Service, Sacrifice & Imperfection

By Rudra Shivananda

ted-kennedyIn 2009, one of our humanitarian leaders died from the brain tumor. This led me to think about the way karma and dharma can work together for the betterment of mankind and about the triumph of the human spirit, in response to both sides of the karmic equation.

Senator Kennedy was the last surviving member of the Kennedy brothers who have had some of the most profound effects on the American psyche. All three of them, John, Robert and Edward can claim a measure of greatness in human achievement. However, it is to Teddy, the youngest and most long lived that we can see the transformation of the soul most clearly. Such beings are called Mahatmas or great souls – they may or may not be spiritual in the normal way of our understanding
– because of the manner in which they lived their lives and the positive impact they have had in changing their society for the better.

Edward Kennedy served for almost 50 years in the US Senate and helped in crafting and passing some of the most important legislation (about 300 of them) on health, education, immigration, labor and human rights for the people of the united states. Whether we agree or not with his liberal views, we must respect his commitment to
them and to the downtrodden people of the wealthiest country in the world.

He was first appointed a senator not because he was qualified but because he was the brother of the US President. He was profoundly transformed first by the successive assassinations of his two older brothers and then by an incident when his reputation was damaged for the rest of his life.

He showed even in his college days that he had marked imperfections – while at Harvard, he tried to cheat on his Spanish exam by getting a friend to take it for him, but got caught and expelled. Subsequently, he joined the army for two years, redeeming himself and rejoining Harvard to graduate. In 1969, he was drunk and crashed into a river, surviving but left a dead woman in the car, leaving many unanswered questions that ruined his chances of becoming president. Subsequently, he dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of the under-represented, the poor and sick.

There is no doubt that Ted Kennedy was given the opportunities that few get but he was also challenged by many personal tragedies, his brothers’ deaths, his own frailties, and his son’s health problems. His was a combination of great good karma – being born into a rich and influential family and heavy negative karma – personal tragedies and public frailties. What distinguished him was that he saw his dharma, that is, his personal path in life and transformed his opportunity into a great life. It is a great life, not because of his fame, but because of his dedication and service to others.

His life of service was not necessary – he could have retired many years ago and pursued his other interests. He could have lived a life of ease and personal pleasures. He renounced that course of action and instead chose to sacrifice his own happiness in the service of others. Some may doubt that such a selfless motivation can be  applied to a politician and indeed there are very few, especially in this society
of “me first.” However, actions speak louder than words and one need but examine
his life to see the truth in how his sacrifice gave power to his service to redeem and transform him. He never gave up his ideals even though he worked among those who sold their ideals to the highest bidder. Let us take a moment to remember him and his life of service and pray that at least some of our present and future politicians and leaders emulate his example.

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