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Spirituality - Alejandro Volkoff

Spiritual roots of a nonviolent culture

Alejandro Volkoff

Where to find the inspiration to build a non-violent culture? Because this is the issue precisely, finding the inspiration that allows us to see beyond the human eye.

According to "A Study of History" by Arnold Toynbee a total of 21 civilizations, to date, have occurred on this planet, a few of which survive today as such. All these civilizations have followed a similar pattern of development over time, which can be summarized in four steps: genesis, growth, collapse and disintegration. The genesis of each civilization was triggered by certain incitements which acted as stimuli. According to the peoples’ response, these created a growing civilization, or else they disappeared or were absorbed into other societies. Whenever the response to these incitements was the most adequate, it represented a leap forward compared to the previous one, and this leap was never given in a violent way.

In general, the growth of any civilization has occured when a group of people has led a process which was followed by the population. While in other phases violence may also have become widespread, in the growing phase violence, maybe not completely disappeared, was not the primary mode of action. Other cultures, different from the mainstream one, were not persecuted, nor were people forced to accept the leadership of a few, but voluntarily followed the course designed by the precursors.

Every civilization in its own way produced an improvement in quality of life compared to the previous one, a step forward in overcoming pain and suffering. And, in its moment of apogee, has tended to integrate existing cultures into a higher synthesis, taking the elements of evolution which could be redeemed from the previous one. In short, civilization grew and prospered because its members decided, without coercion, to continue on this path.

Why were some "elites" (to somehow name them) able to give a new response overcoming the previous situation and the incitement which forced them to act? These were undoubtedly inspired moments, not only for individuals guiding this process, but also for all the people able to recognize this leadership as the good one, deserving support.

What are the characteristics of a non-violent culture? We consider a culture nonviolent when respect for all people, freedom of religion or belief, understanding the idea that the well-being of each depends on the welfare of all and the idea of team work in pursuit of social improvement are in the core of this culture; one might almost say they define it as such. Thus we find in Jainism, the origin of Buddhism, in the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King many of these elements, and thanks to them we can identify them as nonviolent cultures or doctrines, even though they appear in different times, places, historical circumstances, goals and religious backgrounds. We can summarize by saying that a nonviolent culture is one that saves and places the human being in the central place, without putting anything above it or any human being below the other.

We also find some of these elements in European Renaissance, which retrieves the spiritual dimension of human beings, different from the religious dimension, which was until then the ruling one. The Renaissance rediscovered the ancient Greeks, the grandeur of the human individual and species, and this rediscovery is possible because culture of ancient Greece had survived in the East, in the former Byzantine civilization, and returning from there to West Europe.

But a nonviolent culture, framed in a context of violence, will have great difficulty to become an independent civilization, and that's what happened with the Renaissance, whose influence reaches us until this day, but was not able to convert the violent character of this Western culture which now aims to become a planetary civilization.

The monopolistic project of Western civilization, whether or not it manages to constitute itself as a world empire, will fail and disintegrate, as occurred to all previous civilizations, because human beings find new answers to new challenges ahead. A new civilization will only be possible by a return to the evolutionary line of human history, and although it will retrieve elements of these cultures, it will only be by means of overcoming these cultures into a new synthesis, that something new will be created.

We believe the time has come to profile this new civilization, and that is the subject of this symposium. This new civilization will be the first planetary one, and its trait should be necessarily be nonviolent if it will be presumed to be “new.” So, which elements will be taken from the cultures that preceeded it? No doubt those humanist elements, which we can find in every culture when we search through its history.

Going back to the beginning, how will the human being find the necessary inspiration to enable him to build a nonviolent global society? Facing the current incentives, from where will these new responses come from? What are the roots which will nourish the new nonviolent civilization?

Let's start with ourselves, people. How can I orient myself toward a nonviolent behavior? Where can I draw the strength that allows me to convert my life’s direction in a nonviolent way, in a humanizing way? Of those religious beliefs that were already in place when I came into this world? Of those materialistic ideologies that deny the existence of anything which is not perceptible by the external senses? Of positivist science which refuses to observe those phenomena it cannot explain? That psychology or sociology, which put the engine of my existence in a subconscious I cannot control or in a society in which I can hardly influence anything?

No doubt that I can extract elements from all of the above that will be useful in a new construction of myself. But the central pillar on which to build my new construction must be another, I must seek it and find it somewhere else.

Let us start by asking ourselves, why "must" I be nonviolent?, What is the validation of ethics? Does a faraway God, a superstructural society, an internal drive or an unknown force me to? Will my sense of what “ought to be” be enough? Will I arrive at this conclusion after complex rational analysis? Personally, I believe the only way in which to go in a nonviolent direction is looking into the greatest depths of my self, researching, studying and understanding myself beyond the everyday, going to the root of what constitutes me as a human being, that transpersonal something that is beyond my contingent biographical circumstances. At that Profoundness I might find the best of myself, and find out that that best is present in others, in all human beings.

From the Profound, I will review how my relationships are with those around me. Are they competitive relationships, of domain, enslavement, or else of cooperation? If what I've discovered in myself is also present in others, how can I expect to impose on them my world view, however sophisticated and evolved it may be? There must necessarily be parity relations, recognizing the human in me and all, recognizing that I am in this world to contribute to its humanization, for therein lies the essence of human consciousness.

If I arrived at this point, it was not only on my own merits, but because many of us are in the same attempt to humanizing ourselves. But how could we do this in the midst of a system which takes the opposite direction, where social organization works only for a few who take over not only most of the material resources we have, but also the intentions of others? A social organization consistent with what we have said should give priority to relations of international and intercultural cooperation, understanding relationships which help integrate different cultures and existing views; not a single cultural hegemony imposed on others, but to a world which recognizes diversity as a cultural value which must be preserved and strengthened, to a world where the old affronts can be reconciled by putting the future forward instead of revenge for a past that no longer exists, and possibly never existed as we imagined.

Economic relations in this society cannot be determined by totally dissimilar conditions of origin, where all opportunities exist for a few and for most there are no alternatives, nor may it be driven by competition in a savage struggle for the survival of the strong (not the fittest). All persons shall have equal opportunities and not be constrained by something they have not chosen at all: the conditions of where they happened to be born. No one should miss out on the basic livelihood for their development, because the current state of science and technology is enough to generate funds for various world populations. Because if for some people every day in their life is a struggle to survive in an unjust society, how can we ask them to look beyond, to look deep into their consciousness for what makes him one with the other, what humanizes him?

To be able to project this new world we need inspiration. We do not know where inspiration comes from or when it will appear, everyone can recognize it in artistic expressions and even in science, which throughout history has solved problems which seemed unsolvable, thanks to a new idea, a new way to see that which had been looked at thousands of times already. But can we recognize it in our daily lives? Can we realize that it is thanks to some inspiration that we've been able to resolve critical situations, give new answers, jump over our circumstances? What we would be capable of then, if we felt the inspiration which comes from a deep and sacred place within us, connecting in turn to more distant and incomprehensible things, connecting with the infinite, with eternity and with Being?

In closing, I ask from the heart so that we all find the inspiration coming from the Profound, that it will launch us into a new adventure, releasing us from the pain and suffering in our species.

Many thanks.
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