The woman confidently informed us that the answer to our present lack of compassion is that we are ignorant of the fact that we are all One. This is a common notion among monists, those who believe that we are all One (God) without distinction
Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is a worldwide spiritual organization founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. It had successfully repackaged monism (pantheism) for Western consumption as natural and scientific. Consequently, SRF’s statement of purpose alluringly reads:
- To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God.
- To teach that the purpose of life is the evolution, through self-effort of man's limited mortal consciousness into God Consciousness; and to this end to establish Self-Realization Fellowship temples for God-communion throughout the world, and to encourage the establishment of individual temples of God in the homes and in the hearts of men.
- To reveal the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna; and to show that these principles of truth are the common scientific foundation of all true religions. http://www.yogananda-srf.org/
Of course, “science” is not consistent with monistic Hinduism and Buddhism, which denies the reality of the physical world. Rather, the physical world and its dualistic thinking (thinking in terms of me and them) is all part of the illusion. Therefore, to be invested in understanding the physical world is to be invested in a consuming illusion, which produces ignorance.
In “The King of Knowledge,” a very literalistic commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Prabhupada, the late head of the Hare Krishna Vishnavite sect of Hinduism characteristically wrote that sex must be minimized:
- “Sex pleasure binds us to this material world…You can get yourself married and live peaceably with one woman, but the wife should not be used as a machine for sexual gratification. Sex should be restricted to once a month and only for the propagation of children.”
There is little room for compassion and mercy, since these too bind us to the illusion of other distinct people. Therefore, Prabhupada wrote:
- “The hospital making business is being conducted by the government; it is the duty of a disciple to make hospitals whereby people can actually get rid of their material bodies, not patch them up. But for want of knowing what real spiritual activity is, we take up material activities.”
Why this detachment from the physical world? To minimize any attachment to it! What then could be the monistic justification for science? If the physical world is illusory, then any involvement in it would contribute to the influence of the illusion.
Even helping someone to come to “awareness” to “get rid of their material bodies” is dualistic and is based on the “illusion” that there are separate beings who need to come to “awareness.” Some have it and some don’t (dualism). However, this contradicts the notion that all is God and all is One.
It is impossible to live in a consistent manner with the idea that the entire physical world is not real. Not only does it undermine any basis for compassion, but also any activity in the physical world.
Oddly, even Yogananda–-the “champion” of science—believed that the physical world is make-believe. According to him, the pantheistic God created this world of illusion for entertainment:
- Look upon life as a movie, and then you will know why God created it. Our problem is that we forget to see it as God’s entertainment. ....Then this cosmic movie, with its horrors of disease and poverty and atomic bombs, will appear to us only as real as the anomalies we experience in a movie house. When we have finished seeing the motion picture, we know that nobody was killed; nobody was suffering.
If our involvement in this physical world is no more than watching a movie in which “nobody was killed; nobody was suffering,” then any act of compassion to alleviate suffering would be equivalent to trying to rescue the damsel-in-distress in the movies. Instead, she is only there for our entertainment. Likewise, our families and neighbors are no more than entertainment. They are not real. Therefore, any act of compassion towards them is also unreal and even foolhardy.
For Yogananda, ignorance is a matter of seeing others as separate from ourselves:
- “Ignorance, which produces the idea of separate existence of self...is the source of Ego, the son of man.”
- “When the developments of ignorance are stopped, man gradually comprehends the true character of this creation of Darkness, Maya, as a mere play of ideas of the Supreme Nature on His own Self, the only Real Substance.”
- “Just as there appear many images of the one sun, when reflected in a number of vessels full of water, so is mankind apparently divided into many souls, occupying these bodily and mental vehicles, and thus outwardly separated from the one universal Spirit. In reality, God and man are one, and the separation is only apparent.”
If the “separation [among people] is only apparent,” then giving a cup of water to the thirsty is an act of ignorance. In contrast, coming to the awareness that there is only One Being or Reality is both salvation and nirvana:
· “Man is thus saved when he sheds his ignorance of his divine identity and attains Christ consciousness. Salvation equals self-realization.”
· Self-realization is the knowing on all levels of our being — body, mind, and soul — that we are now in possession of Divinity and therefore need not pray that it come to us; that we are not merely near God at all times but that His omnipresence is our omnipresence; and that He is just as much our essential life now as He ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing.
However, salvation for the SRF and other monists is detachment from the world of illusion. In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert M. Pirsig’s main character, Phaedrus, studying at Benares Hindu University and spiritually searching, asks a question that changes his life:
- But one day in the classroom the professor of philosophy was blithely expounding on the illusory nature of the world for what seemed the fiftieth time and Phaedrus raised his hand and asked coldly if it was believed that the atomic bomb that had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were illusory. The professor smiled and said yes. That ended the exchange… He left the classroom, left India and gave up.
Phaedrus could not deny the great tragedy. In contrast to this understanding of life as illusion, “Jesus wept” in the midst of human suffering:
- When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him [their dead brother Lazarus]?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35; ESV)
How had monism affected its place of birth – India? This might tell us a lot about how it might affect our own lives. In “The Book that Made your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” Indian scholar and Christian convert, Vishal Mangalwadi, wrote about the negative effect of Hinduism on India:
- Our monks did not develop technical aids to improve their eyesight. They took pride in closing even perfectly good eyes in meditation. (108)
If this material world is illusory, then compassion, work and technological advancement are counter-productive. However, it was technology - and theology that inspired it - that had saved the West. Mangalwadi gives several examples:
- The peasants’ humble wheeled plow generated the economic strength that helped save Europe from colonization by Islam. During the Middle Ages, Islamic forces were able to invade Europe almost at will. Muslims conquered southern Spain and Portugal and invaded France in the eighth century. In the ninth century, they conquered Sicily and invaded Italy, sacking Ostia and Rome in 846. By 1237, they had begun to conquer Russia. Constantinople was captured in 1453, and the battles of 1526 in Hungary and 1529 in Vienna suggested that it was merely a matter of time before the mullahs, caliphs, and sheikhs would rule cities like Rome, Vienna, and Florence. Equipped with a coulter, a horizontal share, and a moldboard, Europe’s new plow increased productivity by tilling rich, heavy, and badly drained river-bottom soil…The net result was the gradual elimination of starvation, the improved health of the people, and a strengthening of the economic foundations of the West relative to Islam. (101-102)
Monism also turns its eyes away from evil and corruption as illusory. Mangalwadi provides an illuminating example from his own country. In 1631, the monsoon failed to come. Consequently, there was a great famine. A British traveler relates the devastation he saw:
- From Surat to this place all the highway was stowed with dead people, our noses never free from the stink of them…women were seen to roast their children…a man or a woman no sooner dead but they were cut in pieces to be eaten. (112)
- My people did not starve because they were stupid, lazy, or unproductive. Instead, immorality killed them! They were taxed 80% of their produce. This left them with little and nothing to store for an emergency. The only way for the people to have any money was to join their exploiters.
Monism failed to identify evil and, consequently, was unable to confront it. Those who want to consider monism as the road to compassion must take a hard look at its historical record and not just what is currently trending in the West.