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Walking Meditation

Sustainability and the Golden Rule (2)
A sketchy way into a project…


Henk Bak (Winter Dewdrop 2012, Vol 6 Issue 1)

Imagine a world where its economy has reached maturity. It has shed its youthful illusions and follies, but kept its genius of youth: vitality, enthusiasm and enterprising spirit.

An economy (good housekeeping) that has achieved mastey in caring for all members of its household by sharing nature’s ways of creativity and wisdom. (Aboriginal and Indigenous cultures).

A world in which time is life, not money (Shin), where work and rest are appreciated as the breath and heartbeat of life (Judaism, Sabbath).

An economy that fosters work as a way of self-development, of earning a living and of contributing to the lives of others. (Buddhism).

A world where money flows as enabling energy through society in the form of an equitable pay for work ,a  fair price for commodities, wise investment, just taxation and generous funding of all expressions of culture. (R.Steiner)

An economy (good housekeeping) where investment credit is charged with interest to cover costs and emergency credit is provided interest free. (Islam. Micro Credit movement).

A world where different forms of governance ensure that every human being is able to find prosperity in life and work, justice and peace in one’s community and state, and freedom and support to pursue one’s aspirations and tasks in life. (Hinduism. Bali: Banjar system, India: Earth Democracy and Food Sovereignty).

An economy where work has ceased to be treated as a marketable commodity (Christianity), and where markets have ceased to be run by blind and faceless market-forces (Shinto. Teikei).

A world where the only thing that happens in doing is purely this doing – and knowing when and where to stop (Daoism) and where economy is captured in one word: attention (O.Michael Aivanhov). No waste, good housekeeping.

This imaginary wish-list is an attempt to articulate what would happen if the world’s religions and spiritual traditions – out of their original impulse – would have updated their understanding and application of the Golden Rule: they would have transformed our current economic system, that now violates this Rule at every turn of the road, into an living instrument for implementing the Golden Rule, not only privately but also publicly and collectively.

This is an attempt to articulate the few concluding words that I used at the end of a meditative walk at Evera. With seven participants we walked between points on the land, clusters of trees and shrubs, each point dedicated to a particular religion, beginning with a set of ceremonial stones on the edge of the field, to represent all indigenous and aboriginal traditions. From there to the grove dedicated to Hinduism, then Buddhism etc. ending up in the centre, representing the Ocean of Life and Shin’s project: inviting all religions and spiritual traditions to bring the essence of their traditions together in order to form a vessel wherein the truly new can be received.
This meditative walk had been prepared with three talks. Talk 1 and 3 focused on the ways in which the Golden Rule has been expressed in the different religious and spiritual traditions,

"Treat others in ways in which you want to be treated yourself" and on the ways these expressions might have the potential to transform our economic system for the better (see ‘wish-list’ above).

First I concentrated on texts and references that illustrate the original interweaving between economic life, the life of nature and the life of the spirit, when prayer, ritual, ceremony, law and practices of daily life were naturally interwoven, too. This interweaving is still preserved in the ‘world’s protective border’ (Helma Bak) of indigenous and aboriginal cultures. For Australia see the Unesco Publication: Gwion Gwion, an intitiative by David Mowarjarlai, whose letter to Shin’s first Earth celebration has been published in the book: Earth Celebration 1997. In Gwion Gwion one finds in stones, images and words testimony by elders of the Ngarinji people in the Kimberley, NW Australia, to the oldest expression of the Golden Rule as the law of sharing or Wunan. The texts are in English, French and German. And more recently there is the book Treading Lightly, whichhighlights the urgent actuality of aboriginal wisdom for our time:

THE NHUNGGABARRA – AND MOST LIKELY other Australian Aboriginal societies – had developed something that the industrialised world is still struggling with: a truly sustainable society on earth. Isolated on the Australian island continent, they had developed and fine-tuned their model. It had withstood and proven its sustainability over tens thousands of years of dramatic events until their economy was destroyed by a force coming from outside their system.

A striking feature of the Nhuggabarra society is their knowledge based economy. Because food and a few personalised tools were the only tangible production that scientist and economists recognised and were able to measure, these scientists and economists long dismissed Aboriginal economy as producing very low value. What they missed was more than half the economy – that is, Aboriginal society's very high production of intangible value: education, knowledge, art, law, entertainment, medicine, spiritual ceremonies, peacekeeping and social welfare.

Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe
in: Treading Lightly. The hidden wisdom the world's oldest people.
Allen &Unwin. Crows Nest NSW 2006 pages 169 and 172

The texts that we find in the scriptures of the world’s religions stem from a time, where peoples’ understanding of the world and themselves became expressed in concepts rather than images and stories: the German philosopher Karl Jaspers named it the (Achsen Zeit), Axial Time, ca 1500-500 BC. And the extensive texts in the Tanach or Jewish Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Old and New Testaments, Buddhist Sutras and the Qur’an still reflect the interweaving of economic life with nature and spirit. There are also elements that suggest a common ground between those different religions and the potential for dialogue between them. I made hand-outs of a selection of those texts, as a two hour talk doesn’t give much chance to do them justice. For me the most telling examples are a selection of passages in the Qur’an, where economic life has been poetically described as an extension God’s creation and – in the Tanach – the famous poem at the end of Proverbs in praise of An Accomplished Woman, which is read on Sabbath and considered a metaphor for Shechinah (Divine presence).

Originally prepared for participation of people with different religious backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Taoist, Hindu, Aboriginal, the 5 people that attended the talks and the 2 more, that joined the walk were either Christian, students of Rudolf Steiner’s work  and practicing Biodynamic or Organic agriculture and one participant is a member of the community of Auroville, in India. He was delighted to find that we were fully aware of Sri Aurobindo’s work, had books on display by him and about him, and was interested to visit Shin’s Ashram in Shivaland, when he gets back to India. Two participants are agnostic and very keen to learn about an area they didn’t feel they know a lot about…

This meant, that my talks were more about making sense of religion as such in the different forms it may have an impact on our current world and economic life, than about a dialogue between those religions. It had already dawned on me, that a dialogue between religious and non-religious spirituality should be included in my search, as there have been quite a few ‘secular’ expressions of the Golden Rule throughout the centuries, the most well know probably is Immanuel Kant’s maxim: Never use another person as a means to and end.

For the 3rd talk I brought a stack of books, each of them presenting a present day application of the Golden Rule in practical terms: Vandana Shiva’s : Soil, not Oil. Marshall Rosenberg’s: Speaking Peace (nonviolent communication); Mahammed Yunus: Banker to the Poor (Micro-credit movement); Amnesty International, which launched in 2009 the second decade of its human dignity campaign.  Alex Podolinsky lectures on Biodynamic Agriculture. A study about Auroville, the City of Dawn, as an instrument for a new higher spiritual consciousness, beyond any religion, recognized and supported by the Indian Government as a secular project…and more.
It was interesting to note, that all new expressions of the old Golden Rule are initiated and carried first of all by individuals, pioneers…Greg Mortensen building schools in the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, he a Christian, for Muslim communities and especially for their girls, and the Highest Sharia Court in Pakistan ruling against a Mullah’s opposition, that there is nothing in the Quar’n that forbids a man doing good.

As I couldn’t find a Daoist current project, I asked a Daoist friend if he knew of any. He didn’t and his observation is that people work with the Dao very much on their own, as self-development. In my talk I then highlighted the Dao wisdom of knowing when to stop. I had also showed a book ‘The Big Mo’, given to us by our Daoist friend, in which the author, Mark Raider, shows how the financial crisis and many other dangerous developments gain momentum to the point where people involved in them become paralyzed and can’t stop…For one of the participants this Dao wisdom of knowing when to stop became the most salient memory of the whole project…

My 2rd talk focused on what it takes to collectively implement this rule on the enormous scale the future of our earth and humanity now requires. The need for a fuller development of human capacities in order to meet the challenges of our time gets recognized not only in religious circles appealing to the hidden knowledge and practices, i.e. the esoteric streams, behind the outer forms of organized religion, but also in secular circles: novelist/philosopher John Ralston Saul urging to expand our ways of knowing beyond the current scientific methods and linear logic: imagination, intuition, memory and other dimensions of knowing (in: On Equilibrium); Margaret Somerville, introducing the concept of the ‘Secular Sacred’  and proposing to revive appreciation and practice of ‘Past Virtues for a Future  World’ (in: The Ethical Imagination) ; Juergen Habermas, Philosopher and atheist, urging fellow intellectuals outside any religion to engage in conversation with religions, referring back to the ‘axial time’ where the separation of philosophy and religion first started to occur ( In: An Awareness of what is missing). Habermas is particularly motivated by concern for the rise of fundamentalist religions, that seem to offer something, that secular intellectuals can’t. And most recently: the philosopher Alain de Botton, a born and bred atheist, who actively seeks out whatever warmth and richness religions have to offer, in terms of community building, education, wisdom and spiritual discipline etc., without subscribing to any of the ‘supernatural’ claims of those religions. In his Religion for Atheists he shows great perceptiveness and respect for the great cultural and social gifts religion have to offer and describes very positively his experience of participating  Buddhist Walking Meditation. He concludes, that atheists should come up with their own, secular, spiritual exercises.

In this talk I built up from there to the different sources for deepening our understanding of the human being and expanding his capacities, by briefly presenting the work of spiritual masters like Rudolf Steiner, O. Michael Aivanhov, ValentinTomberg, Gideon Fontalba, and Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, of Auroville. Sri Aurobindo’s explanation of what an Avatar actually is, which can be found in Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot, provided me with a way of explaining who Shin is: God, the Highest Divine Being, incarnated in a human body and bearing witness to Himself and to His mission on earth. And just as e.g.Rudolf Steiner and Sri Aurobindo insist, that their Anthroposophy or Integral Yoga are not religions, but ways to reach higher levels of consciousness, so does Shin take this one step further and actively calls on all religions and spiritual traditions to bring the essence of their particular aspect of religion/spirituality to Him, in order to form together a vessel in which the truly ‘new’ can be received…

This then leads to the purpose of the Meditative Walk as a way to meditatively help prepare such vessel, in a clear understanding that renewal ultimately comes from above and from below. Most interfaith conversations and projects seek common ground and purpose in the ‘horizontal’: in shared concerns for social justice and environmental health. Much of these they have in common with secular movements as well. A groundswell surging through humanity, of which Shin says:

Know that you are not alone upon the way,
The Healing Spirit wanders through all people.
There are billions who carry this in their hearts.

What Shin offers humanity is a new opening to the ‘vertical’. A few years before Amnesty International began to base its human rights campaigns on ‘Human Dignity’ Shin had drafted an outline for a New, Free and Worldwide Movement for Human Dignity, acknowledging current initiatives (the horizontal) and offering ways to deepen and heighten the understanding and realization of human dignity (the vertical), including genuine conversation between religions and spiritual streams to come to a new, higher understanding of the Divine, of Who God is…
For the meditative walk I suggested that while walking, we concentrate on the ‘horizontal’, on the environment, nature, the earth, the grass that support us, the sky, the light…and in the sacred spaces of the religions, we concentrate on what for us is or could be the Highest, the most Sacred. And the ways in which the different religions have lived in their particular awareness of the Highest, offered a glimpse – I think – of what is possible in this respect…

‘Glimpse’ was the word one participant later used when asked whether she got something out of this project…

Only in hindsight I realize that without the ‘vertical’ the rule would never be experienced as golden.


photo of golden wattle blossom

Walking Meditation

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