Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu = May ALL beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
This is probably my favorite of all ancient Sanskrit chants. It is not part of the original Vedic texts, but seemed to evolved from the desire to explain further the fundamental principles of ahimsa – which means non-violence in all thoughts, words and actions. The ancients declared the value of the Universal Spirit found within all living beings.
One of my original teachers sums it up quite eloquently:
If any prayer were to embody the spirit of the yogi, it would be this simple chant, whose 4 simple words translate as:
lokah: location (everywhere)
samastah: sameness or equality
sukhino: sweetness or happiness
bhavantu: unto all
Notice that the transliteration says unto ALL living beings, not some living beings, and not the beings we love, or who are behaving in accordance with our expectations. Nor does the prayer define ‘beings’ as human. The mantra is clear – ALL beings deserve to be happy and free. It’s simple, yet hard to practice, but has been my guiding principle for interacting with the world for nearly a decade (after I first heard it chanted in a yoga class years ago).
Some people ask, “what would Jesus do?” As an atheist, I’m challenged to identify with Jesus. I do think he was one of the original Yogis, when it comes to loving others and doing no harm, but I think I’m more challenged with the stance the Bible takes…namely the Old Testament which seems to focus more on defining ways we are deserving of love and ways when we are ‘bad’ or to experience the ‘wrath of God’. Too many people like to pretend they are God, or God-like, when it comes to passing judgement upon others – they seem to forget we live in the era of the New Testament and what it was the Jesus actually taught. Rather than dealing with confusing, or contradictory, text, I come back to this simple, astute chant when/if the thread of judgement begins to weave its way through my thoughts.
ALL beings deserve happiness, joy, and freedom – not just some beings, not just the beings you think are good or deserving – ALL beings: all black beings, all brown beings, all cis* beings, all gay beings, all beings who don’t identify within the confines of the gender binary, all animals, all plants, and the Earth itself deserve this. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile this with the human mind, the one that calls for justice when we are wronged, or the one that lives in fear that there won’t be enough happiness and freedom for everyone (so we better restrict it to only a few).
We all deserve these things, but it should never be up to another to limit whether we heed joy’s true calling. No living being should inflict suffering, harm, or pain on another. That is a choice that we must make for ourselves.