The Problem with the World—Selfishness
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
[Originally published on January 13th, 2012]
While there are many ways to frame, or lead into, speaking about the root cause of the problems of the world, or of the country I live in, looking more closely at the concept of selfishness will be helpful. I have often thought that fanaticism is the real enemy of the world, since people’s inability to consider other viewpoints is at the root of most world or local conflicts. To me, fanaticism is a type of selfishness, or the result of a very narrow vision. Both come from bodily identification. My guru, Shrila Prabhupada spoke of selfishness, and extended selfishness. We are all eternal souls, yet we have the power to invest ourselves into matter. So although in the ultimate sense, or spiritually speaking, we have nothing to do with matter, due to false ego, we (the soul or consciousness) become duped or fooled by the illusion of the material world (maya), to think we are a particular body and mind, separate from God, others, and Nature.
Material life is a process of expanding this basic delusion, through the qualifier we give to persons or things by calling them “mine,” which could be called my-ness, or mine-ness (or mind-mess!). When things or persons become mine, it sets up the possibility of conflict with others: my body, gender, race, ethnicity, house, neighborhood, family, possessions, money, religion, sport’s team, community, nation, species, etc. We will think someone crazy who says they are Napoleon, Jesus, or Joan of Arc, but saying we are Joe Smith or Ravindra Gupta, man, woman, or gay, American or Indian, white or black, Christian or Hindu, is no less insane.
Realistically, for most of us to function in this plane we have to acknowledge these conditioned labels and act through them, since their influence upon us is so strong. However, we should note that material designations will frustrate us at some point and certainly at death, when these temporary constructs evaporate like the fog they actually are. To realize peace, purpose, and cooperation in the world, we have to cultivate spiritual knowledge of who we are (consciousness) and our spiritual propensity to serve the Supreme.
Intellectual spiritual knowledge, while a good beginning, isn’t sufficient to really change our conditioned tendency to see in terms of mine and theirs, or friends and enemies. We must have a process for realizing these transcendental truths—which is the only thing that is lasting—and actually make tangible progress. Otherwise, merely trying to deny who we are in this body or covering it up with spiritual theory will be disastrous for our divine life. However well intentioned, without taste for spiritual pursuits and realization, we may give up the endeavor to realize our soul and God in order to follow our material calling, or for merely immediate material happiness.
I am not speaking of just being religious, since many will be quick to point out that religious people have been behind many of the major conflicts and wars in the world. Religion isn’t meant to be an end in itself for itself, but to bring us to the spiritual platform. If it doesn’t, then religion often becomes just another mundane institution, albeit with a religious veneer. Human beings that are religious wear glasses that are tinted with some kind of Godly colorful idea, and thus live according to a teaching or scripture which gives a set of do’s and don’ts’, and tells us what is moral and immoral. Being religious or pious is good, but that isn’t enough to elevate people beyond their selfishness, to universal love. While spiritual knowledge is essential, it is incomplete without being applied practically. By religious or spiritual processes our hearts are meant to grow in love of God and for all creatures, expressed through the wisdom of kindness, understanding, compassion, peace, and giving.
It is true that there are many self-less religious people who help lessen others suffering through giving in charity, and creating hospitals and schools, yet as good as such work is, it is often undertaken to convert others. Most religious people believe that their brand of religion is the only way to God, and others religions, or even other sects or gurus of their religion, are misguided, less than they, or are going to hell. This is a very beginning and neophyte idea of a materialistic religion. Such devout, fanatical religionists, have only a superficial understanding of their own religion, and are generally not educated in religious studies. I have found, for the most part, that theologians or monks in various religions are broadminded and appreciate diversity in religious understanding.
If you noticed, I included identifying with a particular religion in my brief list of bodily identification, or insanity. This doesn’t mean I am against religion, but it tells us that we have to go beyond just a material conception of religion—or merely the formalities of external practices, or type of worship—to arrive at its real purpose, or spiritual essence. As I mentioned, real religion includes spiritual processes for realizing the truth of the teachings. Then as we make spiritual advancement, and decrease our bodily conceptions we become gradually less selfish, and more giving.
In the highest stage we perceive that God is within everyone and everything, a spiritual vision that sees everything is His energy—yet we also realize our eternal personhood in a loving relationship of service. Gaudiya Vaishnava’s put forward the idea that the original, most loving, and accessible aspect of God is Krishna. They conclude this from studying Vedic knowledge, and feel this by their personal realization. At the same time they understand that God has unlimited forms and manifestations, and reciprocates with the type of love his worshipers offer. This means that although there is only one spiritual Source in the Universe, there are unlimited manifestations of the Godhead.
One can be convinced of their particular form of Divinity, yet respectful of the realizations and type of worship of others. Realization of the equality of all souls brings true freedom from selfishness, and the desire to help everyone rise above their material forgetfulness of God. The perfection of spiritual practice goes beyond just not being selfish—as much as we all appreciate that— but takes selflessness to the point of self-forgetfulness in loving service, or Krishna-prema!