Throughout society most people are absorbed in bodily consciousness. Bodily consciousness means that people think their bodies are the basis of their identity. This usually brings people to think, in various degrees, that the goal of life is to provide as much comfort and pleasure to the mind and body as possible, preferably with as little work as necessary. So what is wrong with that?
In identifying themselves as their body, people look at themselves in terms of their bodily designation. Therefore, they accept themselves to be a man, or a woman, or something more specific like a black African American man, a fat or skinny woman, an oriental or Asian, an Arab, an Englishman, or a liberal Northerner, or a conservative Southerner, etc., etc. Because of this way of seeing themselves, they then become obliged to play a particular role in society. Of course, there may be some people who rebel against any conventional lifestyle. But, generally, people will dress in a certain way, or walk and talk in accord with the bodily identity they assume themselves to be, as well as act in a particular manner because they feel drawn to do so, or because society dictates what is expected.
They will also accept all of their bodily relations as a part of their identity, such as their parents, relatives, or children, their cultural background and heritage, etc. They may also accept particular political or philosophical viewpoints and values, and associate with people who think and feel the same way as they do. And they will often dislike anyone who challenges or threatens their identity or purpose, or may even see them as an enemy. So then there is quarrel and hatred. From there it can escalate into bigger problems and more violent confrontations.
This sort of materialistic, bodily consciousness is like animal consciousness, which causes one to view things with what we might call "animal vision." Any animal will see other living beings in terms of who is its friend or enemy, and who or what may be a source of pleasure or pain. Say, for example, a dog is walking down the street. As it looks at other living beings, it may see a human being or another dog as a potential friend and will approach it in hopes of being petted or for play. If it sees a bigger dog or a person with a large stick, it may feel as though it is being threatened and will run away, or it may bark and be ready to fight. If the dog sees a female dog, it may see her as a potential source of pleasure to be pursued, and then the female will either have sex with the male or have to defend herself. If the dog sees a cat or even a smaller dog, it may feel like exhibiting it's strength and chase after it and try to bite and hurt it, and feel very proud after having done so. If the dog sees a different sort of creature, such as a rabbit or bird, the dog will see them as a source of food to be captured and eaten. And if it is with several other dogs, they will exhibit the gang mentality and often bark at or chase anyone that walks by, or even gang up to fight with smaller dogs for the sport of it. Most of you have no doubt seen this sort of behavior in street dogs at one time or another. But you have also probably seen this kind of activity in other human beings as well.
This is the type of mentality of a person who is absorbed in bodily consciousness, and who sees things with a similar form of "animal vision." To what degree they are fixed on this level of consciousness depends on how far they have or have not progressed in their evolutionary development. As described earlier in this volume, people on the lower levels of consciousness think mostly in terms of how to more perfectly eat, sleep, have sex, defend their positions or ideals, and maintain their economic pursuits. This sort of body consciousness and "animal vision" limits the way we see ourselves and our potential. It also causes us to judge others by their bodily characteristics rather than their intellectual qualities. This is why there is a need for spiritual progress so we can be aware and recognize each others' true spiritual nature. Then we can actually begin to realize that spiritually we are all the same.
Without spiritual advancement, individually and socially, human society becomes like a society of polished animals. We may have so much technology, but we still act and fight on the same order as cats and dogs. But human life is meant for a much higher purpose. Human life is the doorway to other realms of existence, the topmost being the spiritual realm.
In order to rise above "animal vision," we have to become spiritually aware and see beyond the body and its designations, which is merely a temporary covering of the soul, like a shirt or coat. Underneath the bodily covering is the same kind of soul as any other living being. Without this kind of spiritual understanding, there will never be any real solutions to such problems as racial tension, sexual harassment, violent crime, or the problems created by those who try to cheat others for their own selfish gain, such as criminals or slick politicians. Without spiritual progress, you can forget about moral or ethical values. Everyone will simply be concerned about no one but themselves and those who share a similar bodily identity. This kind of concern for "me and mine" will only cause the "animal vision" in society to increase.
This kind of "animal vision" will effect all levels of civilization to the extent to which society is infected with it. This includes the economic system (why the value of money is inflated and not based on intrinsic value), politics (why government passes certain types of legislation that favors particular programs and groups of people, but ignores others), tax laws (why people and businesses have to pay more and more taxes to a government that becomes less and less responsible), sexual harassment and battered wives (why some men see women as objects of pleasure to control or dominate rather than seeing them as individuals to be respected for their personal talents and abilities), racial tension (why some whites and blacks look at each other with disdain), and on and on. In other words, as long as people, including politicians, judges, priests, teachers, etc., are infected with this kind of disease of the consciousness, called "animal vision," there will not be any significant change in society, and the social problems that we have to deal with will only continue, no matter how people try to discuss and resolve such matters.
As long as people's consciousness is centered around their temporary bodily identity, throughout the world you will continue to find quarrels, fights, riots, wars, the tragedy of people starving in Africa and other places because of the politics, and everything else that motivates people to act on the bodily platform because of the superficial differences between races, religions, cultures, sexes, ideals, or political viewpoints. On a more local level, you will continue to see or experience sexual harassment, rape, child abuse, violent crime, drug abuse, unwed mothers, etc., because of the lust and greed that motivates people to cater to their bodily and sensual urges. And with the lust for satisfying the body and senses comes emotions like jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, and so on.
Furthermore, when one's relationship with others is based on the vehicle of the temporary body, it is usually based simply on mutual behavior. This means that the relationship lasts as long as the medium of gratification stays the same. If or when the behavior, ideals, goals, values, political views, etc., change, then the friendship and concern, that once may have seemed so deep, also changes and begins to fade or even disappears. Sometimes it may even give way to opposition and dislike. This is because the relationship has been based on the superficial level.
An enlightened society will naturally be able to work together because they will rise above superficial differences and not let them get in the way. With spiritual enlightenment, there will be real love and concern for others because people will see that we are all in this world together, all working for the same basic needs, and our relationships will be based on our spiritual identity, not our temporary bodily covering. This is what is needed. The bottom line is that only by the spread of genuine spiritual knowledge, far and above fundamental piety, and a progressive change in social consciousness, will there be any real solutions for a troubled or misguided civilization.
Published with the kind permission of Stephen Knapp
Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana) is the President and Treasurer of the Vedic Friends Association (www.vedicfriends.org). He has been researching Vedic spirituality and comparative religious study for over 30 years in a variety of settings. He has directly engaged in those spiritual disciplines that have been recommended for hundreds of years. He continued his study of Vedic knowledge and practice under the guidance of a spiritual master to get the insights and realizations that are normally absent from the ordinary academic atmosphere. Through this process he has been initiated into the genuine and authorized spiritual line of the Brahma-Madhava-Gaudiya sampradaya, or disciplic succession, under the sanction of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. He has also extensively travelled throughout India to most of the major holy sights and more, and is known for his slide shows on his travels to the holy places and spiritual festivals of India (even nicknamed "the slide show acharya"), and for his lectures on the Vedic and Indian philosophy. He has written several books on the science and spiritual practice of Vedic culture and Eastern philosophy.
Visit his website, at: http://www.stephen-knapp.com.
You can email him at: Srinandan@aol.com.
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