A colleague of mine recently attended a seminar on “spiritual awakening.” He told me how there were about four hundred people present, almost all white, middle class and up. As participants were meditating, emoting, and exploring, my colleague wondered if anyone found it odd that these four hundred white people were being cooked for, cleaned for, and served by people of color.
I am not saying that this is “wrong” (nor right), but that it is an observable fact. Moreover, the spiritual movement has in general been chronically oblivious to these matters, as well as to matters of money, race, class, and the basically oppressive nature of societies in which the divide between haves and have-nots widens every day. And most of the recent rhetoric on “abundance,” that tries to tie spirituality and prosperity together, does not even attempt to address the roots and practices of gross inequality and the violence perpetuated by the powerful that maintains the status quo.
On the other hand, the traditional rhetoric of social change tends to be suspicious of, or even denigrate, the spiritual. The idea that there is a bigger picture than human society and human history does not seem to occur to many of the proponents of social change and revolution, what to speak of the sanctity of the natural world. Those who have made history their God are blind to the gifting presence of the earth, air, fire, and water. They do not experience the world as personal, but rather as a thing whose resources are to be mastered and fought over.
In all fairness, there are movements like liberation theology and eco-community building that have been working to align the worlds in practice. And this may be the hardest work, to live the love that we feel and know, to move the dharma into the shared present, to create some zones of basic sanity, respect, and celebration.
There are many who have answers, but those who dare walk their talk are few. And even then, it is frighteningly difficult to birth a new world as the old one smolders around us. We are all babes in the woods here, but I would say that two things are certain. Spiritual practice without corresponding social practice is indeed an opiate of the people, usually the upper echelon of people. You spend some serious money, can go to a “self-improvement” weekend instead of Club-Med., then go back home, raid the refrigerator and watch t.v. Has anything changed?
Likewise you can critique everything and everyone who is “wrong.” And even “fight for the right,” but unless and until you wake up from the dream, you are still perpetuating the same chaos that started the ball rolling. The end never justifies the means, unless your God is history: the past and the future, which keeps you trapped in becoming (samsara), projecting, and missing the beauteous glory of this moment.
What do cultures and communities of awakening look like? How can we become a part of them? This is a dialogue to foster, a serious talk we need to have with ourselves.