International Transpersonal Conference
23 Jun 2010
Inaugural Address by
Dr Karan Singh, India
SPIRITUALITY IN THE GLOBAL SOCIETY
First ITA President Stan Grof,
Current ITA President Harris Freidman,
Members of the International Transpersonal Society,
delegates to this significant Conference from around the world, representatives of the Press and electronic media.
Namaste, Zdrastvuite, Good Afternoon
We live in an age of tremendous turmoil and transition with the old collapsing and the new struggling to be born, and we find ourselves precariously poised between a disappearing past and an indeterminate future. The advances of science and technology have been truly extra-ordinary including breaking of the space barrier by Yuri Gagarin, Space Travel, instant communications, and unravelling, the human genome, the large Hadron Collider, the Internet and the world-wide web, which have transformed the texture of our lives in our very lifetimes. The inexorable pace of change appears to accelerate as we hurtle into the global society astride the irreversible arrow of time, and the crisis faced by humanity is also deepening.
The 20th century saw the end of Colonialism, Fascism, Marxism-Leninism and also heralded the collapse of unrestricted Capitalism, and Globalization has emerged as the new watchword. But while globalization has certainly brought tremendous benefits in many fields including trade, commerce, tourism and international cultural exchanges, it also has its darker side. Pandemics, the abominable practice of human trafficking, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and terrorism have assumed global dimensions. Clearly, if humanity is to survive in a global society that is sane, secure and sustainable, the present hyper-consumerist, ultra-promiscuous and super-materialistic lifestyle will have to yield way to a more holistic paradigm in which spirituality plays a pivotal role. I would like here to refer to the Earth Charter which was released in 2000 a.d. It is, to my mind, the most comprehensive articulation of ecological, social, interfaith and life-affirming values ever attempted, and I would urge that it should be revisited at the website
Our present societal milieu impels us to reflect deeply on how the entire concept of spirituality needs to be rearticulated in the light of the paradigms of the emerging global society. In this exercise, the first point is the relationship between spirituality and the world’s great religions. Until recently both were considered to be closely inter-connected, one flowing from the other, but of late there is a growing view that religion, in fact, can sometimes have negative and exclusivist connotations, whereas spirituality transcends barriers of race and religion, sex and sexual preference, language and nationality, and is, therefore, best suited for the emerging global society. In my view what we need is not a wholesale rejection of religion but a reassertion of certain universal precepts that will enable us to cope with the challenges and hazards of globalization. Many of them are to be found in humanity’s great religious traditions, but they need to be rediscovered, renewed and reaffirmed in the contemporary context - spirituality – vertical; religiously – horizontal. I will attempt to do so from the viewpoint of the world’s most ancient continuing religion, Hinduism, and from India, the mother of spirituality.
The first such precept, and perhaps the most fundamental, is to accept that there are multiple paths to the divine. As the Rig Veda says "Ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanti" – "the Truth is one; the wise call it by many names". It is prima facie the height of hubris to claim that any one religion alone holds the monopoly of Truth. Had this been the divine will, we would not have had more than a dozen major religions with hundreds of sects flourishing on the planet. Who are we, denizens of a tiny speck of dust in the infinite universe around us, to claim that the divine can appear only in this form, in this place and at this time? Steven Hawking, probably the greatest living scientist, has said that there are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the universe each containing tens of millions of stars with their own planetary systems. If that be so, then how can we know in what form and in what circumstances the illimitable divine has manifested itself elsewhere in the universe, and what levels of consciousness may have developed on other worlds.
In the Hindu tradition the universe itself is conceptualised as a manifestation of the divine, and Shiva Nataraja as the supreme creator whose eternal cosmic dance to celestial rhythms brings billions of galaxies into being, whose hands hold the promise of individual salvation, and in whose conflagration ultimately all manifestation perishes in the endless cycles of Time. Be that as it may, my point is that it is unacceptable for any one religion to claim a monopoly of Truth. I may proclaim that my religion is best, but that gives me no right to do violence to other religions, far less to attack and kill fellow human beings in the name of religion. The irony is that each religion considers its version of the divine to be benevolent and compassionate. I worship Lord Shiva, who is defined as Karunavataram, the embodiment of compassion; Muslims begin their prayer with – Bismillahir Rahman ir Rahim – Lord, the merciful, the beneficent. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, mounted the Cross to atone for the sins of humanity; but despite these beliefs, the history of mankind from its very dawn has been scarred with inter-religious conflicts that to this day cause distress and devastation around the world. Let us be clear, until there is harmony and understanding between religions there will never be peace on earth.
The Interfaith movement, with which I have been closely involved for several decades, has been working towards bringing about this harmony. Beginning in 1893 with the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago and coming down to the fifth Parliament in Melbourne last year, there has been over a century of Interfaith activity around the world. I recall that here in Moscow we gathered in 1990 to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the advent of Christianity in this country, and there was an impressive Interfaith gathering in the Kremlin which was attended, among others, by Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite all these meetings, however, the Interfaith movement seems to remain peripheral to human consciousness and this needs deep thought and effective action from a gathering such as this. If we are to usher in a new spirituality, its underpinning has to be the acceptance of the profound percept of multiple paths to the divine. We must also acknowledge that there may be millions who do not profess any religious belief at all or at least rebel against any denominational or exclusivist doctrine.
The second precept, which is particularly appropriate in the global society, is that of the world as a family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – enunciated many thousands of years ago in India. It is only now with the astounding breakthroughs in science and technology that this has come within the realm of possibility. Instant communication has literally knit the world into a global community, and the Internet has opened the gateways to human interaction transcending all barriers of space and time. However, here again we are up against a major problem. The Westphalian concept of fully sovereign nation-states may have served a useful purpose in the evolution of human society over a period of time but now when we are striving to move forward towards a seamlessly knit global society this very concept seems to have become a hindrance. Even after the end of the cold war, there have been dozens of localized conflicts, which have cleaned millions of lives and made refugees of many more millions around the world.
In fact the nation-states are now being transcended by regional associations, notably the European Union and the ASEAN, and in such collectives the states, while retaining their individuality, have synergized their strengths and built upon their limitations to bring into being more cohesive and effective communities. In my view this is a positive path that opens new vistas with rich possibilities that nations need to seriously explore. Instead of two hundred or so nation states, we should move into a situation with about a dozen regional clusters, and those, in turn, could then develop into what has been eloquently described by the poet as "the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World". The United Nations as at present constituted is frozen in a time warp and has remained inflexible for more than six decades. As a result, with the Security Council’s permanent members representing well under half of the world’s population, it is incapable of articulating the aspirations of a large segment of people and reflecting the vastly changed political situation since 1945.
Let it also be remembered, the "world as a family" is not the same thing as the ‘world as a market’. The family is a supportive and humanising social entity, whereas the market is often manipulative and exploitative in nature. If we really aspire for a sustainable world order we will have to reorganize the global economy in a way that uplifts the one-third of the world’s population living below the poverty line to a way of life where they receive at least the minimum inputs necessary for a decent human existence. I have based my vision of new spirituality on these three precepts – the essential harmony of religions, the world as a family and the imperative of eradicating poverty because, in my view, without addressing these complex issues any discourse on spirituality becomes an empty exercise. One of our great savants, Swami Vivekananda, used to say that preaching spirituality to someone who is starving is insulting him, feed him first and then give him your religion.
Accepting the premise of the ‘world as a family’ also involves a radical shift in our attitude towards nurturing the planet. I had the privilege of being a member of the Indian delegation to the first UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. Since then there has been an exponential increase both in public awareness regarding the hazards of environmental pollution as also in the pollution itself particularly the carbon emissions, climate change and the rising of oceans. In the Hindu view, we look upon the human race as part of nature, by no means enjoying dominion of the right to exploit and destroy the natural environment. The 63 verses of the Hymn to the Earth in the Atharva Veda several thousand years ago have an extra-ordinary articulation of ecological values, and clearly portray the reverence in which the Earth was held in those times, and which we have now to rediscover. I will quote only five these verses:
"Earth, in which lie the sea, the river and other waters,
in which food and cornfields have come to be,
in which live all that breathes and that moves,
May she confer on us the finest of her yield.
Earth, in which the waters, common to all,
moving on all sides, flow unfailing, day and night,
may she pour on us milk in many streams,
and endow us with luster.
Pleasant be Thy hills, O Earth,
Thy snow-clad mountains and Thy woods!
on Earth – brown, black, ruddy and multi-coloured.
The firm Earth protected by Indra,
on this Earth I stand, unvanquished, unslain and unhurt.
May Earth with people who speak various tongues,
and those who have various religious rites
according to their places of abode,
pour for me treasure in a thousand streams
Like a constant cow that never fails.
Whatever I dig from the Earth,
may that have quick growth again.
O purifier, May we not injure Thy vitals or Thy heart."
It is Planet Earth, known as ‘Gaia’ in the Greek tradition and ‘Bhawani Vasundhara’ in the Hindu, that has nurtured consciousness up from the slime of the primeval ocean to where we are today. Will we convert it into a burnt out cinder circling the sun unto eternity, or will we develop the wisdom and compassion even at this late hour, to save it from destruction. Any talk of spirituality, clearly has to include a renewed reverence for the Earth, and the creatures that inhabit it, whether it is the highly endangered tigers in Asia, or the magnificent whales in the Pacific. In 1986 a meeting was held in the Great Cathedral of St Francis of Assisi in which representatives from various religions prepared ‘Declarations on Man and Nature’. I had the privilege of writing the Hindu Declaration. Reading those documents one is struck by the commonality of views between the various religions regarding Earth and the natural environment. Unfortunately, in our zeal for unplanned and reckless development we have inflicted serious damage upon the Earth in the last century, and unless there is a drastic reordering of our priorities this will continue to escalate in the years and decades ahead. The horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that will cause calamitous damage to human, ocean and plant life, is a dramatic example of how our obsessive search for oil has ended up grievously wounding the planet. This is far removed from the spirituality we seek in the global society.
We must now define what spirituality actually is. My definition would be that it is the attempt to access the deepest and highest power, whether we call it God, the Atman, the Buddha Nature or by any other name, and whether we consider it to be within our deeper selves or outside of us. This yearning for unity with the divine is the essential feature of spirituality. In a beautiful poem Francis Thompson has the following lines:
‘Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors
The angels keep there ancient places,
Turn but a stone and start a wing,
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.’
It is the quest for "the many-splendoured thing" that represents the essence of spirituality, what the Bible calls ‘the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’; what the Sufi’s call ‘the Noor-i-Ruhani’, what the Buddhists call ‘the Bodhi-Chitta’, what the Hindu seer means when he exclaims ‘I have seen that Great Being shining like a thousand suns beyond the darkness’. In every religious tradition there is this transcendent and luminous dimension of spirituality, the belief that each human being embodies a spark of the divine, and that fanning it into the shining fire of spiritual realization is the highest meaning and purpose of our lives.
In the Hindu tradition there are four major paths to bring about this union or ‘Yoga’, a word that comes from the same root as the English word ‘yoke’ and implies the ways of relating the divine within us with the all-pervasive divine without; God immanent with God transcendent, which inevitably involves altered levels of consciousness. These four great highways, of course, have hundreds of subsidiary paths and practices.
The first is what we call the Jnana Yoga or the way of Wisdom. This is based largely on the teachings of the Upanishads and, in the West, would be somewhat akin to the Platonic dialogues, the effort to cleanse and control the fluctuating mind so that it is able to discriminate between the eternal and the ephemeral. The second path is known as the Bhakti Yoga, the way of Devotion. While the Jnana Yoga does not necessarily need an anthropomorphic form, in the Bhakti Yoga, which involves an overwhelming emotional relationship with the divine, such a form is considered necessary, whether that is Jesus Christ, or Lord Shiva or a Bodhisattva or any other. In this category come great saints who have literally fallen in love with the divine. India has had numerous such saints and, in the West, there have been people like St Francis of Assisi, St Theresa of Avilla and St John of the Cross. In Islam there are the glorious compositions, the Masnavi, of Mewlana Jalal-ad-Din Rumi which he poured out in devotion to his spiritual guide, Shams-e-Tabrizi.
If the Jnana Yoga is the way of clarifying the mind and Bhakti Yoga the way of the heart, the third major path is called Karma Yoga, the way of dedicated works. It is a powerful means of spiritual growth as it involves dedication of whatever we do to our chosen form of the divine. Work done with this attitude of mind brings us closer to our goal of Yoga. This is the path of good works epitomized by Martha in the Bible, by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity, the Ramakrishna Mission and other institutions dedicated to serving the poor, the needy and those in pain. However, it must be remembered that in the Karma Yoga, these tasks must be undertaken in a spirit of devotion and dedication to the divine, and not only for ‘doing good’. The fourth path is the Raja Yoga, the royal path, and this involves the understanding of hidden powers within the human body that can be accessed through the process of Hatha Yoga, which includes various physical and breathing exercises that, in the West, are generally referred to as "Yoga". It is believed that we can attain higher levels of consciousness with this type of Yoga that brings us closer to the divine. The teachings of Hermes Trimajestus, Meister Eckhart and other great mystics are of great value in this context, as they point to the possibility of transformation of consciousness, as are the teachings of C.G. Jung leading finally to what Christians call the ‘beatific vision’, the Buddhists Nirvana and the Hindus atma-darshan.
I would like to dwell for a moment on Raja Yoga and its implications for the transmutation of consciousness. In the Hindu tradition it is believed that there is a spiritual energy called the Kundalini which resides coiled up like a serpent at the base of the spine. Under certain circumstance and special breathing and other exercises, this power can be aroused so that it moves up the spine, and as it does so it energises seven chakras or plexuses from the base of the spine right up to the brain. The awakening of these chakras involves attaining new levels of consciousness, until finally the power floods into the brain thereby leading the practitioner to the bliss of illumination. This whole process based upon Patanjali’s classical Yoga-sutras has been widely expanded in many significant texts down to the present day.
The basic premise here is the same as the Keynote of this Conference, which is the Consciousness Revolution. Practicing Kundalini Yoga of course involves certain essential preliminary disciplines without which the whole procedure is dangerous and could have negative reactions. In recent times, there have been several consciousness altering procedures including drugs. Those who have taken LSD report encountering the most astounding dimensions of consciousness which are far beyond our normal mind. It is, therefore, clear that consciousness is not a static concept, it varies from species to species, from person to person and within each individual from time to time.
The great evolutionary philosopher Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that there is no good reason to believe that evolution has concluded with the advent of normal human consciousness. He asserts that in the same way as life evolved from mineral, vegetable, animal into human dimensions, the evolutionary process is bound to continue into the future. Man, in this view, is an intermediate creature, somewhere between the animal and the divine, a ‘work in progress’ which needs careful attention. He holds that with the advent of Man, for the first time there is a species on earth which is conscious of itself, and therefore has the unique opportunity to cooperate with the forces of evolution and telescope what would otherwise take millions of years into a much shorter time span. He postulates many different levels of consciousness above the human, he speaks of the Overmind and then the Supermind, and his yoga revolves around an attempt to bring these forces down and fix them in the earth consciousness.
The core of the Transpersonal Psychology movement has revolved around consciousness research. It is a matter of great pleasure that my good friend Dr Stanislav Grof, who can justly be called the father of Transpersonal Psychology, is attending this conference along with his wife and collaborator Christina. Consciousness research, mapping the brain, studying the mind-body relationship, drawing upon rich material that comes to us in our dreams are all means that help us in reaching a deeper understanding of our spiritual quest and represent the cutting edge of science, philosophy and psychology. I have had the pleasure of attending several International Transpersonal Conferences – in Mumbai, Davos, Prague and Kyoto. In each one there was a lively and creative dialogue between practitioners as well as laity, between veterans like Stan and novices like me, between scholars and gurus from around the world.
It is indeed fitting that this Conference is being held in Russia after the collapse of the restrictive and atheistic regime that ruled it for seventy years. Let me take you back half a century. In 1961 my wife, who regretfully passed away just a year ago, and I visited the then Soviet Union as guests of Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the course of a small dinner he gave for us in the Kremlin I asked him whether it was possible to be a believer and also a member of the CPSU. He replied in the negative. He said that while they respected religious beliefs, to be a member of the CPSU it was necessary to be an atheist, as that was a cardinal principle of Marxism-Leninism. It is indeed amazing that, despite three generations under an atheistic regime, when Russia celebrated the thousandth anniversary of Christianity there was a remarkable outpouring of religious fervour.
Another example of this phenomenon was Mongolia. The Marxist regime there broke the Buddhist temples, burnt the scriptures, killed and tortured their monks. Yet as soon as that regime was overthrown there was an incredible craving for Buddhism. The Indian Ambassador to Mongolia was Kushok Bakula, the venerated Head Lama of Ladakh. He almost single-handedly re-established Buddhism there. I was witness to this when I visited Ulan Bator to inaugurate a school for Buddhist priests that he had established. These examples show how deep-rooted the religious impulse is. However, there is a real danger of the pendulum swinging too far towards the other side, towards fanaticism, fundamentalism and violence. What we need, therefore, and what spirituality can provide, is an approach that incorporates the best of our religious traditions without falling into the trap of dogmatism and exclusivist posturing.
Mahatma Gandhi who was deeply influenced, among others, by the great author Leo Tolstoy, preached throughout his life the path of non-violence, love and compassion. When followed to their logical conclusion, these clearly represent a transformation of consciousness. Gandhiji’s thought not only enthused millions of people in India in their struggle for freedom, but also had worldwide ramifications as with Nelson Mandela in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr with the civil rights movement in the United States. Gandhi’s famous saying "an eye for an eye will make everyone blind", and "there is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for anyone’s greed", have profound implications for the global society which is emerging before our very eyes. Representing practical spirituality at its best, Gandhi remains an iconic figure for lovers of peace around the world. In this hour of crisis, humanity would be well advised to take heed of the wisdom represented by a frail man in a loin cloth whose conviction and faith shook the world, and who finally fell to an assassin’s bullet.
International terrorism in the name of religion is one of the most tragic developments of recent times. Whatever may be the provocations and historic grievances, of which there are many, recourse to violence targeting innocent men, women and children, as in terrorist attacks around the world from 9/11 in New York to 26/11 in Mumbai, are totally unacceptable and have been condemned widely by religious leaders. One of the main challenges that the new spirituality will have to face boldly is the growing nexus between criminal elements around the world, including those based upon religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. These represent the antithesis of spirituality, the ‘shadow’ as Jung would have it, which is being thrown by the glitter and glory of our technological civilization. The integration of the shadow is one of the most important challenges in post-Jungian psychology, and this is a matter upon which a gathering like this will have to ponder seriously.
Transpersonal Psychology provides an excellent methodology for steering our minds through the Scylla of nihilism and the Charybdis of fanaticism. It calls upon us to shed our prejudices and open ourselves to higher aspirations and powers. It is my sincere hope that this significant Conference which has brought together so many distinguished psychologists, scientists and scholars from around the world, will provide a fresh impetus to the Transpersonal Psychology movement and at the same time help in bridging religious and cultural differences between the great civilizations of the human race. Humanity has to break out of the dark valleys of conflicts in the name of religion and strive towards the sun-lit uplands of a new spirituality, a new paradigm of mutual understanding, wisdom and compassion that will help us to build a refulgent global society.
I am profoundly impressed by the breadth and depth of the problem that our Russian hosts have meticulously organized for us here. It is a veritable feast of intellectual, psychological and spiritual thought, in which outstanding thinkers and practitioners from around the world will surely produce a unique synergy for which I must warmly congratulate Vladimir Maykov and his team who have laboured for months to create this great event. I consider it a privilege to have been asked to inaugurate this important gathering, and I do so with an ancient Sanskrit verse that exhorts us to work together, to think together, to achieve together and to eliminate every shred of hatred that may exist between us:
"Sahanawavatu sahanau bhunaktu sahaviryam karawavahai, tejaswina vadhitamastu ma vidvishawahai. Aum Shantih Shantih Shantih".