Sunday, July 10, 2022

America Today and the Spread of Intentional Communities

Hello friends, I have not written a stitch since January this year (2022). Videos have eclipsed writing, or so it might seem these days. Videos are evanescent, however, and require a greater commitment of attentiveness than writing which many people can scan quickly (and then re-read if a deeper interest in the subject is triggered).

There is a video series on Benjamin Franklin by Ken Burns. And the end of Franklin's life, after the Constitution of the United States had at last been ratified by the states, Franklin publishes his views on the compromises that were needed for the states to agree. On the one hand, Franklin acknowledged the value and significance of that document and the intentions behind it; on the other hand, he also acknowledged that the continuation of slavery represented a score that was yet to be settled in achieving the stated goals of American independence.

Thus it is simply a fact that the birth of this nation could only have happened by a delicate balance between the federal government and the states. The consent of the governed is an essential premise in the American system but it is circumscribed by the consciousness of the governed. Democracy works poorly if the citizenry and its leaders are corrupt, selfish, and deeply biased or divided, unwilling to compromise and cooperate. In the face of chaos and paralysis, a natural impulse is to want a strong and authoritative leader. We see this in the history of Rome. We see it today.

China's leader, Xi Jinping, touts the efficiency and material success of his nation on the basis of its authoritarian system. Other nations too, it has been said, are now weakened democracies inclining to favor 

authoritarian leaders. The founders of America acknowledged both explicitly and implicitly that the great American experiment would only work with an educated and somewhat enlightened body politic. If society devolves into violence and conflict, the need for safety, security and authority will obviously arise like a tsunami to inundate personal liberties, freedom of speech and much more. 

One of America's great treasures is its diversity and our acceptance of it. At the same time, the push back in fear and rebellion to that diversity constitutes one of the greatest threats to that diversity. Yet it must be also admitted that this diversity itself may pose, or appear to pose, a threat to freedom if, for no other reason, decision making and consensus is paralyzed. I believe that history and biology suggest that diversity is an advantage and a benefit but the perception that it is a threat is a very real threat in itself.

Humanity faces many objective challenges but the greatest challenge is the personal and subjective challenge of consciousness. Fear triggers a return to more primitive responses of "fight or flight." Too rapid changes in society and on the planet are triggering large scale fear-responses owing to mass migrations, technological change, climate change, and economic insecurity and inequality.

Historically, humanity has lived under brutal and authoritarian conditions of one type or another. So it is natural that that many see centralized authority as the remedy for insecurity or chaos. Though while the middle ground of peace and harmony is certainly yearned for, as a practical reality it's never been hardly more than a dream. I admit that a dream bubble did seem to exist for some Americans for a few years (think 1950's) and it has been somewhat true relative to most of the rest of the nations of the world. But, in any case, this bubble of light, if ever did exist, is rapidly fading into the dusk of increasing civil unrest and divisiveness.

A new paradigm is trying to be born. It could be said to have started with the founding of America but its birth was flawed and contained defects born of the consciousness of its times. It still has a long way to go but its characteristics are increasingly clear, attractive, and recognizable. Its salient features are embedded in the America self-image and include freedom to act, opportunities to realize one's cherished dreams, scope for individual initiative and creativity and acceptance of personal responsibility. These qualities tend to extend into a respect for the rights of others and an inclination to cooperate with others. 

In the history of America the shortcomings of its citizens to manifest these characteristics resulted in struggles around the evils of racism and exploitation. A strong national (federal) response to these shortcomings has been the remedy of choice. Since the end of the Civil War, the power of the central government has grown more or less steadily.

But those very salient characteristics are at odds with a strong central authority. Nationalized solutions to social injustice and inequality have the potential to stifle individual initiative and self-responsibility even if some people feel they keep at bay the extremes of wealth and poverty.

This earth is a school, not a resort or paradise. So nothing I might suggest is intended to be a solution. It is, rather, directional. Based on the insights given to us by Paramhansa Yogananda (and including the wisdom of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and the views of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda), I believe humanity, led largely by America, is stumbling uncertainly but surely towards manifesting more clearly, if imperfectly, those salient characteristics of individual freedom and initiative.

Individual initiative when guided wisely naturally inclines toward respect and cooperation especially where others of like-mind are concerned. Freedom is infectious; cooperation, rewarding. It is, after all, one way of describing the universal Golden Rule, is it not?

"Left" represents compassion. "Right" represents justice. Compassion should be expressed wisely lest it devolve into enabling the very conditions it seeks to remedy. Justice without compassion favors the status quo. The division between "left" and "right" is a false one, promoted on the basis of ignorance and/or self-interest because, in truth, each have their place and their voice in public and private life.

Nothing can stop the increasing commingling of races, religions and cultures that is taking place in the twenty-first century and no country more than America is experiencing this process at a faster clip. Diversity is here to stay and, as such, will only grow.

What then are its consequences? Diversity can seed innovation and creativity but it can also spread confusion and chaos. The admixture of diverse lifestyles and values might propel some to seek their own "kind." But by "kind" I do not mean the further establishment of ghettos or segregation. Such are physical barriers and such barriers are steadily eroding. Instead, the true "races of humanity" divide along the lines of consciousness, not outward appearance or culture. 

Division of any kind will generate some level of competition or conflict but I'd rather not dwell on that. Instead, my point of emphasis is contained in the fiery words of Paramhansa Yogananda in July of 1949 when, at a Beverly Hills garden fundraising party, he suddenly and inexplicably "sowed into the ether" the prediction that intentional communities would (someday) "spread like wildfire." 

Given that the term "wildfire" is far more threatening than promising (especially in the western states of America, including California where he spoke those words), I have to assume that the spread of communities will come at a time of and as a result of great chaos and conflagration. If this is so, then so be it!

Books have been written on the problems of modern America and the shortcomings of her people. I see no need to emphasize these. Suffice to say, we have lost touch with the simple joys and skills of living in harmony with nature, with one another and with higher values and divine consciousness.

America's resilience and ethos of self-reliance needs to be elevated to include cooperation with one another and cooperation with higher values and consciousness. As the title of a Sunday Service reading at any Ananda temple puts it: "Self-reliance vs self-reliance." We are part of a greater reality. We are not, except by choice or ignorance, separate from the world around us, both natural and divine.

The halting progress towards affirmation of individual initiative is occurring in many ways: the internet, for example, is a symbol and a tool for flattening the hierarchy of information (admittedly also spreading false information); education, of course has been the symbol of progressiveness since the 19th century; the paralysis, indecisiveness and corruption of values of the central government is pushing the pendulum of power back to the states in a motion reminiscent, for better or worse, of the days of the Constitutional battles. Even smaller jurisdictions, like cities, are taking on global issues like climate change. 

The individual is the key to change. Intelligence alone, whether artificial or rational, is not enough. Inspiration and courage, linked with intelligence and reason, are crucial.

De-centralization coupled with voluntary cooperation will be the gold standard of future civilizations (living up to the name of "civil"). It will take centuries for this new paradigm to emerge clearly and successfully, though it will always be imperfect.

But small intentional communities will be the basis for this shift in human consciousness in the direction of increasing awareness. The path however is strewn with the brambles of war, famine and catastrophe: the necessary price of progress given human consciousness at this time. Those of us with the prescience to "do it now" will silently serve many to come and in the process bring to ourselves an aura of magnetic protection. 

Such communities will run the gamut of form and spirit but the Ananda communities are inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda whose powerful words that day in July 1949 have prompted us to declare Yogananda the "father" of the communities movement. The higher the ideals upon which a community is founded and more vigorously its adherents strive toward them, the greater will be its impact. Ananda communities are based on prayer, meditation and service and are guided by principles of cooperation, respect, simplicity and moderation. 

But whether social, ecological and/or spiritual, the spread of communities is just beginning and, to quote the words of a children's' song, "Nothing can stop my progress."


Swami Hrimananda!