This is the final talk in the series. In our journey so far we explored the following:
The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. Gus Speth – Environmental Scientist
In the 1920’s, Banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers famously wrote: “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire….. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
In 1970, British Economist E.F. Schumacher wrote: “Economic progress, [the economist] Keynes counselled, is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of envy and selfishness, which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modem economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
In 2002, Adam Curtis, the writer, and producer of the BBC documentary series – The Century of the Self, presented through this work “the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
Messaging produced by the consumer “revolution” deeply affects us all. But since ancient times, Yoga wisdom has taught that restraint, plus spiritual practice, leads to self-realization and happiness and that –
Feeding one’s appetites increases avidya (ignorance) and contributes to a false-identity and our unhappiness.
Since time immemorial, all spiritual messaging from different traditions is for us to move away from absorption in the false-self and make the shift towards self-realization. A shift from self-centeredness towards selflessness. From serving myself to serving the Supreme Soul (God) and my fellowman.
The Dalai Lama wrote that to become happy all people must have purpose and they must serve.
Of course, that purpose must be “bigger than myself”.
In the end, it all boils down to what my purpose in life is. The great spiritual teacher Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has advised:
One who has taken his birth as a human being …. should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people.
It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence, and words.
By his work, thoughts, and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and the next.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta – Ādi-līlā 9.41-43
Namaste everyone. Nice chanting before speaking I offer my respects to my teachers, to our lineage and to the Supreme.
aum ajnana timirandhasya jnananjana salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri gurave namah
bhaja sri krishna caitanya prabhu nityananda
sri advaita gadadhara srivasadi gaura bhakta vrnda
he krishna karuna sindho dina bandho jagat pate
gopesa gopika kanta radha kanta namo ‘stu te
aum namo bhagavate vasudevaya
So continuing on this rather long series we’ve been doing, My Life’s Compass, just as a little summary of our journey so far: we started out with a statement by one of the world’s leading environmental scientists, who stated that, and in his words,
“The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy; and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”
So he dismissed the idea that science and green energy etc was going to fix the problems, because the problem’s way deeper. And in exploring the topic what he was saying, I mentioned about a massive shift that began in the very early 1920s with the influential and powerful forces of the world making a fundamental decision to change the way everybody was thinking. And it was summarized in a statement by a banker from Lehman brothers, one of the board members, Paul Mazur, who in 1922, famously stated:
“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
And of course this principle was one of the founding or underlying principles in the whole consumer economic system, promoted in those times by Lord Keynes, who recognized this tremendous need to transform people, the way people are thinking, if you want to have economic development. And this was pointed out in 1970 by a very brilliant and humble economist from the UK, EF Schumacher, who wrote the brilliant book Small Is Beautiful.
And in speaking to the fundamentals that were being promoted by Keynes—I mean Keynes said we need to cultivate in people both greed and envy if we are to succeed in building a new economic powerhouse in the world. So EF Schumacher wrote that,
“Economic progress, Keynes counselled, is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of envy and selfishness which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features. They are the cause of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
So that was quite prophetic, that in 1970 he was already pointing out this reality.
But of course, the problem is, we’ve become so stuck. The problem of states of consciousness is you can’t just snap out of it. States of consciousness are the product of deep conditioning. People get conditioned by ideas. We are told what direction to head in, what we should value, what we should hold dear, and soon we are adopting it as if it is our own ideas. We become part of that.
I always have this recollection, when I talk on this subject, of when I was young and a little bit out there, 18 years old, savagely into hallucinogenics, and you encounter somebody on a bad trip. They’re just hallucinating and going crazy, and just crying and freaking out. And you can tell that person, “It’s okay. Don’t worry. It’s gonna pass. You’re gonna be okay.” That person cannot—they hear what you’re saying, but your words mean nothing, because they are in a certain state of consciousness, and they’re responding to another reality. That’s kind of like what’s gone on in the world, where the vast majority of human society is trapped in these massive illusions about what the purpose of life is and what they should be doing and what’s all important.
And of course the most corrosive and corrupting underlying principle that everybody has come to adopt and absorb is the principle of complete self-centeredness. Like I’m the most important person on the whole planet. What I want, what I think, what I desire is more important than anything else.
So in 2002 the documentarian Adam Curtis produced for the BBC this stunning documentary called The Century Of The Self. It’s four one-hour things [parts]. And it really examines that transformation that has taken place over a period of now a hundred years. And in it he summarized what he said the documentary was about. He said it was,
“…the story of the rise of the idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that the satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
Ten years ago a selfie would be considered weird: people taking constant pictures of themselves and what they eat, the idea of influencers… 15 years ago somebody would think, “Wow, that guy’s got a psychological problem. That guy’s got a real, you know, a deficit for—this desire for attention and stuff, and it’s just…” Now this has become a normal part of life.
I saw this thing on TV. They were interviewing school kids in New Zealand about what they wanted to be. One of the things high on the list was they wanted to be an influencer. It’s like, Oh my God! What the hell has happened when now our children put this on a pedestal, as a highly desirable thing to do, and everything that surrounds it.
We have become so corrupted by these ideas. And we cannot even measure, we can’t comprehend how destructive they are to our peacefulness, to our actual happiness, to our fulfillment. And all the figures show us we’re heading in the other direction: suicide off the charts, mental illness… I mean everything is called a mental illness now. I don’t agree with that. Just because you’re depressed there might be a really good reason. It may not be a mental illness. Maybe you’ve adopted a way of living. Anyway, I’ll get something connected with that in a moment.
Probably get a lot of hate mail after this one. Not that I really care.
So the reality is that the messaging that has been produced by this consumer revolution over the past decades really deeply affects all of us.
But since ancient times yoga wisdom has called upon people to engage and to cultivate restraint, and that cultivation of restraint in all things, along with the cultivation of spiritual life leads to self-realization and to happiness.
See, the problem is that materialism preaches just the opposite. In materialism there is no understanding and [acceptance] of the reality of the self. The false self, my body and what it looks like, my mind and all the desires in it, are put forward as the self. That is not the self. That is the false self. The true self is the eternal spiritual being residing within, who now is absolutely malnourished and abused and discarded, and replaced with these vain gods of greed and envy and self-centeredness in the extreme. And it’s not even the real self. It’s the false self. And that that is the result of ignorance. It is not the result of knowledge or of enlightenment. It is directly the result of ignorance, cultivating ignorance or avidya.
So all of the messaging of real—and today there’s just so much fake spirituality, it’s rather sickening. Unfortunately I have not a great deal of tolerance. I probably shouldn’t talk like that, but people have taken so-called spirituality and just interwoven it with this self-centred obsessions that people have and the vainness and the pursuit of so-called material temporary flashes of material happiness, and they make it out to be spiritual, because you attach certain labels to it. No! Crap! It ain’t. Real spirituality is founded upon the cultivation of the appreciation and vision of who I really am as an eternal spiritual being beyond the body and beyond the mind, my true self.
So, in short, real spiritual cultivation calls for a shift from self-centredness towards selflessness. Oooh… That’s no longer even attractive, because we’ve become so indoctrinated and conditioned by the ideas of self-centredness, that they’ve become so important. And as the environmental scientist points out, this is exactly what the problem is, and why you will not fix the problems in the world through science and dickering around the edges. There is a need to go to the heart of the problem.
This shift from self-centredness to selflessness is a shift from serving myself to serving the Supreme Soul and to serving my fellow men. And of course if anybody goes, “Well why are you only saying fellow men? What about the women?” it’s like don’t you speak English, fellow man is speaking of a race, the human race.
So some years back the Dalai Lama wrote a book on happiness, and he said if anyone wants to actually experience true happiness in this life only two things are required, and these two things are essential. One of them is to develop purpose in your life and the second is to serve. These two things result in happiness. I think it’s kind of tragic that people are so unable to serve fellow man, but we can serve other species. We can pander over a dog or a cat or a budgie, but we wouldn’t do that for another human being. And that points to a tremendous—this is a very sad situation where we have become so disconnected from where mankind or humankind has come from over the past thousands of years.
You think that these modern times are enlightened times? No. If you examine the underlying philosophies and ideas that have been promoted, get past all the emotions and the buzzwords that perform well in polling, that emotionally play on us and look at the hard facts of things.
So this idea of purpose is fundamentally an idea of something bigger than myself. If your purpose is your “self,” and particularly your false self, I’m sorry, you’re going to have an unhappy life, and your death will be quite miserable as well. I’m sorry. It’s just a reality.
I’ll give you a little example. I mean, we all know, if you’ve ever done any act of kindness for someone, whether it’s opening a door, helping somebody with some—trying to carry a heavy load, helping a kid up who’s fallen over, I mean anything, anything that we do, to help an animal even, anything that we do in this mood of giving, which is what service is about, immediately lifts the spirits, makes you feel, “That was nice. That was a good thing to do.”
Much of the problems of the world come from this self-centeredness. And I had this amazing experience in one of the prison programs I run, where there was a guy that had a history of being a sex offender, who himself now suffered from great shame and everything of what had happened in his life, and even when he gets out after an extended period of decades in jail he’s going to be shunned by society and everything, and he was so overwhelmed he felt completely suicidal.
Let me state that in depressive conditions (and I’m talking about them in general), and suicide, there is no one else there. This is like this is self-centredness in its most intense state. You don’t see anyone else, you don’t recognize anyone else. It’s just you and this black hole that you are in. And that is why, actually, interpersonal connection is one of the best things for helping people in these conditions.
So this guy in jail, anyway he had finally decided that he was so over it he’s going to kill himself. Well I’ll just tell you a side point here. You cannot kill yourself. You never die. You can’t die. You are an eternal being. You kill your body, and you move on, but you bring all the crap with you. You think it was bad now, I promise you it can get worse. That’s a hard reality and I’m sorry if anybody doesn’t like to hear that.
This person had made up his mind, “Okay, this is where I’m gonna go do the deed.” He had found the appropriate place where he could do it and the means of doing it, where he wasn’t going to be caught, and no one was going to stop him. He made the plan for the best time when he could do it. And then on the day that he had decided to do it, he went to that place, and he encountered another person from his unit, another prisoner, who was in the process of killing themself. It shocked him. And he immediately started talking to the person. And he saw that person’s pain, the pain that they were in to be able to come to this point of engaging in this horrific act, and he was so moved by it he began engaging with the person, and talking them out of this decision, and then spending time with them helping them and bringing them back to their cell and spending time talking with them.
So I asked him, “And so what happened to you and your plan?” And when I asked him he just like, there was this look of shock on his face, because he had never thought in that way. And of course the reality was that he instantly forgot his problems. He instantly forgot his situation and his self-centeredness, because he had become completely involved with somebody else and their suffering, and was reaching out to try and alleviate their unhappiness, their burden and their suffering. And because of that experience, it changed him. He never thought of doing that again.
Side point: if you’re ever in a situation, one of the best things that people who are contemplating suicide can do is think about what’s going to happen to the people they leave behind, the effect that they’re doing this, the effect that it will have on their intimate relatives friends and associates, the fact that people within their family or their circle of influence generally, subconsciously, will now think that if this person committed suicide, “Hey, this is one of the tools in the toolbox, that down the road I can maybe do that.” When people connect with this understanding, it is frequently, if not almost always, impetus for somebody not to do this. And it gets people—there is the shift from where it’s only me and my problems and my unhappiness, to now thinking about others and their problems and their unhappiness. And I regard this as actually proof of the fact that this is the shift that’s needed.
We have lost this culture of helping others. It only shows up when there’s like an earthquake or a big fire or a flood, and everybody jumps in and starts lending a hand. And anybody that jumps in and lends a hand and sacrifices time and energy and their sleep and everything to help people in tremendous need, they come away from it feeling an exhilaration, not a crazy high, but this powerful upliftment of the spirit in doing something good.
And the reason that you feel like that is it is because it is part of your eternal spiritual nature to engage in this way, to offer kindness and service. This is part of our spiritual nature.
But with the way things are going we’re moved away from this to the realm of selfishness.
So is this okay? Anybody mad at me?
So all the things that we’ve talked about in “What Is Your Life’s Compass?” and we’ve got—and you can refer to it on the web and stuff—a list of qualities that we are encouraged to actively cultivate. We—just as society has cultivated excessive greediness, excessive envy of what others have.
This is the only principle behind advertising, the recognition that you are all empty. All big advertising agencies know this. Everybody’s empty. Everybody’s looking to fill up that hole. And then the next thing that they do is show you, they associate a product or a service with somebody manifesting fulfillment, happiness, and they draw this connection: if you have that, that will fill up this hole. This will fill up this empty space. It’s envy of what others have, fundamentally.
We need to cultivate any I mean—and I like I mentioned, there’s a whole list there. I mean, pick three or four or five of them and make a decision: This is what I want to be important in my life. These underlying things I’m gonna really focus on, and I’m going to, through-out my life, not just an emotion, or commit, “Oh yeah, I want to do this, or try it,” and then burn out. Yeah, you’ll burn out in a couple of weeks of trying to cultivate these things, but it has to be bigger than that. You have to make a commitment that I’m going to keep revisiting this, and when I waver, when I go off course, I’m going to go back to that, and I’m going to cultivate it, because it’s in my interest to do it, and it’s in everybody else’s interest that I’m connected with for me to do this. And choose, what are going to be your guiding principles in life, what’s going to constitute your compass?
But I tell you these two things are critically important: showing kindness and helping others, and having some clear purpose more than self-centeredness.
So in closing I’ll just read a couple of verses from a very wonderful ancient text, known as the Caitanya Caritamrta. The great spiritual teacher from over 530 plus years ago, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he made the following statements. “One who has taken their birth as a human being should make their life successful…” that’s number one, “…and work for the benefit of all other people.” So these are the two things.
And of course, the definition of making your life successful, the purpose of your being should be self-realization, to come to know your true and eternal spiritual self and live true to that identity, not the false temporary identity of the body that you are currently occupying and the myriad of desires that can flood the mind. This is the foundation.
And of course, working for the benefit of others: in another two verses he states,
“It is the duty the duty of all living beings to perform welfare work for the welfare activities for the benefit of others with one’s life, wealth, intelligence and work. By their work, thoughts and words an intelligent person must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and in the next.”
So there we have a heavy focus on spiritually beneficial things. But that doesn’t preclude helping somebody in distress and need, the recognition that with this current life I will encounter all kinds of people in different situations. But don’t limit your help to just material benefit because that passes.
Okay, that’s it. That’s the close out for the series.
Anybody have a question? Was it too serious? It’d be good if it was. Yeah sure?
Audience: …change in others… [hard to hear]
Acd: I’m sorry I can’t hear so well.
Audience: How do we inspire change from selfishness to selflessness?
Acd: Yeah. So we cannot affect the world in the way that we need to without ourselves changing. Michael Jackson? [Laughs] No, these are eternal truths. It’s not just The Man In The Mirror. We need to become what we want to see in others. And so there are just two things that are that are critical and indispensable.
One is the cultivation of the understanding of my true and eternal spiritual being, that we’re completely lost to. I mean you ask most people, “Who are you? Describe yourself,” all you’re going to get is a list of characteristics of the body and what the body looks like. Right or not? And maybe some mental attraction, “Oh I like this kind of thing,” or “I’m attracted to this,” or whatever. That’s not you. You are the source of life. You are the person within, but we have no knowledge of this. So there is a need to cultivate an understanding and an increased spiritual awareness of our eternal being. That’s foundational.
The way in which that will happen is, apart from the cultivation of understanding, it’s this process of meditation. Meditation means I expose myself to that which is transcendental. That is what—meditation is not about your mind. Your mind is material. It’s not spiritual. It’s taking your body and your mind and your self, and placing it, immersing it in that which is spiritual or transcendental. And over time it will have the effect of gradually raising the veil so that we can directly perceive our actual spiritual identity and the identity of others. And that will radically influence how we look at the world, how we look at and interact with others, and what we think is important, and how we are going to live.
So if you don’t go through that internal transformation, then you can try to adopt things externally, and it may help for a little while, but the tendency for us will be to always veer back towards or get pulled into the conditioning that’s been there since time immemorial. So if we want to break through that, those two things are essential and foundational.
And then on top of that, there’s a whole bunch of things that you can do. Like we talked about, cultivating, deciding, what are qualities that I need to take on board in my life that’s going to make me a better person and going to make it so that I have a more spiritual experience of life and to do actual good for others?
Okay? Good enough?
So it’s—if you’re tending to be a little bit lazy, it’s kind of like [mimes a lazy person in dismay] it sounds like a lot of hard work. Yeah, it’s kind of a little bit of hard work. And what’s the way to overcome that? The way to overcome that, this is called satsang or sangha. Sangha means spiritual association. By mixing with people that have the same desire, that are heading in the same direction, building relationship, finding people that are more spiritually advanced than myself. I need to go and find people that are more spiritually advanced than me and place myself in their sphere of influence. That inspires me. It gives me energy. It makes me understand, “Yeah, I can do this.”
Audience: Acharya, the gentleman’s question, at the end, I don’t think you heard, was “How can we influence others to make this change?” and I guess what you’re saying is we make the change ourselves that will influence others?
Acd: Yeah we start with our self. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to reach out to others, but we start with ourself. I can’t give somebody something I don’t have. I can introduce them to somebody else that’s got something and who may share it, but the idea of helping others is really, really, really important, and we should seek in our life to expand our sphere of influence, and to have a positive and uplifting influence, a spiritual influence, on everybody in our sphere of influence. They may willingly take it on board, or begrudgingly, or a little tiny bit, or not be interested. Doesn’t matter. You just continue to be kind and supportive and helpful.
Okay? Thank you very, very much. Haribol.
So, the process to bring transformation, to bring self-realization! I’ll chant the mantra Haribol Nitai-Gaur, and then may switch into something else.