Saturday, July 30, 2016
Well, it seems America has safely got past both political parties' conventions. What a time we live in! The voices of America are at fevered pitch, shouting irrational imprecations from all sides. It seems the Western world is having a spasm of liberal regrets; our egalitarian principles strained under the dark clouds of fear, envy, violence, and hatred as if uninvited "guests" are attempting to crash the gates of a formerly decorous and homogeneous "party." The civil niceties of public debate, once secure in white shirts and club ties, have abandoned themselves to the jostling rainbow crowd! (ok, a slight exaggeration: democracy has always been messy, noisy, and rancorous!) Globalism, once the great "white hope" of liberalism (free trade, freer movement of peoples) is now under attack for it is seen to benefit the few at the expense of the many and at the cost of legitimate national interests.
A yogi is committed to the summons of Patanjali (of the "Yoga Sutras") to seek the calm center within: where likes and dislikes, opinions and emotions, subside into the bliss beneath all seeming.
On the left, the yogi finds "ira" (the upward moving channel in the astral spine--associated with inhalation) which can be expressed outwardly, as the power of love and compassion; on the right, the "pingala" channel (downward moving away from outward involvement--cause of the exhalation), expressing non-attachment and acceptance of the law of karma! Mercy and justice: two sides of a coin.
What's a yogi to do?
Paramhansa Yogananda aligned himself with the (political) party of Abraham Lincoln! He declined to express his thoughts, except as "concerned," regarding FDR: the father of social security, progenitor of how government can help people in need, and, in later decades, manifested as Welfare entitlements; more recently, Obamacare! Yogananda put it this way (as many have also): while it's fine and good to feed someone hungry, it is better to give him a job and better yet an education.
Jesus Christ, too, actually said these words: "The poor ye shall have always...." Yet the Bhagavad Gita avers that the yogi feels "the pangs of sorrow and joy of all men." When Jesus Christ stated that "those who have, more will be given; to those with little, what they have will be taken away" one might think his words were a plank in the Republican platform! In all fairness, yet apropos in any case, is Paramhansa Yogananda's explanation for Jesus' strange sounding words: those who put out energy will receive energy back in spades; those who do not, will lose what little they have. Or, as one hears so often with a twang and a smile, "Da Lord helps dems who helps demselves!" And Jesus also said that as often as we feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, etc. we do it to Him!
How, ever, can a yogi reconcile these seemingly opposite principles and precepts?
Life would be unbearable if we did not believe in and understand the law of karma: cause and effect. If one cannot believe that he can improve his life, he will sink into despair. Spiritually as well as materially, one must put out the effort and the energy to lift ourselves. Even if, in the end, and in response to our efforts, help comes from "above" (whether divine or governmental), no one can put us through school against our will; no one can make us healthy against our will; no one can do an excellent job except ourselves. The cycle of initiative creates a magnetism that draws a universal and supportive response--from whatever source(s). This is the basis for yoga (and meditation) itself. [Dogmatic Christians sometimes excoriate yoga practice as being presumptuous citing St. Paul, "Not by works alone...but by grace." Common sense and experience show us, however, that by our efforts we can attract success: material AND spiritual!]
And thus we find (yet again and again), how the truth lies, often hidden, in the middle. The art of compromise is the art of life itself. Mercy and justice must, like Queen and King, rule together the kingdom of the body politic.
The party lines of both parties have their own, internal justifications, even as they possess their own delusive, unexamined biases or agendas. On just a few of the issues being shouted consider such pairs of opposites as:
America, as any other country, must have control over who enters it. Yet we benefit from the influx of other peoples. At the same time, and given the chaos and hatred in the world, we surely have a right to exclude those who intend or would do us harm.
In the past two centuries, successful groups of immigrants have integrated into the culture of America by learning our common language and respecting and integrating some of our (better) customs even as they honor and preserve their own.
Other industrialized countries surely by now, a half century after the last world war, and decades after the so-called "fall" of communism, ought to contribute to the cost of their own defense (assuming they do not, for I don't really know the facts.)
America's many adventures into places like Vietnam, central America, Afghanistan, and the Middle East have been less than successful and too often self-serving, peppered with the all-too-often corruption of values that war provides opportunities for. Even if you believe that we "meant well," violence begets violence and should be employed sparingly and with mercy. That we have ignited a push back, and even hatred, in playing the "Great Game," is hardly surprising.
Examples of what I view as our past mistakes (owing perhaps to our hubris, naivete, or hidden, self-serving motives) include: while it was our duty to track down Osama Bin Laden, did we really have to take on the Taliban (we still haven't won that war); Saddam Hussein! What a tragedy that under the guise of "weapons of mass destruction" we convinced ourselves (as a nation and our entire Congress) to go after the guy. Countless, endless and continuing suffering has been the result. Never mind the billions or trillions of dollars of added national debt. Was this adventure to finish what the (then) president's father didn't? Was it to secure oil that subsequent years have shown we don't actually need?
Vietnam, as with Iraq, Afghanistan and other adventures, had for its failing that the locals didn't want our "help" (destroying their country and their people). In most cases, in fact, they haven't "deserved" being rescued, having their own scores to settle with each other. Yes, it's hard to watch others suffer under corrupt regimes, I agree.
Communism fell for three reasons: one, the West had the strength to confront it on its own terms, making war a poor choice for both sides; two, our very prosperity and freedom (our ideals) are in tune with righteousness and with the age in which we live and thus proved far too magnetic; and three, it was based on false (and godless) precepts. If we had applied these principles to contain and confront the injustices of Saddam, Bin Laden, Ho Chi Minh and others, while yet offering an attractive alternative to their suffering peoples (providing aid, refuge, education etc.) we would have won the only thing worth winning: people's hearts and minds.
Of course we must defend ourselves from those who hate and who attack us, yet have we examined honestly the reasons we are so hated? On the other hand, do not the peoples of other nations vote with their feet in wanting to come here, even if they, like ourselves, take issue with the political or military past actions or policies of our country?
And yes, Hillary, we should be hopeful and positive! Our nation and its ideals give to us strength in righteousness, prosperity in our creative energies, and joy in our freedoms. "Greatest nation on earth" is rather boastful for my tastes, but the influence of America, for better or worse, upon the rest of the world is undeniable. The lure of success and freedom is irresistible. These are our strengths. We should live them here at home, first; their example is, and has always been, the beacon of light and hope to others. But they, like we, must earn their freedom by their own self-effort.
I prefer compassion over the strict justice of karma but I question how much and how long western societies can offer extensive and liberal safety nets and entitlements in the face of the energy, creativity, and ambitions of other nations who are "coming up" and who, as a result, are equalizing prosperity around the world. Our standard of living is, so I am told and so it seems to me, declining as that of other nations is rising. It all has to balance out (to zero). Do entitlements help people or do they force a resented dependency upon them?
I'm certainly in favor of the idealistic society that enjoys prosperity and health for all but the question here is the issue of "idealistic." How productive must an economy be to afford the "ideal" safety nets? Even if it were to be achieved, would the result itself prove to be "idealistic?"
You see, in the final analysis, it is not governments that create a prosperous, secure, and healthy society, but individuals: their hard work; creativity; initiative and ability to work together for the common good. Government acts as a moderator and fulcrum that provides protection, justice, and balances the seemingly opposing interests of people or groups of people with shared interests. (Think the classic capital vs labor!)
If a nation becomes so materially successful that it can offer the perks of universal health care and guaranteed minimum income, well, fine but these things, like personal health, are never guaranteed and must never eclipse self-effort and personal responsibility for one's life.
And, they have their own cost. Becoming dependent on government largess and the promises of politicians is a recipe (long-term) for revolution: for passivity breeds resentment and there is no joy in it beyond going to sleep or enjoying an uneasy comfort. By contrast, initiative, even in the face of hardship or disadvantages, may take courage and commitment, but in putting out energy for self-improvement we experience confidence, satisfaction and joy. I remember an Ananda T-shirt years ago with the slogan: "Energy and Joy go Hand in Hand."
As a yogi for whom the lessons of India's beloved scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, is taken to heart one of its initial precepts is that we must fight the "battle of life." Sublimating our lower, passive nature into an upward flow of energy towards Self-realization: this is the hue and cry of Krishna to those waking up to life's realities. It's message does not include pretending we can attack everyone else's injustices around the world using brute force.
Returning now, for a moment, to the current elections, we yogis do not separate the "energy," the intention, or the consciousness of the individuals who seek to represent us from their stated aims. The message cannot be separated from the messenger. The extent to which "the end justifies the means" is forever humanity's dilemma. Voting for character (nobility, compassion, universality, acceptance, intelligence and goodwill) should be the ideal yardstick by which we weigh our minuscule role as voters. Both Republican and Democrat ideals are, in principle, true and worthwhile: each holding the other in check. I'd rather have a president with intelligence, goodwill and integrity, regardless of political affiliation because in our country effective power (I prefer "influence") is subject to checks and balances and requires compromise.
Life, being by its nature "dual," a mixture of good and evil vying constantly for supremacy, demands that we remain ever awake to do what is right and just, as well as merciful. Would that prosperous nations place more emphasis on helping other lesser fortunate nations even as we protect ourselves from their destructive tendencies. A new "Marshall Plan" would do this ravaged planet some good and there would be work aplenty: from healing nature to healing wounds and educating minds, there is no lack of positive outlets for humanity's creative energies. It is not hunger or ill health that is life's scourge so much as lack of a creative and productive outlets for one's energies. I think of the millions of under employed and unemployed youth worldwide and despair for the lack of opportunities to engage their imagination, creativity and commitment. And yet, there is SO much to be done: reinventing agriculture; enlightened self-interest for business; holistic education; educated and self-care driven health care, nothing less than a revolution in both life style and consciousness awaits the awakening of our courage and wisdom.
Whether donkey or elephant, we must share this nation and this planet and so let's look for the positive and the truth in one another's firmly held precepts even as we commit ourselves to living our ideals. Personalities are but stand ins for the consciousness that animates them.
Joy to you,