Friday, January 09, 2009

Spirituality, Narcissism and Democracy

Do you sometimes wonder why India, despite having so much of religion and spirituality and faith, is so corrupt, so weak in accepting the principles of democracy, and wonder why there is a complete absence of civic sense in India?

There are obviously economic reasons for corruption, patronage and self-centeredness, but, in my opinion, there are also very deep psychological reasons for what we call the "Indian" attitude.

I will present these reasons aphoristically, with explanations wherever necessary.

  1. Narcissism is the consideration of only "I" as being real.

    In psychological terms, narcissism is the preoccupation with oneself, with all else being secondary or unimportant.

  2. Spirituality is a narcissistic pursuit.

    Narcissism is the essential element of spirituality and religion. In many religions, this is stated as "The world is transient and therefore unreal, only the Self (atman) is real," or "My essence is Divine. Only the Divine is real," or "I am Brahma (aham brahmasmi), the creator of the universe," or "Only God is True, all else is Maya. I am God."

    The final stage of religious and spiritual pursuits is the union, or oneness, with God.

  3. Morality is a social construct, an essential but failed aspect of religions, and is unimportant in spirituality.

    In spirituality, one is answerable to only oneself, as one's Self is the only thing accepted as real. For a novice in traditional religions, morality is prescribed as the first step to giving up one's base nature. Of course it doesn't work because religions don't understand the socio-biological reasons of man's violence.

    Spirituality is different. If considered deeply, morality is a mere means in spirituality, it is a way to be virtuous and advance on the way. Morality is a spurious feel-good solution for the lazy religious, a way for people to feel that they are being good though not being completely divine.

    Morality is not the essence of spirituality. In higher stages of spirituality, social morality (truth, justice, non-aggression) is considered unimportant, and individual, subjective notions of what is right and wrong ("what one's heart says") become paramount.

    See for example the following quotes by some spiritual teachers:

    "When you are fully aware of the cause, then the mind itself begins to discern the true manner of acting in the very moment of experience, and so morality becomes purely individual." (J Krishnamurti)

    "The point is that man freed from his fetters is morality personified. Such a man therefore does not need any moralistic injunctions in order to live righteously. Free a man from his bondage and thereafter everything else will take care of itself." (Nisargadatta)

    I will not say immoral because tantra is not concerned with morality or immorality. Tantra says it is irrelevant. This message is to help you to grow beyond purity and impurity, beyond division really, beyond dichotomy, duality. Tantra says, existence is non-dual, it is one, and all distinctions are man-created -- all distinctions, remember. Distinctions as such are man-created. Good-bad, pure-impure, moral-immoral, virtue-sin: all these concepts are man-created. They are attitudes of man; they are not real." (Osho)

    See also a previous post on this theme.

  4. Indian religions believe in karma and accept that religious practices can wipe out the effects of "sinful" acts.

    The primary aim of a religious man is his/her own salvation. The life on earth is a means to that end. Hence, a religious person does not need to be answerable to the laws of man, but only to the laws of God, which are of course interpreted as per one's convenience. He/she can indulge in charity, pilgrimages, religious rituals etc. and feel "good" again, that he is again in the good books of the Lord.

    To inflict misery on others is justified by oneself as their fate. It is also believed that suffering makes one noble. Hence, if others are suffering, their spiritual advancement should not (according to a religious man) be tampered with by trying to help them out. Even if one does help them (say like Mother Teresa), the help is to (a) serve God, (b) have them serve God.

  5. Democracy and civic sense requires that one accept that life on earth is important in itself, that living conditions matter, and that others are not just means to achieving my end, but are individuals in themselves.

    These requirements are antithetical to spiritual tenets. Democracy is a grave reminder that one's opinion counts only as much as that of others, and the world does not revolve around oneself (as one would like to believe according to a narcissistic world-view). Democracy is therefore less "spiritual" than an autocratic regime where one's fate is handed down to oneself.

    To take charge of one's tangible/physical life (and not leave it to God), and to consider others beings (and not just God) as having a say in one's world, both are deeply disturbing notions to a spiritual/religious man.

  6. The compromise (or the middle path) between valuing the divine realms and having power in the physical realm is corruption and horrific exploitation of others.

    When one perceives that one has power over others, and is in a position to make far-reaching decisions in others' lives, and if one is still essentially spiritual, one will abuse this power to further one's own salvation (and those of one's "near and dear ones"). One will even justify this exploitation as teaching the greedy masses to suffer nobly and get a superior birth in the next life.

  7. The destitute are so down and out that God is their only hope. They will subvert democracy and institutions in any way they are asked to, since they have (justifiably) no faith in them to begin with.

    The poor have no recourse but their religion, and the rich have no compunction in being the way they are because of their spiritual world-view.

Hence the absence of civic sense, absence of traffic sense, absence of accountability, absence of the obligation of fulfilling one's job description, absence of respect for man-made laws, absence of consideration for future generations, absence of politeness, abysmal poverty and disease, presence of 10 million saints and fakirs, cash-filled coffers of temples and gold-plated gurudwaras, super-rich swamis, newspapers and TV channels filled with spiritual words, astrologers having a field-day, the rise of gurus for the rich, ...

19 comments:

Sandy G said...

Hi Harmanjit,

I disagree with you on many of the above points. Specifically I disagree that spirituality is just another dimension of being narcissistic and is opposed to having a democratic sense. You presume that considering oneself special, unique or 'divine'- on a path to some higher meaning than a mere short-lived materialistic existence- is antithetical to a concern about other fellow human beings; nothing could be more different. The fact that one concerns life as divine applies usually not just to oneself,but the same specialness and sense of meaning is extended to all living organisms - at least to all fellow human beings. That usually leads to greater concern for others as one starts seeing all others as on a higher path or journey (that one also presumes oneself to be on) and leads to greater empathy. the contra view of seeing others and oneself as merely another brick-in-the-wall or cog-in-the-wheel diminishes the joi-de-vivre and also concern for both others and the self.

I know that many tenets of spirituality are false: none of us is 'divine' or special; life is only given once- there are no re-incarnations in either human or divine forms ; life arose from evolution and not created by GOD; and most important that their is no inherent meaning to life-existence precedes essence and it is our responsibility to endow (our) life with meaning; I am an existentialist and non-spiritual on that count; but I also see the beauty of how the two different phenomenons of spiritualism and religion try to address the existential anxiety and angst of the common folks and provide for them a framework that is most conducive for peaceful, and compatible with democracy, existence.

If you see India as a failed democratic state , you'll have to look farther than on easy targets like spirituality and religion. To me they do not appear either narcissistic or antithetical to democracy but as merely powerful solutions to age-old problems of existential angst and are legitimate and required to an extent and lead to more concern of fellows beings rather than the opposite as you seem to think.


Sandeep Gautam (ex-jwala)

Nat said...

I find one critical theme missing: intense tribalism, naked parochialism and blind provincialism.

Democracy is an earthly concept. Tracing India's historic spiritual bent and the underpinnings of spirituality (narcissism etc.) is relevant in an abstract philosophical inquiry and may not be much relevant to understand why democracy doesn't work or why corruption is so steeped etc.

Democracy is a social compact between individuals. As you rightly said yesterday, we are in the mushy middle between being individuals trapped in spiritual (and material) narcissism versus being a part of one's own tribe/caste/community/village. This creates a serious psychological confusion (Am I a Brahmin first or a Tamilian first or an Indian first or a Coimbatorean first?) Such confusing loyalty and the lack of meaningful returns and benefits from being any of these guides one's own sense of loyalty (If the Brahmin community helped me or my family then I am more inclined to think of myself as a Brahmin first; however momentarily. If Indian cricket team wins the world cup then I am proud to be an Indian.) This confusion plagues Muslims quite deeply (and to some extent non-Hindi speakers). If I don't know who I am then I am not sure how or why I will sign-up for a social compact such as the Indian constitution. Even if someone signed it on my behalf, as is usually the case, I honestly don't give a hoot to it.

Psychological and identity confusions apart, the Indian governmental machinery is designed to thwart individual's progress, though its original intentions were high and lofty and imbibed from the American liberal, Irish and French egalitarian traditions. So the dominant inclination of an informed Indian is to think in anti-Indian terms (eg: Fuck India) more than pro. Consider the marginalization of tribal areas in India's Northeast, Orissa and MP and the Bodo agitations or the Naxalite insurgency; or the separatist agitation in Punjab and Assam.

There is a final sense of bind and familiarity to people that we see on a daily basis, how some help (even as simple as being guided for directions), the small chit chat that we can easily have etc. Then one asks oneself: How can I conscientiously disown and abandon these people and my own sense of familiarity.

Democracy forces us to be equals. Indians are not used to it because we cling on to our history (via religion, spirituality, Gandhian nakedism etc.) and refuse to enter modernity. Democracy was thrust on us. As you correctly pointed out yesterday, we were neither ready nor will we be. We will continue to lament how the previous era was so golden and how bad things are now. I read in one of Orwell's essays that complaining about the present is a quintessential British trait. Quite human, I should say.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Sandeep,

Thanks for your comments.

I regard our corruption and apathy not in spite of spirituality, but because of it.

You consider spirituality to be a overall legitimate (even if somewhat flawed) response to the human condition, i consider it fundamental reason for the perpetuation of our ills.

Unless people stop looking at God to solve their problems, they will never start solving it themselves.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Natarajan:

You are right in your comments, but they are peripheral to my thesis of the spiritual basis of the continuation of our misery.

Tribal and class reasons are very strong, and are well-known to be subversive to democracy in India.

Nat said...

" absence of civic sense, absence of traffic sense, absence of accountability, absence of the obligation of fulfilling one's job description, absence of respect for man-made laws, absence of consideration for future generations, absence of politeness, abysmal poverty and disease, presence of 10 million saints and fakirs, cash-filled coffers of temples and gold-plated gurudwaras, super-rich swamis, newspapers and TV channels filled with spiritual words, astrologers having a field-day, the rise of gurus for the rich, ... "

That's what is called a "Litany of Woes".

Well said and well written.

srid said...

Why is it applicable to just India? What about other eastern countries that are focused on spirituality? Eg: Zen and Japan.

I remember Richard making a similar remark, but I'm yet to read a good argument arriving at this conclusion.

Bruce said...

hey boyz, what y'all think about that 4 letter word L-O-V-E? Is that a dirrty word? What does your guru/master/teacher/psychic coach Richard, the only 'actually free' man to walk the face of this planet, ever, according to his metaphysical, schizophrenic delusions of 'psychic footprints'; have to say about LOVE?

This is for those who deny they are 'spiritual' beings because some self-ordained authority told them spirituality is rubbish and why he is right and all who disagree, are wrong.

Without further ado, what do you make of this 'LOVE teaching', below?

=================
LOVE Teaching

No life is able to exist without love and without the light of truth.
However, no light is able to exist without love and truth, and no truth is able to exist without light and love.
True love, is true BEING, and it is the everlasting warmth from the centre of Creation, which is described as true existence.
Love is the highest principle of Creation, and through it, everything exists in absolute logic.


The love of Creation is everywhere, because without it nothing at all would be able to exist.
The individual should therefore be aware that he exists only through the love of Creation and that he carries this love also within himself.
Creation created everything in love and logic and put the same love in all its creatures, so that life itself is love.
Even if living in this world often seems to consist only of conflict and drudgery, this fact does not change.


Life has become primarily a heavy and tough battle only because people have turned away from Creation and have lost the knowledge of its existence.
In undiminished size however, Creation lets its love become apparent nevertheless, through its creations.
The person must only be willing to see and recognize this love, and he will begin to feel it.
If he opens to the love of Creation and he allows it to flow into himself, he becomes filled with respectful gratitude and great joy.


Each smallest plant, each ever so tiny animal was created in love by Creation, each creation existing according to the same law of love.
All life is in the absolute perfection that which it should be through the love of Creation, and except for humans, every life form lives exactly by this Creation’s plan.
Only humans have turned away from love and must now learn again what true love is.
The infinite love of Creation connects all life, because in all life this love lies hidden.


All of nature in its indescribable splendor is nothing but the love of Creation, which is expressed visibly.
Its laws are so wonderfully arranged, that people everywhere come up against its radiating love.
If he however, closes his senses, he may not feel it, and hence he declares that there is no love in this world.
But Creation has formed and arranged everything so wonderfully, so that people can recognize the majestic love of Creation at every moment and in every place.


Of course one cannot easily go there, to contemplate nature and to feel the love of Creation and also one’s own love, especially not when for many years one has felt differently.
The way to sense the love of Creation is primarily through thinking, because thinking influences feeling.
If for example, one stands before a tree, one should become fully aware that this tree is the product of Creative love, just as the forces of nature, which enable it to grow and to flourish.
This action may seem to be somewhat ridiculous or maybe even embarrassing at the beginning, because it is most unusual and, besides, the appropriate feelings are still missing.


The longer, the more these thoughts effect loving feelings and spiritual-fine-sensitive feelings and these in turn will make the bond with all life a certainty, that a simple blade of grass, a bird, a shrub or some other living creature is driven by the same love, to fulfill its purpose in Creation’s plan, as humans should also do as the highest life form on the planet since a long time ago.
The human carries a fragment of Creation within, and therefore, the love of Creation within him is that power which he is able to evoke in himself.

The more respectfully the love of Creation in all life is perceived and is felt, the stronger it also becomes in the person.
Then suddenly love is no longer such an insincere and longingly hoped for experience, but the real spiritual-fine-sensitive feeling of one’s own mental effort.


So fine, thus satisfying and energizing it permeates the whole person, and once extensively making progress, the person will take it on willingly to work on himself, namely to maintain this love, to extend and nurture it.
For himself, but also for Creation.
The love is not unfathomably deep, it is immense power which never slept, active since ancient times, and immeasurably abundant and logic-laden.
Love flourishes splendidly in all beings, in animals and flowers in the fields, in humans, in words and also in singing, and forever it will permeate the world.
Love will continuously be the purpose of existence and all-timely it is given in logic.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Bruce:

Love is a hyped notion. That is the "oneness" that one pursues in spirituality.

Since you seem to be interested in actualism, you may want to peruse:

http://www.actualfreedom.com.au/library/topics/love.htm

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Srid:

In India, socio-economic oppression, abysmal living conditions lend a validity to consideration (by all) of life in this world as only suffering. Other eastern countries, though historically religious, have managed to create secular (as in indifferent to religion) institutions which largely work, hence religion and spirituality have receded in such (developed) countries into the background and a mostly sunday-activity.

Also there is something to the fact that India is the home of many religions proclaiming reincarnation and the world as a dream etc., hence the roots are much stronger here.

Bruce said...

Harm - agreed with the hype factor of the word. The original meaning of the word 'Love' has degenerated with its hype, overhype, misuse, overuse, abuse, exploitation, marketing, etc, in spiritual as well as material environs.

It is clear from your link that Richard is not using the origin of the word love, but as you say, the 'hyped' version, or affective love. Instead of using the word love, he strings together the words "actual intimacy", which still implies two separate entities bridging a gap to come together in intimacy. What 'LOVE teaching' speaks of is entirely different than Richards 'actual intimacy', which imo, still requires an ego/soul to experience, despite what he says to the contrary.

But why would there be such a word if there was no true meaning behind it? The same goes for spirit, spiritual... Just because some fellow with a website poo-poohs such words and attaches only negative connotations to them, while ignoring their origins , does not mean that their true meanings do not exist, in actuality.

Did the simple 4 letter word L-O-V-E, prevent you from reading "LOVE teaching", at all? And if you proceeded, were you able to read it without prejudice/bias instilled from ones natural repulsion to a hypocritical society that exploits such words, or the bias acquired from strongly influential persons (Richard)?

Were you able to examine its quality, value or its lack thereof, for all human beings?

jerry k said...

Interesting, thoughtprovoking pov. However, it is hard to debate a view like this because causality can run many ways...narcissistic cultures subvert true spirituality, potentially. I am sure causality runs both ways.
The next question is whether a purely material society (if materialism is the opposite of spiritualism and by materialism I don't mean consumerism but a denial of all spiritual elements in the human experience) will be better off. Will materialist societies be less narcisstic and selfish. Not to be cliched but wasn't Communism a materialist society?
I don't have a single theory to throw back but maybe societies take time to evolve. To internalize something like rule of law and respect for law takes a few generations. In India, some of caste/religion based rules/laws have to be shed before new humanistic progressive laws embedded in the constitution can be internalized. Maybe the burden of a culture that is strong and permeates the rich and poor makes the process slower. Then again, this maybe what you are hinting at.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Jerry K:

How would you define "true spirituality"?

I consider "true spirituality" as fundamentally narcissistic in that it glorifies "Self" as "God", the creator of the universe, into not just the center of the universe (as is normal human experience) but as pervading everything.

As for whether materialist societies are any better, it is a good question. The answer is "No".

1. A materialist society is comprised of individuals who are nevertheless driven by greed and passions.

2. It is not enough, and not even sensible, to ban Gods and religions. People are fundamentally, by their nature, spiritual in that they feel themselves to be a disembodied self occupying a physical body. Hence, a seemingly materialist society without temples may also be quite spiritual at the individual level.

2. Spirituality perpetuates human misery because of its metaphysical justifications for it. It is not, however, the /cause/ of human misery. That label goes to the animal passions that we are born with.

If someone truly drops his/her spiritual/metaphysical beliefs AND ALSO starts working on himself/herself towards a freedom from the animal passions, I am sure he/she will happier and more harmless, since he/she will not be after a glory after death but will consider a healthier state of affairs on earth of fundamental importance.

A society of such individuals will be definitely much more healthier than a materialistic or a spiritualist society.

That pursuit (a non-spiritual way of becoming happy and harmless) is what I consider the focus of Actualism: www.actualfreedom.com.au

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr.Harmanjit,
To describe sprituality don't take things out of wikipedia.Sprituality is narcisstic is a wrong notion. The highest level is not an egotistic I. Rather dissoultion. It is more like I am a part of everything and Everything is a part of me. It is seeing urself in everybody/everything and seeing everything in you. It's a absolte realization that is sprituuality.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Anonymous:

"The highest level is not an egotistic I. Rather dissoultion. It is more like I am a part of everything and Everything is a part of me."

Since that "one-ness" is psychical and not simply an acknowledgment of either our similarity or of the common material nature of our existence, it is "I" in a self-aggrandized form, an illusion which lends itself to metaphysical notions of "supreme consciousness" and so on.

Anonymous said...

There is certainly some truth in your post. Any man using commonsense can see that. And anyone beyond commonsense can sense the fllwg-

Your effort simply reflects your inability to derive 'your desired output' of your spiritual pursuits and your present furthered searching for clarity.

Here's the take- Rather than reflecting to others on such expansive matters through your narrowed vision that have come of your own failure/experience in this regard, first follow your path of freedom - to the fullest - whatever suits you. Forget about the rest and their causes of misery etc for now. First live your journey for yourself for few good years to your peak satisfaction before coming to any conclusion and last of all to any platform of sharing.

You can ignore the above comments without giving a damn about it, just that you asked so is it shared in good light of the day.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Anonymous

"There is certainly some truth in your post."

# Would you like to point out, instead of advising me as to how I should live my life, the subset of my article which you consider as untrue or wrong, since you say there is "some truth" in it?

"Your effort simply reflects your inability to derive 'your desired output' of your spiritual pursuits and your present furthered searching for clarity."

# If I may clarify, I requested for feedback for the content of my article, not about my intentions or influence in writing it.

"Here's the take- Rather than reflecting to others on such expansive matters through your narrowed vision that have come of your own failure/experience in this regard, first follow your path of freedom - to the fullest - whatever suits you. Forget about the rest and their causes of misery etc for now. First live your journey for yourself for few good years to your peak satisfaction before coming to any conclusion and last of all to any platform of sharing."

# May I ask you to provide your email address by writing to me at harmanjit at gmail dot com, so that, instead of giving me unsolicited advice about my journey and goal (and in passing, asking me not to share my tentative understanding and to remain quiet. If I may say so, interaction and inviting feedback is a aid to understanding for all concerned, not a hindrance to it.), when I simply asked for feedback for an article, we can correspond about your concern about my life? That is, if you genuinely care, as you seem to.

"You can ignore the above comments without giving a damn about it, just that you asked so is it shared in good light of the day."

# I asked for comments on my article. But I welcome correspondence about my life as well, just that the feedback section of this article is not the apt place for it. Let's talk over email.

Di said...

Good analysis. Lot of deep thinking (as usual)

You start with "why India, despite having so much of religion and spirituality and faith, is so corrupt, so weak in accepting the principles of democracy, and wonder why there is a complete absence of civic sense in India?"

which seems to be the basic premise of this article. Then you go on to do analysis but there are lot of gigantic loop holes in which the basic premise falls thro'.

I would take a shot at what is going wrong to cause the lack of civic sense mentioned in the first paragraph.

(a) You somehow have linked it to religion/sprituality. Lets assume that at the core religion is the problem. Then in my opinion the problem lies in people NOT following their designated religion properly. THAT to me the main problem. I have seen in USA, that people will not in general lie/cheat/be corrupt. This is because they genuinely believe in God. In India, we compartmentalise. We may pray and practice rituals, but when it comes to "outside" life we never-ever hesitate to cheat/lie/not follow civic duties etc.

Bottom line according to me is not being truely religious is the cause of our down fall.

:)

Harmanjit Singh said...

Eastern Spirituality is primarily a dissociated world-view, whereas Western theology is more of a moral world-view.

There is no claim that the world is a dream in western theology. Also, the conceptual absence of past and future lives gives primacy to life on earth.

Pragyan said...

Harmanjit,

All this discussion is funny and wasteful.

From your perspective you are right. From your life experiences and ur thought process u are right.

Others, including me are right from their own perspective.

It is all about consciousness. I have seen ppl change dramatically once their consciousness changes.
Things that they would never accept for decades , once their consciousness changes - they start speaking the same language.

So all this discussion will never end. Actually , this itch to discuss, prove ur point , be the savior of humanity (India atleast) is just an itch. It is like the itch of Hitler. He also wanted to create a super world.

What is your problem in accepting ppl just as they are? No you wont! Because you have vested interests. You want to stand out. Satisfy ur ego.

I personally I am not interested in someones itches. I dont care about the discussion. Not that I am not capable of proving my point logically. I just feel your logic has not evolved to a point where even if I logically prove you something you will just accept it. No. You will still go by ur biases and vested interests. I have done that in the past. Logically opened the whole existence in front of their eyes. They accept it. And in minutes they forget it simply coz their consciousness is still caught up in several mundane things - which we call as karma. Unless they are done with that they will not be able to see anything else just the way it is! This is like wearing coloured glasses. U see the whole world thru it. That is why I said your logic has not evolved to a point where u can seperate ur bias ( ie ur karma , ur personality , ur life experiences , ur vested interests , ur subconsciousness ) and simply perceive things just the way they are.

Makes sense?? No? lol.

This discussion - pure bullshit. Thank goodness we live in a free world!!! I can do my own thing. You can do urs!