Showing posts with label abortion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abortion. Show all posts

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Security vs Compassion; Wisdom vs Mercy; Liberal vs Conservative!

In the uproar about separating children from parents at the U.S. border, I am reminded of the long-running controversy over abortion which pitted right to life against the right of personal choice. 

In the case of the children, we have security and integrity of the state (borders) versus compassion for the welfare of children. In both cases the obvious choice should be compassion and personal choice: both reflect the nature of the guiding principles and the overriding consciousness of American culture.

In the case of the children, it seems that there must be an administrative way to BOTH secure the border AND protect the children. On that score, I simply do not know enough about the issue. If a family attempts to enter and not everyone in the family is legal, maybe it's their choice whether they all are turned back or they are separated? Or, if they can provide sufficient documentation to ensure proper follow-up, they all enter and approval processes take place later?

I don't object to the right of our nation, indeed, every nation, to secure its own borders and decide who is allowed to enter and stay. Many are concerned about our having a porous southern border both in principle and given present world conditions of terrorism. Building a "wall" has come to be a symbolic issue but whatever practical means can be employed to better secure our borders should be considered on its own merits. Border security is basic to national security in these times.

But border security is far less an issue than the suffering of people in other nations who desperately seek to flee violence or poverty. But is pouring unending amounts of relief aid all that viable long-term? My impression is that decades of "relief" have had mixed results. (I am not referring to temporary disaster relief or medical assistance.) Better to help rebuild an impoverished economy from the inside out than simply sending food decade after decade, thus impoverishing the initiative, creativity, and self-respect of recipients.

Right now peoples in the southern hemispheres of Africa and South (and central) America are desperate for security and freedom. To open wide the gates of Europe and North America to immigration is politically and culturally unacceptable at this time. Thus we face the stark reality that present border and immigration policies could be viewed as indirectly causing more suffering in the southern realms. 

At some point, all human beings must face the reality that suffering on this planet exists and has always existed and that there will probably never be (in any foreseeable future) a global solution. We know we can feed every-body on this planet and that starvation shouldn't exist. But it does; so does poverty; abuse; exploitation; and addiction. Reason and the golden rule alone should suffice to end all injustice and suffering. But, they do not and never will. 

I sometimes come across non-profit organizations trumpeting the goal to erase poverty, hunger or illness. I'm all for it but I remain sceptical on philosophical and practical grounds. 

The reason for compassion for these children and for giving women the rights to choose (an abortion) is because the greatest gift given to humanity is free will, reason, individuality, and choice. The fact that this has the very real potential to create suffering, whether self-inflicted or inflicted upon others, is the necessary corollary to this God-given gift. 

God permits suffering because God has given us the right to make choices, including those which cause us to suffer or to inflict suffering. We are teenagers and have been given the car keys. Each person is on a long journey on which we have choices in our efforts to seek the pearl of great price: happiness. That no-thing, position, status, object or fleeting experience will give us what we seek takes a LONG time (lifetimes) for the individual soul to learn. It may be ironic, or even be seen as cruel, but the simple fact is this: it is suffering that causes us ask the deeper questions and to seek lasting solutions. We are here to re-discover that we are "One" and that unconditional love and the existence of that Love is the sole reality of creation (the true purpose of our creation).

We must learn, individually, to use the gift of freedom wisely. Preservation of individual liberties is a higher moral standard than collective security (at least under present circumstances). As is so often said: "Democracy is messy." Yet, the northern nations (Europe and America) are in the midst of a battle over where the border between individual freedom and collective security lies. That boundary line is the real national border and by necessity will move up and down within a given bandwidth. 

When prosperity, liberty, health and security are strong, we can be more "liberal." When all of these are threatened (or perceived to be), then the "border" will get tighter. As it tightens owing to fear, it appears to give permission to express prejudice, even hate. As it loosens owing to security and prosperity it appears to give permission to express love and acceptance. Thus we find the great irony that on a collective level, security and prosperity will tend to foster love and acceptance! Can we have it both ways: loose and loving? At this point in history and in consciousness, perhaps not. 

But the issue is not just a collective one, but an individual one. Institutions do not have feelings; people do. Can we affirm compassion even at the perceived expense (or fear) of our security? That takes courage and will. Right now the northern nations are faltering. Strident condemnation on both sides only makes matters worse, for it re-directs compassion towards anger while it reinforces fear's tendency to turn a blind eye to suffering. 

BE THE CHANGE -- a campaign the worldwide Ananda communities initiated a few years ago -- goes to the heart of the true solution. For the only lasting change that can emerge from in the collective reality comes from a change of heart in the individual consciousness. 

Does a nation like America have the courage to admit asylum seekers and help them get re-established? Do we have the wisdom and courage to offer not merely relief to the suffering nations from which come the asylum seekers, but to offer genuine long-term tools for their own security, justice, and prosperity? 

But do we even have such tools to offer? And, in the end, can we accept that they, too, have to want to change their cultural consciousness and embrace higher ideals and equality and refuse to accept corruption and exploitation within their own ranks? Can we force our ideals upon other peoples? As our nation fought for its freedom long ago, don't other nations have to do so--perhaps alone?

The simple fact is that the karma of individuals and nations rule. We can't save other nations and peoples from their suffering. We can be wiser and more compassionate but if we are only compassionate, the lack of wisdom may undermine our compassion. Wisdom and mercy must forever balance one another. 

The middle path starts in our "middle": our own heart. Then comes action which follows feeling. Successful action is balanced. It learns to compromise on issues such as border security vs. compassion; the right to life vs. right to choose. In a world of endless flux and duality, we must be practical in our ideals. 

The suffering of others is hurtful to those both wise and pure. But the question of "What is right action" is not so easy to answer. For me and for now, the only avenue open is to pray for these children. [Our meditation temple is hosting a prayer vigil for just this purpose. (see]

There is a desperate need to return to the "middle" path of reasoned dialogue, mutual respect, and willingness to compromise. Self-described liberals must learn how to do this, perhaps more so because the heart is wiser than the head, and, more courageous. Those "on the right" are driven by fear (and sometimes worse). They are not as open to change unless forced upon them. As Gandhi said and King reiterated, those in power do not yield it willingly. So, who, then, will make the first move?

[The very nature of conservatism is inertial. The very nature of progressivism is to change. Conservatism affirms static, unchanging values and realities while progressivism affirms the reality of evolution and the need for creative and positive change. Conservatism tends to support the status quo while liberalism tends to support change. Both represent relative and valuable truths.] 

Screaming at each other from left to right and vice versa increases in inverse proportion to the power to do anything about the situation. Left and right need to dial down the volume. Once an issue is polarized screaming is all that's left. And, it's easy to scream because there are no consequences to screaming when no one is willing to talk.

May our calls for compassion be compassionate not angry. Gandhi and King identified the redemptive power of unearned suffering. They gave their lives for their ideals. 

But today's issues do not seem to invite this heroic level of self-giving. I strongly suspect that our culture's fascination with superheroes is in direct proportion to our lack of them. Furthermore, I doubt there are any superheroes on the horizon line of our planet's destiny at this time.

Instead, we need to grow up and recognize reality as we find it. More nuanced tactics are needed for today's sophisticated issues of climate change; voting rights; prejudice on the basis of gender, race or religion; immigration policies; global trade; sustainable and healthy lifestyles; and more.

What's needed today is to learn the art of cooperation and compromise. Collective change is directional, not absolute. Imperfection is the nature of the outer world. Perfection exists only in the pure heart which "sees" God. All else is woven in the fabric of fleeting flux.

May we be both wise and compassionate.

Swami Hrimananda

Addendum: Having said "What's needed today" above, I have no illusions that it is likely to happen in this highly polarized environment of America and the world. Sadly, but seemingly inevitably, only a crisis of monumental proportions will motivate any given nation, or perhaps the planet, to unite in its response. Most people or nations change only when forced to by external circumstances. 

Addendum no 2: The silent movement establishing intentional communities, such as the Ananda communities worldwide, will someday set a pattern and an example of "how-to-live" in troubled times. There is no doubt that a planetary storm is brewing. Like weather-related storms, some will be devastated, others untouched, though they live side-by-side. Jesus said, "Two will be in the field; one will be taken; the other will remain." The law of karma (action and reaction) rules the universe. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ahimsa: What is Non-Violence? Is Killing ever Justified?

Ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence, as taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, is not an absolute standard of behavior, but a relative one. The absolute standard lies in the realm of intention and consciousness. In a world of relativities (aka "duality" or "dwaita") it is often impossible to apply a precept "absolutely."

Thus it is that India's most famous and beloved scripture, the Bhagavad Gita ("The Song Celestial), teaches that one must fulfill his duties to fight injustice and evil by taking up arms against his enemy. Now I am purposely misquoting that scripture because my interpretation is merely a literal one, for the scripture (a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna) takes place on a battlefield (a historical one, in fact) but the dialogue (and the teaching) is allegorical. Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous Autobiography of a Yogi), and many other respected teachers, concur that in human history and ethics there are times when self-defense and killing one's attackers, when necessary, is the lesser evil and the greater duty than the literal practice of non-violence.

In American culture these last thirty or forty years, the issue of abortion has pitted non-violence against freedom of individual choice. In the mainstream of traditional yoga, it is taught that the soul enters the embryo at time of conception. Hence abortion is traditionally frowned upon. Yet, the astrological chart for the newborn is cast at the time of the first breath, at birth. Add to that all the issues around the mother's or fetuses' health, cases of rape or incest and on and on, and well, you have a very challenging issue on your hands. I am not here to propose a resolution to this social debate. Yoga stands for the principle of individual choice and accountability in the pursuit of an individual soul's many lifetimes of evolution up and down the ladder and spiral staircase of consciousness. The discussion goes beyond my topic today and, even if it did, would do little, if anything, to contribute to the social debate.

A student in one of our classes raised the issue of the killing of a doctor in an abortion clinic. Was the murder of this abortion doctor an example of the lesser "sin" of killing in self-defense (of the unborn children)? Talk about a chicken and the egg intellectual bull fight!

For starters, intuition is the only means by which we can discover the truth of something like this. For another, intuition occurs only through an individual (and yes, perhaps through many individuals). Can two people intuitively arrive at opposite results? In theory, no; in practice, yes. In theory, intuition is unitive but in practice our individual karma and dharma is directional. We only get the guidance from our higher, intuitive self that pertains to us. "Take steps northward" (if you are south of the equator and wanting to go there); "Take steps southward" (if you are north of the equator and wanting to go there).

In society, the murder of the abortion doctor is, simply, that: murder, and a crime punishable by imprisonment. That speaks for itself but while very important, it is not the final statement as to an individual act. 

In the language of yoga, we speak of karma and reincarnation as two sides of the same coin of right action. In a worldview that sees the soul's evolution as extending in time beyond anything we can easily relate to, right action can be extremely subtle. "Karma: represents seeds of past actions which, on the basis of actions taken in egoic self-affirmation, wait, hidden, for their final resolution in the forms of their natural and appropriate opposite responses. If I kill someone, I plant the seed for being killed in return (whether by that soul or another). "Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword." Yet many killers, Joseph Stalin, e.g., die peacefully in their beds. The Bible cautions us not to imagine that one does "not sow what one reaps." This is why many lifetimes are needed. For our actions, which include our thoughts, run into the billions even in one lifetime! (Let's not go there right now, ok?)

The abortion doctor who was murdered presumably, however cruel or clinical the conclusion might seem to others (like to his wife or children), earned that sentence by his actions, not least of which could possibly be the work of performing abortions. We simply cannot "see" the threads of karma and those threads might not have anything to do with his performing abortions. That conclusion is possibly too "pat" and too obvious. The karmic thread may even lie between the doctor and his murderer: meaning, "it's personal."

Such karma may account for the fact of the doctor's murder but what does that fact mean to his killer and the killer's karma? Indeed, it may be the doctor's karma to be killed, but the one through whom, as an instrument of karmic repayment, that repayment is delivered may incur the burden of his own karmic debt for having taken a life! The killer presumably was a fanatical opponent of abortion and we probably do not know wherein lay the seeds of such intensity but it would not be difficult to speculate if one takes the perspective of many lives. Does that "justify" the killing? No, but it might "explain" it. That's all. 

How then do we ever extricate ourselves from the entanglements of karma? Well, that's a big subject. But a few words are necessary here. The one centripetal fact of karma is not so much the act but the intention, or, put another way: the ego. An act which is done without regard to self-interest and which is not an affirmation of the ego principle, but is performed dutifully and in harmony with one's true and higher Self, does not incur a karmic debt or plant a karmic seed. Such acts, however, might, indeed, neutralize or cauterize seeds of past karma, however. Hence the value of such actions in the process of purification and repayment of karmic debts as the soul rises towards ego transcendence. Thus "good works" are useful. But good works performed with the expectation of reward, including recognition, still revolve, at least to some degree, around the ego principle. Nonetheless, it is better to do something good for the wrong reason than not to do good out of fear of incurring more karma. Karmic release is always directional, never absolute. The teaching of karma is such that it recognizes that over many lives we have the karmic burden of "sin" (ego-encased ignorance, in fact) that must be repaid by right action and by the uplifting and redeeming power of grace.

Is it possible to imagine a religious fanatic who kills others (and himself) as making a forward direction towards karmic release? In theory, yes, though the act be condemned in all other respects. Perhaps in a prior life, this terrorist killed others for sport or for money or for revenge. In this lifetime, this karmically inclined murderer kills others and sacrifices his own life for a higher reward or in the name of a higher cause. However ignorant and evil-seeming that intention may be to us, it is at least theoretically possible that it is a step forward for that soul. Could such an act be recompense for cowardliness in past lives? All of these things are theoretically possible but such a person is obviously incurring even more karmic debt by hurting others. 

No wise counselor would suggest such actions. There are other, better, and purer forms of karmic release than killing more people! Nonetheless, the world of human actions is just as subject to the law of cause and effect as are the laws of nature. The difference is that reason and intuition, whether coming from within, or arising from the influence and counsel of others, can accelerate the soul's progress faster than the bullock cart of fulfilling every desire and paying every debt on their own terms and on their own level. We can "outwit the stars" of our karmic debt by other means.

This latter statement is the "promise of immortality" and grace offered, with whatever terminology or spiritual precepts and through whatever means of "being saved," that all great religions and their greatest teachers aver. In part, this power of redemption lies in the existential reality that our soul is eternal, changeless and ever untouched (as God "himself" is) by our ignorant and even evil actions. This doesn't mean we are free to murder and create mayhem but it does offer a back door, so to speak, to win karmic release without cracking rocks day after day in the prison of past karma. We are trapped in the ego and if the ego turns to find the back door for itself, it has already condemned itself. 

Thus in the story of Moses who led his "people" from bondage, he could not enter the promised land. For while the ego may awaken to the desire to win karmic release, the ego, itself, cannot "go there." The ego, like Bhishma in the Mahabharata, must surrender himself to the soul (to God) by self-offering. Hence too the symbol of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. There is no real destruction or sacrifice of the ego, but the ego doesn't and cannot know this. That takes faith and intuition: only the soul knows that the ego has no intrinsic, existential reality.

In God, we are free and nothing about us is ever lost. Our release is not destructive to our self-awareness. It is blissful release.

As humans, as egos, we cannot but decry the murder of that abortion doctor even if we, ourselves, do not, perhaps, counsel abortion as a day-to-day means of contraception or family planning. Each act is an individual choice and each act brings to itself its natural and metaphysical consequences. In this we have the opportunity to gain compassion for all beings and wisdom to guide our own actions. It is through the power of grace, which is the divine and latent power within us and which is awakened and transmitted to us soul-to-soul from those who have achieved it, that we can win our freedom from the prison of karma.

Bless all who have done wrong, including any of may have hurt you, that their own actions awaken within them the desire to be free and that you be shown how to be an instrument of that awakening to others. Live in the thought and consciousness of freedom and you will attract the power and light of freedom into your mind, heart and soul.

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman