By Suma Varughese
Spirituality eliminates the evils of the world by emanating goodness, peace and love. It does not wage war against evil, says Suma Varughese
|Suma Varughese is a thinker, writer, seeker, latent crusader and Editor-in-Chief of Life Positive. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org|
Quite recently, at a meeting, I was asked why spirituality did not advocate dynamic action against the many ills of the world. For me the answer is self-evident, but in case there are readers out there condemning spirituality for being passive and self-absorbed, here is my take on it.
I strongly submit that spirituality, as I understand the term, is powerfully committed to the welfare of the whole. It is therefore by definition the polar opposite of passivity and indifference. After all, the foundation of spirituality rests on the truth of oneness. We are all one, part of the divine unity of life. The Great Creator too is part of the oneness. Therefore, we are intimately involved with all of creation. We cannot afford to turn away and focus only on ourselves. If we do that, then we are doomed, because unless we take care of the welfare of others, our own welfare will be endangered. We are seeing the reality of this truth in the many crises we are facing today, all of which stem from a separatist and fragmented view of life. What they tell us conclusively is that when we damage the larger whole, we damage our own welfare.
Slowly today, as more and more are awakening and consciously weaning themselves from separatist ideologies, we are seeing the formation of new, more holistic systems. Alternative therapies are becoming more and more popular. Education is increasingly being recognised as a tool to equip a child for life and not only for livelihood. Architecture is using ancient techniques such as vaastu and feng shui to achieve more harmonious and holistic spaces, while enlightened architects are returning to local and environmentally responsible models.
Spirituality is gradually shifting the way we think, live and function, and as it gathers more speed, we will witness a reduction of the many evils of today and a gradual increase in health and happiness.
Long-term changes apart, the spiritual outlook is perfectly compatible with short-term vigorous action to support and uplift the oppressed and to resolve the injustices of the world. Seva is an indivisible aspect of spirituality and every religion advocates reaching out and being of assistance to one’s fellow human beings.
But, and this is a critical aspect of spirituality, it is considered absolutely imperative that before we set out to change the world, we change ourselves. The human predisposition is to look outward and not inward. When things appear wrong, we want to fix the world and others. But have we ever thought that it could be our vision that is faulty? Jesus Christ put it succinctly in one of his sermons. “And why beholdest thou the mote (speck) that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam (log of wood) that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Too often, we think the world should be the way we want it to be. Parents want their children to do what they want them to do, while children long for parents who will do what they want them to do! Should we not therefore examine the spectacles with which we look at the world? Perhaps then we will find that there is nothing much wrong with the world, while there is everything wrong with the way we view it.
This is what spirituality urges us to do. It requires us to go deep into our inner world and become conscious of our unconscious needs and urges, our feelings and thoughts, the complexes, the fantasies, the poor self-image. This inner work is the most healing and most beneficial work we can ever embark on, both for ourselves and the world. For all of us are locked in illusions about ourselves and others and anyone who chooses this hard and uncomfortable work is making it easier for the rest of us, since we will also be chipping away at the Collective Unconscious.
This is why spirituality asserts that the innumerable yogis and sages who devoted entire lifetimes doing nothing more active than meditating in the Himalayas are benefactors of mankind, for they have nourished and nurtured the atmosphere with their sublime and positive vibes, and therefore supported the world to be more kind and loving than perhaps it would have been.
This apart, the one thing spirituality does not advocate is to take issue with evil. It does not suggest spewing anger at law breakers or taking revenge on them. It does not recommend fighting hate with hate, anger with anger, revenge with revenge.
|Spirituality does not advocate taking issue with evil. It does not recommend fighting hate with hate, anger with anger, revenge with revenge|
As my beloved Mahatma Gandhi put it, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world turn blind.” It is this that makes many sceptics believe that spirituality is not sufficiently vigorous in waging war against wrong-doing. But that is because spirituality believes in waging peace, not war! As all sages have emphasised, there is nothing like evil. It is only the absence of good! As the Buddha famously said, “There is no sin. Only ignorance.”
A beautiful analogy for this perspective is the oft-quoted example of ridding a room of darkness by switching on the light! The lightbearer did not fight with the forces of darkness. She did not make darkness wrong or bad. All she did was peacefully and calmly switch on the light! The Buddha too affirmed, “Hatred does not end with hatred. Hatred ends with love.” Agreed that this approach is lofty and very hard to do, but spirituality tells us that we are children of immortality, sparks of the Divine, and we have the capacity to go beyond our ego and to love unconditionally. Indeed it tells us that this is what we are born for.
As St Francis prayed,
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
And that is the spiritual way! No drama, so fuss, no special effects. Just a quiet and sincere commitment to goodness, peace and love. Just a ceaseless effort to uproot everything that prevents it from flourishing from within. Just an effortless emanation of these qualities. And the world indeed becomes a better place. Each of us has seen how we ourselves change when in the presence of someone who is peaceful and joyous. There is a beautiful story in David Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence about US and Vietnamese soldiers sniping at each other from across a field. Into this place of war and strife, walked a composed line of monks, unhurriedly and peacefully. After they had gone, one of the soldiers reported that the fight had gone out of all of them. Quietly, both sides packed up for the day and departed. Is this not a contribution to peace?
The spiritual approach may appear unobtrusive and quiet, but its effects are powerful and what is more, permanent.
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