The most important need of today is to move towards a wisdom based society and away from materialism.

by Roar Bjonnes  

Contrary to popular opinion, the urgent need of the hour is not another deluge of information technology. What the world needs now is a comprehensive East-West integration—an internet of meaning, a global highway of wisdom. People crave not only more computers, but also inner rapture, peace and justice. We yearn for a fusion between the finest forms of humanism and the deepest essence of spirituality. We aspire for an outburst of rational humanism and spiritual wisdom—a common vision that can shape a more harmonious and integrated planet. As espoused by the sages, philosophers, and scientists of both East and West, this visionary fusion can foster a global renaissance of inner meaning and social values. Some social observers believe that the faint glow of this phenomenon can already be seen on humanity’s horizon.

This new, integral, spiritual humanism represents a synthesis between the Enlightenment of the East and the Enlightenment of the West. And what is the most important step to achieve this lofty goal? To establish spiritual practice as the cornerstone of human culture. Hence, it is not enough to simply popularize spiritual (and pseudo-spiritual) ideas as is done today through the ever-growing self-help marketplace which often spread ideas that represent religious dogmas or arcane, mythological belief systems. It is also not enough to preach the noble ideals of humanism. Instead, sincere spiritual practitioners will have to initiate an authentic, spiritual movement which can spearhead the integration of spiritual humanism in society.

Obstacles are an inherent part of change. So, let us take a closer look at some of the challenges strewn in the path of this renaissance.

Cultural World-views

Various integral philosophers and mystics—from Sri Aurobindo to Teilhard de Chardin to P. R. Sarkar—have proposed the novel idea that natural evolution is a tireless and ever-changing release of spiritual creativity. With each new, evolutionary stage, more complex beings evolve which enfold or include aspects of the previous stage. The simplest way to explain this is that when Spirit (or Consciousness) creates life in the form of a cell, the cell includes atoms. Further up the evolutionary chain, an insect includes both cells and atoms. Thus, the more evolved beings on the evolutionary hierarchy include aspects of the lower beings. The more evolved the beings are, the more they are able to express the refinements of Spirit. Ultimately—in evolution's most complex structure, the human being—the expression of Spirit reaches its highest, most elaborate manifestation. Through spiritual enlightenment, the human soul is able to reflect the culmination of the evolutionary journey by realizing the source of it all: God, Brahman or Supreme Consciousness.

Instincts, Sentiments & Rationality

Theoretical models can only represent the panoramic sweep of reality. On the individual level, for example, one can thus describe evolution as Spirit unfolding through four ways of expression: instincts, sentiments, rationality, and spirituality.

The hierarchy of living beings express themselves according to the above four levels, each one enveloping and including the other. All insects have instincts, but they do not have emotions or sentiments. Mammals, on the other hand, have both instinct and sentiments. Some, like monkey’s and dogs, also exhibit a certain degree of rationality. Humans possess all four drives, including the capacity to experience and express spiritual knowledge.

According to Tantra, the thirst for spiritual knowledge is considered a latent human instinct. In highly evolved souls—such as ancient and contemporary mystics—these latent longings blossomed brightly and fully early in life. According to the spiritual, evolutionary view of Tantra, their full-fledged realization of the Divine is the cumulative effect of many lifetimes of spiritual practice.

An enlightened human can realize and act on the basis of his or her Divine, spiritual realization. On the other hand, we also know that humans can act in ways "lower on the hierarchy" than animals. Sometimes even highly evolved people exhibit regressive behavior, driven by certain instincts or sentiments. Many despicable human acts, based on such drives, are devoid of rationality or spirituality.

So what are these instincts? They are reactions stored in the mind through constant repetition of experience. The memory or "vibrational record" is left on the mind and thus forms the basis to produce certain behavior patterns. Some scientists call such instincts "accumulated sentiments" or "habituated sentiments." Sentiments therefore represent the accumulated effect of instincts.

Insects are guided by their instincts. The actions of mammals, on the other hand, are born out of a combination of instincts, sentiments, and a certain level of rationality. In humans, a broader range of expression—from the basic to the sublime—is available. This gives us greater scope for expressing both destructive and constructive behavior. Hence the built-in dilemma of evolution: with more complexity comes the potential for more problems. Only the spiritual level—beyond instincts, sentiments and rationality—can be termed "perfection." It soars above the instinctual and mental laws of cause and effect.

Sentiments play a large part in human life. In the subtle anatomy of yoga, there are intricate maps of these various sentiments or vrittis, located in clusters around the various cakras, or subtle energy centers. These vrittis, which in essence are part of the mind, and thus also the brain, effect the subsidiary glands, which are substations between the brain, the nerves and the body. When driven by sentiments such as anger, jealousy, hatred, etc., we create suffering, both for ourselves and others. Yogis thus advanced psycho-physical (yoga postures), psycho-spiritual (visualizations, music, etc.), and spiritual (meditation) exercises to harmonize the physical body and the mind (the subtle body) with the spirit. Many modern health and integral psycho-therapies are, in effect, attempting to accomplish the same thing.

Rationality is one of humanity’s greatest assets. It is our best tool in navigating past irrational dogmas and behaviors. However, rationality has its own limitations and pitfalls, which may bring about devastating changes in both the human and biological worlds. Rationality—as witnessed in the development of Western materialism—can become its own belief system and thereby negate the trans-rational (spiritual) and reduce reality to a one-dimensional level. Moreover, human rationality can often be rendered ineffective by lower propensities or pre-rational sentiments. This is often the case in New Age circles where pre-rational acts or beliefs (mythic rituals, channelling) are mistakenly described as trans-rational spirituality.

The Various Human Sentiments

As social beings, humans have—over thousands of years of history—developed various group sentiments. As with individual sentiments, many of these may be adverse to spiritual growth. These main social sentiments are:

1. Geocentric sentiments: This refers to a group’s attachment to the indigenous soil of an area or country. It is the fertile basis for many other insidious sentiments, such as geo-religion, geo-patriotism, and geo-economics. Geo-religious sentiments, for example, can be superstitions promoting the fanatic belief in the reverential quality of a certain mountain or river—the belief that all who die in that particular area will be liberated or go to heaven. From a spiritual point of view, this is, of course, utter nonsense. In essence, all natural places on this earth are sacred and holy, all are created, maintained and transformed by the same source of Pure Consciousness.

2. Sociocentric sentiments: These sentiments promote the interest of a group—family, village or nation—at the expense of other groups or nationalities. Since the dawn of human civilization, such sentiments have been instrumental in human warfare, either tribal, racial, or religious. Based on such group sentiments many other divisive sentiments are developed: socio-patriotism, socio-religion, socio-economics, and so on. Sometimes one will find a mixture of these sentiments. Nazi-Germany’s war in Europe, for example, displayed a vicious blend of socio-patriotism and socio-economics.

3. Anthropocentric sentiments: Humanism is a more expanded and far more progressive sentiment than the previous two. It can be an expression of genuine love and compassion for all people on the planet. However, such human sentiments often violate the interests and sentiments of non-human creatures, whether reptile, mammal or plant. Such human-centered sentiments today threaten the very fabric of the environment; indeed, the future existence of the human race.

4. World-centric sentiments: More expansive than humanism, it also includes the biosphere. This rational and/or mythic belief system is sometimes disguised as spirituality. It is prevalent in certain world-centric eco-philosophies or neo-pagan views which use systems science or the Gaia-theory to point to nature or the Web of Life as the ultimate God or Goddess. As Wilber and Sarkar both note, this view is not necessarily wrong. From a biological or scientific point of view, Gaia or Nature is indeed a whole organism, but this organism, this nature, is itself not the whole Chain of Being (or cosmic creation). Nature, or the Web of Life, is only a biological expression of Cosmic Consciousness. Nature’s intelligence is imbedded in Cosmic Consciousness, not in matter. Similarly, human intelligence and awareness is imbedded in the soul, not the brain.

5. The Spirit-centered worldview: All animate and inanimate beings are an expression of Cosmic Consciousness. This awareness forms the transcendental foundation for creating harmony between the three worlds of Body, Mind, and Spirit in society. Various spiritual traditions name and divide these levels differently, but all the levels of consciousness must be integrated in order to achieve a state of true Spirit-centeredness.

The Spirit-centered, or transpersonal, world-view, acknowledges and incorporates the other world-views. But—and this is crucial—it also sees their limitations. In other words, while supporting all the positive ideals of humanism, we should also work toward overcoming its inherent flaws. We may support the world-centric view of system-science, but we must also acknowledge that it cannot teach us anything about spirituality. The Spirit-centered world-view thus includes all the other world-views in a grand panoramic circle of understanding. Sarkar termed this as Universalism. It is a world-view that includes the whole universe—stars, planets, continents, humans, plants, animals. Embracing the whole circle of life, this spiritual, extrasensory outlook begins and ends with the very essence of Cosmic Consciousness. It simultaneously sees both Earth and Heaven. It beholds both the One and the Many.

Thus, when humanist vision (anthropocentric), or eco-vision (world-centric)—in all their various forms—emerge from the halls of rationality and the green woods of mythology, and move toward the wide, all-inclusive range of trans-rational Universalism, then, and only then, can the spirit of love and compassion for all created beings reach its goal.

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Roar Bjonnes’ articles and commentaries have appeared in numerous newspapers and periodicals in the US and Europe. The above article is from a book in progress about the relationship between spirituality, culture, ecology and economics.