A New Social Paradigm Based On Spiritual Values
[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications.]
Maximum utilization and rational distribution of all physical, psychic and spiritual resources is the foundation for a new socio-economic paradigm based on spiritual values that offers the world a much brighter future than either capitalism or communism. This model is called the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) and was founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990) Prout is different from many other economic models because it acknowledges that spirtuality is a vital component of a healthy socitey.
In this essay I will explain why a spiritual outlook is invaluable for a future society.
Dogma no more!
First, let me clarify that I don't support religious dogma. Dogmas can be defined as any intellectual barrier beyond which one may not question. Examples of religious dogmas include: the idea that we are the chosen people of God and others are not, that ours is the only way, that we are going to heaven and everyone else is going to hell, that only our holy book is the word of God, or that men are spiritually superior to women. All of these are terribly destructive, dividing humanity by creating a mentality of Us and Them, superiority and inferiority.
Yet fundamentalism and religious fanaticism are increasing in many parts of the world as a reaction to the economic injustice that many people are facing. Unemployment, debt, insecurity, urbanization and westernization are marginalizing millions. When people feel they have no future, when they are alienated because they are not a part of the capitalist dream presented by beautiful, rich, happy American actors and models, they can turn to dogmatic religion in order to reclaim their hope. Religious institutions also sometimes manifest structural violence, instilling fear, guilt, and inferiority.
Through schools and popular education, we need to explain why dogmas are so dangerous, and why blindly following leaders without thinking for oneself is so dangerous. Spirtuality provides the exact oppostite. It encourages individual human development and human connections with each other and their enviornment. I believe that spiritual values and a spiritual perspective that are free from dogmas have great value for an ideal society.
Every human being is a manifestation of Consciousness. The goal of life should not be merely the improvement of material conditions, also to expand the mind with new ideas and experience higher states of consciousness.
Spirituality is universal, not sectarian. Neo-ethics based on universal principles of morality should be the base of economic activity and global peace. For example, the ancient yogic principle of "Aparigraha" is an ecological ideal of simple living, not accumulating unnecessary things. On the personal level it encourages the adoption of a humble lifestyle and donating money to charity. On the social level it is the basis of creating a ceiling on salaries and wealth that is robbing the planet of its resources.
It is interesting to note that since the 1920s, when the world of science was revolutionized by the discoveries of Albert Einstein and his contemporaries, there has been an increasing convergence of views about reality between physicists studying relativity and quantum mechanics on the one hand, and those pursuing ancient mystical philosophies such as Tantra Yoga, Buddhism and Taoism on the other. Common to both are ideas of mysterious connections between all parts of the universe, a cosmic oneness and the physical laws of the universe being guided by some intelligent process.
The mystical concept of a Supreme Being or Cosmic Mind is common to all forms of mysticism and religions, including the beliefs of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Mysticism is not merely a belief or an intellectual idea. Mystics and yogis contend that we cannot come to know this Supreme Being through any purely intellectual process, nor through external worship or rituals. Consciousness is already within us, the tiny voice of intuition that we listen to sometimes, and the way to experience the Supreme Consciousness is to go deep within our own minds to the realm of a higher consciousness.
God-realization takes place in the body and mind of any sincere human being. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a universalist who described not the future expansion of the Catholic Church of which he was a member, but of humanity sharing a common spiritual goal. In the same way the Dalai Lama, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Sarkar and so many other spiritual leaders from around the world have described their future vision of a united human family.
Dictionaries sometimes define God as that Supreme Entity which is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. To me, the implications of this traditional interpretation are staggering. The question I sometimes hear, "Which God do you believe in?", leaves me speechless -- how many are there to choose from? The Creator is both male and female, and also far beyond those human concepts. Infinite, within everything, both animate and inanimate. As the scientist Galileo replied to the dogmatic princes of
Service to the universe is a spiritual value that should be encouraged. Service work is both purifying and humbling. Bo Lozoff's wonderful "Prison-Ashram Project" of the Human Kindness Foundation in the
It is only by taking the best from the East and the West, and by honoring the spiritual treasure at the heart of every religious tradition that we can make a better future. At the same time we must reject the dogmas and fight against injustice and exploitation wherever they are found.
Sarkar extends the spiritual perspective of traditional peoples that we all belong to Nature. Asserting that Pure Consciousness and the Energy of Nature are two inseparable aspects of the Supreme Entity, he considers them to be our collective "Father" and "Mother". Planet Earth, her wealth of resources, as well as the rest of the universe, are the common inheritance of all humanity.
Prout's notion of ownership is based on this spiritual concept which Sarkar terms "Cosmic inheritance." He reasons that the Creator is not separate from the creation, but permeates and resonates in every particle of it. Even so-called inanimate objects are regarded as being vital with latent consciousness. Every living being has existential value in addition to utility value. Humans do not have the right to destructively exploit plants, animals, or the Earth, without regard for their well-being. The Creator invites us to use these with respect, but not to abuse them.
Prout terms this Cosmic worldview as spiritual and universal in nature, embracing the sisterhood and brotherhood of all humanity, and asserting that we are fundamentally one indivisible human family without distinction of race, color, creed, gender or other traits.
Because of this spiritual outlook, Prout does not give the same importance to the system of individual ownership of property as capitalism does. Based on the ideas of the 17th century English philosopher John Locke, the founders of the United States, impassioned about personal freedom, asserted that it is one's right to accumulate as much wealth as possible. Yet this view, which dominates the world today, is quite opposite to the perspective and values of the indigenous peoples of the
Another conclusion to be drawn from the spiritual concept of Cosmic inheritance is that the life and well-being of humans is society's first priority, and it must always take precedence over all other financial responsibilities. Hence a Proutist economy begins by providing the minimum necessities of life to all people in every region, and then it gradually elevates their standard of living.
Humanism and Neohumanism
Humanism originated in Europe during the Renaissance period as a reaction against the illogical dogmas and domination of the Catholic Church's powerful clergy, who demanded blind faith and total obedience. Consequently, many Western humanists rejected the idea of a transcendent God outside of or beyond human experience. Instead they relied on logic, scientific enquiry and reason, trusting only what could be observed and measured.
The rejection of God forced humanists to search more deeply and discover the personal and political significance of such concepts as freedom and equality. They struggled to find a more natural and rational morality. Quickly, however, they ran into the problem of relativism. "Freedom, equality and fraternity" was the humanist cry of the French Revolution, yet with the ensuing Reign of Terror it soon became an empty slogan. Freedom from what? Equality in relation to what?
A potential defect of humanism can be that the purpose of life is not clear. This can leave the humanist in a spiritual vacuum, without transcendent values or direction - adrift on a sea of conflicting ideas.
Humanism also has other limitations. When based on internationalism, as in the case of the United Nations, its adherents may be plagued with political differences and jealousies, just as that organization is. If it is based on the concept that there is no Divinity, that there is no higher consciousness within us, then it tends to become cynical and materialistic.
The philosophy of humanism may also lead one to neglect other species, to consider them inferior and exploit them for profit. This attitude has been called speciesism or anthropocentrism. Sarkar's Neohumanism urges us to overcome this limitation by including all of life in our definition of what is real and important. Our actions and conduct should demonstrate ever-increasing love and respect toward all beings and inanimate objects in the universe.
Thus, an outlook based on universalism or Neohumanism is one that recognizes the spiritual family of humanity, a family which transcends nations and is rooted in spiritual ecology. Neohumanism is an expansive concept that promotes physical welfare and security, intellectual stimulation and encouragement, and also spiritual growth. It helps to free the intellect from narrow sentiments and established doctrines, as well as to create a shared sense of compassion. Viewing all human beings and the rest of creation as the children of one Supreme Consciousness, one feels that the world's sorrow is his or her own sorrow, and the world's happiness is his or her own happiness.
A New Definition of Social Progress
According to science, every entity in this universe is moving. However, movement only has meaning or purpose when it is directed toward a goal. Prout defines social progress as movement directed toward the goal of well-being for all, from the first expression of ethical consciousness to the establishment of universal humanism.
The concept is similar to the hierarchy of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow in his model of humanistic psychology. These range, in ascending order, from physiological needs, to safety, a sense of belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization and transpersonal. Lower needs must be met in order to progress toward meeting higher ones. At the level of self-actualization, individuals with their physical and psychological needs taken care of are free to be altruistic and to develop their higher potentialities.
Maslow termed the state above self-actualization as the transpersonal level. Activity here is purely spiritual, characterized by meditative introspection, perfect contentment, complete unselfishness, feelings of harmony and oneness with the universe, and the experience of higher states of consciousness. According to Maslow, this model enables one to determine "better" or "poorer" societies, the better ones gratifying all basic human needs of the population and permitting self-actualization.
From this perspective, a true society means a group of people moving together towards universal humanism. P. R. Sarkar often used the analogy of humanity as a family, or of a group of people traveling on a pilgrimage, who stop whenever any member of their group is injured or falls sick. He quoted American poet Carl Sandburg:
There is only one man, and his name is all men.
There is only one woman, and her name is all women.
There is only one child, and its name is all children.
Human society should facilitate the collective movement and growth of all individuals. This implies a degree of collective consciousness and social cohesion or solidarity.
Spiritual learning — wisdom — is different from intellectual knowledge. The deepest truths of life and unconditional love are an eternal fountain of inspiration. Spiritual development is a process of expanding one's consciousness to link with the Infinite, to reach a state of perfect peace and infinite happiness. Knowingly or unknowingly, all human beings are seeking this state of consciousness, beyond pain and pleasure. The endeavor to attain this blissful state is the human quest known as spirituality.
This spirituality is different from religious rites. Prout asserts that spiritual longing is inherent in every human being, though individuals experience it at different times in their lives. It is possible to achieve absolute freedom or liberation in the spiritual plane, whereas in the physical and mental realms absolute freedom does not exist.
Prout proposes that only those physical actions and intellectual expressions that promote progress toward this state of infinite well-being should be considered progressive. For example, guaranteeing the minimum necessities of life to all ensures collective peace of mind. Only an economy that provides people with the opportunity to earn these basic needs can be considered progressive. When people do not have to worry about how they will pay the rent, or provide education and medical care for their families, such security will allow them to develop their higher mental and spiritual qualities.
The Dynamic Web of Life: "Pramá"
Life on Earth exists in a state of dynamic balance - in an inter-connected web of living organisms. Everything in Nature changing and moving, nothing is static. The struggle to survive, the interdependence of animal and plant species, the rapid adaptation to suddenly changing conditions caused by the seasons, storms, fires, floods and other phenomena reflect the constant dynamism of Nature.
To describe this relationship of shifting, vibrant forces, P. R. Sarkar introduced a Sanskrit word, pramá, which means dynamic equilibrium and dynamic equipoise. It is a good description of the natural environment. The interdependence and interrelation of all forms of life is astounding. From the single-cell bacteria to the most complex animal, each creature inhabits its niche and plays its unique role. The cycles of birth, life, death and decay continue in a fluctuating state of balance. In fact, one can view Nature as a factory that produces no waste at all — everything is recycled.
Sadly, Nature has lost its pramá -- its dynamic equipoise -- because our human society has also lost its pramá. This lack of balance in society is apparent in all three spheres of existence -- physical, mental and spiritual - and has occurred in both individual life and collective life.
On December 6, 2001, at the Nobel Peace Prize Centennial Symposium in Oslo, Norway, 100 Nobel laureates issued a brief but dire warning of the profound dangers facing the world. Virtually ignored by the mainstream media, their statement predicts that our security depends on immediate environmental and social reform.
The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem... from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate and manifestly unjust...
The only hope for the future lies in cooperative international action, legitimized by democracy... to counter both global warming and a weaponized world. These twin goals will constitute vital components of stability as we move toward the wider degree of social justice that alone gives hope of peace...
To survive in the world we have transformed, we must learn to think in a new way. As never before, the future of each depends on the good of all.
According to Sarkar, when pramá is lost, first the biosystem or social system is disturbed, then its normal functioning is forced to drastically change, and finally its very existence is endangered.
The North American Hopi Indians have a word, Koyaanisqatsi, which means "life out of balance." Examples of this loss are not hard to find in our human society: intolerance, breakdown of the family, exploitation, religious fanaticism, widespread pornography and exploitation of women, drug and alcohol abuse, ever-rising crime rates, children killing other children, environmental destruction.
This same type of breakdown can be observed taking place in the personal lives of many. Nervousness, confusion, adopting unhealthy habits; then distrust, selfishness, self-destructive behavior, lack of purpose, recklessness, uncontrollable anger; and finally hopelessness, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Three million American teenagers between 14 and 17 years of age considered suicide in the year 2000, and one-third of them actually attempted it, reported a U.S. government survey. Depression was the main cause, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Report. Teenage homicide has tripled in the last two decades, and the peak age of violent crime in the United States has fallen from the late twenties to seventeen. Statistically, the youth in the wealthiest country are the most angry, depressed and violent in the world.
How Pramá Can Be Restored
To restore pramá in individual life means adopting a wholesome lifestyle. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet, doing regular physical exercise, abstaining from tobacco and intoxicants, being part of a positive support group or community, volunteering service to the needy, practicing some form of daily inner reflection -- all these are important for good health, a balanced mind and inner fulfillment.
To restore pramá in collective life, a step-by-step approach is also necessary. First, balance should be restored in the physical sphere of society. This requires us to create an economy in which the minimum necessities of life are guaranteed to every human being in a sustainable manner.
Proper balance should also be re-established in each field. For example, local agricultural system should be redesigned to sustainably provide a sufficient supply of the basic foodstuffs for the entire population present. Only after this goal is achieved should the export of excess food be permitted.
Industries should be redesigned to provide appropriate technology to meet the basic needs of the local population. Converting profit-motivated companies that extract wealth from communities into locally-managed cooperatives can accomplish this. Each industrial enterprise should also be environmentally safe.
To restore pramá on the mental level, we should encourage the local languages, cultures and wisdom of indigenous peoples. This will lead to a strong sense of cultural identity and eliminate inferiority complexes caused by indoctrination by the current dominant culture. A politically independent higher educational system that is free from all kinds of dogmas is also essential.
On the spiritual level, society should encourage tolerance and acceptance of different beliefs and religious traditions. Free instruction in universal spiritual practices should be made available to all.
Finally, the balanced physical, mental and spiritual realms should be integrated to create a healthy, holistic society. These steps can transform the present materialistic society into a spiritually-oriented, global human family.
In the struggle for peace and justice in the world, we should not neglect our own internal peace. Human beings possess an inherent thirst for peace and happiness. External objects cannot satisfy this inner longing, because the pleasure they offer is only temporary; instead we have to journey within ourselves to find true peace and happiness.
Meditation is a profound practice dating back thousands of years. It was developed by mystics as an aid to those who want to find peace within. The process is simple: by closing your eyes, sitting up straight and still, breathing deeply and concentrating the mind according to special techniques, you can gradually achieve deep peace and fulfillment.
Meditation is a form of deep reflection on who we really are, a procedure for revealing hidden aspects of our identity and expanding our consciousness. It is known as the science of intuition, because it develops our higher levels of awareness. By penetrating beneath the social conditioning of everyday thoughts, meditation frees the mind from repressive dogmas. It can help us see through the veil of legitimacy that exploiters and opportunists use to cover their destructive and selfish deeds.
Meditation offers many personal benefits too: overcoming anger and aggression; cultivating willpower and self-control; improving self-esteem and mental health; increasing memory and concentration; surmounting insomnia, depression and loneliness; overcoming inferiority, superiority, fear, guilt and other complexes; calming the mind; expanding understanding and tolerance; developing a balanced, integrated personality; and awakening wisdom, compassion and love.
The field of transpersonal psychology recognizes six elements common to authentic spiritual practice:
Ethics: purifying our moral character so that we do not harm others.
Emotional transformation: moving from a negative emotional outlook to a positive one.
Attentional training: learning to calm, center, and direct our mind in order to master and transform it.
Redirecting motivation: purifying our intention, and moving away from selfish desire towards selfless service.
Perceptual refinement: developing the ability to tune in to the subconscious layers of our mind.
Cultivation of wisdom: realizing universal truths and cultivating unconditional love for others.
These six elements are integral to any authentic meditation practice. They illustrate well the link between personal spiritual development and social change.
The world needs not only new social and economic structures that are just and democratic; it also needs people who are better, stronger, less selfish and more compassionate. For this we need to make systematic, liberating changes in ourselves. Spirituality, if it is universal and inclusive in nature, can be a continual source of inspiration for us as we create a better world.
Dada Maheshvarananda is a monk, activist and writer. Author of After Capitalism: Prout's Vision for a New World, he is director of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. See www.priven.org