I'd like to make a simple and hopefully heartfelt request to readers of this blog as I recommit to this blog: I am hoping that my service as a monk and my life can be enhanced by an offering of writings and thoughts and reflections which I consider a form of digging into my own heart-a internal prayer to call out within me the best of the Divine, so that I may understand myself and in the course of this perhaps even inspire you to also find the way to understanding your own self.
I simply ask that as I post these writings here that you may offer your feedback and constructive criticism. It is your voice that will help to find mine, and I deeply appreciate and offer my gratitude to anyone who takes the time to read anything I may offer.
First, a series of smaller essays from a larger essay titled "The Intersection", exploring the bridge between spirituality and social justice, inspired by the writings of Thomas Merton from his book "Conjectures Of A Guilty Bystander"
It is an attempt to elevate man...to a level consonant with his dignity as a son of God...liberated from the powers that keep him in subjection, the old dark gods of war, lust, power, and greed. In such a context, political action itself is a kind of spiritual action, an expression of spiritual responsibility”
“A person who realizes the particular evil of his time and finds that it overwhelms him, dives deep in his own heart for inspiration, and when he gets it he presents it to others”
What is the role of the spiritual person in the realm of social justice? How can the spiritual person offer the truth of God and His mercy and His relationship as the way to create real and meaningful solutions to the inequalities and injustices that burden our humanity? One can clearly argue that the spiritualist who is attempting to wholeheartedly give their life to the service of God certainly has one of the most essential roles.
The most selfish thing one can do is to keep one's love and faith in God within themselves, and not give this to others who are in desperately in need. It certainly follows from this that there is a clear relationship between the realm of the spiritual and the realm of social justice. The issues of ecological abuse, economic inequality, political and power abuses, war, torture, prejudice, etc have left a stain on our collective humanity because of a spiritual vacuum within the heart of our civilization.
Real and meaningful solutions to these issues will only come from an intersection between the powerful motivation and personal power of the activist with the deep spiritual foundation of wisdom given to us by the traditions based in the discovery and realization of love of God.
This intersection between spirituality and social justice is especially lucid through the work and thought of author/poet/mystic/monk Thomas Merton, particularly in his landmark book “Confessions Of A Guilty Bystander.” Merton's piercing and prophetic observations of the state of our contemporary civilization sears a sharp focus upon the crossroads of our collective human situation, rife with potentialities both empowering and frightening, and how the subsequent role and voice of the committed spiritual activist is completely essential to restoring and affirming the natural, spiritual birthright of our existence on this Planet Earth.In this essay we will attempt to explore the meaning of this intersection through select passages of Merton's work from "Confessions", based in the themes of...as well as select passages from the classic Eastern wisdom text the Bhagavad-Gita, a book Merton was personally inspired by in the later period of his life.
The Calling Within And The Forces Within
Merton's own prophetic voice and his understanding of the prophetic calling are strong, firm, and uncompromising. Against the faceless gaze of the impersonal tyranny which threatens to strangle our deep, inner freedom, Merton's words are scathing and honest. In the force of Merton's language, we encounter him as someone who has transmuted his heart into a weapon of compassion, and we see and hear him as someone who is not neglecting his responsibility as a committed spiritual activist,
“We are living in the greatest revolution in history-a huge spontaneous upheaval of the entire human race...a deep elemental boiling over of all the inner contradictions that have ever been in man, a revelation of the chaotic forces inside everybody. This is not something we have chosen, nor is it something we are free to avoid.
This revolution is a profound spiritual crisis of the whole world, manifested largely in desperation, cynicism, violence, conflict, self-contradiction, ambivalence, fear and hope, doubt and belief, creation and destructiveness, progress and regression, obsessive attachments to images, idols, slogans, programs that only dull the general anguish for a moment until it bursts out everywhere in a still more acute and terrifying form.1
To a great extent, when we commit ourselves to the spiritual path, we also willingly call these forces to the surface within ourselves. We enter into battle against our inner hypocrisy, against all the polarities that strangle our very being and whose monstrous face we want to simply avoid.
We live in a hypocritical collective society, wearing many masks to conceal our true face. There is little else more courageous than to expose, explore, and defeat this hypocrisy, and this inner battle is an essential one to conquer if we are going to also understand and conquer our many external battles. We cling to the surface glean of an illusory well-being that convinces us and others that we do not stand on the brink of dissolution. It is very much that we are treading water on the surface of our being, ignoring the giant man-eating sharks swimming just below the surface.
Our dogged optimism is thin, as Merton writes:
“Our sickness is the sickness of disordered love, of the self-love that realizes itself simultaneously to be self-hate and instantly becomes a source of universal, indiscriminate destructiveness. This is the other side of the coin that was current in the nineteenth century: the belief in indefinite progress, in the supreme goodness of man and of all his appetites.
What passes for optimism, even Christian optimism, is the indefectible hope that eighteenth and nineteenth century attitudes can continue valid, can be kept valid just by the determination to smile, even though the whole world may fall to pieces. Our smiles are symptoms of our sickness.”2
Turning towards a living spiritual discipline is a clear indictment of this status-quo. For under all the masks that we wear is the person we actually are, and this is the person who is able to dance and able to live and able to love without being weighed down by a damning confusion of who I am, what I can do, and what I represent.
Within a spiritual discipline, we not only get the methodology to free our potential for actual and eternal happiness, but we earn the right to share these methods with everyone else, everyone who is equally in need of a solid, forthright, and honest truth with which to understand their essence. Here is a tremendous opportunity to understand the real power of the revolutionary impulse, to look at the struggle for justice as something beyond even the material sphere itself, as an issue that dives down into our soul.
The great gift and the great weapon a spiritual activist has in this inevitable struggle is the inner strength of wisdom one receives from the teachers and guides in one's life who have fought this battle and won, and also from the mystical inner guidance of God, described in this verse from the Bhagavad-Gita:
“But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.”3
It may be a cliche or a medieval impulse to term those impulses and those entities that we battle in the spheres of spirituality and social justice as demoniac. If one examines closely the Sixteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, we see that this term means much more than goat-horns and horror stories. In fact, we find an indictment not only of greedy bankers and totalitarian dictators, but also of the demons inside us which keep us much closer to that same darkness that blinds this world that we would like to know.
Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance -- these qualities belong to those of demoniac nature, O son of Prtha.4
Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them.5
Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.6
They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable. Bound by a network of hundreds of thousands of desires and absorbed in lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.7
There are three gates leading to this hell -- lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.8
These three gates of lust, anger, and greed are easily placed around those considered as the perpetrators of the crime. If we hear a senator grilling Goldman Sachs bigwigs or historians defining the place of a Stalin or a Nixon, it doesn't take a lot of deliberation or meditation to join along in the condemnation that the Gita has laid out above.
What does take more of our courage and our heart to do is to point that finger at ourselves. The polarities of our hyper-competitive state of being impart that even if we consider ourselves on the progressive side of history, we forget to examine our own motives before striking out to remove the fatcats and the tyrants. This invariably leads to the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” syndrome.
If we want to avoid creating, on the large scale, totalitarianism out of idealism, or on the small scale, to simply keep our promises to a friend, spouse, or colleague that we will “change our ways” for the better, we have to spark and sustain a revolution within our own hearts first. We have to rise up against the forces of hypocrisy within us that will strangle any external expressions of our idealism, and we must fight these forces with the power of a meaningful spiritual discipline of joy and understanding.
This is where the intersection of spirituality and social justice has its strongest and most practical bonds, for it is the depth of a genuine spiritual science practically applied in one's life under the guidance of learned and loving practitioners that positions one in the best way to face the faceless gaze with a look of conviction, a warm smile bearing real substance, and a determined action that truly and clearly takes down injustice.
1Merton, Thomas, Confessions Of A Guilty Bystander, pp 66-67, Image Books, 1968
2Merton, pp 67-68
3A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, pp.409, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 2008
4 Prabhupada, 628
5 Prabhupada, 629
6 Prabhupada, 632
7 Prabhupada, 634
8 Prabhupada, 640