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Occupy Your Mind: The Link Between Spirituality & Social Justice

October 16, 2011

Last week I wrote about how the practice of meditation can change the quality of one’s consciousness, the culmination of which is the realization of one’s deepest, innermost Self. This realization has been described by countless traditions by terms as varied as “nirvana,” “moksha,” “enlightenment,” “salvation” and the like — all words that their respective traditions tout as something as lofty and paramount as the very purpose of human life.

But here’s the problem: what do any of these obscure words even mean? How can something be the very goal of one’s existence if all it helps is yourself? Is it even possible? Why does it matter? With the world seemingly going to hell in a handbasket and protests raging in the street, it seems almost silly to sit for some self-serving meditation practice, doesn’t it? What difference does it make? Who cares?

The first time I experienced even the littlest bit of what I write here today, I was a cart boy for a supermarket, and had only been meditating for about two weeks. The night before I had gone into a very deep meditation, and the next day, almost forgetting about it, went to work. I was in for quite a surprise.

It’s funny, but you know, the experience didn’t just “reveal” itself to me all at once — it kind of crept up on me. Going to work, I felt happier than usual. I felt pleasant — maybe even peaceful. But then it got stronger. And stronger. A few hours later, my friend Dan came by to visit me, and asked me if there was something wrong.

“Why?” I said, grinning like an idiot.

“Well,” he said, “you’re grinning like an idiot.” And so, I was.

The rest of the day I wandered through work in such an immense, engulfing bliss that after awhile it became difficult for me to function normally. The sunset was the very universe swallowing me in its infinite vastness and the breeze blowing in my hair was the very embrace of God. The next day, back at work again, I was so out of my mind with the experience of it that a shrub, growing out from a crack of the sidewalk, seemed my very closest and divine brother. We were all in this together.

Meditation, at its heart, teaches one thing and one thing alone: we are all connected. Even deeper than that? We are One. Step back for a moment and really try to connect with that idea, if only for a moment: that deep within every single atom of creation, a single, universal, divine presence shines within, connecting everything as if along an infinite, shimmering thread. How do you think that realization would change the consciousness of the world, if people not just thought it with their minds but felt it with their hearts? How do you think it would change you?

The contrast between that experience of “enlightenment” and today’s lived reality could not be any more stark. Today we live in a world in which people in one country die from starvation while people in another country die from overeating. Far from living in a world of scarcity, we live in a world of staggering abundance whose riches have been hoarded by the now infamous “1%.” I quote the great Yogic Master, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, a man who never minced his words:

“To accumulate massive wealth, [capitalist hoarders] reduce others to skin and bones gnawed by hunger and force them to die of starvation; to dazzle people with the glamour of their garments, they compel others to wear rags; and to increase their own vital strength, they suck dry the vital juice of others… As material wealth is limited, over-abundance for one leads to crippling scarcity for others. These infinite human longings can be fulfilled only through psychic and spiritual wealth.”

The words are almost shocking when coming from the mouth of what many would considered an “enlightened” master. Perhaps the most fascinating implication of the quotation above is that Anandamurti goes far beyond simply pointing to unchecked greed as the root cause of today’s global crises. Rather, he points to the fact that wealth is of three kinds: physical, mental and spiritual. Physical wealth is limited; mental and spiritual wealth is not. The dilemma is deepened even further when one considers the scope and breadth of humankind’s thirsts and desires. Think of it this way: if a genie came to you and told you he would make you happy for five years, and then the happiness would be replaced by misery, would you be satisfied with that setup? What if he promised to make you happy for ten years or maybe even twenty? The truth here should be obvious: people don’t just want happiness for a little while, they want it infinitely. Human longings are infinite and the world isn’t. This isn’t just a problem for the world — it’s a problem for us: all objects have a beginning and an end, and so any happiness derived from them will also certainly have a beginning and an end.

And so, we seem stuck; people have limitless, infinite desires on the one hand with limited, finite physical wealth on the other. If people run endlessly and rapaciously after materialistic wealth then not only will their desires never be quenched (at least not for long), but they will inevitably hoard so much wealth that they will directly inhibit their human brothers and sisters from even the basic necessities of life. This is the world we live in: a world of war, famine, suffering and disease; this is the world delivered to us by the empty promises of materialism.

True happiness can only be attained within, because only within will we ever find that limitless, endless source of infinite peace that we’ve been searching for all along. This is not just some esoteric ideal or religious belief to be read about in a blog or a book somewhere, nor is it meant to be a meaningless platitude droned off by yoga teachers — it is verily the supreme Truth, and can only be attained for oneself by a deep, cultivated practice of introspective mindfulness.  This alone leads to the “enlightenment” or “salvation” described variously by the sages.

To paraphrase  a good friend of mine, talking about, reading about, appreciating or studying meditation and its goals is a bit like talking about or reading about swimming — it’s not terribly useful unless you put the theory into action. This is the beauty of meditation — its speciality. Meditation isn’t a religion, it’s not a faith — it’s a practice, the fruits of which can be experienced for oneself. To that effect, meditation has been variously described as a “spiritual science” that a practitioner “tests” in their “mental laboratory.” The teachings of meditation are not a set of distant, utopian ideals; nor are they meant to be “holy truths” to be writ in immutable scripture and passed down from mountaintops. On the contrary, the philosophy of meditation teaches that the one spiritual, immutable Truth is something that stands as an absolute behind the workings of the mind and so is beyond all relativity and — by extension — all language. Thus, the philosophy of meditation is just a way of describing the path and the goal — it is not Truth in and of itself, and is only useful if it is put into practice. And so we see, the words “moksha,” “nirvana” and the like have no value in and of themselves — they are simply words that describe an experience, the ultimate value of which you have to experience for yourself.

The moment a spiritual aspirant is able to touch that one Supreme Consciousness deep within themselves is the moment they realize, with every cell of their body, that they are intimately connected to everything and everyone else. Once this realization is attained, standing by abiding injustice becomes an impossibility. To quote Anandamurti once more, these realized souls don’t just sit in selfish, idle, peace and bliss — they develop “a flaming moral courage” in which “greed, oppression and exploitation shrivel before the fire in [them].”

True spirituality, therefore, stands not just for individual, but also collective welfare. In the realization of the Supreme, all man-made divisions of race, status, gender and caste dissolve away; the true spiritual aspirant is able to not only recognize others in themselves, but themselves in everything. All of creation becomes one divine family, bound together by the ties of cosmic fraternity. With such a realization, how can the exploitative separation between the 1 and the 99% be tolerated or allowed to continue? Rather, the aspirant will throw themselves headlong into the fight for social justice, and will see that fight as service to God.

Enlightenment, we now see, is not just an individual affair. In its deepest sense, spiritual practice has the power to link individual with collective welfare. Moving away from materialistic paradigms that describe “progress” as how much power an individual has to consume, we now see that true progress comes from how much power we have to give, to share and to grow — together.

A true revolution begins with a revolution of consciousness: occupy your mind.

Want to see how what an occupied mind looks like? Watch the interview below with Dada Pranakrsnananda, a Yogic monk who was the first of the over 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ujjvala permalink
    October 17, 2011 3:00 am

    It was great to read this. Thank you! I hope there will be more,

  2. October 17, 2011 1:00 pm


  3. October 18, 2011 12:19 am

    YES. That is all.

  4. November 30, 2011 2:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Inner Revolution.

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