one’s life for the highest good. People need to understand compassion is mercy. We can follow the examples of compassion from Jesus and The Buddha. Both spiritual teachers gave us examples of compassion. So, we, too, must walk in their path. We must see them as ourselves. We, too, can bring compassion from heaven to earth.

The third principle is commitment. When we have excellence, we commit. It’s easy to give up! Anyone can give up. But if you commit to something, you follow through on your intentions and strive to improve. People can look to spiritual leaders for help. Commitment is like a golden thread that doesn’t break under pressure. We must be the golden thread that will not break. We use our golden thread to weave our lives with purpose, compassion, and commitment.

Upon reflection on my trip to India, I understand my limited mind. I am always making judgments and conclusions. The modern human is addicted to tension. But that’s not our true nature – it’s the stress of modern life. I need an open mind to see all the possibilities.

Human excellence is to have purpose, compassion, and commitment. However, I have one more quality to add: compromise. As a human race, we must learn to compromise. We are one big family – along with all the dynamics. However, we must compromise in every relationship if we want things to work out. The word “compromise” contains the word “promise.” May humanity focus on excellence and promise to reconnect with the divine and take care of the Earth.


Enjoy reading this article? Read more from Gina M. Gafford



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