The Future of Power is the theme of a series of dialogues taking place across India to deepen understanding of the nature of power and help restore awareness of the nation’s spiritual heritage both within India and abroad. Can India, widely accepted as the home of the highest spiritual understanding, set a lead in renewing true benevolence in human affairs and show the way towards lasting solutions for current global problems?
Mr Nizar Juma, an industrialist from Kenya, has been the instrument behind the Future of Power dialogues. He can see that the recent global financial crisis indicates a turning point in which US power is on the wane; whilst India is enjoying unequalled economic growth. This reversal of the trends of the past two thousand years requires leaders within India to re-examine their attitudes towards power, to help restore awareness of the central importance of spirituality and love in human affairs.
Bharat’s original spiritual power translated into a cultural and financial strength that enabled India to be an economic and political superpower for millenia. However, her people gradually lost sight of the connection between spiritual, internal power and external strength and this led to a tendency to become absorbed instead in a love of power and wealth for its own sake.
In foreign lands, especially the west, which lack India’s spiritual and cultural inheritance, power has been administered in a predominantly coercive way. In earlier times this was tempered by a degree of altruism. Today, narrow self-interest predominates and the world is experiencing increasing levels of chaos as a result. The loss of good authority is reflected socially and culturally, with growing levels of family breakdown, tottering financial systems and weakened individual and planetary health.
Time seems to be calling on us to be at the vanguard of a new kind of leadership – one rooted in authentic personal power. But what is the nature of that inner power? What caused it to become depleted? How can it be regained? And what does it look like when applied in practical daily life – how will this ‘power shift’ affect current and future leadership? These are among key questions that the dialogues aim to address. The intention is that with each event, a body of understanding will grow until at the end of three years of dialogues in major cities across India, a powerful synthesis of ideas and experiences will be in place.
What is the nature of authentic personal power?
Most spiritual and religious traditions tell us that it stems from our highest innermost nature as human beings. It expresses itself through qualities such as consideration, cooperation, kindness and compassion in our dealings with others, instead of greed and selfishness. It includes the ability to stay calm in a crisis; to be flexible, yet firm and fair; to be courageous, and patient and forgiving, in the face of adversity; to maintain self-respect in the face of criticism and to have such a stock of inner peace and happiness as to be able to share this in an unlimited way. At its best, these qualities comprise a high-energy leadership that inspires others with a vision of their own potential.
“Our society is founded on a very limited definition of power, namely wealth, professional success, fame, physical strength, military might, and political control. My dear friends, I suggest that there is another kind of power, a greater power: the power to be happy right in the present moment, free from addiction, fear, despair, discrimination, anger and ignorance. This power is the birthright of every human being, whether celebrated or unknown, rich or poor, strong or weak.” – Thich Nhat Hanh (The Art of Power, HarperCollins, 2007).
What caused this inner power to become depleted?
In the understanding taught by the Brahma Kumaris, the root cause is seen as a shift in our sense of identity. The deities of ancient Bharat, still worshiped in the temples, enjoyed a pure spiritual awareness. They knew themselves as unique, individual streams of an immortal consciousness that transcends the physical plane. They experienced this transcendental reality directly, even whilst living out their parts on the stage of the world. The purity of their consciousness manifested a world of unity and perfection.
Over time, however, through long exposure to the material realm, consciousness slipped from that pure awareness into a self-identity based on ideas and images rooted in material existence. The BKs describe this as the fall from soul-consciousness into body-consciousness. It marked the beginning of suffering and a splintered world.
Selfish ideas and behaviours developed, as cultures as well as individuals tried to secure their place in the world and defend themselves against loss. Reinforced by language, these limited ways of thinking and acting caused us to become progressively distanced from the inner power of the soul.
How can inner power be regained?
For thousands of years, religions have taught ways of thinking and behaving aimed at limiting the “body-consciousness” in which we have found ourselves imprisoned. Moral injunctions such as “do as you would be done by”, “love thy neighbour”, “live simply” and “count your blessings” helped to reduce dissatisfaction and selfishness and to emerge our higher nature. In some instances, esoteric practices played a part, seeking to free the spirit by systematically deconstructing our narrowed perceptual framework through prolonged withdrawal from mundane life. Devotional practices and mind-altering drugs, have also been used as a short-cut to glimpsing a deeper reality, briefly prising open the doors of perception.
Over time, religion also tended to lose sight of this deeper reality, as its adherents became caught in the outward show of devotion, including good work and its leaders in the trappings of position and authority. Confidence in the old-established faith traditions has been waning for centuries and has collapsed in some parts of the world. These failings, alongside advances in our understanding and ability to manipulate the physical world, have led many to put their faith in materialistic science as their preferred means for human betterment and to embrace materialistic values as a philosophy of life. This faith too is now failing: evidence that it is damaging us personally, socially and environmentally has become overwhelming.
BK understanding tells us that full spiritual renewal can only be achieved through accurate relationship with God and that this can only happen at the confluence age. By bringing the Supreme into our lives, we renew our power to live with kindness and compassion, to fight corruption inside ourselves and in society and to build the consciousness that will take us to a peaceful and happy world.
The challenge for the dialogues is to find ways of unpacking these ideas so that they seem real rather than imagined to the high-profile intellectuals taking part and relevant to their current feelings and needs as well as aspirations for the future.
What does “real” power look like in practical daily life?
Coercive power – the use of force – always fails in the long run, producing violence in return. “Through history, great coercive powers have risen and fallen like ninepins,” Gurumurthy says. He is also clear that living only for the dominant, sense-oriented, physical self, which is what he says has happened in the west, destroys a civilisation by destroying respect at every level.
He advises however that the dialogues need to emphasise a hierarchy of spirituality: to make the world order work, we have to restore respect for goodness and good people, at all levels. Spirituality can be seen and expressed in a devoted partner, family person, friend, businessman, or professional. “We have to recreate relationships; spiritualise the family.” He warns against assuming an ideal. “Good people are rare and even then they make people feel that what they are doing at the family level is inadequate,” he says. Working towards an ideal is OK, but if you make out that you are already in that position, people will see you as an idealist and not feel that what you are saying is relevant to their lives. “I am not creating a cult,” he says. “We can’t turn all human beings into saints. Avoid jealousy, hatred, anger, harsh words – through these methods, we can be more human.”
Gurumurthy believes India’s re-emergence economically will change the way power is expressed in the world. Once the seed of the idea of re-spiritualising power is planted it will readily take root in India, because spiritual values, though compromised, are not far below the surface. “The nature of the Indian psyche manifests again and again,” he says. Spiritual power is the source of all power and this needs to be clearly articulated and demonstrated, in practical ways, through words and actions and lifestyle, at all levels.
Krishnaswamy’s emphasis was slightly different. Real power would only return to India, he said, if India revises its original systems and values. There needed to be a return to the idea that wealth is given in trust, to be used on behalf of the people and that we are custodians for nature generally. “We are now realising that our selfishness is going to be self-destructive.” Caste was being abolished – but only by having everyone working for money. There was a calamity in the judiciary and other professional fields. “The major challenge is to change from money to love, from money to understanding.”
It seems that it is part of the cultural inheritance of most Indians to know that a wholesome lifestyle is desirable and to attempt to maintain a degree of moral and spiritual strength, even if this is sometimes achieved more in appearance than in actuality. Can the Future of Power dialogues do more than simply reinforce this awareness? Can they draw participants into the process of divine re-creation?