The news is one of the most potent and toxic drugs known to man and it’s available on tap, twenty-four hours a day.
I find that just thirty seconds of it is enough to send me on a seriously bad trip. I end up in a state of lamentation at the apparently woeful state of the world. Most of our problems clearly stem from widespread and pervasive human dysfunction and all its symptoms, from the dubious activities of governments abroad and at home to the machinations of the monstrous corporate machine and our ongoing decimation of the natural world. Once you get onto this particular train of thought it’s very difficult to get off it again…and it almost always ends in a crash.
But get off the train we must. As long as we’re wrapped up in the problems, we’re part of the problem. I strongly feel that whatever the problem, transcendence is the answer. We can only help the world by shifting our perspective from appearance to reality, from symptom to cause and from problem to solution. Only by inviting, adopting and embodying a different level of consciousness or awareness can we be of any use to the world whatsoever. Only then do we stop being part of the problem.
This topic is really based around a quotation by the great Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian sage who had truly a wonderful way of cutting through the crap and getting to the essential truth of life. The question has to do with our “preoccupation with the disastrous condition of the world and the urgent need of setting it right.”
Nisargadatta had this to say:
“Striving for the improvement of the world is a most praiseworthy occupation. Done selflessly, it clarifies the mind and purifies the heart. But soon man will realise he pursues a mirage. Local and temporary improvement is always possible and was achieved again and again under the influence of a great king or teacher; but it would soon come to an end, leaving humanity in a new cycle of misery. It is the nature of all manifestation that the good and the bad follow each other in equal measure. The true refuge is only in the unmanifested. […]
“The only way to renewal lies through destruction. You must melt down the old jewellery into formless gold before you can mould a new piece. Only people who have gone beyond the world can change the world. It never happened otherwise. The few whose impact was lasting were all knowers of reality. Reach their level and then only talk of helping the world.”
When we get lost in the woes of the world and enraged by the inhumanity of man, we simply end up causing more suffering. In another statement Nisargadatta stated even more plainly: “The world doesn’t need to be saved by you. It needs to be saved from you.”
Einstein once observed that it’s impossible to solve a problem using the same level of consciousness that created it. When I get upset and frustrated by the state of the world — which is ultimately just a representation in my consciousness — I’m giving absolute importance and reality to something which only has relative importance and at the deepest level, little in the way of ‘reality’ (that which is ultimately ‘Real’ is determined in vedanta as being that which is unchanging; ie, awareness. The changeful has only apparent reality. That’s a whole other topic though). When I get caught up in the content of the dream, I tend to forget that it’s a dream. This is not to debate or diminish the fact that there’s a great deal of suffering in the world, because unquestionably there is.
Some sages are content to simply sit back and allow the world to go by, feeling no need to intervene or change it in any way. Such a laissez-faire attitude to the suffering of the world may seem unconscionable to some. I can understand it, although I don’t think I could quite be like that. When I see someone suffer, I feel deeply compelled to help. When a cause feels important to me, I act on it. I sign petitions, raise awareness and when I can make charitable donations. Just because it feels right to me on some level.
Yet I now realise that I must also simultaneously remain grounded in the deeper Reality. The deeper Reality has a transcendent quality: pain and suffering tend to melt away when I remain connected with that inner expansiveness that exists beyond thought and conditioning. An inner attitude of acceptance and transcendence overcomes resistance, enabling solutions to come more easily and generally making situations flow more easily. By retaining conscious awareness of what is Real and what is simply dreamstuff, we access a power far greater than the anguished fretting of the ego-mind.
Whenever we’re having a bad dream we have two options: we can try to change the dream, or we can wake up. Both options require a degree of lucidity and the realisation that what we are experiencing is a dream. We can actively work to change the dream and make it more pleasant, or we can sit back and just allow it to unfold with an attitude of curiosity, knowing that it is finite and will end in due course.
I’d imagine that most people would probably opt to improve the dream in some way. Again, this necessitates the awareness that you are the dreamer. You can’t change the dream from within the dream until you recognise that it is just a dream. Until you reach that point, you’re simply too immersed in it: you’re unconscious in every sense of the world. Your actions within the dream are scripted. To awaken in life is to awaken within the dream, to realise what’s going on and to make your choice — consciously change the dream to something better, or else sit back and enjoy the ride regardless of what happens.
It would seem that our very belief that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with the world highlights a deeply dualistic mode of thinking. Only the mind can create ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. If there’s only one underlying reality, one infinite expanse of awareness/consciousness/being, then everything is part of a deeper unified perfection. Beyond the prison of dualistic thinking, either “God” is everything or nothing at all. When we judge any aspect of reality as being ‘wrong’, then we’re waging war with the universe in its infinite perfection. We’re waging war with God. (I tend to balk every time I hear or use that word, but it sounded appropriate in this context)
Again, it doesn’t mean we have to sit back and do nothing when someone needs help. We can take whatever action we feel to be right. But at the same time we realise that, on some deeper level, everything, EVERYTHING that is happening and has ever happened is born of a deeper underlying order and perfection. We can’t strip reality into component parts labelled ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Well, in fact we can and often do — but that’s a large part of the problem.
Accepting the unacceptable, trying to refrain from judging the seemingly terrible (while perhaps taking whatever action we feel to be right), contributes to greater coherence, greater peace and greater unity in the world. It’s called turiya – a new level of consciousness, still relatively uncommon in the world. And it may be the greatest healer of all.
Ultimately, I don’t believe we’re of much use to the world until we become, as Nisargadatta put, “knowers of reality.”