Divisiveness is on the rise today, in the United States and around the world. While theories for its rise are many—growing globalization, migration, and inequality; polarizing leaders and identity politics; surging Internet filter bubbles and social isolation—they lead to the same tragic consequences.
Through the ages, spirituality has provided powerful, pacifying antidotes and uplifting, unifying answers. How spiritual principles can help foster greater understanding, mutual respect, and harmony in these times formed the subject of an energized discussion at Indiaspora’s 5th Anniversary Leadership Forum in Lansdowne, Virginia, on October 1, 2017.
In the face of change, when an individual’s or a tribe’s established sense of identity is threatened, the most primal reaction is emotional—a fear for survival and a fight for resistance. An egoic response follows—the assertion of one’s unique identity in contrast to that of those perceived as threats.
At both levels, thoughts of separation arise: For me to be special, you must be less so. If what was mine is now yours too, where do I belong? How do I preserve my self? Such mindsets, and the inner turbulence and outer violence that accompany them, are as old as the spears of tribes. Yet, equally long-lived is a third state of mind, one that transcends emotions and egos and returns us to our most fundamental human essence.
Indian spirituality, with a rich repository of teachings and scriptures dating back thousands of years, reminds us of our connection to this essence—our spirit or soul—which is the same in all of us and in union with the vast energy of the universe. At this level, regardless of our diverse identities, beliefs, or paths in the world, we all yearn for the same elements: connection, acceptance, belonging, and love.
Indiaspora members discussed how we could each cultivate—and practically integrate—the power of these timeless principles in our lives, communities, and the world.
Reflecting on history, we explored how Mahatma Gandhi’s focus on non-violent resistance against the British in India was deeply guided by the Bhagavad Gita, of which he was a devoted student. It turns out, so was a young American, Henry David Thoreau, who took the text with him on his now famous retreat to Walden Pond in 1845. Thoreau’s writings on civil disobedience would later influence Gandhi. Gandhi, in turn, inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement in the U.S. as well as his travels to India in 1959.*
All three were deeply spiritual men who lived by, applied to their work, and shared with the world, the same universal truths on oneness, unity, kindness, and love—ones that form the spiritual core of all the world’s religions.
Panel members described how their individual projects and paths—whether through shared experiences, artistic and creative work, or service to others (see links below)—have allowed them to share their passion with others as a bridge to building compassion, understanding, and peace in diverse communities.
If there is one theme that emerged from the wisdom in the room it was that true progress and impact are not contingent on the specifics of a particular path—whether that is the rituals of a religion, the teachings of a master, or the methods of a practice. Rather, they flourish when we each create and share the diverse paths that emerge from our individual journeys yet lead us to the same destination.
Said another way, the takeaway—a simple principle we can each apply—was this: The religion of humanity is love. How we share it with others becomes our spiritual path; how we embody it, our daily work; and how we bring it into the world, our footprint on humanity.
Amita Shukla chaired this panel discussion at Indiaspora’s Leadership Forum. She is the founder and CEO of Vitamita and the author of Enduring Edge: Transforming How We Think, Create and Change. The other panelists were: Mandar Apte (read his post From India With Love); Kanniks Kannikeswaran (read his post Shanti – A Journey of Peace); and, Ira Trivedi.
*A deeper discussion on how Thoreau, Gandhi, and King influenced each other is presented in Chapter 13: “Creating Paths” of Enduring Edge by Amita Shukla.