Saturday, 24 February 2018

Perspective #3: Fundamentalism Is Dead

For one moment, let us again think of why the study of spiritual philosophy - which some say is the real study of man - is essential. And to help to remind us of the issues, Albert Einstein described the prevailing condition in society in 1954:
When considering the actual living conditions of present-day civilized humanity from the standpoint of even the most elementary religious commands, one is bound to experience a feeling of deep and painful disappointment at what one sees. For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. Everywhere, in economic as well as in political life, the guiding principle is one of ruthless striving for success at the expense of one’s fellow men. This competitive spirit prevails even in school and, destroying all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation, conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection.
In my view, he could have said the same thing in 2018 and it would have equal validity though perhaps the problem has been exacerbated by misguided direction from governments, and by both unfairness and greed. For some years we have been seeing the worst of selfish excesses and a solution is probably now more important than ever as climate change and other conditions worsen.

Einstein went on to say: "There are pessimists who hold that such a state of affairs is necessarily inherent in human nature". He continued: "it is those who propound such views that are the enemies of true religion, for they imply thereby that religious teachings are utopian ideals and unsuited to afford guidance in human affairs."

To illustrate his point Einstein then referred to the philosophy of the Pueblo Indians. "Under the hardest living conditions, this tribe has apparently accomplished the difficult task of delivering its people from the scourge of competitive spirit and of fostering in it a temperate, cooperative conduct of life, free of external pressure and without any curtailment of happiness." Studies done of the Hopi Indians have identified similar traits and the Maya have a very deep wisdom.

But of course western life is no longer as simple. But to think western life is civilised in view of the events of the last two decades would surely be wide of the mark. Conditions are such that a number of wisdom sources have firmly suggested for some time that we should rethink how we live and identify what is sustainable. There are more people 'out there' doing that very thing; more people than we might imagine as all we see and hear about is bad news: good news (until now) does not sell well! But all may well change very soon, as we know that crisis usually brings out the best in people.

The underlying formula of a successful and harmonious society starts with the individual, for an individual on the right track then influences the family and then the community and then the entire world. That is the ideal, of unity leading to peace and happiness. And the medium is via Love, implanted during the nurturing period in the family and then at school. The problem today is that parents often ignore the need for practical spirituality, pander to peer pressure and demand (or are led to believe in) an educational system specifically geared to providing their children with the best means to what is called "a good living" - along materialistic and competitive lines, as Einstein pointed out. That system all too frequently leads to broken families and fragmented societies. And a world at conflict. The educational system has surely lacked a sense of values.

People might object that religion is equally to blame, but we do need to reflect on what a true religion is supposed to achieve. Einstein referred to "true religion", which I call the Essential Teachings, as discussed in Perspectives 1 and 2: those teachings that promote a system of Human Values based on Universal Love towards our fellow man and towards the environment. This is a key issue. Einstein said of himself: "I try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value".

How would a system of Human Values be transmitted? Oscar Wilde said: "Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." But "education" these days is not much more than a data collection exercise. In ancient times, and even in the presence of a guru or sheikh, it was not and is not like that.

While technical, academic or professional education is all very good to acquire a good living, it is the experiential life that is the true teacher. The acquisition of that form of learning is often best achieved by taking some considered risks with one's life: at least to question what is happening around us. However, to do so is riskier if the objective is not a pure one or if harm is done on the way. In fact, challenges unexpectedly arise often in the ordinary course of life and they present the best opportunities to learn: but to learn from such situations requires them to be met head-on. To be successful, the individual should not wilt in a disaster or simply claim 'foul' or blame others. As Kipling wrote (in 'If'):
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
So, we have come around again to the individual and the issue of "Who am I?" Am I a body, which is perishable, or is there an essence that I am supposed to know and actively evolve into a higher state? For me, the latter answer must be true. For if it were the body that defines who we are then we only have death to look forward to. That idea does not make sense to me; if it were the Truth then for what purpose did great teachers such as the Buddha and Jesus experience such great sacrifice and suffering? Not only they but many others too, many of whom are not recorded. Surely a good evolution of man can take place only if we attempt to transcend our earthly condition?

There must be many who feel that there is something more than the body but cannot express their ideas about it, or (not finding an answer in ordinary religion) simply try to put it aside and conform to what society views as normal. That happened to me, as when I was just entering teenage life I had the question rise up as to what it was that looked through my eyes to see and comprehend. I asked questions of my parents, but they could not answer, and I could not seem to identify any other way by which that question could be answered. It took me another 20 years of just living my life, in the way that others did, to come again to that question. The question was brought on again by a critical personal issue and a strange occurrence as part of that issue. That experience then set me off on a search, at the age of 30, and within two years I gave up a lucrative career to go away and find answers.

Answers to problems of any kind do not always come easily, and though my awareness developed as time went by, I was conscious of how easy it was to be ensnared into some railway siding (as it were) when in fact the path is long and narrow - as the scriptures say. But despite trying to be 'of service' I did sometimes get 'ensnared' and I did not come very close to an answer to my original question until I was in my sixties. I did not stop learning at that point either. I still haven't. But I feel more at peace and have a sense of a spiritual direction that I am happy with. I now envisage a Unity in Diversity.

My overall understanding can be summed up in the phrase: “Truth is one; sages call it by various names”. This is a statement in the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda. I can now (only recently) also reconcile to the statement made by Ghandiji that:
Only that one is a true worshipper of God, who is not jealous, who is generous to everyone and without any egoism.
Who can bear heat and cold, happiness and harm equally, who always forgives, is constantly satisfied, whose decisions are firm and whose mind and soul is surrendered to God.
Who does not cause any evil, who is not afraid of others, and who is as free of excitement as of worries and fears, who is pure, efficient at work but yet not touched by it, who gives up all the fruits of his acting, the good ones as well as the bad ones, who treats friends and enemies in the same way, who stays untouched by respect or lack of respect, who is not pampered by praise but also not depressed if people talk badly of him.
Who likes the silence and the loneliness and who has a disciplined mind.
The yogi is the one in whom all these capabilities are reflected in his life and who in the midst of a furious storm still sees the sun, who faces the difficulties and the death, who with a balanced quiet mind walks over a battlefield or goes to the executioners, and whose spirit is so joyful that even thunder puts him to sleep.
Whoever has attained Ghandiji's vision, on any spiritual path, must surely be at peace. I believe that vision is the culmination of the ancient path taught by sages thousands of years ago and demonstrated and thus ratified by the Budhha and (probably more significantly) by Jesus. I see the message of Muhammed as putting the same ideal within a social context, but fundamentalism threatens the integrity of Islam as well as Christianity.

Fundamentalism is dead. Long live Life! With help always but invisibly at hand, action of a certain kind is required; there are no shortcuts. The spiritual path is not just a self-obsessed issue with the only beneficiary being the seeker. The Love of a truly enlightened one always benefits all that is around him (or her).   The message from all spiritual quarters is to seek the Light and make it shine. Although this is not specifically a Christian view I will quote Jesus as he is made to state in the Bible, at Matthew 5:16:
You are like light for the world;
Your light must shine before people
so they will see your good things you do
and give praise to your Father in heaven.
Perspective #4 will look more at the topic of Karma and other aspects of the Soul..

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