II.2. New Western and Global Dharmic Schools of Thought
New Western and Global Dharmic Schools of Thought
The Western School of Thought in Crisis
������ The current western school of thought operative behind the spread of western culture today is actually more a school of non-thinking, not really a school of thought at all (just as the modern monoculture is no real culture at all). Its basis is commercialization, standardization, mass production and media stereotypes. It is mainly a school of advertising and marketing or of projecting political slogans. Just as the modern monoculture destroys other cultures, so too the current western school of thought destroys other schools of thought, which become at most footnotes within it.
Western culture today contains little deep thinking or seeking to get to the reality that transcends appearances, except in the counterculture and alternative thinkers that look to other civilizational models. The prevalent western school is a practical or business school aimed at getting results, which means accumulating money and winning the masses to a western way of life or, at best, improving the world through technology.
������ The western intellectual culture of Europe that developed from the Renaissance and flourished through the nineteenth century is almost dead today. European traditions of classical music, art, literature and philosophy were the first victims of the commercial monoculture that arose in the West. Their creative roots dried up. Their productions became commercialized. They remain more as museum pieces or as performance extravaganzas to encourage another level of spending. Classical Indian music and dance on the other hand are more popular than ever.
������ Western academia today similarly lacks deep thinking or spiritual insight. It falls into several characteristic traps. The first is justifying western commercial culture because of its technological advances, particularly in the field of medicine. The second is promoting a simplistic ideology of political correctness and human rights (often ignoring the rights of cultures), generally of a leftist nature. The third is developing an apologetic for western monotheism or trying to reform it in a modern light, without correcting its fundamental errors or being open to other religious models. The fourth is following the latest trend in science, creating an intellectual rationale for it, with philosophy tagging along behind science with no real vision of its own.
However, we should note that few people in the West directly follow academia, including relative to eastern traditions. Most westerners that study eastern traditions follow popular trends of Yoga, meditation and spirituality. In fact, western academia has little relevance to the West as a guiding school of thought. The guidance for the western civilization today comes more from Wall Street or the Pentagon than from Harvard or Yale (which function not to guide but rather to excuse or apologize for such military or business groups). Humanities departments in western universities are disappearing and universities are now mainly schools of either science or business.
For all the books, computers and universities in the West, there seems to be little creative thinking or deep spiritual inquiry going on, except among those who are looking to the East. At present we see few great thinkers on the horizon in the West, in spite of the flood of new information technologies. The progress in quantity in the West appears to have destroyed quality in culture as well. America as the world�s sole superpower does not reflect any real vision in its intellectual elite relative to humanity, the future, or a higher age of consciousness. The country seems more concerned with enjoying and sustaining power for its own benefit, rather than using it to advance the planet. The American government has been at the rear, not at the forefront of ecology, pollution control and arms control, though it likes to use the charge of human rights violations against its enemies. Similarly, American leaders no longer lead, but follow the public with the help of opinion polls and other devices that tell them what the public wants to hear. This is one of the down sides of Western democracy.
Deeper Currents in Western Civilization
However, deeper currents do exist within western civilization with affinities to the Indic school of thought and an orientation to Dharma or cosmic law. Some of these currents are very ancient, like the mystical impulses of the older Celtic and Greek traditions and their Druidic, bardic, Orphic and philosophical trends. Others are more recent and reflect the influence of the East through Theosophy, Vedanta, Yoga, Buddhism and Taoism, or the influence other native traditions like the Native American and Shamanism.
Within the European intellectual tradition are dharmic trends, though these remain generally scattered and broken without a yogic methodology to develop a higher consciousness. One can cite the nineteenth century Romantic era, whether mystical German philosophers or mystical English poets, with their emphasis on nature and a connection to the East, particularly India. Another example is the Existentialists of the early twentieth century with their examination of the workings of consciousness and perception. Recent physics with its search for a universal field of consciousness is yet another such trend.
In western mysticism has been a kind of hidden Vedanta, which resurfaced to some degree among European philosophers in the nineteenth century, and occurred in Greco-Roman thought through Parmenides, Plato and Plotinus. In Christianity were figures like Meister Eckhart, who had a Vedantic like philosophy out of place with the medieval church, or St. Francis, who had an approach of non-violence quite apart from Christian crusading. Some Sufis, like Rumi, also reflected Vedantic like ideas. But these were seldom part of orthodox traditions. We seldom find in them a full articulation of the greater Vedantic teaching of karma, dharma, Samsara and Nirvana. In the new era of global communication, people are beginning to discover that such mysticism is more common in eastern traditions and are no longer seeking it through western religions, which have been generally hostile to it anyway.
Behind Christianity itself is also a hidden form of Goddess worship, carrying on old Pre-Christian ways more in harmony both with nature and the spirit. Europeans in the Middle Ages worshipped the Virgin Mary as the great Mother Goddess, though according to the church she was actually only the �mother of Jesus�, not the Divine Mother, and was a minor figure in the Gospels. It was this devotion to the Divine Mother, manipulated by the church through the image of Mary, which gave beauty, depth and compassion to European culture. Now that the rule of the church is over, people are discovering the Goddess directly apart from any church control or limitation. It may lead also to a revival of the ancient Gnostic tradition, which was driven out of early Christianity
Stirrings of a New Western School of Thought
������ One could argue that a new western school of thought is struggling to emerge from the current culture, relying on traditional teachings both eastern and western, as well as cultivating a futuristic planetary vision. Through the earth wisdom of native traditions and the yogic spirituality of Asia, the western mind is beginning to undergo a slow metamorphosis. New ideas and insights, a seeking of consciousness and universality, are arising, with a turning away from any mere material, personal or outer definition of reality.
Perhaps the most obvious sing of this is ecological thinking which, since the collapse of communism, has emerged as perhaps the main idealistic movement in the West. It is seeking to restore the organic order of unity and diversity such as is the basis of Hindu thought, emphasizing consciousness even in animals and plants. This incipient western school sees a life-force and consciousness behind nature, an intimation of the Hindu perception of the great Gods and Goddesses of the cosmic mind. It recognizes a need to reintegrate society into the cosmic order and the rhythms of the natural world. It regards human beings as stewards of nature, not owners of capital. Many individuals within it are vegetarians, practice ahimsa, follow natural forms of healing and meditate regularly. Some are connected to eastern gurus or enlightenment traditions. Some are independent and draw on a variety of sources. New Buddhist thinkers in the West are emphasizing the concept of Dharma, though their understanding of the term is mainly in terms of Buddha Dharma and its psychological/humanistic orientation.
The dominant influence from India on western thought over the last century has been the Western Yoga movement. However, while beginning with a Vedantic orientation and a seeking of Self-realization with teachers like Vivekananda and Yogananda, it has moved away from its spiritual roots, following more popular and commercial physical trends. The Yoga movement in the West has failed to produce much by way of deep thinking. It has mainly become a body-based exercise system that is generally anti-intellectual. As in the case with many Indians, when there is spirituality, disciples think that it is enough to imitate the guru and repeat what he has said rather than think for themselves and produce something original and insightful.
The Western Yoga movement has added new insight in healing and medicine, including care of the dying (the hospice movement), but has produced little by way of real philosophy or useful critiques of knowledge or of civilization. At best, western Yoga students have done good practices to achieve a higher state of consciousness for themselves or helped others relieve personal suffering. They have not examined the issues of culture or sought a broader impact upon society, much less tried to create models of a new intellectual or cultural order.
A neo-Advaita movement has come up in the West under the influence of such teachings as Ramana Maharshi or J. Krishnamurti. It can sound spiritually sophisticated on a verbal level, but lacks the depth of true realization. Its main concern is individual enlightenment and the glorification of new guru personalities, not any global thinking or dharmic orientation to life and society. Such new gurus are often westerners who, with a quick enlightenment experience, think that they are ready to enlighten others and cultivate their own followings apart from any tradition. People in this movement are often anti-intellectual and seldom understand the Vedantic tradition behind such great sages as Ramana.
The Western Buddhist movement has created a number of interesting thinkers and many new books, with Buddhist approaches to ecology, psychology and feminism that can have some depth. This is largely owing to the work of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. However, the new Buddhism often falls into the same traps as the Yoga movement of commercialism, personality worship and a catering to western cultural values and appearances. Some neo-Buddhist thinkers, like many modern Yoga teachers are trying to create a politically correct form of Buddhism, turning it into a form of rational humanism in order to make it more appealing to the West, losing much of the real tradition along the way. Such efforts are more like a new American marketing, not the creation of a real dharmic school of thought in the West. A dichotomy between traditional and modern western views exists in Buddhism as it does in the Yoga tradition.
Western Buddhists are seldom aware of or look into the Indic roots of Buddhism and the greater dharmic tradition that Buddhism is part of. They don�t emphasize that Buddhism defined itself as an Indian or Bharatiya tradition, calling itself �Arya Dharma�, �Sanatana Dharma�, �Saddharma� or other terms shared by the Hindu tradition, as well as using many common symbols (like the swastika). They forget that the terminology of Buddhism they admire like karma, dharma, nirvana and samsara is common to the Indian tradition as whole and not unique to Buddhism, which only has its spin on a common dharmic heritage. They could benefit from a broader examination of the Indic tradition and the place of Buddhism within it. They don�t realize that the Hindu tradition is a dharmic ally, though there may be philosophical differences between the two traditions as there are within each.
In addition to these groups are certain independent or synthetic thinkers. Westerners like to mix and match spiritual teachings until they get a combination that they find suitable. Generally, westerners like eastern teachings but don�t want to follow any of these in a strict manner as they are against authority and don�t like discipline. They try to put together what they think is the best in eastern traditions or develop their own system out them, a new western approach. Some of these efforts are a western intellectualization of eastern traditions, which the western mind, in its cultural arrogance, can�t quite subordinate itself to, but other times they produce important new insights. Such trends are useful in a long term bridging of East and West. They may not have yet produced western thinkers or traditions of the same stature as those of the East, though they may do so over time (and if such thinkers do exist, they may not be known or popular).
Lack of Knowledge about India
������ It is surprising how uninformed or misinformed the western mind is, even in its occasional spiritual openness and how little of Asian traditions, particularly Hinduism, it has understood, examines or even bothers to read. Living in America and contacting many people in the Yoga and Buddhists movements, I have met only a few scattered individuals who possess real knowledge of the social and religious movements in India over the last century, much less the Vedic background of Indic civilization. Apart from knowing the names of a few great Indian gurus like Ramana Maharshi or Sri Aurobindo, they have little understanding or recognition of the Hindu mind and its concerns. Few are aware of the broader cultural and intellectual foundation of the Hindu tradition. Almost none know of the Hindu traditions of Dharma Shastras and the perennial Hindu urge to create a dharmic society.�
Most eastern spiritual movements in the West are concerned mainly with their own particular following and that of their guru. They want to avoid anything that might be offensive in the eyes of mainstream American culture or prevent non-Hindus from joining them. They distance themselves from Hinduism so as not to have to deal with the distortions about Hinduism that are still common in the West and might prejudice people against them. Naturally, this does little to remove such distortions or to help improve the image of the very tradition that they are benefiting from! For this reason, some Hindus find the western adaptation of their teachings to be self-serving and ungrateful.
Whatever knowledge western Yoga teachers have about India is usually what they have heard from the western media, which they naively accept as true, though they don�t trust the media in other areas. Those who are truly knowledgeable are generally only those who have lived and worked in India for some time, but most of them either haven�t made any effort or don�t have the means to articulate their knowledge.
������ In fact, many people in the West who claim to represent or teach eastern spiritual traditions are not well educated in their own traditions. They seldom read books, particularly of a traditional nature. They are not aware of India as a cultural and civilizational entity and its concerns. Their lack of knowledge of Sanskrit and regional dialects in India removes most western students from direct contact with the tradition and limits them to second hand sources that are often incorrect or, at best, keep them confined to the literature of their own lineage.
The Neopagan Movement
������ The neo-pagan movement is an important movement within western culture that contains the basis of a genuinely native western spiritual or dharmic school. It has two main branches. The first and perhaps largest consists of pre-Christian Celtic, Greek, Roman, Germanic and Slavic traditions from Europe�an Indo-European tradition that can easily be linked by common language and culture to India and to the Vedas. The second consists of a revival of pre-Christian and pre-Judaic traditions of Egypt and Mesopotamia, which have a similar temple worship and a long standing trade with India. Both branches have strong mystical traditions and a worship of the Goddess, as well as a supreme Deity like Hindu Shiva, the lord of the Yogis. In fact, it could be argued that unless the West rediscovers its own native spirituality that its spiritual awakening will remain incomplete, if not inauthentic.
Several scholars within this movement have studied eastern teachings, particularly the Hindu tradition as the oldest and best preserved pagan tradition in the world. Though few in numbers, they provide an excellent forum for dialogue. In addition there are many teachings and artifacts from these ancient traditions that remain and can be the basis for new modern teachings. A new scholarship is needed to handle this East-West convergence of ancient traditions.
In fact, the western New Age movement, with its embracing of many Gods and Goddesses, sages, spiritual paths and healing traditions, looks a lot like a new western Hinduism developing. Hinduism alone of the world�s major religions has a comparable complexity and diversity that can really encompass all spiritual teachings without their diminution.
A World School of Dharma
It may be wrong to expect too much of the West, particularly America which is a young country, in terms of leading the world spiritually, intellectually or culturally, particularly in its mainstream forces. What America has to offer that is really transformative is through its counterculture that is allied to native and eastern traditions. Any real spiritual awakening in the world is likely to come primarily through Asia, though it will be felt worldwide. India will likely be the first country to really manifest this, with a movement in this direction that is already over a century old and now pushing forward in a dynamic way. China will probably follow in a few decades, when it adds a resurgent Chinese Buddhist and Taoist culture to its genuine nationalism that is presently distorted by the hangover of communism. Eventually, Iran will return to its pre-Islamic traditions that have been its real strength through the centuries. Then we will see a new spiritual age for humanity with these three perennial civilizations active once more on their higher levels. The nexus of these three countries could create a real new dharmic order for the world.
Europe will probably be more significant in global spiritual awakening than America. A Celtic revival in Britain or a reawakening of mystical traditions in Russia linked to the East may prove important. One should note that India is a much more important country for Britain or Russia than for the United States, which for Asia will focus on China. Awakenings in native traditions in America, Africa and Asia will prove crucial for a global spiritual rebirth.
������ Eventually, a new world or planetary school of thought is required, seeking to establish a new sacred order for human life, a kind of neo-Vedanta. It will recognize the higher Self (Atman), the Absolute (Brahman), the Creator (Ishvara), the cosmic mind (Mahat) and Nature (Prakriti). It will accept the entire range of spiritual paths, the Yogas of knowledge, devotion, service and inner practices. At the same time, it will seek to create new intellectual, social and political orders in harmony with the inner knowledge, with new communities, tribes and lineages. This will provide a real foundation for advancing not only human but cosmic civilization on Earth, linking all time and space, this world and all the worlds. This is the universal order of Sanatana Dharma.