The great challenge of the modern era is the cultivation of kindness.
Today is a time of unprecedented material abundance.
But material abundance has not brought an end to poverty, or war, or madness, or hatred.
Material abundance is a base but never the ceiling of civilization.
Civilization is the degree of kindness amongst the people.
And spirituality is the ability to think and act kindly in the face of adversity, whether it be presented by others, by Nature, or by God.
Kindness is the ability to love someone without clinging, to give without expectation of reward and to radiate that highly attractive quality which comes from peace of mind and open heart.
Kindness is an old virtue. The ancient Sanskrit word for kindness is called maitrī, and in Buddhism, the word is mettā.
Many Buddhists believe that the cultivation of mettā is the essence of Buddhahood.
Kindness is a smile for no reason.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. ~ The 14th Dalai Lama
Kindness is strength. Unwarranted aggression, hatred, selfishness: these acts come out of fear, out of weakness, out of vulnerability.
Kindness requires presence. Kindness requires discipline. Kindness requires an open heart.
Rare is the person who has fully cultivated these three qualities.
Kindness does not aggress, but kindness is not pacifism. Kindness requires love of self, and protection of self.
Thus, where appropriate, a kind man goes to war: never to conquer, but only to defend and protect.
Kindness, above all, gives courage, and in a time of a war the kind man is the bravest warrior.
And when the war is over, the kind man has the courage to put away arms and once again honor peace.
The prince who would become the Buddha was kshatriya: the warrior caste.
It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell. ~ The Buddha
Kindness is what binds a society. When kindness is lacking, society falls apart.
There are great and pressing problems facing California, America, and the world more generally.
No solution will work if it is not based on kindness — kindness to oneself and to one another.
This is something no technology will be able to replicate.
This is an algorithm that no computer will be able to process.
Much has been created and developed in just a few lifetimes. But a true Golden Age will require the ethical and emotional advancement that comes with the cultivation of kindness.
It is honestly as easy as that.
The path of Western history — the collapse of the Roman Empire, the subsequent dark ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and today’s modern technological explosion — leaves the impression that scientific progress moves in one direction.
But what if scientific development is not uni-directional?
Could it be the case that other cultures have focused on different types of sciences that may have little technological application, but were advanced in their own right?
Could it be the case that in addition to technological science, there exists a “science of the spirit”? A way of examining spiritual beliefs and enquiring into the nature of reality through the mind, and not through observation?
Westerners have a difficult time with this idea because so much of Western history is about the revolt of science against religious oppression.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church played a significant role in halting scientific and rational thought, preventing free-thinkers from examining cadavers or in promoting alternative ideas about the nature of the Universe. Galileo was famously persecuted for his conclusion, now confirmed, that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
But religious oppression is not universal, and the oppression of the Church against free-thinking inquiry was very unique.
In the East, religion and spiritual belief formed a type of science – a real “science of the spirit” or “science of God”.
This science is based on the technique of meditation.
For countless aeons, people in the East have used meditation as a way of achieving spiritual transcendence as well as inquiring into the nature of reality. Indeed, these goals are one and the same.
In India, the religion of Hinduism is best understood as a set of philosophical and religious principles derived from people simply sitting down and meditating.
Over time, the discoveries and conclusions produced from these meditations were passed down and refined, coalescing into a larger ethical and religious system.
The belief in reincarnation, in karma, and the use of yogic postures are some of the beliefs and practices produced as a result of this process.
This fundamental respect for the power of meditation is a primary reason why Hinduism is as varied as it is. There are countless gods and philosophies in Hinduism, each with their own take on reality and the best way to find peace of mind.
Should someone sit and meditate and come to a different conclusion about reality, then he or she is entitled to and accorded as much respect as any of the other countless prophets that have come and gone for thousands of years.
Sometimes, the conclusions of the people who sit and meditate differ too much to be combined into a similar system. Many thousands of years ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama sat down and meditated and came to very different conclusions than the ones being expressed at the time. People began to call him “the enlightened one,” or the Buddha, and his teachings became known as Buddhism.
Buddhism shares some elements in common with Hinduism but has sharp differences as well. Both are creatures of the science of meditation — the science of the spirit.
Through meditation, ancient peoples inquired into the nature of the Universe in a manner that mirrors modern scientific inquiry.
The Rig Veda, one of the earliest recorded religious texts in history, contains verse after verse about the Universe and its genesis. A priest speculates on where the Universe came from:
“There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
“There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
He continues his ruminations, concluding that there may be no answer to his question:
“…Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
“Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does not know.”
Is it possible to reach powerful conclusions about the nature of reality, about God, about what it means to be spiritual, simply by sitting, quieting the mind, and thinking?
The answer to this has been a resounding “yes” for thousands of years in the East.
And even in the West, scientists are beginning to realize that Eastern thought may help bridge gaps in their own understanding. In the 1980s, David Bohm, a quantum physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian writer and philosopher who spent his life speaking and writing on the nature of the mind, engaged in a serious of dialogues about the mind and reality.
Many of these tracts were published (The Ending of Time, The Future of Humanity, Truth and Actuality, and The Wholeness of Life being at least four). Bohm’s training as a scientist and physicist provide an interesting comparison with Krishnamurti’s esoteric principles developed entirely as the result of meditation and introspection.
To the extent that scientific progress is measured by the development of tools, humanity is at a high point of progress. Modern tools — computers, cars, telecommunications, and all the rest — are far more advanced than at any other point in history, and in many ways reflect a science that has been less concerned with theories of life and reality and more concerned with practical applications.
To the extent that scientific progress is measured in other ways — for example, in the development of a long and happy life, in understanding why people attract certain life circumstances or behave in certain ways, in creating a balance between the resources available on Earth with the needs of humans and animals — then the current moment may not be so celebratory. This is now a time where species are expected to die off, climate change is set to erupt, and the population is set to grow to 9 billion people.
There are ways to successfully face these problems, but the science required to do that will not be a science that focuses on tools.
Rather, it will be a science that focuses, on right ways to live, right ways to act, and right ways to treat each other.
In the East, this has been a science that has had numerous advances over many thousands of years.
As Western tools head East, Eastern science, too, must head West. Somewhere in between, there is hope for a better future for both and for all.