Social responsibility

As I now look at our situation, I distinguish three major domains in which human life participates. One I call the transcendent domain, which is the sphere of aspiration for classical contemplative spirituality. The second is the social domain, which includes our interpersonal relations as well as our political, social, and economic institutions. And the third is the natural domain, which includes our physical bodies, other sentient beings, and the natural environment. From my present perspective, a spirituality that privileges the transcendent and devalues the social and natural domains, or sees them at best as stepping stones to realization, is inadequate to our current needs. Such an orientation has led to a sharp division of duties that puts our future at risk. On the one hand, the pursuits of contemplative spirituality fall to the “spiritual virtuosos,” the contemplatives, mystics, and yogis, who aspire to transcend the world and express their compassion simply by guiding others to the heights they themselves have reached. On the other, the steering wheel of humanity’s future is placed solely in the hands of politicians, development experts, technocrats, and corporate magnates, who are usually driven by personal ambition, misplaced pragmatism, and the tunnel vision of technical expertise. This division also opens the doors of influence over our communal institutions to religious dogmatists and fundamentalists.

As I see it, our collective future requires that we fashion an integral type of spirituality that can bridge the three domains of human life. This would entail embarking on a new trajectory. The spiritual quest, from ancient times to the present, has primarily moved along an ascending track: one that leads from darkness to light, from the conditioned to the unconditioned, from mortality to the deathless. Our task today, in my understanding, is to complement the ascending spiritual movement with a descending movement, a gesture of love and grace flowing down from the heights of realization into the valleys of our ordinary lives.

Source: Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, BRIDGING THE SPIRITUAL AND THE MUNDANE: A journey to a new understanding, Parabola, Spring 2013.

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