Monday, August 6, 2012
Spiritual Activism by Christopher Buck
While the term Spiritual Activism is relatively new, it is not a new concept. Plato wrote about the concept in The Republic, “These are the Torch-Bearers of Humanity, its Poets, Seers, and Saints, who lead and lift the race out of darkness, towards the Light. They are the lawgivers and the Saviors, the Light-Bringers, Way-Showers and Truth-Tellers, and without them, Humanity would lose its way in the Dark.” The Ancient Greeks thought that the life of the soul overlapped the life of action in the world like two life journeys separate but connected. It was this connection that brought divine inspiration to an individual and awareness of this connection that prompted an individual to practice “right action.” Buddhist traditions refer to this awareness as “right livelihood” or “mindful living”: where your actions not only make a contribution to the world, but also to your own personal spiritual growth.
This awareness of the place inside each of us where the soul connects with our physical existence also results in the awareness of this connection in others. The corollary to the phrase, “the Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you”, is “the Humanity in me recognizes the Humanity in you.” We see the basic need in others that we have ourselves: to live outside of fear, whether that is fear of pain, fear of dying, or fear of suffering. This understanding of being the same within is what engenders Compassion. It is Compassion that is the wellspring of Spiritual Activism.
Spiritual Activism does not belong to any religion or spiritual practice, nor does the term belong exclusively to any group or organization. It is ultimately a way of living, a way of including mindfulness and compassion in everyday acts and expanding these out to include your environment and the people within it. Spiritual Activism is Compassionate Action. It is the layering of outwardly directed action with inwardly directed spiritual practices. It is compassionate pursuit of service for the good of all with the understanding that helping another heals oneself. It is a concept that moves beyond determinism or materialistic points of view. Spiritual Activism is different from missionary work or action because it is not directed from religious dogma. It comes from a realization of the interconnectiveness of all beings and the acknowledgement of one’s responsibility to the Whole. Once one has become aware of the implications of one’s choices, one becomes obligated to assess each choice in regard to its impact on the Whole.
Somewhere along the way, the concept of Spiritual Activism in Western civilization was split into separate practices. Modern Activism is often confrontational and is based on intellectual principles or political ideology. There is a need to “change” a situation, but the “change” is often in the form of a redistribution of power over an issue. There are many examples of violent clashes on social and environmental issues, caused by each side believing they are fully correct and that the other side is entirely wrong. They then try to force their viewpoint on one another. Positive change of a situation is more likely to be successful if the parties start with common ground and work out rather than start with the differences and work in. Modern Spirituality, especially with many New Age philosophies, is often seen as strictly a path of personal growth. Individuals believe that they need to withdraw from their connection to others in order to work on their own “personal enlightenment.” The desires of the Self take precedent over the needs of others. Unfortunately, this is a trap. The selfish mindset of “me first” ultimately will send the seeker off on a tangent away from becoming self-realized and lead to unfullfillment and disillusionment in their spiritual quest. One cannot sever the connection to others without ultimately creating a deep sense of loss. Buddha taught that the path of self-realization ultimately was an understanding of your connection to “All That Is.”