Guest Post: Charlie Hebdo, God and Earth Spirituality

Editor's note: I will be taking part in a three-day Earth-Spirituality confluence from March 7-9. More details about the event can be found here. This paper, written by one of the event organizers, Raghu Ananthanarayanan, will drive some of the key conversations during the gathering. More Essays on Earth spirituality can be found here.
"Human beings experience hurt and pain. They seek refuges from hurt and pain. They seek refuge in wealth, they seek refuge in other men, they seek refuge in knowledge and they seek refuge in the idea of god. They can see easily that neither wealth nor other people are true refuges. The other two refuges are beliefs and they unleash much violence before their falseness becomes evident. It is only when a person gives up his search for refuges that he takes the first step to ending dukha"                                                                                                      - Gautama Buddha
The Hypothesis
We don't have to protect our environment, we don't have to protect our idea of God, we just have to discover how to transform the violence that seems to be the defining characteristic of man.

The Framework
We need a shared framework through which we can examine this hypothesis and discuss its merits. Groups function through the dynamic balance between three ways in which human beings interact with each other. These three ways are collaboration, confrontation and collusion. The ground this stands on is a shared idea of self and the other.


The R groups 

Groups that stand on the idea of in-group solidarity and out-group violence share a world-view that says; "the other is an oppressor (actual or potential) you are a victim (real or potential) and I am your savior". The one who claims to be able to be the savior is the leader of the group, and the group is therefore premised on dependency. This idea is easy to understand since all of us experience hurt and dukha and seek a refuge, a place like heaven where there is eternal peace. Peace here would mean “all my wishes are fulfilled, and I pay no price for it. No one opposes me or blocks me in the slightest”. 

It is vital for the survival of such groups that there is always the potentially devilish other, there is fear of hurt and violation, and there is the person who stands up against the devil on ones behalf and assures one of a safe haven. The collaboration that these groups achieve is based on ensuring that the members of the group collude to keep the fantasy alive, confrontation is directed outward. Norms and dogma have to be enforced so that the energy of confrontation does not turn inward. The fantasy needs an honorable name with which to buffer itself: belief; Belief in the savior, in the goodness of the in-group and the devilish nature of the out-group. We call this state of mind the RSoM and these groups the 'R- Group'.

The S groups
There is another possible way for the dynamic of collaboration to play out. This is when the group does not posit the other as the oppressor and therefore has no need for the savior; you and I are not different, not divided. This group starts with the premise: human beings experience hurt and pain, they seek refuges to ensure that pain and hurt will never recur. However, all such search is in vain. There can only be an inward ending of fear of hurt and ending of desire for its opposite to take place.

In this group, all experiences are an invitation to reflect on oneself, to confront ones own reality as is. There is no collusive process that says 'yes I will guarantee you a heaven’; there is no fantasy of a refuge, no belief to reinforce the fantasy. Collaboration in such a group is a product of a sense of responsibility, a result of insight into the nature of reality and recognition of mutuality. We call this state of mind the SSoM and these groups 'S- Group'.

The group in its relationship to the other

R-groups will constantly generate conflict and war; reinforce belief through dogmatic theory and mold minds through the threat of excommunication. The RSoM is very susceptible to manipulation through fear and greed. S-groups will nurture exploration and discovery, develop hypothesis, and engage in dialogue. All their engagements will be reflexive, as will be their books. The SSoM will be autonomous and self-reliant. It cannot be manipulated, it has to feel evoked from within to act.

R-groups will demand of the other: convert or perish. S-groups will ask of the other: what is your truth? R-groups will be threatened by difference, S-groups will thrive on difference

If the earth has to survive, we need a proliferation of SSoM and S-groups. R-groups and the RSoM will destroy the earth and destroy each other as they strive to ensure a totally safe place for themselves.

However, the SSoM is the acme of human development and the RSoM is the norm. With the spread of terrorism, materialism and the 'battle for God' the R groups are on the rise, the RSoM is more easily 'understood'.

How does one enable the SSoM to grow? Is it at all possible? Is it an inner realization one has to hope for?

Can the mind transform?
Let us examine this question through the framework of Chakras. We will first advance a simple, but fairly accurate idea of the chakras. 

Chakras are envelopes of thought feeling and action, they are nurtured by assumptions and conclusions about the nature of man and the nature of the world. 

The Moolaadhaara chakra anchors belonging and seeking of safety. A mind located here works with an entrenched idea of 'us' that is sourced in identicality. The other is a mystery, potentially demonic. 

The Swaadhistaana chakra anchors heroism. The other is either an enemy to be vanquished or an ally in ones journey which is essentially a lonely path. 

The Manipooraka anchors discipline and role bounded-ness. Truth is revealed through divine means and one lives essentially to earn merit and easy passage to the world beyond. 

The Anaahatha anchors curiosity and discovery. The other is an object of enquiry and evokes affection and empathy. 

The Vishuddhi anchors creativity and self-expression. The other is a reflection of oneself, and a source of beauty and inspiration. 

The Agnya anchors transcendence. The other and the self are expressions of a primordial Intelligence.

When we look at the groups and the individuals who populate them, a pattern emerges:
The RSoM is a product of motivations rooted in the Moolaadhaara and the Manipooraka, and therefore the R-groups are a product of a deep fear of the other, a need to suppress and repress ones so called 'animalist' sides. They project the undesirable parts of the self on to the other and demonize it.

One can enter and comprehend the universe of the Anaahatha only when fear and the urge for self-preservation end. The SSoM emerges when a person appreciates this world and initiates a quest within for ways to transform oneself, and transcend the self centered pulls of the first three chakras. As one matures in the quest, the Vishuddhi and Agnya become a reality, and one enters more and more sublime levels of perception and action.

Earth Spirituality
If we now re-engage with the question ‘how do we live in harmony with the earth’? We see the contours of the challenge we face. Both the RSoM and the SSoM have been attempts to manage, control, overcome and dominate the mind referred to as 'animalist'. However, what we call progress is the living evidence of the manner in which the forces of desire and greed have triumphed! This mind has used and developed technology for self-aggrandizement and acquisition. The Anaahatha propels scientific discovery, but in the absence of a deep and well-rooted anchorage in this universe, the discovery gets converted into 'useful and pleasure giving' technologies, i.e., pulled to the motivations of the first three chakras. Thus a love of the earth and a genuine respect for the other does not emerge. We call this the ATM (the animalist technological mind).

The Challenge
It should be obvious to any discerning observer that we are a living proof of the failure of the RSoM to deal with the ATM, which is what it purports to do. The mind and groups fueled by fear have been manipulated by the mind that is fueled by desire and greed. The more acceptable forms of this failure take the shape of organized religions, nation states, and business organizations. The more unacceptable forms are cults, warmongering nations and rapacious business organizations.

If we now return to our hypothesis we can see that Charlie Hebdo being lauded as the champions of ‘free speech and democracy’ are the symbols of the ATM, and the ‘Muslim Fundamentalists’ are the symbol of the RSoM. The ATM seek refuge in wealth and knowledge, the RSoM seek refuge in other people and in the idea of god!

The discourse around the recent violent episode is framed in the classical binary. But is this the whole story?

The SSoM is a mind that is ready and willing to experiment with life. In fact that might be its defining characteristic, it is not holding on to dead and dreary habit or the dubious anchorage of authority out of fear. Our hope lies in the movement of many people from all walks of life into the SSoM.


Earth Spirituality has therefore to be more profound than the RSoM and the ATM minds. If we wish to see the emergence and unfolding of the SSoM and Earth Spirituality, we cannot play the game of projection on to the other and externalizing our untouchable self. The positive dynamics of the world we have created are also the outcomes of our foundational chakras and play an important part in our psyches and our lives.

We cannot lobotomize our brains and say " no more belonging, no more heroism, no more norms and rules". We cannot reverse the idea of money and technology. We cannot recruit people to the SSoM in ways that the RSoM and the ATM do, namely, through the use of fear and or desire.

For example, one of the ways of focusing people's attention on the problem has been to use the 'doomsday scenario', (a favorite ploy of proselytizers) and paint a scary picture of the possible futures awaiting us. It will inevitably lead to the formation of a new form of oppressive leadership and control. The RSoM mind will act from dependency and seek a messiah, the ATM will seek ways of concentrating more wealth and power onto itself and build 'impregnable castles' (only, the moats will be bone dry!).

The ways of the Anaahatha chakra and beyond have always been with us, and many Bodhisatvas have walked the path. There is little more to be said or demonstrated about the path. Honest scientists have described the possible futures, and shown ways of using technology in ways that respect the earth and are sustainable.

Will this movement of a sufficiently large mass of people into the SSoM come through a mutation of the brain? Will there be many small pioneers who become role models of the new ways? Now that we have declared our intention to take Buddhas’ insight seriously, to go beyond the envelop of the first three chakras, we do not have the luxury of praying to a god that we invent!


What do we do?
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, We have come to our real work And when we no longer know which way to go, We have begun our real journey." - Wendell Berry

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