Introduction: The Internal Collapse of Western Culture
It is no longer a secret that western society is degenerating right before our very eyes. It appears that our bad collective karma (born from the seeds of unjust and immoral actions) has come home to roost. The Western world’s longstanding crusade to plunder indigenous cultures and the Earth through its predatory commercial schemes has set off a series of moral crisis’ that humanity has rarely seen. One could point their finger at the catastrophic onset of climate change, the rampant militarization of the globe, the shocking frequency of mass violent events at home, and the worsening opioid drug epidemic to demonstrate our society’s internal collapse. The signs of such an impending breakdown are becoming more obvious to us all. However, less obvious are the root causes and hopeful solutions for it.
More now than at any other juncture in recent history, the one thing that defines western culture is the glaring absence of spirit, love, and wisdom. Put another way, Western civilization’s guiding ethos appears to be that of ego, division, and ignorance. Bred by this society to all become complacent and narcissistic; the illusionary ideologies of consumerism and nihilism have been emphasized as natural expressions of our nature. Sadly, positive end goals for our species like universal humanitarianism, ecological unity, and world peace are deemed impossible to attain. If we listen to our politicians and media talking heads speak, it can be tempting to give into the negativity that pervades the world today. However, if we all do as counterculture icon, Timothy Leary suggested we do a half-century ago when he famously said “turn on, tune in, drop out”, we might ignore all the negativity and intuitively recognize that we, as one human family, are participants in a metaphysical war of
The Metaphysical War between Spirit and Ego
Typically, when we hear the word “war”, we may think of a conquering army, innocent people killed or the awful images of physically and emotionally broken veterans returning home from battle. However, in metaphysical reality, the meaning of war deepens. Metaphysically speaking, we could interpret all worldly phenomenon as manifestations from the spiritual plane where we are all just actors in an incomprehensibly cosmic screenplay (what Hindus call Lila). This belief, as many followers of Eastern religions, espouse, points to a world where we have all been divinely assigned unique roles (in physical form) in accordance with our karma. We assume these roles in a way that reflects the present interaction of all contending forces in the Universe and their quest to achieve balance.
Of course, according to this same eastern worldview, no dueling forces in the cosmos are actually in any real conflict. Light and dark forces, good and evil energies as well as ego and spirit ONLY APPEAR to be in direct conflict to us from where we are standing. In our culture of stark “black and white” dualities, we tend to dismiss the unitive nature of seeming opposites. In reality, darkness is needed to bring light; evil must be realized to know the meaning of good; one must first be ignorant to be wise, and all of us must transcend the vanity of ego before we can taste the sparkling springs of pure spirit.
In a metaphysical sense, “war” is not strictly a conflict of opposing forces that takes place outside us. Rather, it is also a contest between the prevailing forces of nature WIITHIN us as well. This “inner war” is akin to the kind described in the ancient Hindu scripture: The Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita (commonly translated by religious scholars to mean “the Song of God’) is a 700-verse text that is unquestionably the best known of all the Hindu scriptures. It dates to the second century BCE and is part of the larger scripture known as the Mahabharata (one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India). In this sacred and inspirational work, the great warrior Arjuna is encouraged to fight a spiritual war by Krishna, his charioteer and God incarnate in disguise. While the setting of the Bhagavad Gita is on an actual physical battlefield the real theme of this story is the war within oneself.
The Bhagavad Gita as a Metaphor for Fighting a Spiritual War against Ego
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the divine being of wisdom and compassion, instructs his faithful disciple Arjuna on how to achieve self-realization. From the onset of this incredibly beautiful and moving scripture, Krishna equates the pursuit of self-realization with the surrender of one’s own ego before Brahman (GOD). Of course, Krishna represents one unique and perfect manifestation of IT’s spirit in form. It is fitting that Krishna encourages Arjuna to give up all selfish cravings and focus his devotion on him:
“All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the same goal; this realization can be attained even by those whom society scorns. Therefore, having been born in this transient and forlorn world, give all your love to me. Fill your mind with me; love me; serve me; worship me always. Seeking me in your heart, you will at last be united with me.” (Bhagavad Gita)
Arjuna represents the perfect disciple through his unwavering faith and devotion to Krishna. Yet, Krishna still cautions this great warrior about the pitfalls on the path to self-realization. In order to break free from the hellish grip of ego, all spiritual warriors must first learn how to still their minds through meditation and cultivate an attitude of detachment from the fruits of their actions.
From the inside out, Krishna explains how meditation practice helps all seekers transcend the state of ego consciousness:
“The Supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. Those who aspire to the state of Yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions. When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place. In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self, an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfillment.” (Bhagavad Gita)
He then teaches Arjuna how living a path of selfless service (Karma yoga) is both the highest calling of mankind and the surest path to self-realization. In order to selflessly serve and fulfil one’s “dharma” or karmic duty, all serious men and women on the path of spirit must first renounce the fruits of their actions. In other words, all beings must learn to act without expectation of worldly rewards or acknowledgments:
“Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead. Brahman is present in every act of service. All life turns on this law. Those who violate it, indulging the senses for their own pleasure and ignoring the needs of others, have wasted their life. You have the right to work, but never to the fruits of work. The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna, the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion.” (Bhagavad Gita)
Winning the Spiritual War
As a civilization, western culture still clings to all the external illusions of the world that Krishna cautioned Arjuna about. The game of today….is wealth, power and fame. We play it to enhance our image and name. Sadly, our culture’s obsession with pursuing selfish materialistic desires just winds up creating more misery for the world. When you remove a sense of the sacred from life and assign it a commercial value what deeper elements remain? If the world’s rain forests disappear and endangered species go extinct, who is there to stand in the way of the corporate plunderers? Likewise, who is there to stop the death of a million civilians from another senseless war? So long as the pockets of national leaders and oil investors’ grow fatter, the horrors of conquest are justified.
The kind of spiritual war that Krishna implored Arjuna to fight is now our own one to wage at this moment of terrible human suffering. Fortunately for us all, Krishna gives us the tools we need to fight against the forces of ego. These tools of peace are the practice of meditation and selfless service. Ultimately, it appears that dramatic changes in our civilization can only occur when dramatic shifts within the consciousness of each one of us happens first. As Confucious, the Chinese sage said:
“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
This all raises the following question: how do we as a culture encourage more people to practice meditation, and embrace the spirit of service to engage in this spiritual war? Despite the current madness of our culture, there are already three forces at play contributing to our individual awakenings.
First, the immense suffering caused by the present COVID-19 pandemic has created the ideal conditions with which to center our focus within. Confronting such real and pervasive suffering like our fear of death, social isolation, and the deep sense of uncertainty for our future has led many people down the path of mindful living. In my own forthcoming book, COVID 19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening, I make this very point: despite all the suffering associated with this pandemic the opportunities it has opened for inner growth are endless. It is not at all a coincidence that interest in age-old mindfulness practices has ballooned over the past year. And as the pandemic has progressed, it has become readily apparent just how many people need healing. The world’s demand to engage in service will only grow.
Second, a growing movement in the west to make entheogenic plants and fungi like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca readily accessible to people in spiritual contexts presents meaningful opportunities for inner growth. The movement to make plant medicine available amounts to a kind of reclaiming of our roots of being. For as writers like Terence Mckenna and Graham Hancock have noted, entheogenic plants and fungi have long played a role in the evolution of mankind’s consciousness across several civilizations. Anyone who has seriously worked with plant medicine can attest to the fact that it profoundly expands your awareness and sense of connection to everything. Following a profound encounter with the spirit of a sacred plant or fungi, it is not uncommon for people to take up a meditation practice or pursue an inborn desire to serve others as they begin to integrate the experience into their daily lives.
Finally, if we tune our awareness, we can see that as a civilization we are just starting to come to the realization that our way of relating to the Earth is profoundly harmful. The very appearance of this pandemic and especially the shocking effects of climate change are beginning to hit home. Thanks to the rapid growth of online communication channels, more people are now able to share these growing existential concerns with one another. More specifically, devastating environmental crises like the melting of the polar ice-caps, the decimation of our rain forests, the sixth mass extinction, and the higher incidences of extreme weather have led many to accurately conclude that these existential problems are the result of our collective state of unconsciousness. And because our collective state of unconsciousness is a reflection of our individual states of unconsciousness these problems can only begin to be truly solved through looking within through introspective practices like meditation. The karmic pull of this Earth Crisis we face is so intense that a growing cross-section of humanity will undoubtedly feel inspired to live a life of service for our beautiful planet.
The Bhagavad Gita provides us with a hopeful and practical road map to pursue our own inner growth and deepen our innate relationship with all that is. If these times are any indication, more of us will be enlisted to fight the darkness of ego in this spiritual war.