Out of the transcendent comes the critique on all actions arising from a limited interest.

Volume 11 Nr. 16

Advaita Post 11-16

It is what it is – what does that mean?

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Brahmabindu Upanishad

The mind, they say, is two-fold,
either impure or pure;
impure when it is attached to desires;
pure, when it is free from desires.

The mind therefore is the cause
of our bondage and liberation;
of bondage when it is attached to objects,
of liberation when free of them.

Because an object-less mind
is a condition for liberation,
one who aspires after it,
should free his mind from objects.

Whoever locks up the mind in the heart
is free from attachment to the sensory world
and reaching freedom from the mind
he rises up into the highest.

Keep the mind under control so long
until it is absorbed in the heart.
This is knowledge, this is liberation,
the rest is useless book-learning.

Neither through thinking nor not thinking,
thinking and not thinking together,
does one attain Brahman,
free from every attachment.

— From the Brahmabindu Upanishad

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Spirituality and Society

The relationship between spirituality and human society still keeps people busy. It appeared so recently, as there has been a fierce and extensive debate in organized Buddhism (BUN, BOS). Some readers of the Advaita Post have sent in texts about it, including selections from Elseviers Weekblad July 24, 2010, and also some questions. The content of the emails that were written in response is as follows.

Yes, when there is institutionalization in a spiritual tradition, you receive darkness in the looking glass. Take a look at the Catholic Church, the Protestant church(es), and now also the Buddhist church. None of the founders ever had the grounding of a church and social compartmentalization (political parties, schools, etc.) in mind. This also applies to the very great teachers from these traditions. At times, I have thought otherwise – “still, it performs a good function … “- but history shows that on a large scale it always goes wrong. Spirituality is primarily something in a vertical dimension and, if all goes well, secondarily it works itself through horizontally into society. With enlightenment, there is no difference between those dimensions, but when you, without having achieved the highest spirituality, use spirituality for social activities, things go wrong. Things go wrong, because ego elements simply damage spirituality, even when people have the best intentions. Christian organizations are full of such experiences. Even if a person confesses his sins at the beginning of a gathering and claims to hold the “word of God” as a guiding principle, general human interests and ideas always come to the fore. The highest spirituality is simply too large, too subtle and too valuable to be used by an individual-‘I’ in his limited world. The spirituality that they use has, by definition, little to do with the highest. When both are brought together, the different levels become mixed. Thus, spirituality is reduced and the ego-actions receive an unjustified high status. This leads not only to confusion, but also to suffering.

The only possibility then is a willingness to let yourself be guided as much as possible by what you see as valuable from spirituality for society, such as minimizing the ego and group centrism. To the extent that you are not completely free of such centrism yourself, there should be a great reluctance to offer it as a basis for social organization and with that an appeal to the highest spirituality. Such a spiritual maxim can never be used as a social force against other forces. If you try, it’s a travesty. So, let it be shown to what extent it is possible to be “the salted salting the earth”, going into spirituality without pride. It will be possible in the degree to which the highest spirituality is realized. The primary orientation should remain towards that spirituality so long as that realization has not yet occurred. The effect upon society of what has already been realized, is automatic and has nothing to do with ego actions.

Finally there is the issue of segregation, the organization of society according to beliefs. Through this separations are created and strengthened: us against the others. That can be understandable in a period where one community is seen to be in a process of emancipation, but sociological data has little to do with real spirituality. Within it, the main point still remains of seeing through separations as fictitious and leading to suffering.

What is transcendent in relation to social practice must be binding for that practice. From out of that transcendent comes the critique on all actions arising from a limited interest. There is constant criticism, when self-interests are at play and bosses are busy with power. From the transcendent comes the requirement of the surrender of the ‘I’-person. There is always that requirement, even as social events continue. Only through surrender does a space arise in which no separations are created any more.

The above mentioned insights are the reason why Advaita Vedanta has hardly created any institutions. Yes, there are the Shankaracharya monasteries and orders, but they are a marginal phenomenon and an imitation of the Buddhist institutions. Since it is about That which precedes every culture and every society, That can never be used as a legitimization for social organizations and conditions. Let’s keep it that way.

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