Economic Reform: A Theosophical Calling

These days, the economy is probably the last thing many people want to read about, because it is making so much news and almost none of it is good. Confronting the reality of such widespread material lack as we are currently seeing is daunting, and as analysts clog the airwaves and the blogosphere with endless torrents of statistics, numbers, and abstractions to which most people can't even relate, it's easy to run in the opposite direction whenever the opportunity presents itself—and just what has all of that got to do with theosophy, anyway? Don't we come to theosophical discussion sites in order to reach for something higher, something more stable and enduring than the mayavic ebbs and flows of stock indices and unemployment rates?

Maybe so—but as our theosophical journeys unfold, we begin to perceive hidden meaning around every corner. The most seemingly insignificant things—a blade of grass, a passing stranger, a grocery store transaction—take on a deeper meaning when perceived through the theosophical lens. We receive a tradition that teaches us more about the larger scheme of evolutionary development, a grand current driving the entire cosmos onward. We learn more about our place in this process, and we come to understand that our every action contributes to it in one way or another. Though ourselves and our personal world may only be small eddies in this vast flow, we come to see that we are deeply connected to other parts of it, from other eddies to larger maelstroms, and that is exactly what humanity's economic predicament is beginning to resemble: A maelstrom quickly growing to engulf our world.

When we view our actions as intrinsically connected to the processes of human evolution, taking ever more responsibility for our actions, living our dharma and minding our karma, taking an interest in the economic narrative now unfolding is a matter of great import for the simple fact that it is rapidly becoming the keynote of this current chapter of the human story.

At the very heart of theosophical teachings, regardless of the school or the source, is that principle of unity that binds us all together; that an essential oneness underpins all manifestation, great and small, and that separation is an illusion. It is from this essential truth, simple to describe and understand but far too vast to ever wholly comprehend, that all other tenets in the wisdom traditions have their root. Unfortunately, the very reason the economy has gotten so far out of hand is because of how far it has strayed from this truth.

The ideas that make up the philosophical foundations of capitalism are antithetical to the essential truths that comprise the core of all theosophies. Capitalism not only thrives on the propagation of the perception of separateness, but is wholly dependent on it and thus encourages it. Under this program, each individual center of consciousness is ultimately pitted against all others, having been assigned the task of seeking to profit, even if it means depriving another. The process of acquisition is without end, for acquisition becomes its own end. As a result, the deprivation of other centers becomes inevitable and ever-growing, the only possible conclusion in a finite world. Everything (and everyone) else becomes secondary to this supreme goal of endless growth.

The only way to facilitate this kind of unabated growth is to begin dividing up the world and erecting barriers where none previously or naturally existed. Fences go up to delineate "my" land and "your" land, despite the fact that what happens on one parcel of ground inevitably affects those around it. New rules become necessary in order to sustain continued growth, adding artificial layers of complication and abstraction, which in turn serve to carry us even farther from an organic relationship with others and with the world around us. Patents and copyrights are issued in order to contain, valuate and commodify even the world of ideas, the least tangible of things.

These basic economic tenets have led to the development of a culture in which individual achievement is so highly regarded, out of all sense of its intrinsic value, that genuine cooperative efforts are stripped of merit, even though nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished in a vacuum. Rather than cooperating and compromising, we are conditioned to divide and conquer, educated into a mindset bent on rising above all the rest. Even if one cannot attain to the ultimate heights of financial supremacy, there is still fame to be had, notoriety, glory; it becomes so important to be the best that many readily hold down their fellows in order to achieve it. The ego, that ephemeral part of us that we strive to grow beyond on our spiritual paths, is inflated to monstrous proportions.

As theosophists, we take it as a matter of course that personally overcoming this spiritual obstacle is one of the best ways we can contribute to the progress of humanity as a whole—and this is absolutely true—but should we stop there? Knowing so well the importance of this point, should we abide a system that so reliably shepherds others into that pitfall? Would it not be a great service to others to work together, deliberately, to begin setting different precedents?

Pitted against each other on their competitive climbs up the status ladder, consumerism serves to divide one family from the next, as they run like so many hamsters in so many stationary wheels, keeping up with the Joneses and powering the larger machine that perpetuates the whole cycle. The earth itself, a great organism with a life of its own that we can barely comprehend, is objectified and plundered. If this doesn't run contrary to everything theosophy suggests to us about the natural order of things, I don't know what does. In truth, there is nothing more contrary to human progress than continuing on the current economic course that is rendering ever-greater reaches of the world uninhabitable, unfit to support the living creatures that serve as vessels for the Life Power, under whatever name one's tradition inclines one to use for it. It is truly a test of our principles to be alive today, presented with the opportunities and the temptations which stand before us.

It is enticing to think that perhaps the best answer is to transcend the whole problem altogether, to strive to "free oneself from the matrix" and simply refuse to participate. Then, at least, we are reducing the extent to which we contribute to the problems. This is well and good, to be sure, but at the very least these matters deserve more attention so that if we choose this path, we can do it even more skilfully. If we feel called to it, however, there is always a need for reformers--people willing to take a more overt stand for more holistic principles that actively contribute to mending things.

In writing this article, I am not trying to spread gloom and doom, nor to preach—it is certainly not my place to do so, as I am far from perfect. Nonetheless, I am not able to ignore the task that lies before us all, whether theosophically inclined or not—and I have noticed that as my own understanding of theosophy becomes broader and deeper, I only see more and more ways in which humanity's plight appears as an illness, brought on by an amnesia, a disconnection from the deep wisdom we have carried with us throughout all of history. It is time to reconnect, and as each of us who comes to know something of the esoteric teachings inadvertently joins the ranks of those guardians who are charged with ensuring its survival, all for the sake of serving humanity, it seems to me that there is no task more important at this time than working together to bring the world back into balance. This can only be done by applying everything we have in our collective well of theosophical wisdom to finding the remedies to this ailment.

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Comment by Martin Euser on March 25, 2012 at 7:12pm

Spiritual growth is only possible when one applies the seven virtues in his or her daily life.
It is quite ironical that leaders who claim to be a Christian violate the Biblical principle of stewardship. They uphold values that are contrary to this: arms deals with dictators, bribery, destruction of ecosystems, ignoring the needs of the poor and so on. In a sound political system we have a place for such people and that is called jail, but our systems are rotten, so these leaders and their associates go unpunished. It is time to call our politicians to account for their actions and vote only for those who promise to uphold human values and work for the common good.

BTW, I will post a short piece on a proposition for economic reform in my New Economy group.

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on March 24, 2012 at 10:44pm

Thank You Dan for this brilliant write-up.

While all of us do need to work for our own personal progress through whatever thought system we subscribe to, one cannot really progress if the person next door or on the street is left behind, since all are connected. The full import of the general theosophical belief of Buddha forsaking his Nirvana to work for the humanity, it seems is not understood by us.

Economy, Environment, Politics, all are interconnected and until we work actively to bring about changes there by applying spiritual principles, our own progress is stalled. Only by working collectively on a global scale would we realize the full meaning of UNITY. As David Korten says, "We are the ones we have been waiting for".

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