We are living at a remarkable point in our global evolution. I believe that we are seeing a polarisation of opposites at a global level, and there is a growing need for spiritual world servers from every walk of life, to act together to counterbalance the widespread and reckless materialism which appears to be the result of much commercial globalisation.
We are all a mixture of spiritual and material forces. The polarisation is manifest when this delicate balance is concentrated into opposing forces. It is more important than ever before to try to understand the changing situation and to try to find out where we are as individuals and as communities.
Before we begin our search for a World Spirituality it is important to understand what we mean by the word ‘spirituality’ itself, yet it is difficult to find a common view. One definition that appeals to me is given in the Budapest Business Centre’s 10 year report:
“a search for meaning that transcends material well-being and focuses on basic deep-rooted human values and a relationship with a universal source, power or divinity.”
Spirituality is not to be confused with religion which evokes this spiritual essence through an institutionalised set of collectively shared beliefs and practices that vary from culture to culture. It is also important to make explicit the premise behind the Budapest definition. It is nothing less than the acceptance of the transcendent. As such it comes very close to the meaning acceptable to most mainstream religious traditions.
One feature all the main religious traditions have in common is that they all perceive spirituality primarily as a personal condition. They refer to a spiritual person rather than a spiritual collectivity. But while I believe that spirituality is personal in its incarnation, its presence is global and universal. Spirit is the connecting principle of life, the source of imagination, inspiration, communication, compassion, and wisdom. You have only to look at the global international response to the tsunami disaster, the massive earthquake in Kashmir, and the succession of hurricanes in America, to realise how very much a global spirituality exists.
In Desmond Tutu’s book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2004), the Archbishop points out that in the Nguni language of Africa the word ‘ubuntu’ expresses our personal connectedness to each other and to the universe. To say a person is ‘ubuntu’ is a mark of the highest esteem recognising his or her spirituality, connectedness, generosity and right living, not just with neighbourhood but also with the world of creation. I believe that one difficulty which is often experienced among people of different faiths is when this inherent creative spirituality is confined to formal religious ritual which then becomes disconnected from the inner source of spirituality.
One of the best analogies I have ever heard relating to our spiritual and global connectedness to one another came from Chiara Lubich, the Founder of the Focolare Movement. At an interfaith gathering which I attended in Rome Chiara explained:
“God (by whatever name), shines out universally like the rays of the sun with different rays lighting up different people’s understanding and spiritual pathway. The most important thing is to follow and walk along our own ray. The further we walk along our unique ray or pathway the closer these rays become before they unite in the great light of the sun or Universal Truth. Hence the closer we come to one another.”
In other words, the spiritual is both very individual and personal and also global and universal. I find this analogy very beautiful, as it indicates a growing sense of synthesis and unity no matter what direction we come from. Rather than emphasising points of contention and division between people, we must look on their differences as gifts to amplify and enrich our own understanding.
On the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that where there is light and love there also arises the possibility of the absence of light and love; that is darkness and pain. No discussion of spirituality can be complete without reference to the nature of evil and suffering. I believe that the only sure way of bringing about the fundamental transformation necessary to provide an antidote to the destructive forces which are so threatening to our modern society, is to turn again to the power of the spirit within each one, and also within each other.
We need to reconnect the spiritual universe with daily reality and what we do in our everyday lives and to the environment. By this, I mean demonstrating transcendent spiritual values in the fields of economics, social and environmental justice and, above all, in education, in our working lives, and in the search for peace at all levels. There are, thankfully many signs that this is happening, nurtured by small groups of committed spiritual people around the globe and from many different faiths and cultures.
In the UK, as well as the recognised NGOs there are also very many spiritually-based business and commercial organisations such as the Forum for the Future (set up by three of my fellow co-founders of the New Economics Foundation); and there is Sustainability Ltd, a commercial organisation set up by John Elkington to put into practice the renowned “triple bottom line”. There is a rapidly increasing emphasis on social and ethical investments as witnessed by growing numbers of subscribers to the UK Social Investment Forum and numerous ethical trusts. There is the Schumacher Circle, and the Environmental Law Foundation where committed lawyers give their time, expertise and energies freely to defend local communities from environmental injustice.
In education, spiritual values are emphasised by such organisations as Schumacher College; the recently formed University of the Spirit, and the Human Values Foundation to which more than 1200 primary schools have subscribed. There is also the World Futures Council being set up by Jacob von Uexkull (who established the Right Livelihood Awards).
What movements or people exist today which embody the universal or global spirituality and which search for this transcendent truth whilst acknowledging the validity of the religious practices of other faiths?
Perhaps the Baha’i Faith is the most universally prominent religion. There are, however, very many global spiritual movements and persons working in the field of interfaith dialogue and worship – Gandhians, members of the Focolare, the Sufis from the Muslim faith, and the Brahma Kumaris from Mount Abu in India, to name but a few.
I was honoured to be invited to give a paper at the Parliament of the World Religions in Cape Town in 1999 and what struck me most was the amazing colourfulness and diversity of so many different religions and religious expressions. The Zulus, for example, expressed their worship in drumming and wild dancing. I am reminded of what Gandhi meant when he said:
“Everything I have personally experienced, and that also has been expressed by the leaders of the great religions points to the fact that a global spirituality already exists and was intrinsically there from the start as God (by whatever name) is one and is indivisible – everywhere outside time and place.”
Christ’s last prayer was “that all may be one” – not that all may be the same – we should not all eat Nestle products, buy Nike shoes, and study Nietzsche! There is great biodiversity in humanity as well as in nature. I believe that since humans are born as a part of the divine plan we are all spiritual beings, whether we like it or not. The manifestation of this spirituality lies in our response to translating the spirituality into everyday life and action.