Spiritual Traditions Fail the Global Crises - Part I

Spiritual Traditions Fail the Global Crises - Part I

By Kavita Byrd

Why Our Spiritual Traditions Have Failed to Respond to the Global Crises – And How We Can Change That Now

Given that the loss of the sense of the sacred in our lives – our relationship with the Earth as well as our values, our world-view, our systems – is clearly destroying the Earth and driving us to extinction –  one would think that religions and spiritual paths would be the first to respond, to restore the sacred in our lives, to be on the front lines in regenerating our planet and society. Yet both the traditional religions and New Age, post-modern spiritual approaches have failed to respond effectively to the global crises. Instead of challenging and transforming patriarchy, materialism and capitalism, the sources of the crises, they have often become complicit with them, both directly entwined with them and complacent about changing them. How can we bring spirituality, then, into a direct and powerful response to the existential crises we face, rather than simply serving the forces of escapism, fatalism, elitism and complacency?

How we can create a new spiritual activist paradigm that can truly rise instead to the challenges of these times –  the clarion call from nature herself and our own evolutionary imperative for radical transformation, both of our consciousness and our systems –  in a fresh and effective way? 

Today the climate emergency, and impending social and ecological collapses it augurs, can no longer be ignored. Even the schoolchildren are rising up for their survival; it is a sacrilege to pretend not to hear their cries. If our spiritual orientations have been too weak or obsolete to defend them and our Earth, it is clear we need new visions. 

First of all, we need to know that going beyond our ego is not about disappearing into a void, a detached transcendence from the world, but going beyond the illusion of separation between ourselves and the world; and further, that that illusion itself is built upon a still deeper illusion that either are ever separate from their own eternal Source.  What does this mean? That both we and the world (we and “the Earth”, we and the “other”, human or non-human) are held in an infinite space of light, peace and joy that, as we evolve, flows powerfully through both, healing the illusory rift between them. This evolutionary unfolding from the depths of our own true being lifts the veil not only between ourselves and the “other” but also between the present moment and the eternal Presence in which it is appearing, the here and now of our crisis-torn world and the infinite light of healing and guidance that bathes it, washes through it.

A true nondual realization does not pit our own liberation against compassionate action or caring for our world. It suffuses us with the love and wisdom to heal our ravaged planet, and also breaks open the time-space matrix and delivers us to our true nature, which is boundless, endless and whole. Taken in this way, our crises themselves are transmuted into an extraordinary stroke of grace, a source of salvation on both counts, worldly and eternal, of this world and beyond it. The seeming curse of destruction that has fallen upon us becomes a portal of blessing, redemption, an opening into the deathless. 

I said “first of all”, but really, if we begin to see this, we have the key to all: both healing our crises, planetary transformation, and a true spiritual awakening –  the key that can crack open the illusory divisions that separate us from each other, our precious Earth, and, in the same stroke, our own infinite Source; the stroke of grace that can break open the grid of illusion, the prison bars of time and space, that keep us separated from our own limitless true nature, both in its formless Essence and all its myriad forms. In this most portentous of crises, we are being handed the master-key to the mystery of who we really are. There is a mercy in this crisis, unfathomable to our minds, but which if we meet it empty-handed, showers us with its light.

I believe the challenges we face today, tremendous as they are, are calling us to no less than this total awakening – an awakening that can empower the healing we need both personally and collectively, at both inner and outer levels. We are called, as never before, to an awakening that spans all the dimensions of our being; that heals all divisions within us and all the divisions between us. It is a mandate we cannot ignore: it is truly now or never. 

Some say it is too late, but I believe it is our own choices that can make us or break us. It is our own intention to heal, both ourselves and our planet, an unstoppable commitment to do whatever it takes; and paradoxically, deep surrender, to the unseen powers of guidance that can help us through this dark and unknown terrain, infusing every step we take with the light of that higher intelligence that has created the entire cosmos.  

There is a mystery moving through us, and we need to meet that mystery with both dedicated, fierce willingness and the sweet grace of surrender. In these extraordinary times, we are called to meet our situation with clarity, awe and integrity, all in equal measure. We are called beyond the opposites; to alchemize grief and fear into gratitude, courage and strength; realism and disillusion into inspired vision; humility and unknowing into the power of a collective transformation at a heroic, out-sized scale, a magnitude off all known charts. Something else is charting our way, calling forth a new world from within us, but we have to give ourselves to it, letting go of our hubris, letting go into its hands. And in this total surrender to the forces that made us out of nothing, we become naked channels for the next evolutionary unfolding; mysticism meets action.

When we can see through our chattering, self-identified thoughts, the prison of our own story and mind, and drop deep into our hearts, we come to know ourselves as nothing, and everything at the same time; we come to know who we really are; the infinite, deathless space that contains the whole of creation. This is the key, and power, to healing our own suffering and the rifts between us, the rifts between us and our Earth, the key to our transformation and ultimate liberation. Our liberation is not from life on this Earth, but from the illusion of separation between us and all of existence, in this world and beyond it. When the veil of mind is lifted, even the seeming separation between life and death dissolves. This is the true birth that beckons us, to Heaven here on this Earth and at the same time eternal.

All of this is implicit in the wisdom traditions, but now more than ever before we need to make space for it to come forth, space within ourselves and outer spaces of dialogue, sharing and exploration between us. We have to dust off what no longer serves and clear space for the new to emerge, where the guidance and wisdom most needed today, in response to our unique crises, can become clear and explicit.

For those of us especially who practice Eastern spiritual traditions, we need a more profound and relevant understanding of their true import than we have needed before, a truly non-dual understanding that overcomes the seeming division between spirit and matter, the transcendent and immanent, our infinite true nature and its manifest forms. We are called now to go beyond the illusion of separation itself, from our own formless Essence and also all its forms, here on Earth, in the present. Spirit is not somewhere else, someplace we need to transcend to: it is here and now, pervading all its own forms, our own forms and all nature. I believe these forms are collapsing now – the forces and forms that sustain us, the rhythms and cycles of nature – because we have not recognized, or failed to honor, the sacredness that pervades them. 

This is true, of course, of the Western traditions too – the split between the sacred and the secular has been at the root of our denigration of the Earth, and the gross materialism of our cultures, that has led to our current crises. Creation is the outer face of the Divine, and, as indigenous people have always known, must be treated as sacred, not (from the religious side) some mistake or delusion or vale of woe to be escaped, or (from the secular side) merely a source of resources to be rapaciously extracted, exploited, and wasted.

Yes, it is all a dream, but we need to embrace this dream in love in order to awaken it. We need to embrace in total surrender and love this precious gift of life on Earth, this mystery, not seek to escape it or torture its secrets from it. In this deepest surrender, an inversion, and conversion, takes place; the mystery envelops us and takes us into itself; we enter into communion with its secret power, we merge in the sacred fountain of creation. This is the key that can turn the nightmare we have landed in into a dream bathed in bliss and, deeper still, revelation; the boundless light that streams from our heart, and the heart of all being, the deepest source of our own inner illumination.

Our way forward will be lit from within, and the wisdom we find there, and not the outdated ideas of our mind that have gotten us into our predicament in the first place. In the famous quote from Einstein that has become the slogan of our times, we cannot solve our problems from the same state of consciousness that caused them to begin with. We need to move from a consciousness of separation, which has gotten us into our crises, to a consciousness of our true unity, which can heal and transform them. The ultimatum to awake to the ultimate truth of our being is unequivocally clear.

This is true non-duality, the way we must go to overcome our sense of division between ourselves and others, between ourselves and the Earth, between ourselves and the greater infinite Source of our being that creates and holds all of these, that is their very own nature. Our failure to do so has been at the root of our ecological crises, acute social injustice, economic inequity, loss of hope and meaning, physical and mental health epidemics, cultural degradation. If we are to reverse these, we must return to a Oneness with all that is, and reverse and transform the systems – social, economic, governance, ecological as well as religious –  that have been built upon that core error, the sense of separation. The time has come to break open the bubble of this massive delusion that, if left uncorrected, will lead us to mass self-destruction. 

When we realize our Oneness with all that is, when the boundaries of our separateness become transparent, we are automatically initiated into the boundless, the deathlessness of our true nature. We are both the infinite and the moment, the infinite space that gives rise to all forms and the forms it gives rise to, the ocean and its waves. Each moment is an entryway into the infinite; non-duality means to realize ourselves as both, and not to set up a false division between them. This is the only way to go – into our true Wholeness – if we are to go forward. Paradoxically, our future depends upon our connection with the timeless, which alone can infuse us with the ageless wisdom we need to survive and thrive.