Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Be Transformed By the Renewal of Your Mind"

". . . (D)o not be conformed to the world, rather be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
-- Romans 12:2 --
That there is an inherent conflict between the spiritual quest and the 'norms' of society is a reality that is as old, one assumes, as society itself. As Taoism was in many ways a rejection of Confucian conformity, Buddhism was a rejection of the ritualism of the Vedas, and Christianity was a rejection of a then-stagnant Judaism, so, too, in recent times the multifarious spiritual quest is in many ways a rejection of today's rampant consumerism. Be it the newfound Western interest in Zen, Yoga, Sufism or the Kaballah, or Eastern interest in Christianity, there is a sense it seems that in a post-modern world more and more people are looking for something deeper than scientific materialism and the strictly consumer society that it breeds.

Rather than seeking conformity in post-modern societies that are seen as being increasingly dysfunctional in the face of the existential challenges we face - be it global warming, increasingly severe famines, widespread poverty, massive species extinction, deforestation and desertification, etc. - many individuals now recognize that first and foremost there must be a "renewal of the mind" (individually and collectively) if we are to face and overcome these imminent threats to our very survival. However, there remains a profound inertia towards conformity that challenges even the most ardent spiritual seeker who wishes to remain "in the world" rather than sequestered from it.

The attached video of then radical spiritual philosopher Alan Watts (a video presumably made in the late 1950s or early 1960s before the 'beat' movement morphed into the wider counter-cultural revolution of the late 60s) critiques both the then (and now) status quo, and at once highlights the profound challenge that conformity poses to those spiritual aspirants who would reject conformity in favor of radical transformation.

"In the Christian scriptures," Watts notes, " it says that everyone is equal in the sight of God. That is a mystical utterance. That means that from the standpoint of God, all people are divine and are playing their true function. And that is something that is true on a certain plane of consciousness. But come down a step and try to apply the mystical insight in the practical affairs of every day life, and what do you get? You get a parody of mysticism, You get the idea not that everyone is equal in the sight of God, but that all people are equally inferior."

It takes a bold and independent spiritual seeker - a modern-day Thoreau, perhaps - to remain engaged in society and yet committed to his or her transformation. More importantly, it takes true commitment and independence to carrying the message, as Watts did in the 50s and 60s, that transformation is possible both for individuals and for society as a whole.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

No comments: