A bleak outlook, but so be it The question: Is capitalism a spiritual failure?
God is dead, said Nietzsche. He had the "mad man" in The Gay Science ask, "Where has God gone?" and have him answer thus: "I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I." This theme was followed up in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", where Nietzsche hypothesizes that human beings were in between the stages of apes and supermen, and that supermen would gain "self-mastery", "self-cultivation", "self-direction", and have the capacity for "self-overcoming".
What Thay is urging the world, in this late and decaying stage of capitalism, is to acknowledge that the system of consumption and production we have put in place is unsustainable, unethical, dangerous, addictive, and that it is extremely destructive – to the point that our civilisation is on the verge of collapse. Either we die because we cannot get over our addiction or we evolve into supermen who are attentive, live completely in the present, take only what we must, and reach the next stage of transcendence towards cosmic oneness or God.
As a Hindu, who is constantly reminded about the need to follow dharma in every aspect of his life, and after having just finished reading Ram Dass's book on the great guru, Neem Karoli Baba, entitled "The Miracle of Love", Thay's eloquent and passionate advice does not get my skin all tingly, nor does it make me experience an "ah-ha" moment as it might a fundamentalist Christian who has all along been told that God is generous and has created the world for man to use it as he wants to. I have heard this all before. But I cannot deny the importance, urgency, or significance of the message.
Indian spiritual and religious traditions have consistently and continuously sought to separate righteous living from the unrighteous – or dharma from adharma. Patanjali, the second-century compiler of the famous "Yogasutras" listed virtues needed to attain the peace of mind that Thay recommends. Patanjali proposed niyamas (observances) and yamas (restraints) that would enable the student to end the ceaseless wandering of the mind.
The 10 traditional yamas comprise ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-covetousness), brahmacharya (divine conduct and continence), kshama (acting in the present), dhriti (steadfastness), daya (compassion), arjava (honesty), mitahara (moderation in consumption), and shaucha (cleanliness or purity in mind, body and speech).
The 10 traditional niyamas include hri (modesty), santosha (contentment, not desiring more), daana (giving without expecting), asktiya (faith), ishwara puja (devotion to and worship of God), siddhanta shravana (studying the wisdom of the sages), mati (developing a spiritual will), vrata (fulfilling religious vows and following rules), japa (recitation of God's name/s), and tapas (enduring opposites, and cultivating austerity).
Anyone who carefully considers the list above, and evaluates what capitalism promotes (profit, greed, consumption, production, and competition) will realise that the two cannot be reconciled in any meaningful or workable system. Capitalism cannot be sustained when spirituality enters the realm, and spirituality dies when capitalism is the guiding force in society despite the fact that some enterprising yoga gurus and yoga caterers have pushed the capitalism envelope as far as they can by "inventing" a variety of yoga systems, and selling a variety of yoga mats in their multiple yoga magazines!
Unbridled capitalism has run amok and is killing us all – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It cannot be sustained, but since it is massively addictive we cannot let go.
There is no new grand theory on the horizon that can explain it nor propose a cure for escaping its debilitating influence. While acknowledging Thay's regret that ancient civilisations like China and India have jumped on the capitalism bandwagon, we also have to acknowledge that the seduction of Johnny Walker Black Label is too powerful for many Indians to resist, and the lure of power is too seductive for the Chinese to stop flooding the world with imitation Rolexes.
Tathaastu. So be it!
First published in The Guardian, online, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/sep/06/capitalism-religion-hinduism