Towards a Spirituality of Responsibility
Fostering a Form of Spirituality that Responds to Social Needs
Materialistic ideologies of one type or the other, dialectical materialism or capitalistic materialism, have been laying siege to human life and thought for over a century. Spirituality finds itself marginalized in the economic, political, educational, professional, and recreational spaces of human life. Of late, spiritual traditions are even held up for public ridicule in parts of the world.
This has evoked a religious self-assertion in reaction in other parts and among other communities. Aggressive secularism has brought aggressive religiosity to life. It has added a sharp edge to dormant religious fundamentalism and has given it respectability among more sections of religious believers. Further, it is daily growing more and more conservative in outlook, radically aggressive in relationships, and fiercely fanatic in self-expression. If the negative dimensions of this force are not handled carefully, we are in for painful surprises.
Marx considered religion the “opium of the people,” a helpless sigh of the oppressed. It is true that religious believers can make of their faith an idle and unproductive force in their lives, if they choose to do so. But, on the contrary, if they so decide, they can make of it the strongest motivating force in the world as well. The inner spiritual sturdiness they build up supplies the needed energies for an outer commitment. Genuine spirituality transforms the inner world first, the outer world next.
If these energies are used to harm others in the name of religion, the results can be disastrous. But if they are made to serve the welfare of humanity with absolute sincerity of purpose and dedication, there is bound to be an enriching of shared human culture and inter-linking of the human family. That is what Mother Teresa did our own days, as Mahatma Gandhi did a while earlier.
A mysticism of action, of creativity, of radical commitment to the common good and of generous service, makes of spirituality eminently practical. Such a form of spirituality is urgently needed today, which gives sturdiness to a sense responsibility already existing in individuals to address the most pressing problems of the day.
What I am suggesting is not a form of spirituality that despises a secular view of life. The social advantages to be derived from a secular vision like the recognition of the dignity of the individual and equality of all citizens before the law, right to participation in decision-making, freedom of expression, basic human rights, are too precious to be underestimated. The economic advantages too are evident: the advance of science and technology, division of labour, specialization, mechanization, rationalization, and automation. These processes gave a great impetus to large-scale production and brought cheaper goods to the market, and made life more comfortable. Such benefits are too many to be ignored.
However, certain exaggerated forms of secularization gives rise to a materialistic view of life, which identifies social development with economic expansion alone. The mobility of job-seekers as a result of rapid commercial and industrial growth has led to the enfeebling of social bonds which used to be nourished by the extended family, the local school, and neighbourhood communities. The result has been the erosion of cultures where values are generated and the breakup of families and communities within which ethical perceptions are handed down. This has reduced the effectiveness of the traditional patterns of social formation and the handing on of religious convictions and social norms from one generation to the next. This leads further to the weakening of the codes of moral behaviour, and even more of the handing on of spiritual traditions and ancestral values.
- Revival of Interest in Mysticism
In response these negative trends, there has been a spontaneous awakening of a “sense of missing something precious” in social life and relationships. No wonder then today there is an unexpected rise of interest in mysticism. Young people seem to be greatly attracted to experiences of silent inner search to find a bit of relief amidst the restlessness prevalent in a market-driven society. Books of Meitster Eckart, Tauler, Suso and Teilhard de Chardin; classics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Bhagavadgita; Confucius’ Analects, are found in airports and wayside bookshops.
Many in the West admire the vibrancy of Eastern spiritual traditions and the amazing religious self-confidence manifest among Eastern peoples. Spirituality in the East emphasizes intense God-search, simplicity of life, a tradition of renunciation and asceticism. Some feel drawn to celibacy and a disciplined community life, and develop a sense of call to become the source of wisdom and inspiration among their people. Some of them go further ahead and gain moral authority among their co-believers as propagators of religious teachings in society.
There is growing curiosity in a highly secularized world about the hidden dimensions of the human person, since these are less discussed and less held up for public attention; a longing for depth, a thirst for profound and abiding values, and an eagerness to gain insights into the ultimate destiny of the human race. It is during such a search that one discovers meaning in life and reasons for hope even amidst the tragic happenings of day-to-day life and the existential agonies that harass human hearts.
One gradually comes to realize that there is an undeniable relationship between the quality of the inner spiritual resource that supplies energies and the quality of an outer commitment to social welfare.
- Practical Spirituality is Mysticism in Action
Mysticism of action, of involvement and service is the form of spirituality that would be best understood in our times. It proposes a deep sense responsibility for addressing the current problems of the world, like the increase of violence and corruption, economic imbalance, aggravation of poverty, ecological disaster, damage to cultures, erosion of ethical values, poor governance, biased media, harassment of minorities, gender bias, and others.
Here I would make a distinction between the words ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic.’ Making spirituality practical would mean making it fruitful, beneficial to human society, productive of social good. ‘Pragmatic’ may add a tone of self-interest, individual or collective, that can empty spirituality of its inner quality.
Practical spirituality has sought to make ancient spiritual concepts relevant and meaningful to our times. For example, it argues that ‘Flight from the world’ esteemed as a great value by religious ascetics can be expressed equally well by “distancing oneself from attachments and distractions that cloud one’s vision and weaken one’s commitment”; and that it can be lived to a full measure amidst the most challenging of life-situations. This form of spiritual seriousness is quite intelligible to the Indian mind. Mahatma Gandhi considered himself a permanent searcher after Ultimate Truth in the midst of his political engagements. He had days of silence, hours of prayer, and drew inspiration from the Bhagavdgita in which Krishna is presented as giving Arjuna the profoundest lessons on detached performance of one’s duty and committed action in the middle of a fierce battle.
Similarly, the traditional ‘spirit of sacrifice’ of the mystic which was calculated to promote his/her personal growth, can be placed at the service of the needs of underprivileged castes, classes and communities. The needs of society and the compulsions of social trends today are calling for new forms of commitment to assist human beings to press with determination towards creating a better world. There have been great pioneers in our times opening out new paths to bring mysticism closer to daily realities.
The new trends of secularization, moral collapse, and non-working systems in our tradition (e.g. neglected social norms, non-functioning dimensions and structures of our democracy) seem to call for a “Spirituality of Responsibility” and involvement. People are hungering for a new sense of meaning and direction in a chaotic world of bewildering ideologies. Here is where we need to a new type of intellectual leadership, of spiritual inspiration, not one of demagoguery and denunciation, but of inviting intelligent reflection, diligent search, and joint exploration towards evolving a consensus on common issues…and of assisting the process to the best way possible.
- Playing a Prophetic Role: Inviting People to Think Responsibly
Spiritually motivated intellectuals will live out their “Spirituality of Responsibility” today by playing an inspiring and motivating role in a society of fast eroding cultures and values and the rejection of ethical principles, by being initiators of reflection in the world of thought and values with an eagerness to reawaken the ethical consciousness of humanity. An individual’s personal thoughts, both positive and negative, are not just his own secret possession. “Every negative thought I entertain in my head, which I think is my own secret place, actually strengthens the negative field that sweeps the world,” said Joseph Chilton Pearce. All the more with positive thoughts.
Though many socially committed citizens would consider denunciation of the wrong-doer as the chief mission of intellectual leaders, I would consider inviting people to think with a sense of responsibility and helping them to make intelligent and value-based decisions as the more important challenge today. In these times of contradictory voices inspired by diverse philosophical, ideological, psychological, sociological, and religious convictions, this form of assistance to society has become our most important contribution.
This task does not consist in lecturing to people what they should do or think, nor in denouncing opponents in self-righteous tones so that they feel humiliated and go on the defensive, nor in confronting them in such a way that they are provoked to an angry and aggressive response, nor embarrassing them and crushing their spirit.
Rather it consists in inviting people to reflect on live issues under the light of the principles derived from their own culture and indigenous wisdom and from the common spiritual springs of humanity. This is the only way that people can be helped to bring their moral principles and ethical convictions to life.
- Becoming a Moral Voice and a Moral Force in the World
Yudhishtira, the hero of the epic Mahabharata, says that dharma is hidden in the cave of one’s heart (Das xliii). It is the deep religiosity one cultivates in one’s heart that generates the ability to identify principles and values that will enrich the ethos of a people. Religiosity speaks directly to the conscience, stimulates the convictions of a community, calls for moral transformation, encourages the practice of virtues as members of a loving human family.
Seneca said, becoming good is an art. It is precisely this art that is embedded in the inner being of a person and is intimately linked with his spiritual depth and mystical strength. This is the mysticism of Responsibility that we are reflecting on.
Responsibility-based spirituality will take one into new social, cultural and psychological fields; into the world of ideas, attitudes and values; into causes like those for peace, defense of life, probity in society, protection of minorities, promotion of women and children, and good governance; seeking to prevent the erosion of cultures and values, and damage to environment.
- A Responsibility-based Approach
Speaking too strongly about ‘responsibilities’ in an era of ‘rights’ may be considered bad taste. It is not popular to speak of duties in our times. Today the hero is the fighter, fighter for justice (as each one perceives ‘justice’ in his own way), fighter for rights. A reference to obligations may sound old-fashioned and annoying. But, of course, every claim of a right implies someone’s duty to respect that right. And since everyone has rights, everyone has the responsibility to recognize those of others. It is in this respect that we fail today, unless responsibility is also given space and importance in our consideration.
Aside from that, looking at real situations in the world today, we realize that when we over-claim our rights, we provoke others to over-claim their rights. When we ask for more than what we deserve, more than what is realistic or possible at a given time, more than what others have or are in a position to claim, we incite others to make counter-claims, often going to an unreasonable extent. This is what is happening today, leading to conflicts and to unresolvable deadlocks. It is here that persons with a sense of balance and responsibility can help.
As citizens in a democratic state, we have a national responsibility. In a globalized world, we have a global responsibility. Spiritually inspired citizens cultivate this sense of universal responsibility in themselves and foster it in others. By action or inaction every citizen contributes ill or well to the development and destiny of his/her state, country, the world. If there is violence in the state, if bribery is rampant, if public works fall behind schedule, if trains run late, electricity fails, if slums multiply, if universities do not function, if there is national waste, if the police extorts money on the roadside, if environment is being damaged, if children are put to hard labour, if women are exploited, if there is the problem of alcohol, drugs and AIDS, if human rights are denied to minorities, if caste bias continues to grow, and most of all if elected members do not discharge their duties, every citizen has to be held responsible. This sort of awareness itself is a spiritual perception.
Spirituality must become practical in such contexts. Mysticism in action takes one to address the problem of deforestation, bridge repairs, water supply, drainage diversion, human trafficking, protection of environment, and widespread corruption.
- Corrupt Practices Have Risen to the World Stage
The tragedy in our times is that corrupt practices have risen to the world stage. No one can plead to be totally innocent. That is why all must join hands together in order to wipe out this plague from society. Corruption is not only about the wrong use of money, but also about the wrong use of power. It is not only about taking bribe in government offices, but also about various forms of manipulation and blackmailing, political arm-twisting, pushing a particular party’s or ethnic group’s interests through underhand ways, unfairness of dominant classes and castes to weaker sections, the imperceptible manner of bulldozing or marginalizing legitimate claims, silencing the voices of the weaker communities, physical elimination of political opponents or commercial competitors, interfering with election processes, using ‘strong men’ for vacating land or realizing bills, fixing matches, selling drugs. Corruption also has reference to hidden transactions, unpaid salaries, underpaid employees, unfair pressure.
The globalized world has become a hiding place for corrupt business. The global market provides distances, creates anonymity, gives opportunities for dishonest deals, enables one to take advantage of the weak, evade laws, and make an unfair proportion of profit. Let us make a distinction: 1. if greater profits are made through harder work, greater efficiency, more effective customer service or through path-breaking innovation, it is certainly legitimate. 2. But if it is made by underpaying the worker, evading taxes, ignoring safety laws, producing counterfeits, ruining the environment, abusing customer confidence, falsifying accounts or labour figures, double book-keeping, deceptive advertisements, industrial espionage, it is undoubtedly criminal.
Investigative journalism has often highlighted specific cases of dishonesty and unfairness. But media men also can bend to mammon, and sell their services for money: cooking up stories to defame or defend a party leader or a business magnate, distorting facts to press an argument, presenting allegations as proven truth for minor favours. Plagiarizing, pirating cassettes, and violating intellectual property rights are very common in our days. Engineers in government service get opportunities to embezzle huge amounts. Doctors are accused of patronizing particular pharmaceutical companies or diagnostic centres, and even dealing in human organs. When citizens are not alert, the mechanisms of accountability and sanction are not activated, and structures of enforcement lie idle. Society remains silent. You and I give a tacit approval.
- The Mystic for a Corruption-Free Society
Mystics can become prophets in the area of a common effort towards building up a corruption-free society. Social conscientization is a service open to every citizen. The mystic too is a citizen and an initiator of thought in the world of values. Kim Clark, Harvard Business School dean, speaking of principles leadership said, “We need leaders whose behaviour matches and reinforces those values. And that is what I mean by integrity. Integrity is more than being honest, although it certainly means that. It is deeper. It is about the match between what the leader says and what the leader does. Leaders with integrity have strong values and standards and principles, and they act on them—consistently, without fail in public and in private. Such leaders inspire trust and confidence in those around them, and the values they espouse become reality in the organization they lead, because people act on them and live them in their organization” (Byron 49-50).
Business concerns have discovered that good ethics is good business. They are beginning to use a new language: of corporate social responsibility, ethical business behaviour, customer service, social justice, corporate governance, labour relations, ecological concern, community development and lifelong learning. Daniel Kaufman says, “We have also found that the business sector grows significantly faster where corruption is lower and property rights and rule of law is safeguarded”. That is why companies appoint ethical officers, write inspiring vision and mission statements. They have seen that ethical principles pay in the long run.
Business executives have begun to speak to their employees about the importance of trust, honesty, respect and integrity, for the success of their business. However, it is important to remember that such values are not generated by business concerns, companies, markets, or governments. They are generated within the bosom of a community with its own historical, cultural and religious background. That is why it is right for us to admit that a society’s basic ethical rules are rooted in its culture and its spiritual traditions. That is why people with genuine spiritual convictions can contribute a great deal to the much needed moral regeneration in our times.
“Conscience is the light of the soul that burns within the chambers of our heart. It is as real as life is. It raises the voice in protest whenever anything is thought of or done contrary to righteousness” says Abdul Kalam. For Viktor Frankl “Conscience has a ‘still small voice’ and ‘speaks’ to us”.
- Do Our Asian Ancestors Have a Message in Such Contexts?
We may take a message from Buddha’s teachings. The economy had grown brisk in his days: credit, debt, interest and market—everything was in full function. There were rich people going bankrupt and poor people gathering a fortune, honestly and in other ways. A warning against corruption was timely. A passage from early Buddhist poetry says, “Let no one deceive anyone else, nor despise anyone anywhere. May no one wish harm to another in anger or ill-will” (Samyutta Nikaya 146-8).
Similarly, a Taoist teaching says, “When rulers live in splendour and speculators prosper, while farmers lose their land and the granaries are emptied; when governments spend money on ostentation and on weapons; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible, indulging themselves and possessing more than they can use, while the poor have nowhere to turn. All this is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao” (Tao Te Ching 53). Are we in such an age? At another place the Tao Te Ching says, “The sage does not accumulate. The more he does for the people, the more he saves. The more he gives to people, the more he has” (Tao Te Ching 81).
In the Confucian tradition, a gentleman is concerned with what is right; the inferior man with profit, with material welfare. Mencius too looked down on the profit motive. Science, technology, and efficient economy have given us good things, but they must be regulated by the norms of wisdom contained in our cultural traditions. Truly, “A gentleman takes as much trouble to discover what is right as lesser men take to discover what will pay” (Tao Te Ching 81).
In the West, the first generations of capitalists were models of self-regulation. Their aim was to earn, build up capital, invest, and not to overspend. In fact, Weber and Keynes refer to high accumulation and low consumption (Sachs 150). Today’s capitalists on the contrary tend to profligacy, eager to display: they believe in lavish parties, weddings, anniversaries, election victories. Concentration on fortune-hunting has thrown up a class of super-rich and dumped the weak in dire poverty (Sachs 152).
- Misuse of the Media
Communications have made the greatest contribution to modern age. They have assisted people to come together and co-reflect, and be of assistance to each other. International solidarity has grown in a way that was never considered possible in earlier times.
But these very same instruments of communications can also be misused. They are fast falling into the grip of Big Business and centralized Governments; “mass media and the politicians are in splendid symbiosis. The airwaves promote corporate products, consumer values, and the careers of friendly politicians. The politicians promote media deregulation, low taxes, and freedom from scrutiny of performance and public service” (Sachs 145). Power slides into the hands of a small number of transnational corporations that are less and less accountable to democratic structures. Someone has described the tragedy in this manner: humanity is made subject to the market; the corporations control the market subjecting every field of human activity to serve their interests. Mass media strengthens this effort by promoting consumerism (Hathaway 16). Humans are reduced to the level of being mere objects.
Jeremy Sachs is certain that even his own countrymen, living in a free country, are allowing themselves to be manipulated by corporate propaganda. This is just what the propaganda machinery of totalitarian governments did a few decades ago. What today’s commercial media proposes is not serious, responsible thinking about the long term good of society, but over-consuming, over-borrowing, over-gambling, excessive TV viewing, and other addictions (Sachs 133). They are not asking people to sit back and reflect, study the consequences, or plan for the good of humanity, as Asian sages would have done. May be that is where reflective people can make their contribution. That remains a challenge for Asia’s intellectuals and persons of faith.
The technologies of mass persuasion are being used as instruments for manipulating minds. Edward Berry, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, used to refer to marketing skills as the skills for ‘engineering consent’ with regard to sales. They are also used during elections and military coups. He considered it the art of hidden manipulation of public’s unconscious, taking advantage of people’s tendency to run in herds. We had been for decades warned about the manipulative power of the TV: George Orwell (1940s), Vance Packard (1950s), John Kenneth Galbraith and Marshall McLuhan (1960s) (Sachs 137-38). Could we grow a little more conscious of this danger? Nearly all wise teachings of the East spoke of the need for resisting ‘illusions’ and attaining ‘truth’. How relevant those teachings seem to us in our times when so many of us spend any length of time in the ‘unreal’ (virtual) world of the TV, and in the world of ‘illusions’?
- Exerting an Educative Pressure on Public Leaders and Civil Servants
It is fashionable to blame the leaders for everything that is going wrong in society. But the fact is that a society ultimately gets the leaders it deserves. In the last analysis, citizens have to accept responsibility if things are moving downhill. If they remain passive and indifferent, and if elected members act as Maharajahs and not servants of the people who elected them to that responsibility. The consequence can be disastrous. Unfortunately citizens have condoned the un-civic behaviour, partisan proclivity and self-interest of their representatives in exchange for some equally partisan advantage to their own personal or sectarian interests.
If citizens abdicate their responsibility for the general welfare of their society soon after elections, that nation has no future. People make their leaders. They can unmake them too. They can correct them. They have duty to do so. They have a duty to demand a high sense of responsibility from them. Unfortunately, many citizens have not learned to insist with the persons they have chosen to maintain a sense of dignity about what they say or do, or to demand from them a code of conduct, a style of behaviour, a manner of approach to persons and issues in keeping with that dignity, and expect from them a degree of commitment as long as they hold office.
It is one thing being conscientious about casting one’s vote and keeping the wrong type of people out of power and excluding unwanted ideologies and interests; it is a further step to make sure that only conscientious people are in positions of public responsibility and to follow them up diligently with an educative pressure. It is a further step still to follow up civil servants so that they may discharge their duty faithfully.
The news-hour (TV) should not be a brief interval for entertainment only, but a moment for self-education and profound reflection. Action should follow.
If, therefore, the environment is being ravaged, globalization injures the local economy, violence raises its ugly head in society; if musclemen control elections and gunmen eliminate political opponents; if street children multiply; if the handicapped remain unassisted, every citizen who seeks the good of society and every leader with deep ethical or/and spiritual convictions ought to make a positive contribution to handling these problems. For, religious convictions and mystical experiences make meaning, not when they lead believers towards various exaggerated forms of religious expressions like serving as suicide bombs, but when they provide convincing motivations for radical commitment to the common good.
- Contribution to Peace-Making
Today, tensions keep mounting right round the world: nation against nation, class against class, ethnic group against ethnic group, majority against minority and vice versa. The strong usually have their way. Those who feel that they are unjustly treated take to violence in response.
There are also enough people to foster anger against every perceived injustice, too few people to initiate a helpful dialogue. Even legitimate struggles in the name of culture, ethnicity, minority status, gender, colour, can turn into an erratic ideology and go to the point of violence of some sort. Some are happy to have a defined enemy just to be clear about their own identity (Eco 1-2). All slogans are about ‘rights’, and every claim of rights seems to be valid until its exaggerations make its limitations evident. Meantime peace keeps eluding the human race.
Not all people caught into a situation of violence are necessarily ‘terrorists’. If we understand them in their own contexts we would have some other name for them. There is a French saying, to understand is to forgive. Cynicism or hasty condemnations will not help. When a society feels severely humiliated or seriously taken advantage of, there is bound to be a reaction. And when a group of poverty stricken people are brought together, organized and made to feel they are fighting for a good cause, acts of terror seem to empower them and help them to discover a new emotional identity (Lott 20-21). Many painful happenings in West Asia have to be seen from this perspective.
Such situations create contexts for the emergence of prophetism and messianism of violence on either side. After a while it is not clear who is the aggressor and who is the defender. And the defender himself may go to excesses inflicting injury on the aggressor and other groups, reaching to the point of ethnic cleansing (Lott 43). Thus, we cannot always believe that the strong are always wrong and that weak always right, that victims of injustice cannot turn unjust themselves.
Individual or collective vested interests can take such forms of fanaticisms even further. Building on emotions, especially on smothered anger or unexpressed resentment of underprivileged people, justice-fighters can lead matters to such a head that there seems to be no other solution to a problem than violence. The frequent recurrence of violence these days in different parts of the world may be attributed to leaders who make exaggerated claims for themselves or their people and exploit their collective anger. To incite people building on their grievances and rouse their anger in times of their helplessness, and leave them to themselves when the consequences of their reckless activities catch up with them, is the height of irresponsibility. To bring hope to the disadvantaged and point them a way forward, that is the challenge before us.
- Healing Memories of Historic Injuries, Mission of Anger-Reduction,
One of the greatest hurdles to peace is the memory of historic injuries a community, society, nation or a civilization has received: e.g. at Ayodhya, Kosovo; unequal treaties in China, exploitation of natural resources by the great powers in West Asia and North Africa; consequent prejudices, perception of vested interests on either side.
However, it is good to be humble about these matters. Historically, we have all hurt each other as ethnic groups, nations, or civilizations, whether it be for reasons of religious prejudices, living space, natural resources, gold in the old days, oil or opportunity in our times. It is part of practical spirituality to work in order to heal the memories of diverse types of historic wounds at the ethnic, cultural, national and even civilizational levels; and also to deal with emotions built around asymmetries and imbalances in power. But it is not easy. It is a gigantesque task. And yet it is a challenge before practical spirituality.
Collective anger can be terrible. That is why the work of anger-reduction has become central to creating social harmony. If collective emotions are not healed, violence recurs again. Every Citizen ought to make his/her small contribution to this sort of healing and the rebuilding of relationships.
The belittling of religion by secular-minded persons like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins did invite a literary response that pointed to the weakness of their arguments. But the mocking of religious leaders, burning of religious books, satirizing religious belief have proved themselves to be culturally insensitive, even directly provocative. Salmon Rushdie’s provocative writings, the Danish cartoons, and Charlie Hebdo’s satire have aggravated situations further.
Such negative memories of the past can harden. But they can also be changed. What is most important is to cultivate sensitivity in sensitive matters. Ernest Renan used to say that nations must forget the past, forgive each other, and move forward. Religious and ethnic groups today must do precisely that. Representatives of every section of the global society must make it possible; intellectuals, media men, politicians, business leaders, religious personnel, students, associations, all must help. Arnold Toynbee in his voluminous Study of History argues that the collective violence of a society (nation, civilizational block) in one direction is a response to an earlier violence in the opposite direction.
In response to the recent Paris tragedy, many nations have gone for inflated defense budgets at the expense of funds for health and education. They would have acted more perceptively putting a little more of energy and resources into promoting religious and cultural sensitivity among their people and spending some time on self-examination whether they are promoting their own collective interest at the expense of others.
Emmanuel Kant’s assessment over a century ago was that societies had become so interdependent economically and in other ways, that violence (war) would be damaging to the aggressor himself. Normal Angell brought the idea forward nsisting, “The day for progress by force has passed,” he said, “it will be progress by ideas or not at all.” (Morris 235). “Progress by Ideas” is what Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner, would call “Public Reasoning.” Such a secular message can serve as a thought-provoker for all, whether they be political stalwarts and religious champions.
A creative and spiritually inspired approach is greatly required. First of all, we need to explore the psycho-social reasons for the emergence of this terrible phenomenon in modern times, observe the emotional content of what is being said and done, remove causes within possibility, and engage people in a dialogue once the emotions are down. We need today persons who can demolish walls of prejudice and build bridges of dialogue (Kung 2007: xxiv).
- The Mystic in Defence of Vanishing Values
In an increasingly consumeristic world, what we notice today is a steady erosion of cultures and values. Consequently, it has emerged as a core concern for spiritually motivated persons to defend cultural heritages of communities that are under threat and restore those that have been lost. It has become extremely important to come to the rescue of vanishing values like concern for others, mutuality, altruism, forgiveness, peace, family and community relationships, honesty, probity in public life, protection of the environment, promotion of good governance, freedom of religion, and ethics in the media.
In times of trouble, everyone instinctively falls back on his/her own culture for inspiration and guidance. However, no culture is self-sufficient in itself. We all need to profit from the cultural heritages of other communities in our search for relevant values. It is in the context of a dialogue of cultures that new ways open for building a common future for all the people of the world.
It is said that all spiritual traditions are under threat today. So are all exaggerations of materialistic secularism. Spiritual convictions have always withstood storms, since they have roots in the deepest psyche of human persons. Secular concerns, of course, need to be addressed and secular voices heard. They are of great importance to human life. Every form of social self-assertion and criticism serves as a thought-provoker. But when everything is said and done and the dust has settled over the storm, what is right will show itself right again; what is true true; and what is beautiful beautiful.
If a community perceives that its collective personality, its inner identity, its selfhood, is threatened, it goes on the defensive. It is very difficult to draw it forth again from that position. But if the community feels its SELFHOOD affirmed and senses that it may be further enhanced through its association with a spiritually motivated person, a door gradually opens out. And an unspoken dialogue begins.
- Dialoguing with the Thinking Element in a Community
In this context, I would like to emphasize the strategic importance of one more category of people: I am referring to those who influence public thinking and take the rising generations towards new horizons. In this list I would put thinkers, writers, poets, artists, educators and speakers of special ability who give a self-understanding and self-pride to their society and provide a living philosophy for the social movements of the day. If you wish to exert influence in society, you need to keep close to such persons, learn from the positive contribution they make, and initiate a dialogue with them, suggesting correctives where they are required. Those with vested interests like opportunistic politicians and self-serving media men belong to another category.
Even if this dialogue does not evoke an immediate response, a day comes when the seeds planted bear fruit in abundance and the dreams fostered come to reality. If one consistently seeks to be objective, balanced, measured in words, sincere in purpose, eager to take every aspect of the issue into consideration and be seriously committed to the good of all persons and communities concerned, one is bound to win a hearing and exert a healthy influence all around.
As we have said earlier, our task does not consist in lecturing to people what they should do or think, nor in denouncing opponents in self-righteous tones, nor in confronting them in such a way that they are provoked to an angry and aggressive response.
Rather it consists in inviting people to reflect on live issues under the light of the principles derived from their own culture and indigenous wisdom and from the common spiritual springs of humanity. This is the only way that people can be helped to bring their moral principles and ethical convictions to life.
Byron, William J., The Power of Principles, Orbis Books, New York, 2006
Das, Gurucharan, The Difficulty of Being Good, Allen Lane (Penguin), New Delhi 2009
Eco, Umberto, Inventing the Enemy, Vintage Books, London, 2013
Lott, Eric, Religious Faith, Human Identity, Asian Trading Corporation, Bangalore, 2005
Morris, Ian, War – What Is It Good For, Profile Books, London, 2014
Sachs, Jeremy, The Price of Civilization, The Bodley Head, London, 2011