'The Spirit of Society' edited

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'The Spirit of Society' edited

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The Spirit of Society
By Hari, 10.11.2007

"Hari discusses how a society could manifest without the traditional distinction between its sociopolitical structure and its religions. By placing the responsibility for spiritualism firmly within the hearts of the individual, society can transform into an arena where elevated values rule interactions."

We touched upon various subjects last week. And one subject, which we have also discussed quite sometime ago, is this problem of the imposition of duality that has been enforced in spiritual traditions. This duality in terms of ‘this is absolutely good, this is absolutely bad’, or ‘this is a friend or this is an enemy’, in terms of devotees and demons or ‘We are the only one who knows what’s right, everyone else knows wrongly.’ The way we absolutize things, make them very black and white. This has led to this very strict division of what is material and what is spiritual, this difference between spirit and matter. And I have spoken often about how this conception has misled us in our search for spirituality or, shall we say, in our search for expanding our spiritual capacities, expanding our spiritual abilities, expanding that, which is most important for us in our existence.

Now keep that idea in mind as we go into the topic that I wish to discuss today. Last week we talked about the purpose of existence, basically. Let’s look at this in terms of society. I know we have discussed community in the past, often we have discussed community, but I’ve never been happy with the discussion, I’ve said that. There is always something missing. We’ve often talked about community in the past and I’ve never been very satisfied with this discussion because it never was very practical, it was never very complete, it was never very useful, it didn’t really point towards a solution, towards something progressive, towards something that’s really going to assist us.
So, after that lecture last week, and after thinking about it a lot, about what was happening in my life, what was happening around me, I concluded that, perhaps, the solution is to see everything differently, to see everything in terms of this unification of existence, rather than the separation. And this morning it became very clear to me that my prejudice, my programming, the way in which I have been induced to think, according to what I’ve learned in the past. After all, I grew up in the Catholic Church, which has an enormous hierarchical structure, which engages us in understanding things according to that structure, according to their understanding of spirituality. I moved through other spiritual groups, came to ISKCON and was programmed in that way of thinking, programmed in that way of understanding, very solidly programmed with the ideals of spirit and matter, the absolute nature of this dichotomy. Yet, at the same time there was some pointing towards a unification of it in some ultimate sense, but practically that was not revealed in the sense of a solution that actually worked. So, considering that programming, it’s very difficult to look at things from another point of view, it’s very difficult to shift the mind, shift the way in which we perceive, because according to how we are taught as a child, according to how we are educated, we develop a very particular manner, in which we perceive things. We become conditioned by our perceptions, by that which is presented to us.
I'll give you a small example. When I was young, TV was so primitive, that you would accept basically anything that was presented to you, even if today you would look at it, you would think it was so awful. I was watching just for a few minutes yesterday "The Wizard of Oz" with July Garland, it was on TV. This was considered to be a classic movie. What they do nowadays, they take all these old classic black-and-white movies, and they digitally color them. And it’s just incredible, the colors that they manage to put in this black-and-white movie. They somehow have this incredible logic that analyzes the shades of gray, or they can sample for instance a face and say, ‘Make this form always flash-colored and use these tones,’ it’s just an incredible software that puts color in black-and-white movies. But even though they have managed to make this black-and-white classic into color, the other elements in it are just so primitive, are so unreal. For example, the way people would present themselves in a movie, even though in real life they were very different, life was very different, but in the movie they had to smile, had to present themselves in a certain way, it was very proper, very presentable, the exterior of it was very polished, yet it was so incredibly primitive. So, to my eyes, which are now conditioned by incredible presentations in the media, very elaborate, very complex, very highly programmed pieces of visual imagery, I look at that and, even though I knew I was prejudiced, even though I knew was conditioned by what I see nowadays, even though I knew that when I was a child, even up to 1965 - 68, even up to ‘70, TV was so limited as compared to what it is nowadays, and I grew up in this. But still I was prejudiced from what I know now and there was no way I could twist my head around it. The songs I liked. "Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow."... Anyway, that was cool. The songs were great, the music somehow or another is timeless, but the imagery, the people, the way they acted, the costumes, the scenery - it just didn’t work. So, that also made me think, that the way I am conditioned by the perceptions I have of what is around me specifically dictate my responses to this stimulus which is around me. That is an important point, because my perception of everything is very conditioned by that, which is around me.

So, let’s take these points and get to society. I’m sorry to be again doing one of this complex development, a complex situation, developing a complex situation and demanding you keep this ideas in mind, but it’s just the way I see these larger issues. Let’s put aside community, because that’s already discussed and it never really got to the point. Let’s put aside spirituality as in an independent concept. Let’s put aside matter and materialism as an obstacle, as a burden, as the polemic, creating tension with spirituality. Let’s put aside ideas and ideals of what should be according to our previous conditioning. That’s the hardest part. That may not be possible, but lest analyze this. Let’s take a historical look at the time of the Mahabharatha. Let’s look back those thousands of years ago, whenever it was. Don’t care about what scholars say the time was; don’t care about what anybody feels, when it was. We know where it was, and we know what it was, and these two points are all that we need. If you examine the histories of the Mahabharatha, you will see a very amazing society.
In ISKCON I used to see Prabhupada struggle to present Varnashram. Now I understand why he took the trouble to present this very unpopular structure. In fact, according to our conditioning, our understanding of what was around us right now, it was practically a social poison, and I think that his latching onto it as a structure was the problem. I mean, the focusing continuously on the Varnashram structure was a problem, because I don’t think now when I look at it from this point of view, that Varnashram has any relevance to the evolution of spiritual ideals, values or even in the creation of society. In other words, if you were to look at it taking away structure for a second, taking away this confines of things having to fit, you’ll find it becomes a lot easier to understand what was going on at that time, historically speaking, and how it has relevance to us today. And I’m going to take my time now to explain that in great detail, as far as I can.

I’ve always been fascinated by that culture of the time of the Mahabharatha. I was even more fascinated with whatever history was available of the times previous to the Mahabharatha. I used to find it just fascinated how in this, shall we call them, Vedic times, because technically speaking, Mahabharata is a different era, it’s not really the time of the four Vedas before there were these other Puranas or whatever, and during that time the way people lived had very interesting twists to it. Maybe, I have been influenced by watching the series called Rome, where we’ve been watching the history of the development of the Roman Empire from when it was just some tribes, constantly fighting with each other in that area, families, if you were, up to the point where it became a unified empire. Over maybe a hundred year period of time this history was going on. And you saw how people acted very compatibly with their bodies, with their needs, with their desires, with what they perceived to be the gods, who were intimately related to the life which was right before them, how they dealt with the reality of power, how they simply accepted the situations they were in. If you look at the times before the Mahabharata, that you had anomalies, such as rules which you find in the Manu Samhita, which are in some cases horrifying, according to our modern understanding, harsh, cruel or incomprehensible. And you will find other situations, which are interesting, valuable, work well, assisting us, even some which are progressive. The reason why we find this dichotomy between such a literature, which is so advanced in so many ways, is because we have been conditioned to another kind of society, and therefore, we can not understand this way of dealing. How about this obscure Vedic point? Previously, if a Brahmana wanted to have sex, he could take any woman he wanted. Simply grab her and take her away, even if she was married, had children, whatever. Think about that! That was the accepted rule for Brahmanas. A little bit shocking, I would say. Let’s move to the Mahabharata time. By the time we have the history of Mahabharata, we have a very developed society. There are many rules, there are many codes, there are many highly developed values, there is a very specific expectation from leaders, a very specific way, in which everybody would act according to their positions. We have a society which is working very well on all levels. You don’t have that much confusion. When you speak about confusion at this time, you talk about situations, which are somewhat mind-boggling, like when Duryodhana is trying to strip Draupadi naked, and she is calling out to Bhisma, or Drona to help her. And they reply in a confused manner, saying that there are many different understandings of what is right, according to the Ashastra, and this particular situation falls in multiple sets of definitions of what is right. And that makes everything very complex for us, especially considering that we are being paid by this men, Duryodhana, he supports us and we have duties as those, who are supported by him, we have loyalties there very complex. So, we have confusions and very complex situations like this. Yet, the lesson from this was they should have followed their hearts, because their hearts were saying, ‘This is wrong.’ Their hearts were saying, ‘This is not right.’ But the rules were saying different things. So, they let their minds and their feelings of responsibility direct their responses. And they repressed their way their hearts felt in regard to Draupadi. That is a very interesting point, that’s a very important point.
If you look at that society, you don’t see a big emphasis on religion as a separate entity. You don’t find, for example, the whole society divided up into the gross materialists and the super spiritualists, or whatever. You even find in the example of Duryodhana, that Arjuna’s problem was that Duryodhana was a good king, the people liked him, there was not a breakdown in any way within the society. So, even though the whole war took place, and I mean, you can talk about demons and devotees all you want, but there has never been a battle like this before, that was basically taking place between Duryodhana and the Pandavas. Yet, as a king he was fine, and at the end he also went to the heavenly planets and Arjuna is like thinking, ‘What is the point of this?’ Now, let’s just look at that society, its so arranged that even though a guy like Duryodhana, who has done some really nasty things to his relatives, still functions ok. And even though there was this talk of when Pandavas would take over, it would we righteous and all that, within a few generations it degraded again rapidly. So, it’s not that war really accomplished a lot on the social plane, or the social platform, or it didn’t do anything to transform the world. So, it’s like, what is the point of all that? Well, the point was to kill all this men. OK, some
Dharma was righted for some time.
So, when we look at the society, what do we see? We see a very stable situation, where everybody basically understands their roles, things are going on OK and everybody feels their connection to spiritual things, the demigods, Vishnu, sacrifices were well-attended, everybody felt connected to sacrificial offerings, large amounts of charity were done, people were OK. The managers, the kings understood how to take care of people. According to what society was at the time, everything was facilitated.

Now, if you look at the present day society. Let’s take the Hare Krishnas, or let’s take any Vaishnava groups, because they all basically have the same kind of conception. That there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them’, and if you want to change society, you have to have, you have to wait - ultimately they think like this - until there is this conflict between good and evil, between the demons and devotees and all the demons are killed, and basically the whole world is destroyed to such a level that people have to go back to agriculture and simple living, and then everything will be spiritual again. I mean, I’ve even heard big Acaryas of Vaishnava groups say such things. Not only in Bengal or Gaudiya Vaishnavas, I’ve heard it from the Madhvas, I’ve heard it elsewhere. People say, ‘Ultimately, that has to happen.’ The interesting thing is they don’t understand history because whenever things have become very primitive, there has also been a lot of slaughter of people, a lot of exploitation of people, because always the most powerful exploit those who are less powerful. This is just the nature of man: when man has the opportunity to exploit and dominate, man does it. So, this idea of waiting for that kind of like a destruction as the means of that spiritual society to develop, is not historically supported, it’s a very strange speculation, and we can say 100 percent it’s not even what’s going to happen. You can’t take sophisticated people and turn them into farmers or simple people. It doesn’t work like that. We’ve seen that every day, when people try to start up agrarian cultures or societies, work the land when they have no connection to it at the present moment.

So, one would have to wonder about society, what is the heart of society. And I see it like this, that it boils down to what a person is, each person, each individual, it boils down to what we are. That, of course, is influenced by what we perceive, yet, ultimately, all that really counts is what we are. Now, if I’m a good person, if I have some love, if I experience love, if I feel love - you are a person who is aware and you are aware of your love - and then you are put in a situation where you act in a way, which is non-loving towards others, let’s say, you exploit someone else, or you harm someone else. And you can perceive after that, how this has affected your own personal love, in other words, the energy of love which you had experienced becomes contaminated by that, becomes colored by that, so you see a direct correlation between the way your peaceful natural energy becomes colored by an act, which is not very peaceful or natural to you. You might say, rightfully so, that’s a very idealistic way of looking at things. That reality is quite different, and the so-called goodness you think of people doesn’t exist, because they don’t really understand that love in the first place, and therefore, they don’t see the correlation between their acts and the destruction of their spiritual peace within. And in fact, their lives are so confused with activity, they could never pinpoint which act caused that reaction within them. And this is a correct perception. However, if you go back to the very first point I spoke of today, about how the way we are educated affects us. We can understand that if children for instance are educated with this capacity to be aware, for example, if you’ve looked at, I would suppose, any form of enlightened schooling, you’ll see that the main point is that the children should be aware, they should be aware of their feelings, aware of how what they do affects others or affects situations. In fact, even nowadays you will find that amongst enlightened management gurus or amongst health professionals. Not all, but a lot are learning the technique of awareness, of seeing how what they do is affecting a situation, and then adjusting things according to what is before them, what is there and how they’re acting. So, when children or when we are trained in this perception, we gain a certain value, a value structure emerges. And that value structure that emerges is my personal energy of love or goodness; my peace, my acceptance of myself, my ideal of using this life to become the best I can be, and, ultimately, to be as good as god. This value structure dominates one’s consciousness and that creates the responses we make in different situations. Every sociologist will agree that usually society doesn’t change by changing the older people who are in charge or changing those whose minds are already set. It usually changes when all those people dye, and a younger generation takes over. So, the future of society does not lie in the elder members of it. Even though the elder members may have their own personal development and may be progressing and evolving, that’s OK. But we’re talking now about society and the hope is in the younger. The younger ones who are coming in, and gradually taking over all the elements of a society. And of all elements that are important in a society, none are more important than the value structure that we have as individuals, and which a society will reflect as a product of the value structures of the individuals within it. So, ultimately, this value structure is extremely important. What is that value structure? It means ‘that which I value’. If you consider in the previous "conception of people", the previous conception was based upon that ‘we are sinful, we are fallen, we are somehow envious or defective and that’s why we’re here’, somehow we were bad and that’s why we’re here in this world. That’s the conceptions upon which all the religions have pushed forward their ideals. So, that means the value structure is based upon the conception of the self, as the self having inherently little value. Because I’m basically sinful somehow or another and I’ve got to get better. And the way I get better is by this rules, by following these disciplines, by following these structures, following these leaders, doing what I’m supposed to do that’s good. So, the value structure that is developed because of that conception is a value structure where the individual is not seen as a foundation of the good in society, but rather as that, which has to be corrected for the society to be good. And that we will continually have this new batch of somehow defective beings being born into the society, who have to be baptized, cleansed of their sins, of their faults, and corrected by society’s structure, so they can become valuable elements of a society that works. This is the value structure of modern and even society all the way back as far as religious history has existed, all of it based on this conception of the self. And I would like to propose that there is no hope for society to ever get beyond the specific obstacles it faces now and it has always faced, so long as this value structure remains. What I have been talking about - about the self, about spirit, about our essence, directly relates to the transformation of our value structures, where the responsibility for society, the responsibility for goodness no longer lies with parties or entities outside of ourselves, but lies within our own heart. The responsibility for goodness is our own. The responsibility for the essence of what we are is our own. The responsibility for our awareness regardless what it perceives and the opinions we may develop because of that awareness lies with us. In other words, the individual and the goodness of the individual, the inherent goodness of an individual who is striving to become as good as God, who is moving continuously forward in that evolutionary process is the basis and foundation of all social structure, social existence, social interaction. This value structure is the essence of society.

All value structures in general are the essence of the society around them. We can look how we understand the way in which we act and the way in which our value structure rationalizes these actions, how this value structures rationalizes that leaders, if they be political, financial, spiritual, psychological or whatever, even in the media, how this leaders have in their own minds the idea, that what they are doing is transforming the somehow lacking or defective beings in the society, the somehow or another imperfect entities all around them, how it is their responsibility to transform these imperfect personalities into something grander, something better. And we empower them to do so, because we believe the same thing because of the value structure that we accept, also based on our ideal of being not good enough, that we are imperfect, that we are somehow or another never able to do the right thing and somehow we got entangled in this world and blah-blah-blah.

So, this change of perception, change of programming, which is ten times harder for anyone who has been seriously involved in a hierarchical religion, ten times harder than anyone else in the society, because an atheist or one whose born in such a society, only has to worry about the political leaders or the economic leaders, which don’t really touch their hearts, but those who are in a spiritual group have so much more trouble, because those things touch the heart, and the value which is imprinted on the heart is much more difficult to overcome than values imprinted on the mind, or in the pocketbook, the wallet. And therefore, those of us, who are usually listening to these lectures, have a much greater difficulty to transform our value structures to one where we take responsibility for ourselves, understanding our natural goodness, our natural spirit, our essence which than manifests everywhere throughout our lives. Let’s look at how our responses would be different, considering the transformation of our own individual value structure. Our responses transform, when we respect ourselves. Because when we are aware of how we feel and we are aware of the natural goodness, we understand the way in which all of us are connected, how that act of unkindness or that act of selfishness affects the way we feel about ourselves. For example, if I have the opposite value structure that really is based upon the idea that I am bad, and I do something bad to someone else, and I feel bad about it, or I get some badness on me, even though I may feel bad about it, it makes sense to me, you see? Because it fits within my value structure, it makes sense to me, it somehow or another is rational, it somehow or another works, it somehow or another fits. Yet, if we had another value structure, it would not fit because we would say, ‘Hey, that’s not me.’ How you feel after you do an act is not the most important part, because you can even do something knowing that you are going to really feel bad about it later, but that’s not going to change your determination to act on it now, because you don’t see any reason to not act on it, because you know that you are bad, and you know you are going to suffer, but you say, ‘What the hell? It doesn’t make any difference anyway!’ You see that? OK, sure, it’s not a hundred percent always like that, there is good and bad in everything, but generally this is really so. Whereas one who very much respects themselves, love themselves and is aware of how they feel and aware of how their act of selfishness or whatever, I use that term, there is a million terms you can use, cruelty, whatever degree, even a little bit, how it reflects back, will step away from that and say, ‘That’s not me. I don’t do that because that’s not me.’ You notice there is a difference. That person does or doesn’t do things because of the way they feel about it, they understand about it. They don’t need all kinds of rules, teaching them how to be good. It’s a natural thing. They don’t need to be transformed into something good, they are good.

And a society filled with such people is very, very different than a society filled with people, who have the opposite conception. And you will see to a large extent in kingdoms, such as in the kingdom of Maharaja Yudha­sthira, back to the Mahabharata time, because of the value structure of people it was much easier to manage the society, it was much easier to have peace because people were aware. OK, you did have people now and than acting in ways which were not good, they had to be corrected. Sure. You will always have that. There is no question of an idealistic utopia, where everybody does everything perfectly, that’s absurd. But we are talking here about like maybe 50, 60, 70, 80 percept transformation away from the way things are now to a way which is much more enlightened, when the value structure of the people changes. And one of the most significant aspects of this is that this great significance of religion diminishes. The separation of church and state, a historical event which was born in utilitarianism, not in, maybe, the ideals of spirituality, but this separation is just dropped away. Neither is the state the predominating aspect, neither is the religion the significant aspect. I’m saying, that its not that the state is the dominating aspect or religion is the dominating aspect, but rather our spirituality manifests continuously. Even though you may go to a place where you see the deity or you worship your god, or you may dedicate certain times specifically for your god, that doesn’t mean the responsibility of you manifesting your value of spirituality continuously is somehow or another reduced. Your responsibility continues, even though you may specifically wish to do something spiritual, or you may specifically wish to engage in some group, social effort, perhaps, to help people who are less fortunate than yourself, or, perhaps, to built something which the society would benefit from, or other services you may perform to others.
In other words, the idea of there being this separation is counterproductive to the development of an evolved society. And it has become so clear to me, the exact defects of this world today when that realization last week of the big picture just clicked. And now I don’t feel dissatisfied when talking about community, because community is not a function of a structure, community is not a function of an organization, community is a function of the self. And it develops when the self in an evolved state shares the self with others.

I’m not exactly sure, because I’m the one speaking here, I’m not exactly sure, if this message came across in the same clarity that I think I said it, because, obviously, I understand what I’m talking about. But whether or not it was stated in such a way that it has actually delivered a comprehensive package of understanding, that would be useful for those who are listening, I cannot say. But I think that this issue is the foundation of all clarity in spiritual sociology or social spiritualism, or ultimately just life as it was in the time of the Mahabharata. In the time of the Mahabharata there were not religions, you didn’t have sects, you didn’t have hierarchical leaderships in some building, everything was integrated. It’s when it became divided, when society and religion somehow divided, perhaps, due to the state seeing some benefit from that division or the religions feeling they should dominate, but it was all hierarchically based leadership kind of a conflict, but as soon as you divide, as soon as society become splintered, this problems start.
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