Spirituality, Philosophy, Religion
by Paul Naras
Nine out of ten people believe in a Higher Power (though their particular portraiture of the Godhead may vary dramatically). And those who have rejected orthodox religion or who choose not to believe in Providence don't spend their day abusing children or kicking the dog. 'Spirituality' can be defined very loosely philosophically speaking and so let us construe it in this light. Even if we overly magnify and celebrate the physical and human desire there are those times of exultation and enchantment when we drop everything, look around us, and discern a divine spark in every person, every tree and every grain of sand under our feet. There is an affinity with the strawberry that is being slowly savored in our mouth and the kitten comfortably nestled in our lap and the lush grass we happen to be sitting on and the rays of the sun that are stroking the entire earth. There is only harmony.
Two reasonable human beings can examine an issue and disagree. And spirituality is also subjective. There are any number of ways to delineate a sunrise, feelings of love, or the sensation one gets after doing something nice for someone else - because it is all a matter of individual perception. That sense of the Eternal, of a Higher Self, of transcendence that many people experience has been debated over the centuries but elucidating the concept of 'soul' has proved to be not only problematic but divisive.
Were human beings just a lucky accident? Is there a purpose to life? Is character just an outer corporeal manifestation of Spirit? These questions and many others have been tackled by philosophy, religion and metaphysics with varying degrees of success.
Hermann Hesse said that there is "no absolute perfect dogma and one should not long for it. You should long for the perfection of yourself. Truth is lived, not taught".
Divine Essence is beyond terminology and above conformation. A few select souls have been accorded a peek at the Absolute but the actual nature of the Infinite will remain (to finite minds) forever unapprehensible. It seems that the spirituality that is most righteous and proper for you and I is the spirituality which affords each of us the most integrated and systematic comprehension of Eternal Being.
H.S. Lewis wrote that present day Christianity was no longer a "divinely inspired religion ... but a man-made system of pagan and modern views fabricated to conceal rather than reveal the mystical jewels of the pristine teachings of the Christ".
Discussing religion is a Herculean task because any disputation between individuals operating on diverse planes of understanding and consciousness (emotional, intellectual and spiritual) typically comes to naught. But let's muse on the paths we have taken. Spirituality is inherent in every culture and religion but for our purposes we will concentrate on Christianity - since it is the most influential faith on our continent at this point in time.
If we examine the groundswell of sectarian fundamentalism in the world today (whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic) and assay its leadership we can readily comprehend why organized religion is in its current polarized state. Many of these men (and they are mostly men) come across as megalomaniacal autocrats instead of the messengers of God which they claim to be. They are blessed with a rather primitive and unembellished understanding of spirituality while at the same time they are nourished by quite elaborate ambitions. In fact if there is any spirituality at all in their declarations of faith it remains smothered and manacled by orthodox formalism and credenda.
Perhaps the pews of Christian fundamentalism are still fairly crowded because the demands are so few. One must simply have faith. One must simply believe. The Bible (at least their interpretation of it) is their terrestrial unerring blue-ribbon jury and Chief Justice rolled into one. There is a quote in the Scriptures for each and every point at issue. If you're 'born again' you'll go to heaven and if you're not may You-Know-Who have mercy on your you-know-what.
Considering the tumultuous times in which we are living one would think that the clerical order would be in the forefront of attempting to demonstrate what each human being has in common with his/her neighbor rather than with what separates them or makes them different from one another. Instead Christianity is divided into hundreds of branches, each trying to build their own little kingdom, erecting fences instead of tearing them down, bickering over inconsequential articles of faith and dogma, and mouthing clichΘs about peace, hunger and social justice instead of rolling up their sleeves and leading by example.
A finite mind will never ever be able to completely grasp the Infinite yet organized religion has audaciously waded into this theological morass by assigning God form and by endeavoring to outline to us how God thinks, feels and acts. The Absolute is not so much a personal realization as It is someone's paragon served up on a golden platter. And so what it comes down to is this - You accept our image of God (and subsequently Christ) and you can play with us. If not, pick up your toys and go find yourself another sandbox.
The Good Book
Discussing the Bible is a little like debating abortion or capital punishment. You're not going to change many minds because 99% of the body politic are already solidly entrenched on one side of the fence or the other. However ...
Even a superficial study of the Bible and history in general will reveal that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contradict each other in a number of places, that certain books (from the original Scriptures) were suppressed, that particular events mentioned in the Old and New Testaments did not take place. The Bible was used to vindicate that the earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around it (and it took Rome only 350 years to admit that perhaps Galileo wasn't totally out to lunch). We could go on - but there is a more relevant issue.
Imagine two people. One is a moderate conservative, runs a corporation, is very pragmatic, exact, unemotional and self-disciplined. The other is left of center, a university poetry professor, creative, spontaneous and fairly broad-minded. What these two people have in common is that neither has ever read the Bible and both are proficient in Aramaic. If both individuals were given the task of going to the ancient texts and translating them into English does anyone think that the two of them would have exactly the same spin on every chapter and verse?
Quoting the Book of Books is a mug's game. Everyone's right. No one is wrong. Have a Southern Baptist and a mystical pantheist interpret Christ's phrase "I am the Way". Which rendition would ring true for you? Is hell a literal place or was the ancient representation of fire misinterpreted (a figurative purging or ridding oneself of undesirable traits - as fire was an agent for vibratory change and transmutation)? Is Satan a symbol or an actual entity leaning over your shoulder and urging you to steal, lust and kill? And isn't it convenient to have someone to blame and partially absolve us of our own moral accountability?
What New Consciousness is saying to Christians (and fundamentalists in particular) is - You do not have sole proprietorship over the teachings of any Avatar. You are entitled to your interpretation and we do not judge you. Please extend us the same courtesy.
The typical televangelist, however, cannot afford to be so complaisant and receptive. He is residing in a fear-based paradigm. He not only sees the New Age as another dark occult movement storming the city gates but he can't even bring himself to trust other Christian denominations. He remains confined by the shackles of apocalyptic hysteria because he thinks Revelations was compiled 2000 years ago expressly for 21st century man. He wanders aimlessly back and forth across the line that separates myth from actuality and holds fast to antiquated musty creeds because he doesn't realize that reforming them is not synonymous with obliterating them.
The Devil Made Him Do It
A famous writer has said that eventually people will abandon orthodox religion and run back to God. A significant percentage of people who do walk away from religion do so during those rebellious first three decades of their lives and their rationale oftentimes revolves around the question of evil (How could a just God stand by and allow the depravity around us to continue; to let all those innocent children starve, be abused and so on?).
Since war, torture, rape and poverty are man-made it would probably be more accurate to query the apparent malignities that reside in the hearts of countless human beings. Philosophers have debated good and evil throughout the centuries and the New Age does not necessarily have any fresh perspectives to offer.
What we should have learned by now is that it is pointless to quibble over whether or not the Creator is responsible for evil, cancer, anguish, iniquity and hemorrhoids. All are prevalent and it might be more sensible to address the raison d'etre of their presence in our world.
Is not the Devil just a projection of the human mind/spirit? Is not life as 'good' or as 'evil' as we personally perceive it? Goodness does not reside in flowers, in sunsets, in things. It takes root in our consciousness. No condition or event is intrinsically good or bad. It wasn't that long ago that Pharaohs slept with their daughters, children had their hands severed for stealing, and women were stoned to death for adultery and burned and hung for witchcraft. These events were quite commonplace and were not regarded as evil.
"Good" and "Bad" are not absolutes but human judgments which we attach to certain people or activities - and the moral yardstick can very conceivably change from decade to decade, century to century. Are there really evil people - or just human beings who have not as yet evolved (awakened) to our particular level of "knowing"?
"What do you mean there are no absolutes", you ask, "Isn't murder always wrong?" Well apparently our society does not think so. A handful of powerful men can order tens of thousands of their citizens to go overseas to ravage and obliterate in the name of 'national security' and these soldiers are welcomed back with parades and medals. A criminal is put to death in the electric chair and 80% of the population rises and screams - Right on! We labor and play in the arena of situational ethics. Good and evil are forged in the human psyche.
BEING is inherently good. The various happenstances (good or bad) of our lives are all occasions whereby our emotional, intellectual and spiritual mettle can be refined. Everything which we label as negative or bad can be transformed, can be made to resound in harmony with the Whole, for 'evil' is simply a lower vibration on the acoustic scale - of what we envisage as Absolute Good.
A Second Helping
As we approached the millennium remember how the fundamentalist / televangelist talking heads on our TV screens became even more rabid in their denunciations of the wickedness and impiety encasing our planet and even more impassioned about the inevitability of Armageddon and the Second Coming?
As far as Armageddon is concerned, it certainly may be unavoidable if people all over the world continue to extol and glorify violence, hatred and sectarian propaganda. If we infuse something with energy it breeds and multiplies. Warfare / persecution as a means to an end may be on life support but the patient is still breathing vigorously. However, if enough of us decided we wanted to pull the plug, well ...
References to anointed saviors and Messiahs stretch back to ancient Egypt and beyond. It has been an all too human trait to pin one's hopes on an Almighty Deliverer who would rescue us from tyranny, from misfortune - and from our 'sins'.
The wisdom bequeathed us by countless thinkers and Masters could fill hundreds of libraries. It has become quite obvious that, over the centuries, the guidance and truth proffered by these sages has not 'saved' the world (whatever that means) nor even has it made an impression on the indifferent and primitive temperaments of millions of human beings.
It's not surprising that our society is suffused with individuals who are presently feeling demoralized and powerless to right the wrongs that they see all around them. Sometimes it seems as if only Providence can still that earthly ill wind. But as we proceed into that New Age if there's one lesson we must master it is that of drawing the curtain on the false assumption of a messiah liberating us from the handiwork of our own narrow-mindedness, our own negligence and our own stupidity. We don't need an improved Sermon on the Mount or an updated Golden Rule so much as the resolve to take full responsibility for our actions and to realize that peace and fellowship are our moral obligations.
The task that faces us is a daunting one - made more formidable by the army of souls around us who believe that little or no effort is required of them, that others will repair the fissures in the dam, and that 'salvation' is readily achievable by means of tidy deathbed contritions.
The solutions to our personal and planetary predicaments are available to us from the most worldly-wise authorities we'll ever want to encounter: the master key of global good will and cooperation - and the Master Within. If there is a Second Coming it will not involve a world of people hovering around their TV sets watching a 60 MINUTES exclusive - The Return of the King of Kings. It will encompass the rebirth of 'Christ Consciousness' in the awakened hearts and minds of millions of our fellow brothers and sisters.
One of the buzzwords of the last few decades has been "family values". Preachers trot out this topic on a late Saturday evening when they're contemplating subject matter for next morning's sermon and they can't think of anything original to evangelize about. Politicians fall back on this motif when they need a few extra votes to put them over the top.
The New Age is all about morality but the seeker of truth will cautiously challenge the pulpiteer and the legislator by querying - Whose family? Whose values?
It wasn't that long ago that African-Americans were not permitted to attend the same churches as their white Christian brethren. This was then supported by traditional values. Women have been treated like chattel by almost every culture for thousands of years. I guess family values don't apply here either. People who pontificate about values could probably be taken a bit more seriously if they didn't dovetail their theses on morality with subsequent trashings of particular individuals or groups - whether the gay constituency, single mothers, welfare bums or those self-righteous ungodly liberals!
There are quite a few people today who believe that having sex before marriage is a 'sin', that it is immoral. A larger percentage of individuals do not share this conviction. Which group is right? And why?
Regardless of what your cleric may say, moral prescripts are not based on Providential decree, the ten commandments notwithstanding (and besides, when has God ever commented on premarital sex?). There is no fixed code that succinctly defines every ethical eventuality. An individual's sense of propriety depends not only on traditional values that have been passed down but also, and more importantly, on that innate apperception of virtue that becomes more cultivated and refined the more conscious one becomes of one's divine Oneness.
No society will endure if it is constructed on a foundation of hypocrisy and empty values. If we want to pass on moral principles to our children why don't we start with a few basics:
- love and respect for every human being and especially for the planet which we all inhabit.
- tolerance for the other's point of view.
- and here's something which may seem a bit radical: Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Just because certain people are turned off by orthodox religion does not in any way invalidate them or the organized spirituality they are abandoning. Conventional churches still have a few things to teach us and they are the traditional launching pads from which most of us rocket into our own personal orbits of spiritual exploration. Those who turn their backs on rigid dogmas and sectarian creeds eventually realize that there is still a supernal dimension to their being. If there is a higher Force, they ask, then should not this divine power be accessible and serviceable to all?
But let's be blunt. The indignant irascible God of the Old Testament who tossed Adam and Eve out of Eden, who sent a flood to wipe out innocent human and animal life, who torched Sodom and Gomorrah, and who dispatched angels of death to do His dirty work - this God is dead! In fact, He never was. He was the product of a roguish but cunning patriarchal imagination. He exists today only in the minds of people who spend too much time watching television and not enough time thinking.
In all sincerity, people praying in cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, pagodas or in their home sanctums deserve privacy and respect. When you are alone with your God it is a sacred moment. However, when you force me to accept your concept of God then the gloves are off and let the debate begin.
Religion could have been so simple. The guardians of our patriarchal establishment chose to make it complicated. Any objective historian has to concede that organized religion has reeked more damage than it has done good. Thankfully heretics are no longer burned at the stake but simply excommunicated. And weighing the blood spilled and counting the lives lost in the name of God and country serves no purpose here. Churches worldwide have to ask themselves some serious questions and permit us to begin this process by delineating a few of the issues.
Think back to that time in your life when your religious cultivation first began. Wasn't your church much more interested in propagating and inculcating conformity and obedience than it was in advancing autonomy and freethinking? That man behind the pulpit always symbolized unimpeachable truth. 'Belief' was master of the house while 'reason' and 'reflection' were his neglected and abused progeny. If religion is supposed to be a perspective on soul, being and the art of living then unquestioning compliance is not exactly empowering. Many people (perhaps even a majority) want to be told what to think (so that they can bypass the cerebral process themselves). The rest will eventually mutiny.
Many denominations are presently inflicting institutional hara-kiri upon themselves and Christians who have left the flock cite many of the self-same reasons for doing so:
- The emphasis on externals (structure, hierarchy, churches, dogma) and empire building. The Masters who walked this earth never asked to be worshipped or to have religions instituted in their names. They spent their lives living and teaching - not drafting creeds. They did not believe that the self-proclaimed representatives of God at that time were any closer to Providence than were the people in the street (for the 'Kingdom' resided in the hearts of each and every human being). Now we have a plethora of majestic churches and cathedrals with spires reaching into the stratosphere - surrounded by decaying neighborhoods, homelessness and crime.
- Some specific doctrinal discordance. This could involve the Pope continuing to proclaim the sinfulness of birth control (as many overpopulated countries of the world struggle with poverty and starvation), the ongoing subordination of women in many denominations, the tacit notion that the body/sex is evil, et cetera. The quest for truth ends up taking a back seat to the preservation of orthodox doctrine. Any imposed moral code (stressing do's and don'ts, sins and redemption) does very little to clear the muddied water that lies torpid incasing our doubts, misgivings and personal problems. And just how fruitful is fear as an inducement for us to turn over a new leaf?
- Individual or collective hypocrisy. From the cleric who points an accusatory finger at specific sinners every Sunday and is subsequently discovered to be indulging in similar vices, to church officialdom which continually shows its lack of backbone by silent or overt complicity when governments decide to sanction violence, war, carnage, pull the rug out from under the poor and the disenfranchised, or foster and reward an economic system that accentuates materialism, avarice and self-concern.
- A lack of ecclesiastic discernment of the esoteric concepts upon which Christianity was supposed to be based.
There is wisdom at the root of every religion but over the course of time the tree that springs from this bedrock may be denied light, nourishment or have individual branches wither and die.
Blind faith is no longer palatable to an increasing number of parishioners. It is incongruous for someone to be a lover of truth while at the same time believing something whether it makes sense or not. And there is a significant distinction between belief and knowledge. Belief suggests unassurance and disputability. When we know something it is because we have personally corroborated it and this truth merges and harmonizes with our core self. A conviction that is merely intellectual does not usually touch or impassion or transfigure the psyche.
Erich Fromm writes that it is a mistake for non-believers to attack the idea of a Supreme Deity. Their focus should be "to challenge religionists to take their religion and concept of God seriously and practice brotherly love, truth and justice and themselves become the most radical critics of present day society".
Believing what vicars, pastors or elders tell you to believe or 'behaving' yourself in order to avoid the fires of eternal damnation has more to do with powerlessness and presumption than it does with morality and honesty. We no longer have to sacrifice heathens to the gods in order to save their souls. We no longer require an outside devil in order to avoid dealing with the Shadow inside each one of us. Religion has to stop defining Providence and fabricating boundaries around the Boundless. It has to discover that all life is sacred and to cease dividing us into saints and sinners. It has to refrain from christening every experience and action as either sacrosanct or blasphemous. Religion either becomes deep-seated and ecumenical or it transfigures itself into a mere reformatory for one's mind and spirit.
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The Exactness of Morality
by Gary Stewart
The most common medium that we use to convey our innermost thoughts to others is language. Our words become powerful tools since they originate from and are used to describe a powerful force that is inherent in the universe. Further, this force is more easily recognized as being manifest in individual human beings as thought. To illustrate the power generated by thought, we simply need to consider a topic that interests many readers - telekinesis. Very loosely speaking telekinesis may be defined as the power to move objects by non-physical means. That is to say, people who demonstrate such an ability are able to move objects at a distance merely by thinking about it, which, in turn, puts into effect an application of a force which will accomplish the desired result.
The point is this: it is thought which sets into motion the means by which we acquire a desired end. Naturally, it is realized that this illustration may not be the best representation of the idea that is to be conveyed simply because human beings have a tendency to work on the premise that the demonstration of telekinetic activity is a rather rare and isolated event. Or is it? Assuming that we are free from all handicaps that would prohibit any movement of our bodies, let us then explain how each of us is able to move from one location to another.
Some of us may contend that such an act is quite simple - and indeed it is, as we merely send a signal through our nervous system and our muscles and our bodies respond with movement. However, think about this for a moment. Does not the original cause of the movement originate from an abstract and non-corporeal 'substance' called thought? Is not a physical object being moved by a non-physical source? Think of our individual abilities, the force that each of us must utilize to conduct such a simple act as movement. What, then, is the difference between moving ourselves and moving an object that is distinct from us? It is simply the medium by which our thoughts are directed.
As intimated earlier, the most common medium that we use for our thoughts as far as communication is concerned is language. We have demonstrated the immense power that each of us is capable of when it comes to our thoughts, but let us not forget that the words we use to describe and communicate our thoughts are also representative of this innate power. Our words can convey love and can cause peace and harmony between people and nations, or they can create hate, wars and enemies. In determining our motives, either result may be intended and, in the latter instance, such becomes a most unfortunate situation. Even more unfortunately, many times the situation causing discord is not intended, but because of a misuse of our words, or because a misunderstanding of what we really thought was conveyed to another, such is achieved.
How many of you have said something to a friend that caused hurt and misunderstanding to such an extent that it resulted in your friendship dissolving? Was it because that was what was originally intended? Or was it because your words did not adequately convey what you wanted to say? How many times have you acted on instructions that you thought were clear and precise but later found out that, for one reason or another, what was told to you was said in such a way as to be vague and misleading, thereby resulting in the 'wrong' action on your part?
Perhaps many of these situations were unintentional. However, because of the manner in which the original thoughts were expressed, or the choice of words used - either through laziness or preconceived notions that everyone thinks and acts the way we do - a misuse of the power behind our thoughts was caused. As can easily be seen, such inexactness and irresponsibility can have disastrous effects.
This is why precision, openness and honesty are mandatory to correctly direct our innate power with responsibility. And, our responsibility must begin with precision and clarity of thought. To illustrate this very point, let us apply these principles to an important concern of humanity in general and to the mystic in particular. This concern is morality and the notion of good and evil.
In considering the topic of good and evil, we do not have a clear-cut, standardized definition applicable to all societies throughout all times. What is considered good in one society may be considered evil in another. It is for this reason that philosophically and pragmatically, the notions of good and evil are considered to be relative. However, in any given society there always have been certain groups who have determined a code of good and evil, and have subsequently decided that their code must be impressed upon others. We can safely say that every proponent of a social system developed a system they thought was the best and of the ultimate 'good' for all peoples.
Generally, from an historical perspective, we can observe basic similarities between all societies in that, regardless of the procedures utilized, there has been a concern for the welfare of the majority of people within the society. This concern for the 'welfare' of the people is a common denominator which is ascribed a 'goodness'. Naturally, whether it is actually good or not is relative to the means by which the ideal state is achieved. In looking back upon certain societies and even looking at tendencies of the various societies existing today, we can determine, based upon our own particular perspectives, whether a society was good or evil.
Quite frequently, the 'goodness' of a society is assessed by much more than the mere welfare of all or part of its people. Anyone who sets up a social system must have a concern for a group's welfare, otherwise there could be no society. Therefore, 'goodness' must be more than merely the greatest welfare for a specific group. That is, if one group's welfare is attained at the expense of another, then we can say that this society was evil rather than good even though the people who originated the system would think otherwise.
As a result, we find a relative value placed upon good and evil that really has no bearing upon the 'true' essence of their meaning. If we ascribe this same manner of thinking to today's society, we must necessarily ask if we are not also making the mistake of not possessing the exactness and clarity of thought necessary to correctly convey the force and power behind our words. Or, in other words, are we using the notion of relative values as an escape to be unexacting in our actions?
Invariably, we must return to the original thought and arrive at an exactness of meaning. In this instance, we necessarily must review what is meant by good and evil. To the student of mysticism, we have an advantage in that we see the source of good and evil to be inherent within the Essence that causes the universe to exist, and not necessarily the result of human values. This can be quite confusing if not precisely understood because, paradoxically, the mystic will recognize that there is no good or evil, and that, indeed, such notions are actually the results of relative human values! To be precise and to clarify the key to unlock the apparent contradiction, the mystic must invariably eliminate 'evil' from the Essence altogether and arrive at the conclusion that all that actually exists is goodness. The role of evil, then, becomes an illusion and essentially manifests as a lesser degree of good.
In other words, all existence is inherently good. The universe is recognized as being kind, loving, benevolent, peaceful and harmonious. But, from a lesser manifestation that includes the human perspective, for us to understand such virtuous attributes, we must think in opposites which results in the conception of 'negative' attributes which we ascribe as being evil. When we are able to recognize that good can be considered as being a harmonious attunement with the true nature of existence, and that evil is an intentional disruption of that harmony, then we can understand that there does indeed exist both good and evil, but that the true nature of all things is inherently good and that evil is but a lesser manifestation or realization of the higher 'good'.
If someone were to tell you that a given individual was unethical, what would you think? How much influence would this statement have over your judgment of the 'unethical' individual? For most of us, when such a statement is made, the common understanding is of an individual who is vicious, wicked and perhaps morally depraved. Our reaction to this 'depraved' person then would be to avoid him at all costs. But what if the word 'unethical' was used in its exact definition? If it were, our idea generated by the statement would be entirely wrong. An unethical person may very well be a kind, loving and otherwise virtuous being. As a result, any discrepancy would lie in our misunderstanding of the perspective from which the statement was intended.
If we were told that a given individual was immoral, then, by definition, we would be correct in our picture of a vicious or 'evil' person. In other words, using exact definitions, there is a distinction between what is meant by ethics and by morals.
The word 'moral' is defined as that which pertains to the character or disposition of a person, and which is considered as being either good or bad, virtuous or vicious, or pertaining to the distinction between right and wrong or good and evil.
'Morality', on the other hand, may be defined as ethical wisdom, or the knowledge of moral science. This means, then, that 'ethics' is defined as the science of morals, or that department of study concerned with the principles of human duty. 'Ethical' pertains to the morality of the science of ethics. Whether the morality be 'good' or 'bad' is irrelevant to its relationship to its study.
When someone says that a person is unethical and abides by the above definition, then he is not necessarily saying that the other person is immoral but, rather, that this person merely does not respond to or have a definite system of defining morals. Such a person could be quite virtuous, although unethical. On the other hand, the morals of an ethical person may be such that they are commonly interpreted by others as being evil.
The topic of morals and ethics, even though of great concern to society, is more aptly delegated to philosophical analysis concerning the exactness of word definition and the various concepts which arise. The lay person can function in society quite well by utilizing the common usage of the terms since their application in relation to the variances of definition is slight. However, the important issue is that we all must be aware of the fact that unless exact usage occurs universally, we must necessarily contend with the likely possibility of misunderstanding. We, as individuals, must take the responsibility to be exacting in our actions and words so as not to mislead or be misled, and rely upon our own conscience to arrive at a moral standard that corresponds to the highest possible good that can be conceived.
Gary Stewart is known for his scholarship in the western esoteric tradition. He is the author of 'Awakened Attitude' and is the present Imperator of the Confraternity of the Rose Cross, Knight Commander of the OMCE and Sovereign Grand Master of the British Martinist Order.
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Vegetarianism: Karma, Compassion and Simplicity
by Dr. Walter Kacera
Vegetarianism, known in Sanskrit as Shakahara, was for thousands of years a principle of health and environmental ethics throughout India. For India's ancient thinkers, life was seen as the very stuff of the Divine, an emanation of the Source and part of a cosmic continuum. They further held that each life form, even water and trees, possessed consciousness and energy. Non-violence, the primary basis of vegetarianism, had long been central to the spiritual traditions of the culture.
In early India, an unparalleled concern for harmony with all life forms led to a common ethics based on noninjuriousness and a minimal consumption of natural resources - an ethics of compassion and simplicity. If homo-sapiens are to survive this present predicament, we will have to rediscover these two primary ethical virtues.
"All beings tremble before violence
All fear death
All love life
See yourself in others
Then whom can you hurt
What harm can you do?"
Vegetarianism is a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings, for to consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs is to participate indirectly in acts of cruelty and violence against the animal kingdom. The abhorrence of injury and killing of any kind leads quite naturally to a vegetarian diet. The meat-eater's desire for meat drives another to kill and provide that meat. The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer.
Food is the source of the body's chemistry and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then we cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. Due to the horrendous slaughtering techniques of animals in our modern world, one may wish to consider what is really being absorbed when eating meat. The mental cruelty, complex chemicals, the fear, pain and terror experienced by the animal are part of what we consume. Studies have shown that the consumption of meat products increases aggressive behaviour. For these reasons, vegetarians have the opportunity to live in higher consciousness.
As a vegan for the past 25 years I have witnessed the transformation that happens as a person changes their diet. On a balanced vegetarian diet, not only does the body become cleaner, healthier and stronger, there are also shifts in consciousness, which manifest as a repulsion to the eating of meat. India's greatest saints have confirmed that one cannot eat meat and live a peaceful, harmonious life. Man's appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on the earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures.
If children are raised as vegetarians, every day they are exposed to non-violence as a principle of peace and compassion. Every day they are being reminded to not kill. If they won't kill another creature to feed themselves, they will be much less likely to do acts of violence against people.
"If you have men will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man." - Saint Francis of Assisi
The Sanskrit word karma means "action", or more specifically, any material action that brings a reaction that binds us to the material world. Although the idea of karma is generally associated with Eastern philosophy, many people in the West are also coming to understand that karma is a natural principle, like time or gravity, and no less inescapable. For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of karma, if we cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must endure pain and suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap what we sow, for nature has her own justice. No one can escape the law of Karma.
To understand how Karma can cause war, for example, let's take an illustration from the Vedas. Sometimes a fire starts in a bamboo forest when the trees rub together. The real cause of the fire however, is not the trees but the wind that moves them. The trees are only the instruments. According to the law of Karma, the neighbourhood supermarket or hamburger stand has more to do with the threat of war than the White House. We recoil with horror at the prospects of war while we permit equally horrifying massacres every day of the world's automated slaughterhouses.
The person who eats an animal may say that they haven't killed anything, but when they buy their neatly packaged meat at the supermarket they are paying someone else to kill for them, and both of them bring upon themselves the reactions of Karma. Can it be anything but hypocritical to march for peace and then go to McDonald's for a hamburger or go home to grill a steak? This is the very duplicity that George Bernard Shaw condemned: "We pray on Sundays that we may have light to guide our footsteps on the path we tread; we are sick of war, we don't want to fight, and yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead".
According to the laws of Karma when we are a part of inflicting injury, pain and death, directly or indirectly, we will, in the future, experience in equal measure the suffering caused.
From a spiritual standpoint, eating live-plant food awakens dormant powers of intuition, instinct and consciousness. By choosing to eat this way one becomes more aware of cause and effect. Cause and effect is the law of Karma. One also becomes more aware of what is going on in and out of the body. Intuition is heightened, communication between body and mind is enhanced, and we feel lighter in body, mind and spirit. This heightened awareness eventually makes it impossible to pollute one's body or the planet or one's spiritual energy.
"The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of human beings". - Leonardo DaVinci
Planet earth is suffering. In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rainforests to create pasture lands for livestock, loss of topsoil and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet.
One example of the drain of natural resources: it has been estimated that there are approximately 1.3 billion heads of cattle populating the earth at any one time. And it takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat. According to Newsweek, the water that goes into a 1000-pound steer could float a destroyer. In contrast, it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat.
No single decision that we can make as individuals or as a race can have such a dramatic effect on the improvement of our planetary ecology as the decision to not eat meat. Many seeking to save the planet for future generations have made this decision for this reason and this reason alone.
From an environmental standpoint, eating fresh live-plant food implies the least impact on other life forms and creates the opportunity to create more life through gardens and planting fruit trees. Eating foods as fresh as possible creates the least amount of pollution, and the least amount of packaging and provides a way of life that is 100% beneficial to the environment.
Those who understand the laws of Karma know that peace will not come from marches and petitions alone, but rather from a campaign to educate people about the consequences of murdering innocent animals. That will go a long way toward preventing any increase in the world's enormous burden of Karma. To solve the world's problems we need people with purified consciousness to perceive that the real problem is a spiritual one.
Eating a live-food vegetarian diet is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healing and enlightening to the individual. It opens up dormant regions of human potential and consciousness. This is one of the simplest and most profound truths I have ever discovered.
From a pleasure standpoint, fresh live food is a celebration for the taste buds. Vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and grains are gifts to the senses providing a wonderful array of colours, scents, tastes, textures and sounds. While your body is enjoying, your heart and mind can be at peace.
Beyond concerns of health, economics, ethics, religion and even Karma, vegetarianism can support us in our oneness with the spirit that lives in all things. I would concur with the ancient Vedas when they say that the purpose of human life is to reawaken the spirit to this relationship and live it through compassion and simplicity.
WALTER KACERA Ph.D., D.N., is a Therapeutic Herbalist and Ayurvedic Nutritionist with over 25 years experience in the Natural Healing Arts. He teaches certificate courses in Therapeutic and Practical Herbalism, Constitutional Ayurvedic Medicine and Clinical Iridology. Website: www.thelivingcentre.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Ego And The Consciousness Beyond It
by Remez Sasson
If I ask you who are you, what will be your answer? You will probably tell me your name, or state your occupation such as, a driver, a shopkeeper, an accountant, a doctor or some other role. People describe themselves according to name, body, sex, family, work, religion, race, etc. There is always a reference to something they identify themselves with.
Each one of us has conscious and subconscious ideas and beliefs about himself. We think we know ourselves, but sometimes the unconscious content of the mind emerges, making us to think, react and behave in ways that surprise us. These thoughts, beliefs, and habits comprise the ego.
From the moment a baby is born he is flooded with all kinds of ideas, thoughts, and beliefs by his family, and latter by people in his environment. He absorbs these influences and get accustomed to them, considering them as an inseparable part of himself.
As the child grows, its inner essence begins viewing the world through the colored eyeglasses, which have been moulded by the people he came in contact with. Each one wears his individual eyeglasses, which have a different kind of lenses. People whose lenses share some common properties, think and behave in a similar way, and join together to form political parties, fans of sporting teams, fraternities, etc.
The conglomeration of thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs and habits, compromise the ego. This ego is not stable or permanent. It is made of various mutable components, and therefore it changes, sometimes drastically. People live with this ego, which they consider as themselves, as their very essence, and will do everything to protect it and fight for its honor and survival. It is a unit of thoughts and belief system that is powered by the Spirit, and seems to act independently.
This ego is not real and not eternal. It is not real in the sense that it is a product made of various components and therefore is open to change. At a particular time it began to grow and will not stay forever. It is just an instrument that is used to deal with the outside world. The identification with it is so great, that it is almost impossible to see that we are not this ego.
We are an inseparable part of the eternal Essence, which has no beginning and no end, but through wrong thinking and wrong identification, we consider ourselves to be this limited ego. Due to this limited viewpoint, suffering is experienced.
Looking at the world through the limited ego brings to the fore erroneous codes of honor, selfish desires and limited beliefs. The desire to protect the ego causes misunderstandings, frictions, clashes, fights and wars.
When several egos join together, they make up larger egos, such as family, tribe, country, race, and religion. These egos are responsible for the wars and sufferings that have come into existence.
It is rather the attachment to the ego that brings trouble. Whenever there is any sort of interaction between people; whenever there is some sort of expression of life, the ego is there. It is through the ego that we experience life.
Please consider the following two ideas. The first one is that the world is not real. It is dependent on the ego which itself is not real. The world is sensed and felt through the ego. If there is no ego, there is no world. This is one of the main tenets of the Indian philosophy Advaita-Vedanta.
The second point is that the World, Cosmic Power, Universal Mind, God, or however you name the power that is creating the world, 'wants' to express itself, and it does so through the creation of myriads life forms.
If we accept these ideas, then the best we can do, is live our life in the best way we can, and yet stay detached. We can 'use' the ego in your interactions in daily life, but at the same time realize that this ego is an instrument, and it should serve us and not us serving it. In other words, be in the world, but not of the world.
The ego together with the body is what we consider as ourselves. Sooner or later this ego brings or causes unhappiness. When its desires are not fulfilled or it feels threatened, it reacts and causes friction and unhappiness. Non-attachment to the ego and its whims, frees us from its tyranny. It is natural that the ego wants to preserve itself and will do everything to prevent us from conquering it. Our attention and attachment are its life's energy.
By treating the ego with detachment, we do not become weak, as some may think. A strong man or woman has an ego which considers itself as strong. A weak person has an ego which considers itself as weak. In both cases there is an ego.
If we stop identifying with the ego, and view it detachedly, not as ourselves, we rise above it. Then there is no question of strength or weakness. When we are able to view the ego as an instrument and not as ourselves, we find out that we are in union with an enormous unlimited power. Strength becomes a natural trait, which needs no proof.
A picturesque description
I would like you now to imagine a very large container full of water. This water is one indivisible body of water, whole and homogenous. It is the same water throughout the container. There aren't several kinds of water, just one homogenous body of water.
Imagine you take a large piece of sponge and begin tearing it down into many parts. Each piece is different from the other. One piece is round, the other rectangular and another shapeless. One is large the other is small. All of the pieces are thrown into the water and get saturated. Remember, each part of water, in each piece of sponge is the same water, and the pieces of sponge, all come from the same one sponge.
Now suppose that the quantity of water in each piece of sponge, forgets that it is water, and thinks and believes that it is itself the piece of sponge. The water forgets it is water, one whole homogenous body of water. This erroneous identification causes the water in each piece of sponge to identify and consider itself as being a separate sponge.
This identification causes differences of opinion and clashes between the sponges in the container. Some of the pieces want to rule the others. Some consider themselves larger and stronger. Others consider themselves weaker, some beautiful, others ugly. Some may inflict suffering on others or suffer themselves. They regard the their relationships as real, and unite against other groups. They might also have their happy moments.
Remember that what is happening is due to an erroneous idea. The water is not the sponge. Whatever is happening in this container is illusory, yet experienced by the water and sponges as real. The happiness and suffering are considered as real. The sponges become as if alive because of the life principle inherent in the water.
All this sounds ludicrous, but this is what happens in our life. The water is the Spirit, Universal Consciousness, Universal Mind, Life Principle, First Principle, God, or whatever you call the Supreme power, and the pieces of sponge are the physical bodies. This metaphor may not be exact, but it illustrates human life.
It is the Spirit trying to express itself through the body and physical existence that creates the illusionary ego.
Identification and non-identification
Imagine for a moment that there is a sort of a formless, eternal, impersonal and creative power, which gets so involved and identified with each one of its creations, that it "forgets" itself, and that it is One, Whole and Indivisible Power. It acts through its creations and feels and believes that each part of him is a separate unit.
It interacts with each "part" of himself. I repeat, though it is one and indivisible, it imagines itself expressing and acting thorough its numberless creations. These creations are people, animals, trees, plants, continents, oceans, galaxies and everything that exists.
In the human being, this erroneous identification of the whole with its creations is the ego. It is an erroneous, unreal entity, which gives the notion of separation from the surrounding world. It is sort of a tie between the spirit and the body.
When this identification is dropped, we realize that we have never really been separated. Then we see that life is like a cinema show. We become able to watch the show without becoming involved in it. It is like being able watch a movie and yet stay uninvolved with the characters and the plot.
When we are able to stop our thoughts and become 'thought-less', and yet stay conscious without falling asleep, we start to get out of this ego. We stop identifying with it. We find out that we are beyond the ego. We return to be the vast and unlimited Spirit that we have always been.
We lose nothing when we dis-identify with the ego. Do not think for a moment that life like this is boring. Only after experiencing and living beyond the ego, you can really know. You will continue to experience the world, but with a new attitude towards events and happenings. Things happen, but not to you. You are no longer the actor with the mask. Life is then seen as a play, and you do not need to identify with the part you impersonate. Life goes on, but the actor is not you, it is something illusory. If you identify with it and believe it is you, you suffer.
Suffering stops when you know without any doubt that the ego is just an illusion. Life will go on, but your reactions will change. You then experience happiness, calmness, and a great inner power. You become more than a human being. Becoming free from the ego unlocks the door to constant happiness, content and joy.
The Ego, suffering and unhappiness
Why is there suffering? Well, there are many theories, but as the focus is now on the ego, I will view the matter with the ego in mind. Resting in the ego and identifying with it, as the majority does, contributes to a limited view on life. Each ego believes it is right, and wants other egos to be like it. If the other egos do not share the same point of view, then they are its adversaries. This causes clashes and struggles.
The ego we believe and consider as ourselves is a slave to habits and behaves like a machine. It is influenced by thoughts and desires. If there is a constant exposure to the same kind of thoughts and ideas, it eventually accepts them, and takes them as it own. The ego wants its desires fulfilled, even if they are to its own detriment. If its desires are frustrated it becomes unhappy. On many occasions it enforces its will on others.
Life is not permanent and unchangeable. Everything grows and then withers, the ego included. The ego experiences a loss when it loses something. It is frustrated when its desires are not granted. Its attachment to desire is the reason for suffering, as not always everything turns out as expected and desired.
If we conduct our life with detachment, we do not prepare suffering for ourselves. In this case if what we are after turns as expected it is fine. If not, that is fine too. Action approached with detachment channels our energy in a more efficient way. A detached person is not influences by his circumstances and the happening around him. He can stay calm and relaxed under all circumstances. Yet he is definitely not indifferent.
Look inside and examine yourself. One moment there are some kind of thoughts, a moment later other different thoughts. One moment there is happiness, a minute later unhappiness. If someone tells you something nice you smile, but if you hear a nasty thing, you behave and feel differently.
There is nothing permanent in the world of thoughts and feelings. They change constantly. It true that on a deeper level, there is some apparent stability. Some thoughts and feelings do not change easily as they are deeply ingrained. They give the basic 'color' to the ego. Yet this 'stability' is only apparent. No ego stays the same throughout life.
The ego rules our life and causes us to think, behave, and act in a certain individual way. It is like a computer that has been programmed with certain software and therefore is predictable in its actions. We, as the Consciousness above the ego, are not this computer. Why be subjected to this programming? Why be a slave to thoughts, feelings, habits and attitudes? Be free. You are not the ego, not the personality. You are above them, just Pure Impersonal Consciousness.
Becoming free from the ego gives you the ability to view everything in an unlimited way. You stop accepting each thought and idea that presents itself. You free yourself from all limiting thoughts and ideas. Your point of view becomes universal; therefore you become more tolerant, considerate and helpful.
Watching the Ego and developing detachment
As an exercise I would ask you to watch yourself while conducting your daily affairs of life. Watch your thoughts, feelings and behavior without analyzing them. Just watch your thoughts arising in your mind. Pay attention to the words you utter, and to the actions you perform. Become conscious of your mind.
Whenever you forget, try to bring your mind back to these observations. Just observe with detachment and without thinking and analyzing. This will develop in you detachment and the ability to watch the ego. You will learn to separate yourself from it, which will teach you to understand what the ego is.
The ability to watch the ego brings to the fore many abilities. The power of attention and concentration are enhanced. You will be able to think before you act or talk. Gradually you will cease to be influenced by outside forces. Your moods will be more stable, and you will be less inclined to frustrated or moody.
Detachment teaches that happiness is not dependent on the gratification of desire. It is an inner attribute and is independent of the world around. You may not accept this last sentence, but experiencing detachment from the ego will prove to you the validity of this statement.
You may erroneously think that accepting the ideas presented here, may lead to splitting the personality, or may cause some sort of delusion and indifference to life. Experience shows otherwise. Living in the ego is the delusion.
Rising above the ego means becoming more than a human being. You can experience and prove to yourself what you have been reading. Be adventurous and discover the ego and what is beyond it. Rising above the ego makes people more sound, practical, logical and strong.
You may accept, or may not, what you have read here. I believe that if you study the subject seriously, many of the ideas presented here will become clear and logical. This is no mere theory. There is some sort of veil enshrouding this subject, which resists penetration. If you want to live a better, happier and more satisfying life, the subject of the ego should be studied profoundly.
REMEZ SASSON is a prolific writer and lecturer focusing on the ways and techniques to succeed in life utilizing the powers of the mind and developing the inner abilities which can lead us to Spiritual Enlightenment.
Visit his website at www.successconsciousness.com or
E-mail him at email@example.com
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Mahatma Gandhi's Nonviolent Revolution
by Sanderson Beck
"Gandhi continues what the Buddha began.
In the Buddha the spirit of love set itself the task
of creating different spiritual conditions in the world;
in Gandhi it undertakes to transform all worldly conditions."
"Nonviolence is the law of our species
as violence is the law of the brute.
The spirit lies dormant in the brute,
and he knows no law but that of physical might.
The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law -
to the strength of the spirit."
"If man will only realize
that it is unmanly to obey laws that are unjust,
no man's tyranny will enslave him."
"There can be no inward peace without true knowledge."
"Science of war leads one to dictatorship pure and simple.
Science of nonviolence can alone lead one to pure democracy."
"For self-defense, I would restore the spiritual culture.
The best and most lasting self-defense is self-purification."
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in western India. His father was a local politician, and his mother was a religious Vaishnavite. At the age of 13 Mohandas was married to a girl his own age and began an active sex life. After some undistinguished education it was decided that he should go to England to study law. He gained his mother's permission by promising to refrain from wine, women, and meat, but he defied his caste's regulations which forbade travel to England. He joined the Inner Temple law college in London. In searching for a vegetarian restaurant he discovered its philosophy in Henry Salt's A Plea for Vegetarianism and became convinced. He organized a vegetarian club and met people with theosophical and altruistic interests. His first reading of the Bhagavad-Gita was in Edwin Arnold's poetic translation The Song Celestial. This Hindu scripture and the Sermon on the Mount later became his bibles and spiritual guidebooks. He memorized the Gita during his daily toothbrushing and often recited its original Sanskrit at his prayer meetings.
When Gandhi returned to India in 1891 his mother had died, and he was not successful at breaking into the legal profession due to his shyness. So he took the opportunity of representing an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa for a year. South Africa, which is still notorious for racial discrimination, gave Gandhi the insults which awakened his social conscience. He refused to remove his turban in court: he was thrown out of a first-class railway compartment; and he was beaten for refusing to move to the footboard of a stage-coach for the sake of a European passenger. As a lawyer Gandhi did his best to discover the facts and get the parties to accept arbitration and compromise in order to settle out of court. After solving a difficult case in this way he was elated and commented, "I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder." He also insisted on receiving the truth from his clients, and if he found out that they had lied he dropped their cases. He believed that the lawyer's duty was to help the court discover the truth, not to try to prove the guilty innocent. At the end of the year during a farewell party before he was to sail for India, Gandhi noticed in the newspaper that a bill was being proposed that would deprive Indians of the vote. His friends urged him to stay and lead the fight for their rights in South Africa. Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, and their efforts were given considerable notice by the press. When he returned from fetching his family from India in January 1897 the South Africans tried to stop him from landing by bribing and threatening the ship-owner Dada Abdulla Sheth; but Dada Abdulla was Gandhi's client, and finally after a long quarantine period Gandhi was allowed to land. The waiting mob recognized Gandhi, and some whites began to hit his face and body until the Police Superintendent's wife came to his rescue. The mob threatened to Lynch him, but Gandhi escaped in a disguise. Later he refused to prosecute anyone, holding to the principle of self-restraint in regard to a personal wrong; besides, it had been the community leaders and the Natal government who caused the problem. Nevertheless Gandhi felt it his duty to support the British during the Boer War which he did by organizing and leading an Indian Ambulance Corps to nurse the wounded on the battlefield. Even this effort was somewhat delayed by race prejudice, but when three hundred free Indians and eight hundred indentured servants volunteered, the whites were impressed. Gandhi ended up spending twenty years-in South Africa. He experimented with celibacy during his thirties, and in 1906 took the Brahmacharya vow for the rest of his life.
The first use of civil disobedience on a mass scale came in September 1906. The Transvaal government wanted to register the entire Indian population. The Indians held a mass meeting in the Imperial Theatre of Johannesburg; they were angry at the humiliating ordinance, and some threatened a violent response if put to the test. However, they decided as a group to refuse to comply with the registration provisions; there was complete unanimity. Yet Gandhi suggested that they take a pledge in the name of God; even though they were Hindus and Moslems they all believed in one and the same God. Every one of the nearly three thousand Indians present took the solemn pledge. Gandhi decided to call this technique of refusing to submit to injustice "Satyagraha" which means literally "holding to the truth." One week after the pledge Asiatic women were excused from having to register. When the Transvaal government finally put the Asiatic Registration Act into effect in 1907, Gandhi and several other Indians were arrested. He was given only two months without hard labor, and he spent the time reading. Yet during his life Gandhi would spend a total of more than six and a half years in jail. Gandhi was called to meet with General Jan Christiaan Smuts, and they agreed on a compromise. Gandhi declared to his followers that a Satyagrahi must be fearless and always trust his opponent, "for an implicit trust in human nature is the very essence of his creed." Satyagraha uncovers hidden motives and reveals the truth; even if it results in the opponent's falseness, the wrong will be more sharply felt and will be more clearly seen, and we must continually give him the opportunity to be true. While reading in jail Gandhi discovered Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and the works of Tolstoy. He was "overwhelmed" by The Kingdom of God is Within You and "began to realize more and more the infinite possibilities of universal love."
The protest movement for Indian rights in South Africa continued to grow; at one point out of the 13,000 Indians in the province 2,500 Indians were in jail, while 6,000 had fled Transvaal. In being civil to the opponents during the disobedience Gandhi developed the use of ahimsa, which means "non-hurting" and is usually translated "nonviolence." Gandhi followed the precept "Hate the sin and not the sinner." Since we are all one spiritually, to hurt or attack another person is to attack oneself. Though we may attack an unjust system, we must always love the persons involved. Thus "ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth."
Gandhi was also attracted to the simple agricultural life. He started two rural communes for Satyagrahis-Phoenix Farm and Tolstoy Farm. He wrote and edited the journal Indian Opinion to elucidate the principles and practice of Satyagraha. Three issues brought the quest for Indian rights in South Africa to a crisis-the tax on ex-serfs, the ban on Asiatic immigrants, and the invalidating of all but Christian marriages. In November 1913 Gandhi led a march of over two thousand people. Gandhi was arrested and released on bail, arrested again and released, and arrested once more all within four days. He was sentenced to three months' hard labor, but the strikes and demonstrations went on with about 50,000 indentured laborers on strike and thousands of free Indians in prison. The Christian missionary Charles F. Andrews donated all his money to the movement. Gandhi and the other leaders were released and announced another march. However, Gandhi refused to take advantage of a railway strike by white employees and called off the march in spite of Smut's broken pledge in 1908. "Forgiveness is the ornament of the brave," Gandhi explained. Finally by negotiation the issues were resolved. All marriages regardless of religion were valid; the tax on indentured laborers was canceled including arrears; and Indians were allowed to move more freely. Gandhi summarized the power of the Satyagraha method and prophesied how it could transform modern civilization. "It is a force which, if it became universal, would revolutionize social ideals and do away with despotisms and the ever-growing militarism under which the nations of the West are groaning and are being almost crushed to death, and which fairly promises to overwhelm even the nations of the East." Smuts expressed his respect for Gandhi and his gentle but powerful methods which had made him realize that the law had to be repealed.
Meanwhile India was still suffering under British colonial rule. In 1909 Gandhi had written Hind Swaraj which means "Indian Self-Rule." In this diatribe against the corruption of Western civilization Gandhi suggests that India can gain its independence by nonviolent means and self-reliance. He rejects brute force and its oppression and declares that soul force or love is what keeps people together in peace and harmony. History ignores the peaceful qualities but takes note of the interruptions and violations which disrupt civilization. Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and again supported the British during the First World War by raising and leading an ambulance corps.
The great poet Rabindranath Tagore gave Gandhi the title "Mahatma" meaning "Great Soul," and Gandhi founded the Satyagraha Ashram for his family and co-workers near the textile city of Ahmedabad. When a family of untouchables asked to live in the ashram, Gandhi admitted them. Orthodox Hindus believed this polluted them. Funds ran out, and Gandhi was ready to live in the untouchable slums if necessary, but an anonymous benefactor donated enough money to last a year. To help change people's attitudes about these unfortunate pariahs, Gandhi renamed them "Harijans" or "Children of God." Later he called his weekly magazine Harijan also.
In 1917 Gandhi helped the indigo sharecroppers of Champaran throw off the unfair exploitation of their landlords. He was arrested, but the officials soon realized that the Mahatma was the only one who could control the crowds. Reforms were won again by civil disobedience, this time in India. The textile workers of Ahmedabad were also economically oppressed. Gandhi suggested a strike, and when the workers were weakening in their resolve he went on a fast to encourage them to continue the strike. Gandhi explained that he did not fast to coerce the opponent but to strengthen or reform those who loved him. He did not believe in fasting for higher wages, but he fasted so that the workers would accept the system of arbitration to resolve the conflict, which they did.
Gandhi's first challenge to the British government in India was in response to the arbitrary powers of the Rowlatt Act in 1919. India had cooperated with Britain during the war, and instead of receiving Dominion Status civil liberties were being curtailed. Guided by a dream or inner experience Gandhi decided to call for a one-day hartal or general strike on all economic activity. Many signed the Satyagraha pledge, and Gandhi suggested making "a continuous and persistent effort to return good for evil." However, the philosophy was not well understood by the masses, and violence erupted in various places. The Mahatma repented declaring he had made "a Himalayan miscalculation," and he called off the campaign. In one infamous incident General Dyer had ordered his soldiers to fire into a crowd, wounding 1,137 and killing 379. The Hunter Report indicated that he was less concerned with dispersing the crowd and more intent on "producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view." Another general made the statement: "Force is the only thing that an Asiatic has any respect for." The report concluded that the moral effect was quite opposite from the one intended.
Gandhi founded and published two weeklies without advertisements - Young India in English and Navajivan in Gujarati. In 1920 Gandhi initiated a nation-wide campaign of non-cooperation with the British government, which for the peasant meant non-payment of taxes and no buying of liquor since the government gained revenue from its sale. Gandhi traveled throughout India addressing mass meetings. He urged people to spin their own cloth and designed a Congress flag with a spinning wheel in the center. By January 1922 thirty thousand Indians had been jailed for civil disobedience. Some nationalist patriots urged revolution, but Gandhi would never forsake nonviolence. Gandhi decided to try mass civil disobedience in Bardoli, a county of 87,000, but news of how an Indian mob had murdered some constables reached him. Although it was eight hundred miles from Bardoli, he once again canceled the campaign, this time before it had started. In March the British Viceroy ordered Gandhi's arrest. This was the only time that the British allowed him a trial. He made no apology and suggested the highest penalty "for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen." Gandhi explained, "In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good." The judge sentenced him to six years and hoped the government would reduce the term. He was in fact released after twenty-two months when he had an appendectomy.
Perhaps the greatest block to Indian unity and self government was the conflict between Hindus and Moslems. In 1924 Gandhi went on a twenty-one day fast to bridge this strife. He pleaded for unity in diversity, religious tolerance, and love for one another.
During the late 1920s Gandhi wrote an autobiography which he called his experiments with truth; it is quite candid and humble in the- way he examines his faults and his efforts to overcome them. In his speeches he pointed out his five-point program on the fingers of his hand: equality for untouchables, spinning, no alcohol or drugs, Hindu-Moslem friendship, and equality for women. They were all connected to the wrist which stood for nonviolence. Finally in 1928 he announced a Satyagraha campaign in Bardoli against a 22% increase in British-imposed taxes. Refusing to pay taxes the people had their possessions confiscated and some were driven off their land, but they remained nonviolent. It lasted several months, and hundreds were arrested. Finally the government gave in and agreed to cancel the tax increase, release all prisoners, and return confiscated land and property; the peasants agreed to pay their taxes at the previous rate.
The Indian Congress wanted self-government and considered war for independence. Gandhi naturally refused to support a war but declared that if India was not free under Dominion Status by the end of 1929, then he would demand independence. Consequently in 1930 he informed the Viceroy that civil disobedience would begin on March 11. "My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through nonviolence, and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India. I do not seek to harm your people." Gandhi decided to disobey the Salt Laws which forbade Indians from making their own salt; this British monopoly especially struck at the poor. Beginning with seventy-eight members of his ashram Gandhi led a two-hundred mile march to the sea over twenty-four days. Thousands had gathered at the start, and several thousands joined them on the march. First Gandhi and then others all along the seacoast gathered some salt water in pans to dry it. In Bombay the Congress had pans on the roof; 60,000 people assembled, and hundreds were arrested. At Karachi where 50,000 watched the salt being made, the crowd was so thick that the police could make no arrests. The jails were filled with at least 60,000 offenders. Amazingly enough there was practically no violence at all; the people did not want Gandhi to cancel the movement. Gandhi was arrested before he could invade the Dharasana Salt Works, but his friend Mrs. Sarojini Naidu led 2,500 volunteers and warned them not to resist the blows of the police. According to an eye-witness account by the reporter Webb Miller, they continued to march in until beaten down with steel-shod lathis by the four hundred police, but they did not try to fight back. Tagore declared that Europe had lost her moral prestige in Asia. Soon more than 100,000 Indians were in prison, including almost all the leaders.
Gandhi was called to a meeting with Viceroy Irwin in 1931, and they came to an agreement in March. Civil disobedience was called off; prisoners were released; salt manufacture was permitted on the coast; and Congress leaders would attend the next Round Table Conference in London. Gandhi traveled to London where he met Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, and Maria Montessori among others. On radio to the United States he spoke of a way better than brute force more consistent with human dignity. In discussing relations with the British he said he did not want isolated independence but voluntary interdependence based on love.
While in prison in 1932 Gandhi went on a fast on behalf of the Harijans because they had been given a separate electorate. It was to be a "fast unto death" unless he could awaken the Hindu conscience. The issue was resolved, and even Hindu temples were opened to untouchables for the first time. The next year Gandhi went on a twenty-one day fast for purification, and British officials, afraid he might die, released him from prison. Gandhi announced that he would not engage in civil disobedience until his sentence was completed. By the time the second world war was approaching Gandhi had been confirmed in his pacifist principles. He pointed out how Abyssinia could have used nonviolence against Mussolini, and he recommended it to the Czechs and China. "If it is brave, as it is, to die to a man fighting against odds, it is braver still to refuse to fight and yet to refuse to yield to the usurper." As early as 1938 he exhorted the Jews to stand up for their rights and die if necessary as martyrs. "A degrading manhunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength given to them by Jehovah." Gandhi even recommended to the British nonviolent methods of fighting Hitler; no longer could he support any kind of war or killing. He decided on mass Satyagraha in defiance of the ban on propaganda against the war. Gandhi promised Congress he would stay out of jail, but 23,223 others were arrested including Vinoba Bhave, Nehru, and Patel. In 1942 Gandhi suggested ways to resist the Japanese nonviolently. He sent an appeal to the Japanese people for the sake of "world federation and brotherhood without which there can be no hope for humanity."
However, Gandhi continued to preach a nonviolent revolution for India, and in 1942 he and other leaders were arrested. He decided to fast again; he barely survived. When the war ended he asserted the need for "a real peace based on the freedom and equality of all races and nations." In his last years he became more of a socialist. He said, "Violence is bred by inequality, nonviolence by equality." He went on a pilgrimage to Noakhali to help the poor. Independence for India was now imminent, but Jinnah the Moslem leader was holding out for the creation of a separate state of Pakistan. Gandhi prayed for unity and tolerance, and he even read from the Koran at his prayer meetings. Hindus attacked him because they thought he was partial to Moslems, and Moslems demanded he let them have Pakistan. Gandhi went to Calcutta to calm the Hindu-Moslem strife and violence. Once more he fasted until the community leaders signed a pledge to keep the peace; before they signed he warned them that if they broke their word he would fast until he died. His last fast in January 1948 also did much to heal the conflicts between the Hindus and the Moslems over the division into two countries which left minorities in both nations. Although this religious hatred saddened Gandhi, India had gained her independence on August 15, 1947 accomplishing the greatest nonviolent revolution in the history of the world. Finally Gandhi was assassinated by an outraged Hindu on January 30, 1948 at a prayer meeting; with his last breath the Mahatma chanted the name of God.
Albert Einstein declared that Gandhi showed how someone could win allegiance, "not merely by the cunning game of political fraud and trickery, but through the living example of a morally exalted way of life." Einstein considered Gandhi to be the most enlightened statesman of their time, and he predicted, "The problem of bringing peace to the world on a supranational basis will be solved only by employing Gandhi's method on a large scale." The Encyclopedia Britannica summarizes Gandhi's significance with the statement, "He was the catalyst if not the initiator of three of the major revolutions of the 20th century: the revolutions against colonialism, racism, and violence." What was his philosophy of nonviolent soul-force, and what instructions did he give in the use of these methods?
Satyagraha means literally holding on to the Truth. The Hindu understanding of Sat is more than conceptual truth but means also being, existence, reality; ultimately we realize that our spiritual beingness is the essence of Truth as a reality greater than any concept of the mind. Thus the term "soul-force" conveys the idea of employing our spiritual energies. For Gandhi this Truth or spiritual reality is the goal, and the means to the goal must be as pure and loving as possible. Ahimsa therefore is the way of acting without hurting anyone or inflicting oneself against another spiritual being. We may hate an injustice for the harm that it brings to people, but we must always love all the people involved out of respect for human dignity. Satyagraha attempts to awaken an awareness of the truth about the injustice in the perpetrators, and by ahimsa this is done without hurting them. Since humans are subject to error and we cannot be sure we are judging accurately. we must refrain from punishing. Thus ahimsa is an essential safeguard in the quest for truth and justice.
Gandhi explains that Satyagraha is not a method of the weak, like passive resistance, but "a weapon of the strong and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form." Satyagraha is insisting on the truth and can be offered in relation to one's family, rulers, fellow citizens, or even the whole world. Gandhi elucidates three necessary conditions for its success:
- The Satyagrahi should not have any hatred in his heart against the opponent.
- The issue must be true and substantial.
- The Satyagrahi must be prepared to suffer till the end for his cause.
Gandhi emphasized self-suffering rather than inflicting suffering on others. By undergoing suffering to reveal the injustice the Satyagrahi strives to reach the consciences of people. Satyagraha does not try to coerce anyone but rather to convert by persuasion, to reach the reason through the heart. Satyagraha appeals to intelligent public opinion for reform. In the political field the struggle on behalf of the people leads to the challenging of unjust governments or laws by means of non-cooperation or civil disobedience. When petitions and other remedies fail, then a Satyagrahi may break an unjust law and willingly suffer the penalty in order to call attention to the injustice. However, he does not hide or try to escape from the law like a criminal, rather he openly and civilly disobeys the law as a protest, fully expecting to be punished. In Hind Swaraj Gandhi wrote, "It is contrary to our manhood if we obey laws repugnant to our conscience." By eliminating violence Satyagraha gives the opponent the same rights and liberties. Satyagraha requires self-discipline, self control, and self-purification, and Satyagrahis must always make the distinction between the evil and the evil-doer. They must overcome evil with good, hatred with love, anger with patience, untruth with truth, and violence with ahimsa. This takes a perfect person for complete success, and therefore training and education are essential to even make it workable. Gandhi emphasizes that every child "should know what the soul is, what truth is, what love is, what powers are latent in the soul." Both men and women, and even children, may participate, and it demands the courage that comes from spiritual strength and the power of love. Surely it takes more courage to face the weapons of death without fighting than it does to fight and kill. From his experience Gandhi believed that those who wished to serve their country through Satyagraha should "observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness." It is through fearlessness that we can have the courage to renounce all harmful weapons, filling and surrounding ourselves with the spiritual protection of a loving and peaceful consciousness.
Gandhi elucidated specific guidelines for Satyagraha and civil disobedience. A Satyagrahi will not harbor anger but will suffer the opponent's anger and assaults without retaliating. However, he or she will not submit out of fear of punishment nor obey any order given in anger. Satyagrahis will voluntarily and civilly submit to arrest and will not resist the confiscation of their property; but if a civil resister has the property of another as a trustee, he will refuse to surrender it, holding on to it at the cost of his life. Satyagrahis will not insult or curse their opponents nor participate in shouted cries which are contrary to the spirit of love (ahimsa). Civil resisters will not salute the flag of the government against which they are protesting, but they will not insult it or the government officials. In fact they will protect officials from assault even at the risk of life.
Non-cooperation is a comprehensive policy used by people when they can no longer in good conscience participate in or support a government that has become oppressive, unjust, and violent. Although Satyagrahis do not attack the wrong-doer, it is their responsibility not to promote or support the wrong actions. Thus non-cooperators withdraw from government positions, renounce government programs and services, and refuse to pay taxes to the offending government. While challenging the power of the state in this way non-cooperators have the opportunity to learn greater self-reliance. Gandhi held that non-cooperation with an unjust government was not only an inherent right but as much a duty as is cooperation with a just government.
Ahimsa or nonviolence is absolutely essential to Gandhi's civil disobedience. Satyagrahis were expected to give their lives in efforts to quell violence if it erupted. Gandhi interpreted ahimsa broadly as refraining from anything at all harmful. "The principle of ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by Iying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs." Thus even greed and avarice can violate ahimsa. Nonviolence has a great spiritual power, but the slightest use of violence can taint a just cause. The strength is not physical but comes from the spiritual will. The following is Gandhi's summary of the implications of nonviolence:
- Nonviolence is the law of the human race and is infinitely greater than and superior to brute force.
- In the last resort it does not avail to those who do not possess a living faith in the God of Love.
- Nonviolence affords the fullest protection to one's self-respect and sense of honor, but not always to possession of land or movable property, though its habitual practice does prove a better bulwark than the possession of armed men to defend them. Nonviolence, in the very nature of things, is of no assistance in the defense of ill-gotten gains and immoral acts.
- Individuals or nations who would practice nonviolence must be prepared to sacrifice (nations to the last man) their all except honor. It is, therefore, inconsistent with the possession of other people's countries, i.e., modern imperialism, which is frankly based on force for its defense.
- Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all-children, young men and women or grown-up people, provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When nonviolence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.
- It is a profound error to suppose that whilst the law is good enough for individuals it is not for masses of mankind.
Gandhi's struggle was so overwhelming and significant, because he challenged the institutional violence of the modern state. He not only recommended refusing military service but also refusing to pay taxes to a militarized state. In addition to citizens' non-cooperating with an evil government, a neutral country also has the obligation to refuse to support or assist a military state or aggressor. Gandhi suggested a nonviolent army that could engage in constructive activities, lessen tensions, and sacrifice their lives to calm mobs and end riots. The qualifications for such a peace brigade would be complete faith in and adherence to nonviolence, equal respect for all religions, personal service and good human relations with the community, integrity and impartiality, and anticipation of brooding conflicts. The cost of training and equipping such a peace brigade would be practically nothing compared to the expenses of the modern military establishment. Gandhi envisioned a nonviolent state which would protect itself by not cooperating with any aggressor. Gandhi was concerned that the democracies would adopt the forceful methods of the fascists; but true democracy must ultimately be nonviolent, for violence is an obvious restriction of liberty. In 1946 Gandhi asserted, "Democracy to be true should cease to rely upon the army for anything whatsoever. It will be a poor democracy that depends for its existence on military assistance. Military force interferes with the free growth of the mind. It smothers the soul of man." He criticized America for its treatment of the Negro. Gandhi observed that armaments are used for greedy exploitation and that the competition and desire for material possessions and the Great Power's imperialistic designs are the biggest blocks to world peace. Also they must shed their fear of destruction; then by disarmament peace can be attained. Gandhi warned, "If the mad race for armaments continues, it is bound to result in a slaughter such as has never occurred in history. If there is a victor left, the very victory will be a living death for the nation that emerges victorious. There is no escape from the impending doom save through a bold and unconditional acceptance of the nonviolent method with all its glorious implications." Gandhi urged us to go beyond family and country to consider the good of the world, and he recommended a world governing body which would recognize the equal independence of each nation. He once said, "The golden way is to be friends with the world and to regard the whole human family as one."
SANDERSON BECK, Ph.D., is a prolific writer and peace activist. In 1982 he formulated World Peace Movement Principles, Purposes and Methods and traveled to 47 states and met with 600 peace groups to promote disarmament. He lives and teaches Philosophy (and other subjects) in Ojai, California. Visit his comprehensive and eclectic website
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Four Agreements: A Book Review
by M. Ann Phillips, Ph.D.
Don Miguel Ruiz is a Toltec master, a nagual or person of knowledge. He shares his knowledge and experience about living a life of integrity, spiritual development and striving for personal freedom in his book 'The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom book'. The Toltec, Ruiz explains, were a society of scientists and artists, who thousands of years ago in southern Mexico, came together "to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones". This ancient knowledge is very applicable today and anyone can choose the path of the Toltec.
Being a Toltec is a way of life where there are no leaders and no followers, where you have your own truth and live your truth. This is done by mastering the arts of Awareness; of Transformation and of Intent, which Ruiz discusses. Sounds like anarchy but not really ; it is about spiritual development and breaking free of the bonds of domestication of the human spirit which are part of the socialization we undergo as we children become part of human societies. This book describes the steps to becoming truly empowered as human beings.
For those of us who are avid fans of Carlos Castaneda, Ruiz builds on that tradition and enhances our knowledge of the Toltec path to freedom. True freedom is an expression of the human spirit, the ability to be who we really are and to express our essence. In order to achieve true freedom we have to break the old agreements we have made on the path to domestication - agreements with ourselves, agreements with our parents and agreements with society. These agreements must be substituted with new agreements, specifically the Four Agreements from which the book gets its name.
The four agreements we must make with ourselves are 1) Be Impeccable With Your Word speak with integrity; say only what you mean and use the power of your word only in the direction of truth and love; 2) Don't Take Anything Personally what others say and do is a projection of their own reality, it has nothing to do with you; 3) Don't Make Assumptions find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want; communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid sadness, misunderstandings and drama; 4) Always Do Your Best under any circumstance simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self abuse and regret.
Ruiz suggests that it takes the discipline of a warrior to control our own behaviour and to break the old agreements we have with ourselves such as the belief that we are not good enough or smart enough. By following the way of the warrior, the way of self improvement and of discipline, which Ruiz differentiates from that of the soldier who follows the orders of others, it is possible to become aware of our old agreements and begin the journey to changing them. By adopting the Four Agreements and putting them into practice we break our addiction to being who we have become used to being, get rid of dysfunctional patterns and develop the courage to become who we really are.
In this book, Ruiz provides four seemingly simple suggestions designed to lead to spiritual growth and freedom. Those of us on such a path know that it is at the same time exceedingly easy and supremely difficult. Many people believe they have already made these agreements, but most lack the self-discipline to follow through what they need to do and the honesty to truly analyze their behaviour and make changes where they are needed. Integrity and self-discipline are vital when following a path which moves us towards expressing our true spiritual nature and becoming empowered, spiritually mature human beings.
M. Ann Phillips, Ph.D., is a roving researcher, environmental health promoter, teacher, student, earth power chick, writer, poet, martial artist and a lover of life.
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by Benjamin Tepolt
Euthanasia has often been referred to as "mercy killing" - ending another's life to prevent them from suffering any more of life's ills. But more than that, it has always been held as a sad good-bye, providing material for haunting nightmares, the act of the killing itself just as necessary as death is to life. The sight of our loved one, slowly passing away from this world, with little hope, will forever be remembered. When the darkness basks our world in night, and those evil thoughts that taunted during the day come out, when we have no one, we will be forced to face the question: did the experiences of our beloved amount to what they would have called a "good life"? How will I answer this question when I am finally on that last breath? Anyone who has ever known a loved one to be in suffering, to be enduring great misery -- pains that no anesthetic can touch, hurt that no physician can cure, ailment that no medicine will alleviate -- anyone who has known such a loved one can find no objection to Euthanasia.
No one's heart will rely on philosophical arguments or social rules when they hear the screams of their children, or their parents, crying for relief from the horrors of life. It does not go to the questions asked by Socrates or Plato or Hume, but it goes to the answers needed by the heart and the soul. It is not a matter of the opinions developed over the course of thousands of years but a matter of how we learn to see the pain of others. I support Euthanasia, but I do so only on account that I have heard the screams of the suffering and I have felt the trembling hands of those in agony. I have seen things that have turned a savage to a tumult of tears. This world has envisioned many cruelties in all sorts of manifestations. When a person is forced to live their life, their face ablaze with all the signs of pain -- tears, grimacing, panting -- and when they must live their life like this, day after day, week after week, month after month, nothing but pain and then more pain -- what is this existence? Is it life with dignity? But throw the question of dignity and respect aside. When a person is suffering greatly, and there is nothing to cure their distress, and when, finally, they prefer non-existence to the life they are living, why should we deny them their right to death? What brutal and vicious justification can defend the idea that we must make them suffer?
Whatever the justification, it will not come from the mouth of the person in great suffering -- it will not come from those who must listen to the screams of those cursed with life everyday. There are two reasons why any person would defend Euthanasia: reason dictates it, or their own experience with it. When an individual's life consists of days of suffering, sleeping in a bed of tears, waking with the taste of blood in your mouth, and there is the chance to end their suffering by ending their life -- when this happens, life becomes infinitely simple and infinitely complex. Consumerist desires for a car, a television set - these desires die, but in their place, we know that someone we love is in terrible misery and we know there is a way to end it. It certainly is not an easy decision, but those euthanizing their greatest friends will be the first to say it is the right one.
After the decision to allow a severely brain damaged child to die was reached, one paediatric neurologist commented - The easy option was to continue the artificial feeding in the hope that perhaps nature would take its course at some later date and absolve us of any responsibility from making a decision that I believe was wrong. I think we as a society and we as doctors need to consider where we draw the line - at what point does medicine become inhumane and simply prolong suffering. [Taken from an article by David Fletcher, The Daily Telegraph, 13 May, 1996. Quoted in Teach Yourself: Ethics, New Edition, by Mel Thompson, page 65.]
In 1973, George Zygmaniak was injured in a Motorcycle accident in New Jersey. He was totally paralyzed from the neck down. He begged his doctor and his brother Lester to kill him. The hospital told Lester that the chances of recovery were very unlikely. Lester smuggled a gun into the hospital, where he said to his brother: "I am here to end your pain, George. Is it all right with you?" George, unable to speak because of an operation, nodded. Lester shot his brother through the temple. [Act of Love, by Paige Mitchell, New York, 1976. Also, the New York Times, 1, 3, and 6 of November, 1973.] Spina Bifida is a condition that occurs to infants, where the spine and the spinal cord are not fully formed. In some instances, it will permanently paralyze the child from the waist down. They will lack bladder or bowel controls. In other cases, intellectual disabilities will develop, due to excess fluid accumulating in the brain. For these sufferers to be kept alive, they must have major surgery often, sometimes forty times before the individual has reached the adolescent years. This is, of course, given the fact that the infant survives.
These are cases where Euthanasia has been used. One of the primary arguments against Euthanasia is that it degrades human life, that it is always wrong and immoral to end another human's life, no matter what the circumstances. To these people, I ask them to hold their friend's trembling hand, as they go through months and possibly years of life, suffering, pleading always that someone will take away their misery. To these people, I ask them to try to raise a child with the disability of Spina Bifida, to wake up every morning to see your own child struggle with the immense suffering overcoming them -- almost monthly to take them to the hospital so that they can have a major surgery -- everyday to see a disease wreak havoc on the body of your child, as it becomes more and more debilitating. To anyone who believes that "human dignity," or any insane version of this concept, is more important than a suffering person's right to end their own existence, I ask them to go through the experience of knowing a friend whose existence is no more than pain -- to know the meaning of suffering, told through unstable eyes, forever imprisoned in the jail of misery.
I will offer my brotherhood and justice to any being that can feel emotions. If a person is in great suffering and there is no outlook for improvement upon the horizon, and they wish to end their own life, then I see no reason at all to deny them this right. I could not care less if this violates any principle of "human dignity" or some such nonsense. I will stand by my friends and loved ones no matter what they go through; justice is something I will never abandon. To those who speak of "human dignity" as an opposite of Euthanasia, it is irrelevant. Those people are suffering from debilitating diseases and wish for their lives to end. The "human dignity" argument holds no credibility. Euthanasia will effectively prevent unnecessary suffering. To deny it, we are only being instruments of pain.
Another argument against Euthanasia may be that it is no different than suicide in general. If a person suffers from great mental pain, in that they find themselves with no allies in this wretched world, that they see themselves in the future as having led an empty existence, if a person suffers from such mental pain, how is it different from allowing them to kill themselves as opposed to Euthanasia for diseases? The simple fact is this: it is not different. If a person does find himself in the position where there is no prospect for hope, no dim, struggling light in the horizon of the future, and they are so willing and desirable as to end their own life, then by every right, they ought to be allowed to. Do I believe that suicide is permissible? Of course. I believe that every person has every right to govern their own body. I do believe, however, in responsibility. Simply existing does not give any person a responsibility. They are not obligated to the world, nor its inhabitants. Having a family, bringing children into this world, having friends -- this does create a responsibility. But the greatest of friends will know when their colleague suffers from the torture of misery, and they will know when the time is right to release their grip from their friend's hand, and let them leave this world peacefully.
Suicide is not something that can be spoken of lightly, especially when it is a plague of the mind that causes the person to end his own existence. Death -- it is essentially the center premise of both Euthanasia and suicide. After millions of years of adaptation and evolution, the stronger of the humans surviving while the weaker ones die and are unable to reproduce, humans are now born with a strong sense of survival. But it's not just humans. Every creature on this planet fears death most of all. It is a natural instinct to fear death or suffering of any sort. These instincts cannot be denied, but everything we do must deal with their conflict as they alter our attitudes. It is extremely difficult for some people to physically harm themselves, not because the pain is unbearable, but because of the psychological attitude of it all. Then consider a man whose life is full of nothing but pain and anguish, and then consider what emotions, what instincts and natural feelings he must overcome to complete the deed of death — such a man who is capable of doing what he knows must be done is worthy of the admiration of every humane and rational person.
Say what you will of how our society views suicide as ugly. The public opinion of what is beautiful and what isn't could interest me less. When a person knows what they want, their desires harm none, and they allow nothing to get in their way — their personal feelings or instincts, then they are a person full of courage and bravery. And though it may be sad that a person passes away from this world, leaving behind nothing more than a lifeless body, it is something we must learn to face: that some people are unhappy no matter what crowd they are amongst or what land they are living in. I wish the best of luck to the advancement of psychology and treatments to ailments of the mind, but I will in no way ask any person to prolong their own suffering for a cure that may not come at all.
The primary argument for Euthanasia is the argument of Rights — that a person may do what they want, as long as they harm none. When a person ends his own existence, he is not directly causing pain to another person. It is true that some people may be saddened in this world that they are without the presence of another person, another voice for a thriving democratic community. It is true, too, that every humane person will be find one less reason to be hopeful, when this world as it is could appease one less soul. A person is their own body, and they may do with themselves what they will. I believe in freedom and I believe in liberty. If a person finds that their own existence is one of ceaseless toil and unending pain, followed by disappointment and the mutilation of everything that is near and dear to them, then let them kill themselves. Do not deny them the razor or the gun or the poison — their life is their own, and their decisions are their own to make.
If a person wishes to be a Gardner, or to watch the stars, or to play in the grass, then let them. If what they want to do is the most ridiculous or obscure of activities, it is not up to us to judge. What makes a person happy is up to their own soul's will. We cannot limit them and their actions, as their life is their own. Similarly, if a person wishes to end that life which they have been bestowed with by this Universe, then that is their decision, and no other person ought to be able to interfere.
I believe in Euthanasia, in its necessity in a world full of pain and misery. I do not wish for a world that is so terrible where everyone is ending their own lives, but rather, I wish for a world where suffering will never reach that extent. I know my wishes are almost naive, though, as it will be impossible for such a world to come about. Even if we are to alleviate most medical problems, there will always be those afflicted with unhappiness, due to the failure of relationships, or simply a psychological disorder of some sort. I believe in any person's right to suicide or Euthanasia, primarily because I believe in rights. To those who disagree, I ask them to go through an ordeal where their friend suffers greatly, and beckons death to come closer. Suffering is a horrid thing, and my defense of Euthanasia and suicide is only on the grounds that I recognize misery for what it is: something detested by all conscious life.
Benjamin Tepolt's website is located at www.punkerslut.com and you can also E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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