After a wonderful and uplifting teaching trip to Mother India (to watch a short film about my trip to India, click here), last week I flew to Copenhagen and Amsterdam to give lectures and day retreats. What a change of context and culture in the blink of an eye (or a few hours in an airplane)! The joy, for me, of being in India is that in spite of her current rapid transition into modernity, Spirit still abides as her foundation more palpably than in most other places on our small planet. That means that God is at least a concept that most people relate to one way or the other. In Scandinavia, on the other hand, where the postmodern cultural experiment is at its leading edge, God or Spirit is nowhere to be found. What is to be found is the highest standard of living, coupled with the greatest human freedoms ever known.
In my talks in Denmark, I stressed to the audience how I and they were--without any doubt--the luckiest people who had ever been born in the history of human civilization. Never have there been human beings so wealthy, so educated, and so absolutely free to do as we please as we are. I made this point over and over in order to get to my second point: why is it that so many of the luckiest people who have ever been born are not deeply happy? I mean, if it is true that we are the luckiest people who have ever been born, why do most of us not feel grateful beyond measure? Why is it that so many of us in fact suffer from deep existential confusion and ambivalence as to whether being here on earth in this human form, as ourselves, is even inherently a good thing?
I spoke passionately about this, which I call the postmodern cultural predicament: that the luckiest people who have ever been born don't seem to feel very lucky. As a matter of fact, more often than not, we find ourselves lost and without a clear sense of who we really are and why we are here. As all this sank in, I brought up a provocative question: If it's true that we really are the luckiest people who have ever been born, do we really have a right to be unhappy?
From a psychological perspective, of course it seems perfectly reasonable to be unhappy. For the postmodern soul, a psychological perspective on our personal experience is the only one most of us have, and I tried to make it clear that that might be a big part of what the problem is. But from an evolutionary perspective, from the vantage point of cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution, the picture of what it means to be ourselves looks very, very different.
When we begin to grasp how hard the universe has had to work for the last 14 billion years to make it possible for each of us to have the profound and multidimensional experience of consciousness and highly developed cognition that we're privileged to have right now, our perspective changes dramatically. We realize how lucky we really are. And considering our wealth and unprecedented privilege on top of that, we have a moral awakening, a cosmic epiphany. We begin to grasp what a miracle it truly is to be ourselves--the luckiest people who have ever been born. In fact, and I know to some this may sound like a radical idea, we may actually begin to feel morally obligated to be happy . . .
In Copenhagen, after I'd made all of the above extremely clear, a young woman raised her hand and said unselfconsciously, with a tinge of self-righteousness, "I still don't understand why just because we're the luckiest people who have ever been born, we don't have a right to be unhappy."
Two days later in Amsterdam, I delivered a similar message: We are in the midst of an evolutionary crisis at the level of culture. The luckiest people who have ever been born don't feel lucky and are spiritually lost, philosophically confused, and morally adrift. I reiterated that this is in fact a global cultural predicament and not a personal problem.
To illustrate this point, I described how I had just come from India and that the night before I left I had been invited to have dinner with one of India's wealthiest families. They were savvy, sophisticated, generous, and big-hearted people who were also spiritually informed and inspired. Their daughter had recently returned from Stanford. She was struggling with the postmodern predicament big time. She explained how she was frustrated with her friends and social circle in modern India because nobody was really communicating and all anybody wanted to do, besides work, was party and get drunk. Then she said that in relationship to her career, she didn't know what to do, because, as she put it, "I feel that whatever I do is just futile. . . ." I spent the next two hours energetically trying to convince her that maybe she was wrong. Her parents' and grandparents' traditional Vedantic belief system was apparently not useful to her. Her father thought maybe because I was a Western teacher I could reach her soul.
The Amsterdam audience slowly but surely seemed to begin to get the message: We, the luckiest people who have ever been born, are in big trouble. Even if our collective global crises of climate change, environmental degradation, and overpopulation were to magically vanish tomorrow, we'd still be in the same mess. Survival and evolution are not necessarily the same thing. Even if we manage to find a way to save our endangered planet, it doesn't automatically mean we've found a way to save our own souls.
Individually and collectively, we desperately need spiritual self-confidence. And that kind of deep confidence only comes from knowing who we really are, where we've come from, and where we're trying to go. It's up to each and every one of us who fall into the category of the luckiest people who have ever been born to urgently find a way to consciously evolve--morally, spiritually, and philosophically. Culture evolves through individuals at the leading edge who take those all important next steps beyond the status quo. And I'm convinced that until we realize how lucky we really are, we probably won't be ready to take those steps.