Spirituality and Social Change
Talk by Dada Maheshvarananda at the “Globalization or Localization” Conference in Wellington, New Zealand on March 3, 2001
Namaskar is a traditional yogic greeting that means, “I greet the divinity within you with all the charms of my mind and the cordiality of my heart.”
We are divine beings, each one of us. We have, in addition to physical and mental qualities, spiritual qualities. Our journey, as individuals and as members of a global community struggling against economic globalization and injustice, is two-fold. It is personal, and it is collective.
Capitalism teaches the superiority of the individual: “I win, you lose.” Or, “I win and it really doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of the world.” What are the lessons we teach our children in school? “Get a good education, then get a good job and make some money.” Western education offers no clear message of social responsibility. We have responsibilities to others as well as individual rights.
Compassion is the most important quality for a spiritualist to have. We need to feel compassion for others and to serve those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
So our journey is both external and internal. Just as we learn from all our personal experiences, so we also learn from the collective struggle for social justice.
I teach prisoners, as Father Jim Consedine does [another speaker at the conference]. I teach them meditation and yoga every week, and personally I find it very gratifying, because they are in a process of transformation. I am inspired by the example that my spiritual master, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar <../../sarkar/default.htm>, gave when the first person he chose to teach meditation to was an infamous criminal in Calcutta who later became a great saint and spiritual visionary. So I think, “If that was the person who he felt was most worthy of spiritual transformation, then who am I to judge the spiritual potential of others?”
We are all brothers and sisters. When I was a child, I often used to fight with my brother and sister, but of course we remained family. In the same way, human beings have lots of differences, and I’m going to fight and struggle against injustice. But I always want to remember that I’m fighting and struggling against the bad actions that people do and not against who they are. Because they are, forever, my brothers and sisters, too.
I accept a universal definition of God: that which is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. For some, this may seem a rather standard dictionary definition of the Supreme Being. But I think the definition is very revolutionary. If He is everywhere, then that means He is right inside me and He is right inside you and He is right inside our planet earth.
God is both He and She. I use the male pronoun unnecessarily, because I have trouble calling the One I feel so close to an “It”. Both the masculine and the feminine are equally present in that Supreme Being -- it is we who are limited by our concepts of male and female.
If that Being is here in me and here in you, then that means I have to act accordingly, I have to work accordingly. I cannot be a spiritual capitalist, one who says, “I’m going to go to a nice monastery, to a beautiful forest retreat, to the mountains, I’m only going to do my spiritual journey.” That’s capitalism. That’s selfishness.
In my opinion, spirituality is everywhere. In some places, of course, you will feel more spiritual energy. But you don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to any place, because if you close your eyes, wherever you are, you can find all that you seek. So that inner journey is more important than any pilgrimage. Yes, I like to go to the mountains sometimes, to the forests, I love nature, and clearly there is more spiritual energy in some places, such as this beautiful Maori center. But that’s relative. We shouldn’t stop our progress because we’re not in a spiritual place. I’ll meditate four times a day wherever I am.
Consumerism and materialism is what our current society teaches us. It goes like this: “Buy a new pair of Nike tennis shoes and you’ll be happy. Buy a new car and you’ll be happy.” (You’ll probably get a woman with the car, because most advertisements have a beautiful woman next to the car, so obviously you’re going to get that, too!)
That’s a lie. These capitalist lies are what we have to stop, because they are destroying human minds, convincing people that money is the secret to happiness. Television, film, radio, magazines all get money from advertisers to spread these lies. When our minds become clear and strong in meditation, in spiritual practices, then we can begin to see through the veil of lies and legitimacy. Happiness doesn’t come from any material thing; it comes from your own heart. That’s a fundamental truth.
Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar <../../sarkar/default.htm>, the founder of Prout <../5fpp/5fpp.htm>, was both a great spiritual master and also a revolutionary. I first met him in January 1978 in a prison cell in India where he was a political prisoner for seven years. After his release, the US, UK, Australia and some other rich countries refused to give him a visa because they said he was a dangerous revolutionary.
In August 1979, he came to Bangkok, Thailand where I was working. I had the wonderful opportunity to spend seven days with him. One very dark night, what I would call a very “Tantric” night, three of us went with him on a walk in a park. At one point he stopped and explained why the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos had just deported him from the Philippines:
“ They say I am a dangerous man. But I am not a dangerous man; I am not a strong man. Imagine, they are scared of me, and I am only five feet two inches tall!
“ You know how a fish store smells? Ugh! Yet some people like that ‘fishy’ smell. Only those who like the ‘fishy’ smell of selfishness are afraid of me. Selfishness is a mental disease and they know that Prout gives no scope for selfishness.”
We are trying to create a world that limits the expression of that particular mental disease. I used to work in a psychiatric hospital, and I have friends with all kinds of mental diseases. They need a certain kind of care. But we must not allow people with the mental disease of selfishness to run our economies and our countries, to dictate the world that our children can have.
As spiritualists, we have to unite. We have to unite with other spiritualists, like these great people beside me. We have to unite with people of all expressions and beliefs and faiths. I believe the only “ism” that we can support is universalism, the idea that we are one human family. You have your beliefs, and I have mine, but we are all moving in the same direction. If we climb a mountain, it doesn’t matter from which side of the mountain you start your climb; we’re all going to reach the summit together.
I believe that spiritual practices are fundamental to the spiritual path. They are what you actually do to get there, whether they take the form of some kind of meditation or some kind of deep personal inner reflection. It is gratifying to work for an organization that teaches meditation free of charge. Whatever type of meditation we do, our goal is to become better people. An ideal human being, a saint-like person, a God-like person - who cares what their faith is, who cares whether they are Muslim or Jew or Catholic or Protestant or a yogi? When we become ideal human beings, then we’ll all be one.
To unite the moralists, to unite those people who are fighting against injustice, against exploitation, is our goal. Our spiritual practices, our spiritual vision, our spiritual love and compassion are fundamental to get there. They are our strength, our inner sustenance.
Logically, if we look at the world, global ecological destruction is a very real possibility. Spiritually, though, I know we’re going to make it. P. R. Sarkar said, “Your future is bright. It is brighter than gold, it is brighter than platinum, it is brighter than anything you can ever imagine. And you’ll see it with your own eyes.”
How will it happen? I don’t know. And whether it happens this year, or next year, or later, I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing now: fighting for social justice, working against capitalist exploitation, doing my spiritual practices and encouraging everyone else in this human family to learn and try them, too. Because we need inner peace and we need global peace. Without one, we have an angry world. Without the other, we have people dying completely unnecessarily. That’s a crime. That’s totally unacceptable. Humanity is bleeding. We must awaken. We must work together. We must make a better world. We don’t have another option.