Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tomorrow is a Tide that Sweeps Away the Past

As I stood on the banks of the Ganges in the world's most ancient (and continuously inhabited) city -- Varanasi, India -- I scanned the ancient riverside ashrams and crematory grounds, the orange-clad or naked sadhus tending their ritual fires, and the devotees bathing in the Ganges to remove their sins. The thought that came to me is that all of this will be swept away by the rising tide of change. Change is happening at an accelerated pace, especially visible in up and coming countries like India, but de facto everywhere.

In Varanasi, as everywhere, developers will see profits and opportunities in this haven of tourism and pilgrimage. Civic boosters will want to clean it up and give visitors have more comfortable places to have lunch, shop, and spend their tourist rupees. A few showcase sadhus can be reassigned to a special section for posterity's sake and authenticity. Mimic the old architecture but build anew and make it nicer for visitors. Whole blocks of the twisting and turning alleyway-streets will be razed for modern hotels, with pools and lawns (oh, and underground parking). Oh, yes...........can't you see it?

On my last two trips to India I went up into the Himalayas. I could see that the hill stations nearest the plains will soon be developed into second homes, gated communities, resorts, and yoga retreat centers. Many of them were created by the British precisely for recreation and vacation, and, a relief from the heat, squalor, and intensity of the plains. Are middle class Indians wanting anything different? They'll widen and straighten out some of the roads and voila! The rising middle class of India will escape to their beloved (and beautiful) Himalayan foothills. I can see it now. Ok, then, soon, or not too far off.

We can see this trend in America where nothing is very old. We can see it well established in Europe. They preserve and yet simultaneously upgrade and modernize a core area of some historical value and then let development proceed all around it. I think however looking far ahead -- afterall things do deteriorate --- these core areas will gradually shrink. More importantly, so will the interest of future generations in them. Do you see among today's young a burning interest in antiquity? I don't. They are more interested in their computer games, gadgets, and, of course, one another. I wouldn't be surprised that future city planners will find it convenient to preserve these old monuments virtually in a kind of digital museum where you can "walk" through the old Roman fort or castle wearing a 3-D sitting in a comfortable chair.

You don't need to be an avatar or rishi to see this kind of change everywhere. But in fact there are some avatars who have already predicted it. In the lineage of Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, announced a major correction to the Hindu calendar which, during several thousand years of the Kali Yuga -- the low ebb of consciousness in the unending cycle of time -- had gotten off, mathematically.

Sri Yukteswar, himself a great sage and astrologer, proclaimed that on or around the year 1900 the earth entered the second age ("Dwa" - Dwapara) and would begin its ascent into an age whose theme would be "energy." Soon thereafter Einstein announced that energy is the underlying reality of matter. The twentieth century saw the dawning of nuclear energy and the head-over-heels extraction of oil for energy which fueled an unprecedented surge in human development in all fields (including warfare). We have energy medicine and energy healing. Energy is all the rage, in fact.

How many indigenous cultures and languages have already been destroyed. Those few who remain are dwindling in their commitment to traditional lifestyles. In the years and centuries to come they will all essentially vanish, leaving only remnants in the form of stylized, special-occasion cultural events or preserved places. Traditional religions, steeped in their vestments and robes and rituals, will steadily fade from relevancy, leaving also only traces of their past.

Nations, cultures, languages with their distinctive cuisine, clothing and uniqueness will surely retain vestiges of their past habits, attitudes, and history but they will be like the transplanted New Yorker living in Los Angeles who still has a detectable New York accent. It will be quaint and recognizable but like the Indian in the adjoining cubicle at Microsoft, his accent doesn't get in the way of his enjoyment of going to the gym or hiking in the mountains with the guy from Peoria next to him.

Travel, education, communication, technology and consciousness cannot but erode the isolation and uniqueness of formerly far-flung and exotic cultures. I sincerely hope that doesn't put Starbucks and MacDonalds on every corner from here to Timbuktu but, for a time, it might. It certainly is happening now, anyway.

Is the destruction of these traditional ways to be decried? Well, no doubt for many. But it would be like crying over spilled milk. Nothing can stop the rising tsunami of change and connectedness. The down side to the status quo is the status quo: warfare, terrorism, exploitation, prejudice, ignorance, distrust and hatred. Do we have a choice? I doubt it. We cannot have it both ways: on the one hand we want to see the world change for the better; on the other hand, we don't want to lose distinctive differences in cultures. These distinctions, unless paraded out only for entertainment of visitors, are also what separate us.

Will Indians stop wearing saris and Peruvians abandon their colored cloth? Already in India, modern young women don't wear traditional saris. They've taken some of the colors and fabrics and made them into more practical forms. Cultural characteristics and attitudes will survive just as blue eyes and blonde hair get passed from generation to generation. But they will survive only as remnants, reminders.

Already the world's cultures live and work together. For now that's mostly in the cities, but look again and travel again, the intermixture is seeping into every village, and even more so into remote corners because remote corners are strongly attractive to the adventurous! How many pop culture T-shirrts and baseball caps do you already see in the villages of India, Tibet, Nepal, Africa?

The ancient medieval church structures may be preserved here and there around the world. But with wars, famine, natural forces of deterioration, and economic depressions, one by one they will fall by the wayside because we are looking to the future now, not to the past, for guidance and unfolding wisdom. Our past history teaches us many lessons but it is the future that beckons us, for the past will be submerged in the rising tide of consciousness that is the ascending cycle into which this planet has just barely begun.

Every 80 to 100 years the entire planet's inhabitants is refreshed with new human beings. How much do you about your grandfather's life, character, problems and victories? Probably next to nothing apart from being your grandfather. Certainly this would be true of your great grandfather. For some it may be true of your father or mother!

In future centuries worshipers of each faith will honor their traditions and symbols and credos but will relegate these to a secondary status in favor of direct, inner communion with their "God" through meditation, acts of humanitarian and personal service, and fellowship with like-minded individuals.

The first Ananda movie, Finding Happiness, shows how small communities will flourish in coming times as a practical and natural balance to the crushing forces of modernization and globalization. We need practical ways to express our creative idealism even as we live in this new, global village.

So, feast not your eyes with too great sentiment upon the monuments and traditions of the past. Appreciate them for their universal impulse and ideals but look anew and look within for fresh expressions of the divine here and now! For as your body and mind will soon be buried in the sands of time, so too all this will vanish from our sight. Extract from the present, the past, and even the future the unchangeable NOW of God's presence. Saints and devotees have come into this Dwapara Yuga to create new portals, new shrines, new sacred places of pilgrimage where God's presence and grace, ever-new in flow and form, can be tapped. We can be a part of that effort to establish and affirm anew the sacredness of life, investing that grace into living forms and new sacred places.

Mostly, of course, it is within you. But as we are a part of a greater reality all around, it is also to be found all around! Rejoice and put your shoulder to the wheel of divine creative service and reflection.


Swami Hrimananda

reference: Religion in the New Age by Swami Kriyananda.