It is the rare human being who reaches adulthood and fails realize that human society is deeply flawed. As Eckhart Tolle put it in The New Earth, “If the history of humanity were the clinical case study of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived enemies (his own unconsciousness projected outward), criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals.”
Most people devote themselves, in one way or another, to activities they believe will help humanity improve on its psychological illness which has led to war, oppression, decimation of the environment, inter-personal violence, and the withholding of food, medicine, and civil rights to all human beings. We do this in different ways–some people do it by being activists, some by becoming politicians, some by being teachers, some through religion, some through art, and so on. What progress humanity has made toward an evolved consciousness is due to the writers, the artists, the activists, the freedom fighters, and others. We owe a debt to them that asks that we finish the work they started and evolve past our barbarous conflicts.
These are undertaken, undoubtedly, with the sincerest desire that they actually work. However if we look at human history, what we can clearly see is that they have only partially worked. Even if we take a relatively short amount of time–the 20th century–which was characterized by both extreme oppression (Jim Crow, American lynching, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and so on) and extreme activism (the Civil rights movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall and of South African Apartheid, Women’s Rights activism, and so on), what we see is that while things may have changed in some places, the fundamental problem of human suffering, and of oppression of one person against another, and one group against another, remains unchanged. We still have work to do. Our writing, and art, and activism, and teaching must go on–but in addition to those actions, we must also transform our consciousness in other ways as well.
Though we have developed a marvelously machine-oriented intelligence and we are capable of amazing feats of engineering and mechanical craft, our essential mentality has evolved at a much slower and much more uneven rate. While probably everyone on the globe can figure out how to use a smartphone within about 10 minutes or less, not everyone agrees that men are equal to women, or that all races are worthy of the same treatment, or that one’s sexual orientation doesn’t detract from one’s humanity.
The most effective, and probably the quickest, way to begin to change the human psyche is to allow every human being to experience the truth that we are all connected, that there is no superiority in the universe, and that the superficial physical differences we see in no way separate us, anymore than two siblings from one family are separate, where one has red hair and the other has brown hair.
Telling people “we are all God’s children, ” is not enough. Telling people that genetically, the difference between people of different “races” is statistically less significant than between people within the same race, or statistically less significant the differences between various fruit flies or chimpanzees, isn’t enough. Each person must confront this truth for him and herself, so that the realization immediately and permanently changes one’s behavior toward other human beings and toward all living things, flora and fauna, animal and mineral, on this planet.
The way to do this is to drop the delusion of the ego. It is the ego that produces within us self-protection to the extent of violence and oppression. Humans have long justified their domination and oppression of other people to get their resource needs met. For example, the justification of slavery worked in two ways–first of all, mass labor was required to build the country the European settlers were set on creating and secondly, they emphasized the cultural (linguistic, religious, and ideological) and physical differences between themselves and the Africans to such an extent that they had no sense of relation to them whatsoever. If they had felt themselves indelibly connected and related to those Africans, the atrocity of slavery could never have taken place. Nor would the decimation of Native American culture and communities have occurred. There may still have been a country of this kind here, but perhaps it would be a communal cooperative, with Europeans, Native Americans and Africans, and any others who wanted to be here, working together in harmony. In fact, this is the vision we aspire to now. But the only way to build such a society is to begin to release the notion that “I am me” and “You are you.”
The traditional methods of change, activism, protest, politics, and art, all have their role to play in the transformation of human consciousness. But those practices are not the fulcrum of change which will enable us to truly understand the insights of the poets, the political prisoners, and the people who attend marches in the name of justice. Only when we realize that there is no separation in the Universe, not between each other or even the animal kingdom, will we see major change in human society. Only when we take, as our highest law, “do no harm, no matter what” will we begin to see human consciousness transform.
But how do we avoid doing harm? It is probably the case that most of us have never murdered anyone or committed a violent act against another. That is one level of harm; but there are others. We are all guilty of slander, of gossip, of interpersonal betrayals, perhaps of petty theft (taking a pen from work, for example), and of lying. We may think these are insignificant and do nothing to keep global suffering going, but they do. Furthermore, we all hate someone.
Hatred abounds. It can be found in all the predictable spaces and all the familiar places. All the “isms” are founded on hatred. But how well we learn, how deeply we internalize the mechanism if not the labels! How easy it is to feel the burn of pure opposition when certain things align against us. We don’t like someone’s views, we don’t like their lifestyle, we don’t like their callousness, we don’t like their politics–we hate them. We feel this hate is okay because they don’t share our views or because they are enabling our oppression. If you oppress me, the sentiment goes, I will hate you. If you don’t participate in my liberation, however I imagine it, then, I am against you.
The core problem is hatred. If I am participating in hatred at any level in my psyche, then I am participating in oppression whether I want to grapple with or realize this or not. If I cannot live and give from a space of love, then I will just attend to symptoms rather than the disease.
It is easy for us to tell ourselves that we hate no one. But maybe we hate pedophiles or murderers or violent criminals. Maybe we hate dictators or rapists. Maybe we hate rich people who are consumed by capitalist greed. If we are vegan, maybe we hate the farmers who slaughter animals cruelly. Maybe we hate terrorists or people who make war. Maybe we hate people who commit adultery. Maybe we hate aggressive drivers. Maybe we hate religious fundamentalists or people who are racist. Maybe we hate homophobes. And because we have constructed these people as “wrong,” we feel that our hatred is okay.
The point is, the mechanism of hatred in the human psyche can be mobilized with the right story about the person we are hating. But as long as we are capable of hatred, oppression will continue to exist in human societies. We will simply move oppression around, from one group to another, from one place to another, and never really solve the underlying problem. I do not mean to suggest that we mustn’t recognize when people’s actions and ideas are harmful. We can at once recognize hatred (such as isms or violence), condemn the hatred, and love the person. In fact, critiquing one’s fellow human can be undertaken as an act of concern and good will, done harmoniously, with love–rather than as an act of emotionally or physically violent condemnation. We can give hatred no dwelling place for that mechanism is what keeps humanity in bondage. The content (the actual political issue at the moment) needs to be addressed, undoubtedly. But if we only address the content and leave the structure (the ego) in place, then we solve no problem and simply delay curing the disease for another generation.
Hatred is not possible without the ego. Without the feeling of “I,” there is no feeling of “you,” either. Instead, we begin to understand humanity for what we are: a “we.”
The way to achieve a “we” mentality is not by castigating ourselves for the ways we have caused harm or for the fact that we are still operating within the mental framework of the ego. We won’t drop the delusion of the ego by yelling at it; in fact, the ego thrives on guilt, shame, and fear–so the moment we begin to feel those things, we are strengthening the ego. The first step to moving away from the ego is to forgive ourselves for everything we have ever felt, said, or done–even if we are murderers and criminals. Yes–forgiveness is key.
Everything that is done by a person under the sway of ego, must be forgiven. And everyone is under the sway of the ego, so everyone must be forgiven. This is because a mind conditioned by the ego will, inevitably, behave in ways that are harmful. As I said above, that harm can be “little” or that harm can be “big,” but the size of the harm makes little difference. This is why Jesus said that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. And the word sin, if translated from the Greek as explained by Eckhart Tolle, means “to the miss the mark.” When you commit the sin of slander or gossip, you set up a chain of negative energy and suffering that will continue indefinitely. I have been quite guilty of this myself–so I know of what I speak. The person about whom you speak will eventually discover your words and it will produce within them anger, suffering, sadness. They will then do something with that pain and probably that something won’t be to transmute that negative energy into positive energy. They will more likely defend themselves and counter-attack, in one way or another. And in this way, the negative energy gets amplified, indefinitely.
But these harmful actions occur because of unconsciousness, because our minds are conditioned to think egoistically. We are all subject to this conditioning and hence we are all doing harm, to greater or lesser degrees. All that we have done and all that has been done to us happened while we were asleep, existing as we are in a nightmare realm of the ego. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This means, quite simply, that if your consciousness has not been transformed, then you act out of ego conditioning which always leads to more suffering and you do so with no realization of what you are actually doing.
Typically those who have been interested in undoing the delusion of the ego have been motivated by the promise of Nirvana, of unending bliss. But this is not the reason to drop the ego. Happiness is a fortunate consequence of seeing through the ego; but the actual reason to pursue this is for the salvation of human civilization and the welfare of the planet. Dropping the ego is as much a social justice project as any direct political action. To drop your ego is to give the gift of harmlessness to yourself and to all of humanity.
Dropping the ego is actually very simple, not difficult. All you have to do–the total instruction is this–BE HERE NOW. That is it. You don’t have to meditate for hours upon hours. You don’t have to seek a teacher. You don’t have to burn incense, eat a raw food diet, wear certain clothes, or chant in a language you don’t know. You only have to notice that you are here, now. Your mind may be remembering something, but that something has gone and no longer exists. Your mind may be fantasizing about something, but that something has not come and so does not exist. But you exist right now. Look around. Really see. Listen, really listen. Taste, really taste. Notice light, texture, smell. Be here now. That is it. When you are present, the ego cannot be in control, cannot intrude. Enlightenment is only the unchanging state of being here now. That is it. It really is that simple.
This practice, which if adhered to persistently, will transform human society through the transformation of human consciousness. How does being here now offer the possibility of transformation? It will relieve you all belief, all assumptions, and all narratives from which oppression flows. Let us consider an example. Let’s say you are a male executive at a bank and you are hiring people. A woman applies for the job. You may believe that women are not good at math, are not going to be as reliable an employee as a man, and so you are biased against her before you even talk to her. If you are here now, radically present, then when you see this woman’s resume, you will be free of the patriarchal narratives of your culture and instead, you will realize you are a person talking to another person. Your evaluation of her, then, will be based upon your interaction with her IN THE NOW, rather than based upon a history of assumptions and beliefs you’ve accumulated culturally. Does this sound simplistic? That is because it is simple. The ego thrives on complication, equivocation, and the essential belief that you–and therefore no one else–can or will ever change. Yet radical presence undoes assumption, belief, and also ill-will. It counteracts the idea that we can know what is happening now based on what happened before. Each moment is new and hence, each encounter also totally new.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Practice radical presence and get very good at it. You will soon see that it is a mode of being totally opposite from egoic states of mind. And then, while you are being radically present, put yourself in an environment with the type of people who usually annoy you or invoke resentment or hatred within you. For example, if you hate consumerist culture and rich people, become radically present and go to a fancy mall and watch people shop. Stay radically present and see what happens. See how even if you find their shopping and consumerism unhelpful, you cease to be consumed by hatred, anger, and other negative states. See how compassion will grow in you and see how much you will understand Jesus’ comment on the cross, that people “know not what they do.” See how you can imagine a dialogue of kindness with them about how to transform human society. Test this for yourself.
This one small step of being in the present moment undoes the damaging work of the ego. And if we can do this, then we can transform our society into the peaceful, benevolent, and harmless environment we long for it to be.