Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Road Ahead: Hope or Hopelessness?

This is our last day here in Frankfurt Germany at the annual Book Messe (Fair). For several years we witnessed the obvious decline in business and attendance and general economic activity. This is linked with serious changes and challenges to the world of publishing which includes several things not least of which is the uncertainty and impact of the internet and e-book publishing.

But publishing is not my concern here. Hopelessness, however, is. Our hosts where we stay each year here in Frankfurt are the patriarch and matriarch of a wonderful and growing family of talented and energetic children and grandchildren. Both came of age in Germany at the end of the WWII and have seen many things in their lifetime. The comment at dinner last evening was made that more challenging to the young generation of today than job insecurity and the many other issues facing the human race is the feeling they have and are left with of hopelessness.

The 20th century saw two major wars and many others of equal or at least tragic consequences. Yet for much of that time, except perhaps the dark years of WWII, the general direction of expectations for the future had been, for the generations born in that century, has been  positive. Now, however, I have come to wonder whether for the young generation of today whether that is true. Yes, for up and coming countries like India, China, and Brazil things may seem rosy for the time but in the countries of the west (formerly known as the "first world!"), dark clouds loom and threaten on every major front: economic, ecological, environmental, political, cultural and religious, just to name the most obvious. Institutions of learning and health care face an uncertain future. War and terrorism threats continue as oil and the middle east are as fractious, if not more so, than ever before.

So where is there to be found hope for a better world? Interestingly, "Hope for A Better World" is the title of a book by Swami Kriyananda who is my teacher and who is the founder of the worldwide network of intentional communities (called Ananda). Swami Kriyananda is one of the best known direct disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda -- himself a world renown author of the spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi."

In this book and in Kriyananda's life work (of which I am a part) he writes that hope for the future lies in the direction of individual initiative. Hope lies in the energy, high mindedness, creativity and cooperative spirit of individuals who come together to find solutions to the challenges of modern life and who are not dependent on others, or on their government to make those changes. One of the principal forms this takes for those of us who are involved in the worldwide work of Ananda is the establishment of a network of intentional spiritual communities. These core communities are formed by disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. But this work of intentional communities is not seen by us as limited to any faith or spiritual interest. Yogananda himself predicated that communities would some day "spread like wildfire." We have no reason to believe he meant that such future communities would be limited to those who follow his teachings. The very way in which he phrased his prediction suggests otherwise!

Though he gave no specifics as to time or place or form, it has become increasingly clear that such communities are the most obvious way for humanity to re-invent itself. With increasing urgency, humanity needs a new expression of core and universal human values. We need to learn how to live in harmony with one another and with all life on our planet. We need to learn how to use natural and human resources in a balanced and sustainable way. This means living closer and in harmony with the natural world of our fair planet as well as among races, nations, cultures and religions.

Such changes cannot be legislated. A new way of living and thinking can only come from changes in human attitudes and consciousness. Such changes will, and have always been, initiated by pioneers and creative spirits working together in harmony and cooperation. Cooperation is the only solution to war or ruthless competition and exploitation (of man, matter, and all living creatures).

At Ananda we see our communities as laboratories in cooperative living and hope that what we have learned can be used by others regardless of other persuasions, spiritual or otherwise. We feel that the trend and impulse for people of like mind to come together to create new patterns of living is the single most important trend at this time in history. No other solution appears to exist in the world for the great challenges we face.

No single nation, government, NGO, or corporate body possesses either the vision or the influence to lead citizens of earth to a more sustainable and harmonious way of life. Even religion seems most inclined to separate and fight. A new form of religion -- spiritual but not religious -- one based not on creeds or dogma but on direct perception and experience is needed. Yogananda called this "Self-realization." No existing power base of money or political power has the will or the vision to make fundamental changes. Existing institutions of all types are more focused on survival and self-interest.

As symbolized by the internet itself, which is carrying this message as I type it, people individually and in small groups will have to make the changes necessary. "Small" can be a wide range of numbers, however, from voluntary associations that are international to a handful or few dozen like-minded spirits in a given city or town. Small communities will also reflect what will become both a trend and necessity for survival: moving from the high density, resource-consuming cities to rural or at least nature-integrated locations. This will become a leaderless, grass-roots movement.

One can be fearful, pessimistic or gloomy, but none of those does one any good. Better it is to have faith in a Higher Power and faith in acting with high ideals and in the company of those of like-mind. Realistically, it is the only solution I can imagine. I know few will read this; few will embrace this, but the great changes in history have always been accomplished, at first, by a handful of pioneers. This is as true in science and the arts, as it is in politics or religion. So, do not lose hope but "think globally, while acting locally."

Joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman