By Yogi Baba Prem, Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
For millennia humanity in the western world has desired something better; something that transcended the mundane existence of life. As usual, strong desire has given birth to a variety of expressions such as 'the grass is always greener on the other side'. Though certainly there have been those that found this not to be true. Historically, we have seen a variety of attempts to create a perfect harmonious group, community, or society; yet, these attempts have largely failed in their purpose and function. This utopian desire has manifested in a variety of traditions and cultures; yet, it has nestled in the realm of religion to the greatest degree. Pertaining to religion, this ‘desire for something better' has culminated in promises of 'better' in a variety of different expressions ranging from hope to the more expansive concept of utopia. And why wouldn't this idea permeate religion, as religion and philosophy does ask questions such as 'Why is there suffering? What is the nature of suffering? Why do we suffer?’
It is likely that suffering is the compelling force towards utopia, as it is natural for one to seek avoidance of suffering. In reality, humanity has performed poorly in avoiding suffering. It is our aversion to suffering that, unfortunately, increases suffering at times. As we try to avoid suffering, we seek its opposite--pleasure. But, this pleasure often leads to suffering due to our attachments to pleasure and fear of the loss of pleasure. Young religions such as Christianity or Islam have attempted to deal with this conundrum by promising a better world and afterlife, as both clearly recognize the difficulty of elimination of suffering in broad terms for humanity as a whole. And as part of the human need for dealing with suffering, we developed and embraced proactive based strategies such as compassion and love. While these are important ideas, they are successful when applied on higher levels, when they are applied on their lower and emotional level, they can become powerful destructive forces.
The model for a utopian society, while admirable, is somewhat flawed, in my opinion, and is somewhat incompatible within the human experience. Let's examine this from a Hindu and yogic perspective. While our longing for a 'utopian society' is admirable it struggles in practice in the modern world, as it is dependent upon external forces that are frequently beyond the reach or control of the seeker of utopia. To begin our exploration of this, we must recognize that the human experience or incarnation is only one of a long line of steps in evolution of veiled infinite consciousness. In other words, our consciousness has been evolving through the mineral kingdom into the plant kingdom and eventually into the animal kingdom. Each of these kingdoms has a transitory species, so to speak, and the human incarnation marks the beginning of a transition of moving from the animal kingdom into the fourth kingdom-the spiritual kingdom. It is through these transitional incarnations that one becomes aware of layers upon layers of worlds and layers of consciousness. Yet, it is only through the evolved human incarnation that one may perceive their true identity or essence--soul. When this is achieved it is called moksha-liberation. Upon achieving liberation, a relatively small number of souls return (reincarnation) to maintain a balance of sattva (harmony) within the world, to a degree. While it is easy to see why humanity would long for some type of utopia, it is the very process of evolution through the three kingdoms and toward the 4th kingdom that denies our quest for utopia. As we must be mindful that those that are achieving liberation are leaving for other 'duties' in the cosmic order, while others are 'moving up' through the animal kingdom and are in early stages of the human incarnation. This often maintains an uneasy balance between those that are more aware and the masses that are more in a deep sleep as to their true nature. The stages of the human incarnation are heavily influenced by the gunas (tamas, rajas, sattva). While technically possible, it is almost unheard of for one in a tamasic state to achieve enlightenment without passing through the other gunas. It is even rare for a rajasic person to achieve enlightenment as well without passing deeply into sattva. In fact, there are numerous preparatory or evolutionary stages of sattva prior to achieving enlightenment.
In order to achieve a true utopian society, it would require a relatively large number of already enlightened souls in a small geographic area, and a large number of sattvic individuals. This would allow for a more utopian type society, yet it would still be tempered by the karmas of the individuals and might result in some degree of flux between the joyful and less than joyful utopian state from time to time. Attempts at even small groups have met with limited success, with individuals being asked to leave and periodic conflicts arising within the groups. There were periods where a type of utopian existence amongst a few small groups of Rishi’s existed in earlier world ages, but due to changes within humanity, we cannot achieve this en masse’ globally. Even within the modern ashram environment there are conflicts that arise, and in some traditions it is understood that the ashram environment will intensify pressure upon the members of the ashram. This pressure is to compel them to spiritually grow and transform. Therefore, the solution is that we must refine our expectations and/or definition of utopian.
Embracing a utopian type experience is more easily achieved through personal growth and transformation; through deep introspection, understanding and application of Spiritual/Hindu/Yoga concepts, as well as powerful skills in meditation and cultivation of sattva. Rather than looking for utopia outside of ourselves, we should cultivate an inner awareness that evolves into our own personal utopia. This utopia would not be free of challenges or suffering, rather we would perceive these challenges from a different plane or level of consciousness. Through this perceptional change in consciousness, one experiences not merely joy in life, but transcends joy and moves into the realm of bliss, as well as a space of neutrality moving from the emotional states of the tamasic and rajasic states of consciousness. This not only takes one into the heavenly worlds, but beyond them into the realm of pure consciousness (turiya).
Eventually through this process, one no longer longs for any type of utopian experience; as they have cultivated an awareness of the 'bigger picture'. They are able to perform their duty without attachment, seeing all as cause and effect, while tempering this awareness with compassion and love for the unaware and the suffering of their fellow beings.
On a personal level, one can achieve their own utopian ‘world’ so to speak, if their world is defined as an inner world. Likewise, this inner world can then be brought out into manifestation in the outer world to some degree. But this requires a great deal of personal work and transformation of consciousness. Likewise, it requires a transformation regarding our understanding of the meaning and application of the utopian concept. In other words, it is not that utopia is found per se’, rather we have found a place of peace within the true identity of being. This can be cultivated through study with one that has achieved some degree of realization, and through the practice of yoga, in particular the aspects of yoga associated with meditation. Another approach is study of sacred texts, teachings or scriptures of Hinduism. As there is no other culture that has documented in both oral and written traditions the journey towards realization to the extent that Hinduism has. Without discovering utopia on an inner level, one is left adrift amongst the ravaging sea of life and is destined to confront the stark reality pertaining to the origins of the word; coming from the Greek ‘ou’ and ‘topos’ literally meaning ‘no place’ and more commonly known as meaning ‘nowhere’. Without the inner considerations of utopia through meditation, one is on a track to experience the literal meaning of utopia, meaning they are going nowhere.
If you wish to learn more about the Gunas and the more
advanced Sub-gunas see our
online study programs.
If you wish to learn more about the Gunas and the more advanced Sub-gunas see our online study programs.
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