29 September 2008

Spiritual Beings having a Human Experience

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience ... We are spiritual beings having a human experience." - Teilhard de Chardan

Human beings consider a spiritual experience an extraordinary event to be savored and contemplated. Time and space are considered normal and a timeless or placeless experience can be life-changing as it provides a glimpse into infinity and into that which doesn't perish as the following quote testifies:

"Our souls were so assured and uplifted that we, His hearers, did not have to imagine forthcoming events. Rather, we found ourselves experiencing all the bountiful happenings of the future. The eternal glory and ultimate successes of the Cause of God were so vividly portrayed by Him that the passage of time was irrelevant, for we saw the past, present and the future at the same time." (Adib Taherzadeh)

Without these kinds of experiences, or not allowing them to effect deep change in our outlook, it is easy to conclude that this material world is the beginning and end of existence. However, "
The idea that existence is restricted to this perishable world, and the denial of the existence of divine worlds, originally proceeded from the imaginations of certain believers in reincarnation; but the divine worlds are infinite. If the divine worlds culminated in this material world, creation would be futile: nay, existence would be pure child's play." (Abdu'l-Baha)

Growth, however, is a function of time and thus the soul becomes associated with a body and enters into this soul school we call life on earth.
"In this material world time has cycles; places change through alternating seasons, and for souls there are progress, retrogression and education." (Abdu'l-Baha)

Thus the purpose of time and space is to allow and measure growth. The spiritual being considers this an extraordinary experience to be savored and contemplated as time and space are not of the soul, they are not "normal". In a very real sense, the past, present and future happen simultaneously, and none of them restrict or bound the others. The following quote explains this idea.

"Consider thy state when asleep. Verily, I say, this phenomenon is the most mysterious of the signs of God amongst men, were they to ponder it in their hearts. Behold how the thing which thou hast seen in thy dream is, after a considerable lapse of time, fully realized. Had the world in which thou didst find thyself in thy dream been identical with the world in which thou livest, it would have been necessary for the event occurring in that dream to have transpired in this world at the very moment of its occurrence. Were it so, you yourself would have borne witness unto it. This being not the case, however, it must necessarily follow that the world in which thou livest is different and apart from that which thou hast experienced in thy dream. This latter world hath neither beginning nor end. It would be true if thou wert to contend that this same world is, as decreed by the All-Glorious and Almighty God, within thy proper self and is wrapped up within thee. It would equally be true to maintain that thy spirit, having transcended the limitations of sleep and having stripped itself of all earthly attachment, hath, by the act of God, been made to traverse a realm which lieth hidden in the innermost reality of this world." (Baha'u'llah)

Thinking that we are human beings having spiritual visions only traps us in temporariness, in suffering and ultimately death. It cannot be overstated, therefore, how important it is to transcend this by maintaining a clear vision that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Exploring the implications and consequences of this vision becomes our life work.

16 September 2008

The Left, the Right and the Spiritual Path

The simultaneous election euphoria in Ecuador and the United States accompanied by a fortuitous encounter with a highly recommend podcast ("Living Dialogues" hosted by Duncan Cambell) has inspired me to share some thoughts about the nature of our democracies, our political parties and the world view they stem from.

Episode 63 of the above podcast is part two of an interview with author George Lakoff called The Evolutionary Challenge of the 21st Century for the Political Mind. Among the many interesting points he brings up, one really stood out for me. Here he explains why people favor conservatism or liberalism:

"Our first experience with governance is in our family. And so we recognize family members and we also experience being governed. And that over and over is raised to a metaphor that a governing institution is a family. ...
Now, that’s important because in this country, we have two very different understandings of what families are. Strict father families (SFF) and nurturing parent families (NPF). And the SFF has a motive thought and a morality that goes with it. It says that you have a mother and a father. The father is head of the family, he’s there to protect the family, mommy can’t do it, to support the family, mommy can’t do it, and kids are born bad. They just want to do what they want and they don’t know right from wrong, the good strict father knows right from wrong, and it’s his job to punish the child when they do wrong, so that the punishment will be painful enough so the child will do right and not wrong and therefore develop discipline. Discipline [leads people] to be moral and with that discipline they can go out into the market and become prosperous. So if someone is not disciplined, [he or she] is not going to be prosperous. And so if you see someone who is not prosperous, it means they are not disciplined. If they’re not disciplined, they can’t be moral. And if they’re not moral, they deserve their poverty."

This model of family is then projected on to our political, religious and even business leaders. Think of the mostly absent father that lets the political or religious system or the market take its course - read: let the disciplined and obedient float and the inordinate and miscreant sink - until some people need correcting so they may develop discipline. Love through fear and a paternalist sense of respect. This family model developed during humanity's collective childhood while strict father figures that made all of the decisions were in all likelihood quite necessary.

However, as humanity has slowly matured, a different family model has become more prominent. Mr. Lakoff continues, "And similarly, you have a progressive view (based on a Nurturing Parent Family) where empathy is central and not just feeling empathy but acting on it. Being responsible, being strong, being resolute, having good judgment. That is what is required for a true nurturer. And what you do in such a family is you raise your children to be nurturers of others, to empathize, to be responsible for yourself, to be responsible for others. It is the opposite of indulgence. And what that means is a parent is there for the protection of a child and the empowerment of the child. That’s what government is about in progressive thought. It says you start with people caring about each other. The government is the instrument of that. How does it work? The government protects and empowers. It’s not just military and police protection; it is environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection, safety nets, health care. And empowerment is not just roads and communication systems, it’s educational systems, it’s the banking system, the energy system. It’s the stock market, the SEC upholds it. It’s the court system for contracts."

This model seems to allow for a growing group of mature people to work together towards solutions that satisfy everybody involved. However attractive this description may make it seem, its not accidental marriage of convenience with laissez-fair capitalism and moral relativism has clearly demonstrated it to be riddled with essentially the same pitfalls as the first model. Thus, democracy, one of the crowning achievements of human evolution, is currently "defined as the dividing of people according to interest, talent and ideology, who then 'negotiate' decisions... The purpose of each component group is to win. The means to this end are economic advantage and the mobilization of support to overwhelm the opponent." (Arbab, 215) Both family models actively uphold this form of democracy.

A new family and administrative model is currently emerging from our collective, nascent spiritual consciousness. A basic principle enunciated by Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, is that "Religion alone can, in the last resort, bring in man's nature such a fundamental change as to enable him to adjust the economic relationships of society." Especially in light of the almost inviolable separation of church and state, comprehension of the significance and implications of this concept are crucial at this point in time as the world's citizens search for permanent solutions to the multifaceted problems that envelop all of humanity.

All of the problems that humanity suffers are essentially spiritual in nature. In other words, even the most perfect administrative and economic structures, either at the macro or micro level, would in time deteriorate if they were not based upon fundamental spiritual truths that inspire individuals to act selflessly. Any transformation of society and its structures must be accompanied by a simultaneous transformation in the individuals that make up this society, otherwise this process will not be complete nor will it last. Although the following quote by 'Abdu'l-Bahá focuses more on the economic side of the issue, it helps illuminate this idea:

"The fundamentals of the whole economic condition are divine in nature and are associated with the world of the heart and the spirit. ... Manifest true economics to the people. Show what love is, what kindness is, what true severance is and generosity. ... Economic questions will not attract hearts. The love of God alone will attract them."

Central to the mission of any administrative institution therefore, would be identifying the spiritual framework within which individuals can serve their true purpose. Generosity, solidarity, broadening loyalties, engaging in a productive livelihood, eliminating extreme poverty and wealth through justice, properly assessing and rewarding currently undervalued contributions to society like that of women and farmers, serving others, and cooperation are just a few examples of the spiritual qualities that underlie a healthy society. Effective means to educate the populace about the nature and importance of these principles, as well as actively creating channels through which they could be expressed at the individual, community and institutional levels would give genuine meaning to interaction.

Two principle characteristics would define this new family model and the institutions that represent it. First, the primary posture of these institutions would be that of learning. Second, they would necessarily rest on the organizing principle that each human being must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.

Decisions motivated by partisanship, by a desire to maintain economic or political power or by special-interest groups, widen the gulf between the benefits society offers to the laborer and the capitalist. When one sector of society benefits at the expense of another, the entire society suffers as a consequence of the conflict that is inevitably generated. If, however, policies are made by a diverse body of informed citizens whose interest is the general welfare of the region, and the general electorate is educated to understand that criticizing these policies will only result in further disunion, traditional concepts of power and authority will be transformed into a genuine posture of learning.

Thus proper governance at all levels should be viewed as "the collective investigation of reality and the rational analysis of options." (Arbab, 215). A sincere search for truth and a dispassionate, flexible collective decision-making process meets success to the extent that a posture of learning is adopted. Sincerity and detachment are only two of the many spiritual qualities that members of these institutions (as well as the members of society at large) would necessarily acquire and deepen to ensure this process does not degenerate into "conflict and power play."

My point in delving into a more spiritual "family" model is that nurture and empathy, although a significant step in the right direction, do not resolve the basic issues that keep our democracy within its current adversarial framework. Nor will they help us rise above bipartisanship as conservatives will continue to react to, what is for them, the incomprehensible motherly nature it offers as a governing pattern and liberals will continue to react similarly to what they see as paternalistic and authoritarian leadership styles. The only way to transcend bipartisanship is to explore and gradually build upon the spiritual foundations of human relationships.