A deeper path to consciousness
VICTOR KANNAN asks: How does the evolution of human consciousness reflect in the way we interact with each other and the world around us?
The River of Time
From time immemorial, from all over the world and in all religions, one of the definitions of God is love. Why is this?
Love creates. Hate destroys. It is easy to understand; we see this in everyday life.
Love is the unifying and ennobling factor of all creation, manifestation, life and existence.
Love is what gives meaning to life, and without meaning life is as good as dead.
Love and meaning provide inspiration and intrinsic motivation to do good things and to even reach to the stars.
Love is at the center of giving and sacrificing.
Love exists when the lover does not.
God has been the domain of religion, as religion is supposed to reconnect us with God. Spirituality develops the relationship with God in a more personal or intrinsic manner. This also means a more conscious lifestyle, adopting certain universal values of what is ethical and nourishing for the soul. We are not bound by dogma and are open-minded to scientifically explore the subtle, using physics to explore metaphysics. Generally it is oriented towards the principle of love and unity, while fully appreciating the diversity of existence.
Unity in Diversity
This is a powerful principle to fathom, and its proper appreciation results in engaging in a path of self-transformation while serving creation. In Turkish, to serve means to adore. When we learn to adore all of creation in its variety and multiplicity, we serve it. A self-transformed person never shuns the society they live in; they are forever grateful for the circumstances that made them.
The idea of unity in diversity speaks to the interconnectedness of all life and its manifest journey. How can we participate and be part of this interconnectedness? How do we beget this sentiment of being interconnected? It is through our consciousness – through feeling, knowing and being. This is the crux of spiritual humanism.
The ancient Vedic prayer of Sarvam Bhavantu Sukhino (May all be happy) deeply reflects this awareness of the interconnectedness of all. Prayer for everyone and the well-being of everything was part of meditation during the Vedic times, 5,000–10,000 years ago, long before Lord Buddha.
Lord Buddha exemplified the interconnectedness of life on a grand scale. He postulated the theory of reincarnation and the need to achieve eternal life called enlightenment or Nirvana, and at the same time he did not forget dharti1, the field of service. He was a model human being: the love and respect he had for all, including his patient waiting for enemies to transform, was the ultimate in compassion, kindness and universal love. While he educated people to live a life befitting acquisition of ascetic wealth and for the purpose of enlightenment, he also realized that this state had to be personally experienced, repeatedly, and that it is beyond faith and hallucination. It is a permanent state of being.
The Buddha practiced compassionate inquiry. He questioned everything, but the basis of that inquiry was compassion. This is one of the most revealing and yet less spoken lessons from him. He was humble enough to seek gurus and fearless enough to change them. He was loyal enough to remember everyone gratefully who helped him and compassionate enough to wait for enemies to transform. His passion for finding the solution for human suffering was the most admirable aspect of his life, and his renouncing of his family has to be understood in the context of compassion and generosity for all humanity.
Universal Love and Awakening
This sort of unconditional universal love arises from an awakening of a different order and a deep knowledge of the interconnectedness of life. It is the foundation of spirituality, with only human welfare at its heart. Universal love is the ultimate knowledge of an awakened being.
Opposite to this sort of awakened existence of love and compassion is the awkward existence of ignorance. It may at best make one numb and insensitive to suffering. But as long as we have a mind, our conscience is dormant and waiting to confront us one day, and when that happens, awakening begins.
Along with awakening comes pain and suffering, and with the right orientation this very suffering becomes the pathway of spiritual evolution – not for the sake of the awakened, but for the benefit of the entire humankind. This sort of noble suffering is possible only due to the thorough absorption of the knowledge of interconnectedness and the emanating feeling of universal love. Gratitude, generosity, fortitude and forbearance all come from this deep state of being in universal love for that which contains all.
2000 years ago, Jesus exalted the need to embrace the same simple human values, like non-judgment, kindness, love, forgiveness and helping fellow humans, as Lord Buddha and others who came before him.
Then in the first millennium after Jesus, Sufism seems to be the most predominant philosophy of this human approach to spirituality. The turning and returning, the rotating and swirling portrayed in the dance of the Sufis signify this aspect of awakening and journeying towards Oneness. The turning happens when an individual spirit is awakened to an alternate life. The path of selfishness and ignorance is shunned when suffering awakens the conscience. The turn is the starting point of returning, and this returning is full of suffering and demands cheerful acceptance. The only panacea for this suffering is divine love and longing for Oneness. This very suffering provides the material for transformation, while love for all and longing for Oneness provides the direction and speed to achieve that state of inter and inner connectedness.
Another stalwart of spiritual humanism is Swami Vivekananda, who in his short span of 39 years made an incredible impact on humanity. His belief in the indomitable potential of a human being is unparalleled. He says, “What is the individuality of man? Not Tom Brown, but God in man. That is the [true] individuality. The more man has approached that, the more he has given up his false individuality. The more he tries to collect and gain everything [for himself], the less he is an individual. … We must first understand what is meant by individuality. It is attaining the ideal. You are man now, [or] you are woman. You will change all the time. Can you stop? Do you want to keep your minds as they are now — the angels, hatreds, jealousies, quarrels, all the thousand and one things in the mind? Do you mean to say that you will keep them? … You cannot stop anywhere… until perfect conquest has been achieved, until you are pure and you are perfect.”
During the same era, we find numerous saints like Ramana Maharishi (1879-1950), Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-1886), Shri Ram Chandra of Fatehgarh (1873-1931), Shri Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur (1899-1983), Paramahansa Yoganananda (1893-1952), and Neem Karoli Baba (1900-1973). There have also been so many unknown teachers of caliber, some who could not travel or be discovered by international seekers, but they served the human community they lived and died in.
The lives of these Masters are powerful examples of the two sides of existence, namely, personal evolution while contributing to universal well-being. This is, in a nutshell, the essence of spiritual humanism.
Conscience to Conscious Action
Spiritual humanism encompasses much more than philanthropy. Spiritual humanism embraces the personal and communal aspects of transformation, progress and evolution. Anyone who contributes to serving human beings to ultimately make them free, pure and perfect is a true servant of humanity. Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, “Be the change that you wish to see,” implores the personal aspect of this starting point.
At times, service to humanity can be so intoxicating it might become the sole preoccupation. Then the danger of ego cannot be underestimated. But when we adopt a practice such as meditation to evolve our consciousness, then service to humanity becomes pure and all encompassing. It starts with one’s own self and extends to serving all humanity and beyond.
Consciousness and Connectedness
As long as there is consciousness there is connectedness, and through this connectedness we learn, grow, move, expand and evolve. A deep understanding of this connectedness makes us compassionate and empathetic, generous and kind.
Thus, the content of this consciousness is our personality: we see ourselves in our thoughts and actions. The world is a mirror of our consciousness, and we can use that mirror to adjust, clean and stay well. Our interconnectedness is also seen through that mirror. What we do comes back to us, since the very nature of interconnectedness is circular. In the giving is receiving.
Spiritual humanism is essentially the field of deep service and a deeper path of evolution of consciousness. They are two sides of the same coin.
The noblest of services is to free people from bondage. In the words of Confucius, it is to teach people how to fish rather than feeding them fish. According to Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur, the highest form of service is to inspire and help people expand their consciousness and attain freedom to solve their problem of life.
This is the central theme of the lives of saints and Masters of high order in overall human welfare.
1 The word dharti is the root of Dharma. Dharti has its origin in dhru, which means to uphold one’s duty.