Eastern Philosophy Comes to the West FINAL EDIT COMPLETE


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SPIRITUALITY

 

 

 

EASTERN PHILOSOPHY COMES TO THE WEST

 

Peter Glasson

 

 

The meeting and confrontation of Eastern and Western civilisations count among the most significant events of the last quarter of a century. This is the point made by Mircea Eliade in Myths, Dreams and Mysteries.

 

What distinguishes this century from others, is that this 'meeting and confrontation' between the two types of civilisation has occurred not only through diplomacy and war, but also through the adoption of Eastern life styles and philosophies by Western youth on a scale unimaginable at the close of the fifties. The social implications for historical society in this development are enormous; and it is surprising that few sociologists and futurologists, if any, have reckoned with it in their calculations.

 

This development has also put the churches, which had shaped and lent support to historical society, in an unfavourable position. Through condoning the Vietnam War, condemning the use of marijuana, and objecting to just about everything in the new demands, they were seen as inextricably bound up with the no longer credible aims of a society whose morality, revolving around the maxim of 'the end justifies the means'.

 

Despite the wide, forceful activity of the Jesuits at the second Vatican Council (which sought to reform and give a new impetus to Christianity) their involvement in the new liberalism, and their frantic involvement in the movements arising out of the rejection of society's priorities and values, the churches have yet failed to achieve a favourable compromise between their rigid theology and organisational structure within the morality of the new demands.

 

But the churches have been unable to offer solutions or answers within their historical confinement, whereas Eastern philosophies in their open-ended, universal approach have been increasingly successful in doing so.

 

This inability of the churches to satisfy the new spiritual needs of youth has arisen even more out of youth's experiences with the use of hallucinogens. To the LSD experience, theology has no answer. Mysticism does; but have not the churches frowned upon mysticism for centuries past as an “aberration of the mind"?

 

Huxley had taken hallucinogens and sought to objectivise his experiences by relating these to Eastern systems. Timothy Leary made a wider impact in advocating LSD as a means for psychological liberation. His colleague, Richard Alpert, alias Baba Ram Dass, made an equally wide impact in advocating the system of Swami Muktananda as a means for dealing with the terrific power of Kundatini Shakti, 'the serpentine fire', which hallucinogens activate, according to Indian specialists.

 

Carlos Castaneda related in his books how it was possible to develop marvellous powers under the guidance of a guru who used peyote and other hallucinogens to obtain them. The idea is that a system of psychic development is available through peyote; and this is not impossible, though traditionally condemned by Indian Masters for its superficiality and impermanency.

 

But like the arousal of Kundalini through meditation, hallucinogens affect different people in differing ways. For some, it can be a self-contained religious experience, providing there is some sort of religious background to make up the substance of the hallucinations. For others, dominated by the tensions of self, it can be a nightmare. For others, intelligent, but not particularly religious, it is unsatisfactory in its incompleteness. The experience of seeing 'vast blue deeps', and so forth, is one thing but what does it mean? The question has a worry of its own, as does the erratic power of the serpentine fire on a mind not under LSD or marijuana.

 

Like Huxley, the latter 'unsatisfied' group (probably the largest) sought, and is still seeking,  answers in Eastern systems. These systems are based on the authority of the churches is being replaced by an authority which Christian mystics have long known, but priests never preached, that of the Augoeides, or inner Self. The Eastern systems teach how to achieve its realisation inwardly through meditation techniques which enable control over the mind and emotions to be achieved, and provide access to a universal spiritual experience, while the churches can only offer tentative approaches to a personal God through outward prayer and worship. The difference in satisfaction between the two is immense; and those young people who have experienced both, will not be persuaded that the traditional practice of the churches is superior to that of the East. 

 

Alan Watts, with his simply written books on Zen, was one of the first to offer a framework whereby the LSD-induced experience could be made relevant and given intelligent value. His books provided more than this: they also provided a new life style, new attitudes, which successfully embraced the problems, individual and social, of a generation. He was able to give people what had been lacking since the collapse of that morality of appearances associated with the outward authority of historical society: an individual sense of purpose which, in the collective mass, promised social harmony and individual well-being, on or off weeds and chemicals.

 

As the sixties ran their tumultuous course, from many different systems came a common solution to humanity's problems: meditation. Movements with an organisational basis and Eastern background now began to gain in popularity. Transcendental meditation, Hare Krishna, Ananda Marga, the Divine Light Mission, and many more, were, and are, able to offer peace, if not salvation, to many who cannot adapt to living in a modern urban state. This has especially been so with people who have undergone psychically unsettling LSD experiences.

 

Already these movements have brought about a radical change in the lives and direction of many former political activists. They have virtually brought peace to the troubled sons and daughters of a generation. By their example they are showing how life should, and can be lived. Their influence upon a monolithic, materialist society has already, I think, been beneficial in obliging it to recognise that men are of differing temperaments, that what may suit one, may not suit another. 

 

The development of the Eastern influence in Western civilisation must, in all, prove to the good; a wide area of understanding between the two civilisations of East and West is apparent in the new generation who already talk of mankind as being 'one organic family'.

 

It is a development which offers the best guarantee of universal peace, universal brotherhood, though no-one should be so optimistic as to expect this while the West believes in its traditional values, based on the treacherous Aristotlean doctrine of 'self-enlightened interest', of which the new liberalism is probably the last expression. 

 

Still, it engenders an atmosphere for a future state of universal peace, the ethical basis of which may be provided by some world-figure in the not too distant future. Toynbee and Polyani do not suggest, but assert, that a new religious figure will arise in the future to give man a universally satisfying religion.

 

This is certainly possible. It does not necessarily mean the demise of all the eastern religious movements in existence today. Possibly it may mean that such a universal religion could embrace them, providing in its non-institutional appeal a counter-balance to the power and materially weakening diversity of specialised religious organisations.

 

In any case, the necessity felt amongst a small but not insignificant, segment of youth for a spiritually orientated life is indicative of a new society, a new civilisation in the making, rather than a counter culture. It may be hindered by future clashes of political ideologies in East and West, by resulting war, revolution, economic and social dislocation, dictatorship, or it may be helped by them.

 

For it is probable that, if the general politico- economic situation should deteriorate badly over the next thirty years, the 'alternative life style', to be found already in principle in rural communes having no organisational affiliation, will attract increasing numbers profoundly dissatisfied with a society in which nothing goes right, and where lies and violence, outright and subtle, are accepted as 'normal'.

 

The blending of East and West— Eastern wisdom and Western technology—in two generations, thus promises to continue, to develop and grow. It may in time yield up a social system complete in itself, based upon the authority of the universal Augoeides, whose derivative ethic is altruism, and whose tool is zeteticism.

 

If so, the world of the Twenty-first Century may be a rather pleasant one to live in.

 


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