REFLECTIONS ON NEOHUMANIST SOLUTIONS FOR A WORLD IN CRISIS
REFLECTIONS ON NEOHUMANIST SOLUTIONS FOR A WORLD IN CRISIS
BY DR. MARCUS BUSSEY
Change is in the air! Change of course is disruptive, scary, often tumultuous and definitely challenging! Change requires us to change: rethink, even caste aside, old habits; devise and explore new pathways into the future. Sometimes change is so intense, so widespread, layered and omnipresent that we experience it as crisis. In recent years the acceleration of change elements has increased exponentially as each dimension of change intersects with other change processes. 2020 seemed to be the perfect storm for change-as-crisis and, as such, it was fitting to end the year with a global conference hosted by Ananda Marga Gurukula on the theme Neohumanist Solutions for a World in Crisis.
As conferences go it was highly successful drawing over 1000 people from 80 plus countries, offering an Eastern and Western hemisphere selection of 33 sessions drawing on the skills and insights of 70 experts. And all this over an action packed four days from December 11 to December 14. Furthermore all sessions were recorded and can now be accessed on line through the dedicated Neohumanist College website. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of a wide range of people working on concept, infrastructure, networking and more! Thanks to you all!
As noted above, change is not a singular ‘thing’. Change on the scale we are currently experiencing is profoundly rooted in a world of interconnected systems. Economic change, political change, environmental change, existential change, cultural change, technological change and more are coalescing to create a deep sense of emergence, spiritual expansion and (dare I say it) dread.
Neohumanism is a gift for such times as these as it offers a positive and practical philosophy of engagement with the world. It links the internal work on self we need to do with action in the world. It offers a vision of the world as a connected and living consciousness in which we all participate. It gives us the chance to participate as conscious, spiritually aware beings rather than as sleepwalkers into the future. It is rational and devotional in that it looks at the world and our place in it critically, from a spiritual perspective asking questions such as: “In whose interests are we working? How can we increase all beings’ access to the generosity of our planet without depleting its resources or favouring a particular group/species? What new skills, practices or ideas do we need to embrace to further and birth a new relational, Neohumanist, consciousness on the planet? How does the personal and the planetary, the social and the cultural, the economic and the environmental, and so on find a win-win story to carry us beyond crisis? How can I love that which I fear or do not understand?”
Such questions require us to be clear headed and yet approach all problems as devotional challenges in which we draw up what Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, the founder of Neohumanism, called ‘loving stamina’. To date, our world has been viewed as the stage upon which humanity enacted its evolutionary story. The world was a resource, like a mother giving endlessly of her bounty. This is no longer possible as we are discovering the world has physical limits. It is now time to explore other pathways and to give back to our mother Earth with loving devotion. This conference lays out a clear agenda for this work.
The 33 sessions showcase a wide variety of approaches to the challenges of our time. If we divide them into sections we can see workshops on self-development, socio-economics and governance, agriculture, education, the new science of Microvita, rural development projects, the arts, history, social justice, devotional practice, sustainable energy, futures thinking, indigenous values and of course meditation, spirituality and yoga. To map this we can turn to the four quadrant model offered by integral theorist Ken Wilber (2001) in which Neohumanism deals with the external world of things; the social and structural world of processes; the cultural world of values, beliefs and aspirations; and finally, the personal/subjective world of each individual’s hopes and fears, ethics and spirit. Such a model looks like this (Figure 1):
Currently, all quadrants are under pressure and experiencing crisis. Thus, we find that the material world is suffering degradation, climate change, fires and deforestation but also resource scarcity and distortions in distribution. The social world of institutions and infrastructure is struggling to manage the structures we have created to support our societies and failing to take account of the environmental impacts of our clever handiwork such as cities, industries and agriculture. The cultural world is failing to provide positive and inclusive ‘stories’ to manage these pressures and in many parts of the world it is retreating into socio and geo-sentimental positions that privilege specific slices of humanity over others. The personal sphere is under multiple pressures and given the stresses faced by the other quadrants is caught between terror of social and environmental collapse and a sense of promise that maybe all these crises are leading to something profoundly new and special.
As a holistic philosophy, Neohumanism promises and actively fosters a bright future in which all quadrants are addressed with imagination, devotion and grit. As a civilisational project Gurukul has been created to bring together all elements working towards such a future. This is not a utopian future but a spectrum of spiritually pragmatic futures in which local and global, material and spiritual are equally represented. We can see this in the diversity of workshops offered. The material is addressed through service projects such as show cased in considerations of a benevolent agriculture (Session 9), the spiritualisation of matter (Sessions 25 and 29) and reimagining energy for the future (Session 13).
These considerations obviously are reflected also in a Neohumanist approach to the social structures and institutions of agriculture, science, local economics mentioned just now in the material domain. But also, we find in the Social domain thinking and action involving education (Sessions 4, 17 and 24), social justice (Sessions 5 and 6), food security and economic democracy (Sessions 9, 4 and 28), NGO work (Session 15), economics (Session 30), eco-community (Session 2) and the media (Session 8). Such social pursuits are clearly connected to the Cultural domain. This is where the values, beliefs and also the ideological work is done – it is also where collective spiritual movement resides. Thus we find in the conference sessions work on the devotional practice of kirtan (Session 12), the role of the arts and supra-aesthetic science (Sessions 8, 11 and 12), a rethinking of History (Sessions 19 and 23), explorations of futures thinking (Session 21), yogic practices as a tool for dealing with Covid-19 (Session 10), thoughts on leadership (Session 16), motherhood and migration (Session 14) and education is as relevant here as it is to the Social.
There were also two sessions offered on Neohumanism and Spirituality (Sessions 26 and 27) which bridge the cultural and the personal in a delightful way. The personal of course has roots in all three quadrants covered but also has its own intimate space and was addressed by sessions on personal narratives (Session 7), kirtan (Session 12), yoga (Session 20) and nutrition (Session 31).
As if this list is not impressive enough there was a cultural program running between sessions featuring a range of musical and cultural delights such as Balinese acro-yoga, harp playing with and without voice, violin and sitar and much more. There is also a project exhibition which is excellently curated to capture the creativity and diversity of Neohumanist work. In addition, there is a space for a comprehensive Gurukul tour. Finally, some important voices speaking from the Neohumanist perspective but prominent in the wider academic and social change world were also on deck to provide insight, depth and hope including Professor Ravi Batra, Professor Sohail Inayatullah, Professor Kathleen Kesson and Mr Khun Krisada Kampanatsanyakorn.
In this way the conference laid out for all attendees the depth and breadth of the Gurukul vision and the Neohumanist project. For me, Neohumanism is a civilizational project committed to exploring, testing and developing the relational, spiritual and practical tools for the next step in human evolution. Such a step is both a step backwards and forwards. This is a paradox, but it is important to recognise that by ‘backward’ I mean returning to the deep relationship with earth, the living and non-living, that characterises pre-agricultural peoples; by ‘forwards’, I mean stepping into a new paradigm of co-creativity and meaning, the elements of which are still beyond us on the very fringes of our capacity to imagine. This space is nonetheless real. It is what is calling to us to continue to do the work of civilization building that the world needs.
Such work is the best way to respond to Crisis – it helps us rise above the symptoms and work towards optimal and inclusive futures for all.
Didi Ananda Devapriya, Marcus Bussey, Dada Shambhushivananda, Sohail Inayutullah
Slaughter, R. A., & Bussey, Marcus. (2005). Futures Thinking For Social Foresight. Taipei: Tamkang University Press.
Wilber, K. (2001). A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Boulder: Shambhala.