Gingerbread man’s dreams

Our understanding of the world and how we relate to the society is revealed in our ability to imagine God, or metaphorically, how we grasp what the meaning of life is. In old, deeply segregated caste societies, that opposed ideas of individual freedom, personal development and human rights, an image of formless God that devours our distinctiveness now and in the next life was prominent.
As a contrast, today in an overly individualised, fragmented world man seems to need no God and, as an effect, the link between man and his environment is severed. Is there a middle way, that can lead people find a better balance, more meaning in life?

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Waves crushing between the cliffs of strong self-interest on one side, and strong social-interest on other side of the shore of human life, follow the tides of our society’s understanding of the matters of personality. A person, as explained by any contemporary dictionary, is not the same word as understood 2,000 years ago, say in old Greece, Rome or Persia. A person was considered then not a strong, distinctive individual with free will, but both a human being and his/her world. A man was inseparable part of the environment and his tribe or family, and was contributing to it with his wisdom, artistry, industry, both birth and death. For then very few ones could claim own sovereignty, and independence. Oikos, or the household — a place where family lives and thrives — was a core of the society and was much more important than it is today. Word ‘economy’ comes from it; the manage of a household.

However, today’s economy is altogether different than the economy of two millennia ago, or even 250 years ago, because the society is diffused with views and values very much different than in those times. There were more similarities between the Hellenistic world and the European 18th century, for example, when the father of modern economics Adam Smith lived. His ideas on modern economy and nation’s wealth echoed social tides of his time, all of which were more homogenous and more socially attuned than they’re now in this Western, über-individualised, post-industrial capitalist society. If he had a time machine to visit us today, Adam Smith would be profoundly shocked.

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Über-individualism

A modern Western society explores individuality of a man in its extremes, for acquired economic independence finally allows it. It gives man a freedom to be separated from the oikos, logos, own society, grants man sovereignty and independence in all what matters. Man’s income allows for an extravagant lifestyle that pursues experiments, desires and ideas unthinkable in generations before, where such endeavours were only possible with the help of family and a wider circle of friends, individuals working together for a common good.

It is a sad truth today: man has created a world so fragmented and separated its constituent parts and their meaning that makes him disintegrated even inside, into quanta of incomprehensible, meaningless feelings and thoughts. Nothing holds him together. Compared to caste systems that have a deep segregation and fragmentation of social interests as their modus operandi, and then ideas of purity and “words of prophets” as their “divine” cause and justification, the alienation between individuals in modern society reaches even more extreme amplitudes because it is more widespread phenomenon in now bigger world.

That is one explanation why big governments and their influences are in demand today. They control economy, politics, jurisdiction, distribution of goods and services, organise health care, public transport and everything else. Governments must compensate wherever society and its individuals fail, cannot and won’t do a thing, or even think anything, because individuals are too busy exploring self-interests. As a consequence people’s expectations rise, for they are accustomed to believe someone else has to think for them and solve their problems, and government must meet all their needs. In their minds they substitute word “society” for “public government” that must satisfy their wants. “Politicians are being paid to address those problems so let them solve them”, an average socially unsighted individual thinks today. That everyday statement alone shows society composed of such disconnected individuals is inert, self-devouring, blind and paradoxical.

Some traditional societies, and (up to recently) socialist countries developed in isolation from post-industrial capitalism, have had a more homogenous society despite troubles. Their economy and lifestyle didn’t have capacity for widespread over-individualisation — people needed to find a way how to help each other under governments extremely inefficient. Money was not an absolute measure of things, but rather a rare commodity. Exchange of goods and services was quite common. Let us travel back in time for a moment, to observe one intriguing social movement of some 500 years ago.

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A need for a better worldview

A change in social awareness in India in the 16th century (which remind to some extent ideas of Humanism and Renaissance in Europe) led to a new worldview, including a new philosophical and religious thinking which communicated those changes. Unlike shifts in centuries before him, Chaitanya’s movement had its crux in deep social reforms and in call for non-violent actions for a common good. That was a novel approach. Inside old patriarchal world of values, new movement embraced women as the most important and vital part of the society, householders as the foundation of a new religious and social thought, accepted individuals from all castes as equals, cared about education, tried to feed the poor, etc. It was highlighting personal existence, dignity and interests of otherwise forgotten and squashed individual, although that very individual still remained important part of the society. No wonder Chaitanya’s movement was so accessible and widespread.

As such acintya bhedabheda philosophy of Chaitanya and his friends — which translates as the ’inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference’ — seemed to be a natural outcome of a much wider social change it helped to spur. It was both its cause and the consequence. Hence I see it not as a mere novel “philosophical” trait that tried to defeat another mere philosophical trait from the past (and as such, as many think, removed from the “worldly” matters) but I see it as a living necessity, an act that justifies its own importance in the world around, and changes it altogether for better.

Inside one old society that had produced a clump of philosophies and worldviews (different forms of Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, resulting in many other life-denying doctrines, etc.) in the past that disprove, dismantle and refute a man, his dignity, rights, choice to change life for better here and now, preserve his personality both in this life and the next, and as such created a social disaster, a radical change was needed that would help restore natural balance between a man and his society, and in parallel, between a man and God. A balance at all levels of existence was required and absolutely necessary.

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Social inspiration of Chaitanya

500 years ago, belittled and ignored women (more than half of total population), beggars, lepers, outcast, so called impure and forgotten individuals needed a better recognition and distinction in Chaitanya’s India. Chaitanya’s bhakti (love) movement tried to do something about them, give some new hope and help change society from inside. A new philosophy was born, in which individual was not forgotten and lost in the oblivion of so-called existence ruled by centuries of tyrannies of simplistic thoughts, caste values, religious wars and monarchs, but rather fully recognised, educated and cherished, and individual’s existence approved and changed for better.

As a contrast to that, persons scattered around this globe in their extreme individual and selfish pursuits today need a stronger cohesion, a work for better common good and common vision, for we’re not separated. We’re all parts of the same whole. A centred, balanced life is needed now more than ever.

Therefore I see the principles of that sublime Chaitanya’s philosophy of simultaneous oneness and difference (of a man and society, of a man and God) to be a natural remedy for agonies of life now pronounced in modern world too. Scientists and thinkers seriously warn about problems caused by fragmentation of life and lack of holistic approach. World suffers, and even a blind person can see it. Celebrating individual freedom but forgetting about society and our environment causes ecological and moral disasters equal to those created by societies who neglect and try to extinguish individuals by means of both worldly despise, dictatorship and humiliation by religious doctrine. They’re both life denying.

We can all enjoy our individuality but still be parts of the world and contribute to it. In that venture we’ll discover some new depths and heights of existence, something we’ve never felt before. We’ll perhaps fulfill dreams of generations who lived before us and I see it as the only way possible to move forward, and find a new balance.

— Zvonimir Tosic


2 Responses to “Gingerbread man’s dreams”

  1. Another excellent essay Zvonimir. Brilliant insights and application of oneness and difference. Thank you for adding this to our body of writings.

  2. Zvonimir Tosic says:

    Thank you Steve. Some would deny a link between philosophical trends and overall health and vision of the society, but I think they’re inseparable. For example, Chaitanya’s philosophy has an attribute ‘acintya’, which means incomprehensible.

    If a layman observes it in its theoretical, theological point alone, it may indeed sound complex, because the constituents of that philosophy such as soul, God, existence, etc. are pretty much vague terms, of which we have no clear definitions. However, if we step forward and apply that model onto a macrocosm of our society, which I’ve tried to demonstrate in above article, then it all becomes clear and suddenly we feel it. We are not separated from it. Only then it begins to make sense. Likewise, Chaitanya didn’t just theorize but he was applying it and his philosophy came as a natural remedy for a broken society of his time.

    There’s a strong link between all our life’s philosophies and the world and circumstances we’re in. Similarly, Universalist Radha-Krishnaism (and all similar progressive thoughts aspiring positive change) is both the need and a consequence of our times.