Shivi Verma espouses the role of small spiritual communities in providing the much-needed help to souls seeking the strength to overcome the vicissitudes of life and a path to the Divine
One of the best things I like about human beings is their need to belong, to connect with each other, to form support groups, and to come close to one another. No matter how hard we find to live with other human beings (our lives bear testimony to this fact), we still cannot live in isolation and loneliness. Community living is an inseparable part of our nature and contributes in innumerable ways to our growth as well as happiness.
Support from family and society
A child is born not only to the mother but to the entire family and extended family. It takes a whole village to raise a child, goes the adage. The baby grows on the attention, love, care, and affection showered upon it by the elders around it.
We all have fond memories of being cuddled by a grandparent, being given candies by an uncle, being told stories by an aunt, or being taken out by an elder brother or sister to play and have fun with. Our memories comprise good and bad times spent with near and dear ones, friends, relatives, neighbours, and acquaintances.
Even the most shy and introverted ones need someone close, with whom they can share their thoughts and feelings. Not only that, we inherit one of the most important aspects of our lives—our values and belief systems—too from the community we live in. Taking care of the elderly, being respectful to elders, women and neighbours, and being helpful to others are deep-seated values which people inherit from their surroundings.
The flip side
However, the ills being suffered by society can also be blamed on the same phenomena.
Recently, I attended a wedding, where the groom’s family was found demanding more dowry at the time of the nuptials. Needless to say, a happy event got marred by pain and tears. I was forced to think, “What makes a set of people so immune to the suffering they cause to others?” I concluded that this was because of the belief system which is deeply entrenched in a certain section of society. If people believe that a boy is superior to a girl, they won’t feel any remorse for hurting a girl and her family members.
This explains why communities often lobby against other communities. The upper castes lobby against the lower castes, religious communities run down other religious communities, and ethnic communities often wage wars against other ethnic communities. While grouping gives us strength, security, and identity, it also generates, biases, prejudices, misgivings, animosity, and even hate if there is too much polarity between communities.
Conditioned by the community
A family is the first community of people a child is born into. As it grows into an adult, it feeds into the mindsets and also the beliefs being deeply held by the members of the family. And since like attracts like, we often find ourselves attracting and mingling with people and families having a similar worldview. Middle-class people carry the belief that only good higher education can get them success in life. Most of them believe that the dowry system cannot be erased or that it is better to be safe than take a risk and lose everything in the bargain. The obsession with fair-skin is also deeply rooted in middle-class people.
Similarly, upper-class communities think and function in ways which cannot be fathomed by the middle-class population. They prioritise time over money and believe in making their money grow through lucrative investments rather than focussing on saving. They value experiences over possessions and are known to have out-of-the-box thinking. However, they can often be too entitled and lacking in empathy and understanding for those less privileged than them.
The lower rungs of society too have a pattern of thinking which is reflective of their state. They consider themselves helpless and victims of circumstances. This belief keeps attracting similar life situations for them again and again.
And while our communities and the belief prevalent in them largely control and shape our lives, it is important to check if they are helping us live better, happier, and fruitful lives. Since we are a product of our circumstances and learn our behaviours from those around us, we might end up botching up our lives or stifling our inner voice, for want of good, positive, awakened examples before us.
I remember what a friend from a different faith once shared with me: “As a young child, I had fallen in love with the little lamb my family had adopted. I used to play with it, feed it, and spend time in its loving company. Little did I realise that it would be sacrificed on an important religious community festival. It had broken my heart. I had cried my heart out when it was being dragged away to be slaughtered. I had refused to eat its meat when it was served to me and was unable to get over the pain of its death for a long time.”
However, this friend of mine is an avid non-vegetarian now and does not have the same feelings he once had for this practice.
I had wondered how—instead of understanding and relating to the feelings of the little boy and doing away with a cruel practice—people chose to convince him about the validity of an inhuman tradition and, later, even to participate in it. Such instances abound across cultures and communities.
The belief that a girl’s return to her parental home after marriage is a matter of shame for her parents has forced many women to stay in toxic marriages even to the detriment of their life, health, and happiness. Societal beliefs around failure and mental illness have forced people to wear false masks, suffer in isolation, or commit suicide because people are largely judgmental about these problems.
Since it is easy to get influenced by negative beliefs, words, or treatment, people often become critical and unforgiving of their own selves in the face of difficulty in surmounting challenges. Often, kind and supportive words alone are not enough in bringing a person out of the doldrums. People require deep faith, conviction, and positive vibrations too and find these elements lacking in their surroundings.
Spiritual strength in numbers
Collective energies determine the course of history, and when a big mass of people believe and act positively, humongous changes can happen in this world. Recently, members of Maitribodh Parivaar prayed collectively in different parts of the world for rains to happen and douse the Australian bushfire, and their prayers were answered.
Old institutions and communities built around old energies and aphorisms are not only not working for us anymore but are also responsible for all-round catastrophes, as they were built not for the propagation of dharma but to maintain the power-structures and strengthen the status quo of inequality and injustice.
Since change is the unchanging law of time and dynamics organically segue into greater balance, new socio-spiritual groups have begun to sprout to replace outdated beliefs and infuse life with fresh vigour and vitality.
Succour in times of need
In my late twenties, when I was struggling to figure out my life and was facing failure at all levels (a stagnant career, failing health, despondent parents, gossipy relatives, and medical doctors only giving grim predictions), a ray of hope had entered my life in the form of a spiritual organisation which worked through tiny centres operating in different locations of the city.
I was going through one of the lowest phases of my life and did not want to associate with the rich or successful as they gave me a complex. That centre was full of people like me—young, old, and middle-aged, who were struggling or stuck in a particular area of their lives.
I settled and relaxed in their company. There was no effort to prove our excellence or worth to others. We all knew that we were in pain, openly admitted it, and freely sought help. There was empathy, understanding, and no judgement whatsoever over there.
We sat for group prayers aimed at sending positive intentions for one person chosen from amongst us every week. We would visit each other’s homes to give pep talks, read out motivating chapters from books, and do collective prayers. We would celebrate each other’s breakthroughs and invite others too to our small sangha (community).
I found many like-minded people in that small spiritual group, who swore by human values.
During years marred by job loss and depression, the sangha gave me a reason to get up every day with renewed hope. I became a speaker there and enjoyed lecturing on topics close to my heart and bringing hope to other struggling souls. My life was getting filled with positivity because the group made me feel valued and my life meaningful.
Although there did come a time when I felt that I was outgrowing the spiritual teachings being propagated by the sangha and needed a more evolved one to work with, I still cannot thank the 80-year-old granny (who was heading the Gorakhpur chapter of that spiritual community) enough. She had supported me at a time when I had felt deserted by the world.
Many old blocks and debilitating negative beliefs got converted into positive ones in that sangha, and people found freedom from their depressing circumstances through it.
The pros of smaller sanghas
Though there exist big sanghas like the Isha Foundation, the Art of Living, the Brahma Kumaris, ISKCON, and Mata Amritanandamayi Math, which are doing tremendous work for uplifting humanity, the role and value of smaller sanghas cannot be denied. They may not build schools, hospitals, homes, or give loans or scholarships to the poor but play the important role of holding space and giving support and comfort to struggling souls.
The best thing about smaller sanghas is that unlike the big sanghas, the key person is not off limits for its members. They act like personal guides and gurus who are approachable, relatable, and identifiable. There are no strict hierarchies and one does not have to go through many channels to get an audience with the head. These sanghas mostly feel like home, and people freely come in and out of them after receiving what they were in dire need of.
There may not be mystical processes through which members are made to go through to lift their consciousness, but a lot of healing happens there because people feel heard and understood. They get reconnected to their higher Self because they feel personally supported by circumstances. They get empathy, not criticism, encouragement, not derision. Many find a new purpose to their lives and start believing in being positive and doing good.
They come together to form support groups and carry forward the charitable work being done by the sangha. Plenty of hope and positivity is unleashed through their healing and optimism, which leads to the creation of a new dynamic in society. Old orders begin to give way to new and stronger structures, and the unheard ones begin to find their long-suppressed voices.
Making the world a better place
In this anniversary issue, Life Positive has profiled the work of 14 smaller sanghas that are trying, in their unique ways, to make a difference to the world. Most are founded by ordinary people with an extraordinary vision. And the most important value that they abide by is that within each person resides the Divine, which must be respected and honoured. Hopefully, as awakening gathers momentum and more and more self-aware and self-responsible souls are released into this world by these groups, we will definitely come to a place in time, when the world would be able to operate as one family—where there will be no alienation, marginalisation, expulsion or discrimination based on race, species, colour, or gender. Enjoy the issue.
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