The modern dilemma

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People are just cannibals unless they leave each other alone. 

— Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

The central conversations of our times circle around wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalisation, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the legality and morality of homosexuality, the debate about gender neutrality and the temptations of power. The world is getting progressively smaller. Individual voices are getting louder. Economic creeds have overturned governments and inflamed the world. Philosophers — who were once knights in shining armour — have run away from the battlefronts, overwhelmed by the sheer monstrosity of the problems that challenge their minds. The poignant drama unfolding in the world and the spate of problems it has brought along with it are too complex to be comprehended by philosophers who once could summon all the sciences and direct them according to their commands.

The comprehension of the paradoxes and perplexities of life now seem to be beyond their ken. Facts have supplanted understanding and knowledge is no longer able to generate wisdom.

Every school of thought has contrived its own language of clichés and jargon understandable only by its exclusive devotees who jealously guard the entry of any new initiate. Cultural denudation has confronted us with a new macabre reality. The dignity of truth has been derogated while wealth has been enthroned in regal splendour even while poverty grows as perniciously as ever. The philosopher is no longer the king. The world no longer belongs to him. He has been traumatised by the fusillade of unending and complex issues.

Commentators are already seeing the confrontation between cultures unfolding in apocalyptic proportions. Our sense and value of ourselves as human beings are being remodelled as our attention is devoured by the abstractions of virtual realities, fantasies, videogames, violence and vulgarity. Deep down, everyone is concerned about survival, pulling in and getting through life. What is the meaning of human life? It seems so abstract. Even if it is answered, what good would it do? We don’t have the time. Living in the most affluent wedge in history, we have begun looking to the ascetic for inspiration.

Unlike the West, where new-age gurus have developed pop-culture that serves as a palliative for modern insecurities, the East has a rich — even if sometimes tainted — tradition of spiritual practices, a sense of inner growth and a practice of community-living where happiness is not a pursuit, but a state of mind attained through disciplined learning.

We face a constant struggle with the moral, material, social, cultural religious, spiritual and political complexities and oddities of an ever and rapidly changing society. The time is approaching when esoteric knowledge and the maps of the unconscious of the Eastern mystics accumulated over centuries, would deluge the West, which is now a spiritual desert. While the West has been developing its technological prowess, the mystics have developed a sophisticated type of inner technology in the form of their practices — a way of moving towards self-realisation.

 

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