By Satish Kumar October 2005 The marriage of matter and spirit, of business and spirit, of politics and spirit, of religion and spirit, and of activism and spirit, is the greatest union required in our times. Matter and spirit are two sides of the same coin. What we measure is matter, what we feel is spirit. Matter represents quantity, spirit is about quality. Spirit manifests itself through matter; matter comes to life through spirit. Spirit brings meaning to matter, matter gives form to spirit. Without spirit matter lacks life. We are human body and human spirit at the same time. A tree too has body and spirit; even rocks which appear to be dead contain their spirit. There is no dichotomy, no dualism, no separation between matter and spirit. The problem is not matter but materialism. Similarly there is no problem with spirit, but spiritualism is problematic. The moment we encapsulate an idea or a thought into an ‘ism’ we lay the foundations of dualistic thought. The universe is uni-verse, one song, one poem, one verse. It contains infinite forms which dance together in harmony, sing together in concert, balance each other in gravity, transform each other in evolution and yet the universe maintains its wholeness and its implicate order. Dark and light, above and below, left and right, words and meaning, matter and spirit complement each other, comfortable in mutual embrace. Where is the contradiction? Where is the conflict? Life feeds life, matter feeds matter, spirit feeds spirit. Life feeds matter, matter feeds life and spirit feeds both matter and life. There is total reciprocity. This is the oriental world view, an ancient world view, a world view found in the tribal traditions of pre-industrial cultures where nature and spirit, earth and heaven, sun and moon are in eternal reciprocity and harmony. Modern DualismModern dualistic cultures see nature red in tooth and claw, the strongest and fittest surviving, the weak and meek disappearing, conflict and competition as the only true reality. From this world view emerges the notion of a split between mind and matter. Once mind and matter are split then debate ensues as to whether mind is superior to matter or matter is superior to mind. This worldview of split, rift, conflict, competition, separation and dualism has also given birth to the idea of separation between the human world and the natural world. Once that separation is established, humans consider themselves to be the superior species, engaged in controlling and manipulating nature for their use. In this view of the world, nature exists for human benefit, to be owned and possessed and if nature is protected and conserved then the purpose is only for human benefit. The natural world; plants, animals, rivers, oceans, mountains and the skies are denuded of spirit. If spirit exists at all, then it is limited to human spirit. But even that is doubtful. In this worldview humans too are considered to be nothing more than a formation of material, molecules, genes and elements. Mind is considered to be a function of the brain, and the brain is an organ in the head and no more. This notion of spiritless existence can be described as materialism. All is matter; land, forests, food, water, labour, literature and art are commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace – the world market, the stock market, the so called ‘free’ market. This is a market of competitive advantage, a cutthroat market, a market where survival of the fittest is the greatest imperative: the strong competing with the weak and winning the biggest share of the market for themselves. Monopolies are established in the name of free competition. Five supermarket chains control 80 per cent of food sold in the UK. Four or five giant multinational corporations, such as Monsanto and Cargill, control 80 per cent of international food trade. Small and family farms cannot compete with the big players and are forced to retreat. This is the world where spirit has been driven out. Business without spirit, trade without compassion, industry without ecology, finance without fairness, economics without equity, can only bring the breakdown of society and destruction of the natural world. Only when spirit and business work together can humanity find coherent purpose. Just as materialism rules economics it also rules politics. Instead of seeing nations, regions and cultures of the world as one human community, the world is seen as a battlefield of nations competing with each other for power, influence and control over minds, markets and natural resources. One nation’s interest is seen in opposition to the national interest of another. Indian national interest is opposed to Pakistani national interest and vice-versa. So are Palestinian national interest and Israeli national interest; American national interest and Iraqi national interest; Chechen national interest and Russian national interest and so on…the list is long. And so we have polarized politics: ‘If you are not with us you are against us,’ has become the dominant mindset. And if you are not with us you are not only against us, you are part of the axis of evil. This is politics denuded of spirit. What can we expect from such politics other than rivalry, strife, the arms race, terrorism and wars? Politicians speak of democracy and freedom but they pursue the path of hegemony and self-interest. How can a particular view of democracy and freedom suit the whole world? There can be no democracy and freedom without compassion, reverence and respect for diversity, difference and pluralism. Compassion, reverence and respect are spiritual qualities – but politics founded on materialism considers the values of the spirit to be woolly, flaky, utopian, idealistic, unrealistic and irrational. But where has the politics of power, control and self-interest led us? The First World War, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Vietnam war, the war in Kashmir, the war in Iraq, the attack on the Twin Towers of New York. Again the list is very long. Politics without spirituality has proved to be a grand failure and, therefore, it is time to bring politics and spirituality together again. Spiritualizing ReligionSometimes the words spirituality and religion are confused, but spirituality and religion are not the same thing. Politics should be free from the constraints of religion but should not be free of spiritual values. The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin root religion which means to bind together with the string of certain beliefs. A group of people come together, share a belief system, stick together and support each other. Thus religion binds you. Whereas the root meaning of ‘spirit’ is associated with breath, with air. We can all be free spirits and breathe freely. Spirituality transcends beliefs. The spirit moves, inspires, touches our hearts and refreshes our souls. When a room has been left closed, doors and windows shut and curtains drawn, the air in the room becomes stale. When we enter the room after a few days we find it stuffy so we open the doors and windows to bring in fresh air. In the same way, when minds are closed for too long we need a radical avatar, a prophet, to open the windows so that our stuffy minds and stale thoughts are aired again. A Buddha, a Jesus, a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, a Rumi, a Hildegard of Bingen appear and blow away the cobwebs of closed minds. Of course we don’t need to wait for such prophets, we can be our own prophets, unlock our own hearts and minds and allow the fresh air of compassion, of generosity, of divinity, of sacredness to blow through our lives. Religious groups and traditions have an important role to play. They initiate us into a discipline of thought and practice, they provide us with a framework; they offer us a sense of community, of solidarity, of support. A tender seedling needs a pot and a stick to support it in the early stages of its development or even the enclosure of a nursery to protect it from frost and cold winds. But when it is strong enough it needs to be planted out in the open so that it is able to develop its own roots and become a fully mature tree. Likewise religious orders act as nurseries for seeking souls. But in the end each one of us has to establish our own roots and find divinity in our own way. There are many good religions, many good philosophies and many good traditions. We should accept all of them and accept that different religious traditions meet the need of different people at different times, in different places and in different contexts. This spirit of generosity, inclusivity and recognition is a spiritual quality. Whenever religious orders lose this quality, they become no more than mere sects protecting their vested interests. At present institutionalized religions have fallen into this trap. For them the maintenance of institutions has become more important than helping their members to grow, to develop and discover their own free spirit. When religious orders get caught in maintaining their properties and their reputation they lose their spirituality and then they, too, become like a business without spirit. As it is necessary to restore spirit in business and in politics we also need to restore spirit in religion. This may seem a strange proposition because the very raison d’etre of every religion is to seek spirit and to establish universal love. The reality is otherwise. Religions have done much good but also they have done much harm and we can see all around us that tensions between Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews are major causes of conflicts, wars and disharmony. The rivalry among religions would cease if they realize that religious faiths are like rivers flowing into the same great ocean of spirituality. Even though the various rivers with their different names give nourishment to differen
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