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CULTURES, SPIRITUALITY AND DEVELOPMENT

The sacred kernel of reality

Development workers need to be mindful of what the English poet William Blake beautifully expressed two centuries ago : “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is : infinite”. Religious wisdom anywhere in the world would express similar conviction.

There is a sacred kernel in every person and in reality. This requires from the analyst a sense of mystery. That sense is not separable from reason and intellect. It should not dominate but enlighten from within so as to open up our cerebral minds to a non-dualistic approach. This is not being irrational, but becoming conscious of the unknown, the divine within. Mysticism is not a speciality which can be isolated. It functions in symbiosis with the rest of our human faculties. Mysticism is to be incorporated, not juxtaposed.

Reason - one of the powerful tools to acquire knowledge - has been turned by modernity into reductionistic rationalism, exclusive of any other knowledge. Rationalistic social analysis and materialistic development strategies which do not integrate transcendence cannot lead to genuine progress because the sacred is a constitutive dimension of reality and an essential characteristic of the human person. Transcendence is that depth of freedom, infinity, interconnectedness and mystery… which is inherent to all beings. The modern secularisation process threw away the baby with the water. In its necessary fight against excessive church power, religious intolerance and bigotry, it ended up rejecting religion and spirituality itself. Secularisation, once a healthy and liberative phenomenon, ended up in narrow secularism. This in turn led to a truncated epistemology and to utilitarianism.

For another approach : integrating reason and mystery

A totally secular epistemology is unnatural and dangerously reductive as it denies mystery and wonderment. What is needed is another epistemology which reintegrates the mystical dimension into reality. Planning will have to take into account the sacred nature of reality and the mystery of life, hence the complexity of the human being and of society.

Utilitarianism is a guiding principle of modern social and economic policy. It presupposes the calculated search for earthly happiness as an overwhelmingly material goal to be acquired through one' s effort. This is quite alien to detachment and the “let go” quality which all religious traditions and many philosophical wisdom purport to teach from Pantanjali' s yoga to Seneca' s Stoicism, from Bantu proverbs to Tao-inspired body movements, from Zen to Bible and from Quechua wisdom to Soufi mystique…

Whereas religions have a fundamental message to deliver about the non-dualistic and therefore more appropriate approach of world problems, it is painfully obvious that religious institutions have often played a negative role. Inter-religious violence, “communalism”, aggressive proselytising, unpalatable manoeuvring for power or money are challenges which call for repentance and renewal, going back to the original fire of each faith. Religions are not above this world, even if they point to a superior dimension.

   
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