What Would Jesus (or Mohammed or Buddha) Do? 

For many, the events of Sept. 11 demand a new, more spiritually rooted response

Tikkun (t -- koon'): to mend, repair, transform the world

For those who dream of unifying, integrating and confining the planet within the straitjacket of a single dogma, a single god, a single religion, New York, no doubt, is the first enemy to be brought down.

Thus, for the same reason, all those of us in the wide world who, though disagreeing on some things, agree that the acceptance of the diversity of beliefs, traditions and cultures within a system of peaceful coexistence is the basis of civilization, feel we have been wounded by the destruction of the twin towers.

Maria Vargas Llosa, "Out of Many, New York," New York Times, Op-Ed, Dec. 20

More than 3,000 dead in New York City. Untold numbers of grieving, traumatized, jobless, possibly homeless survivors. Families and friends who will never shake the horrific image of the collapsing towers. The single most brutal blow ever dealt the American homeland by an outside force.

In Afghanistan, just as winter hits, hundreds of thousands of refugees in desperate need of food and shelter. Unknown numbers of soldiers killed in battle. According to a report by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire, more than 3,700 Afghan civilians have been killed by American bombs since Oct. 4.

As our government moves ahead with military retaliatory actions, declaring it will wipe evil off the face of the Earth, many are asking if there isn't another way -- an approach to unthinkable pain and suffering on Earth that might have transformative staying power, an alternative to the widely touted short-term, military remedy for economic and social disruption abroad.

Rabbi Michael Lerner believes it's time to take the case to the people.

Lerner is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Community Synagogue in San Francisco and editor of the nationally distributed Tikkun magazine. He's also the author of several books, including The Politics of Meaning and Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul.

"If we're waiting for some savior to come along," he said in a recent telephone interview, "we can't do that. It's going to [take] a group of people who put love over power, who believe that what's going to change the world is a new spirit of generosity and open heartedness, not a paradigm of power, control and domination."

Sounds like the teachings of Jesus-- Mohammed and Buddha too, for that matter.

In an editorial for Tikkun, Lerner recently wrote: "Yes, we want to stop the Bin Ladens of the world. We reject the implications of some on the Left that somehow America deserved all this. The people in the World Trade Tower were innocent American civilians doing nothing wrong. We have to recognize terror as the quintessential act of desanctification and dehumanization -- a violation of God's presence on this planet and an act that hurts each and every one of us. But the notion that once we wipe out Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization we will be 'safe' or free from violence is a fantasy."

Tikkun emerged from a group of 1970s social change activists who had formed the Institute for Labor and Mental Health to study the psychodynamics of American society and to understand why Americans were increasingly embracing the message of the Right. Their research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, indicated that many middle-income Americans were hungry for meaning and purpose in a world that had become increasingly dominated by selfishness and materialism.

"We found a deep spiritual crisis in American society," says Lerner on the Tikkun Web site (www.tikkun.org). "Because the Right addressed that crisis, even if in a distorted fashion, while the Left remained tone-deaf to spiritual issues, many Americans felt drawn to right-wing movements."

The magazine began publishing in 1986 as a liberal alternative to "the voices of Jewish conservatism and spiritual deadness in the Jewish world and as the spiritual alternative to the voices of materialism and selfishness in Western society." And though "Jewish renewal" is the magazine's founding purpose, it has grown to provide a place for people of all faiths to define a politics of spiritual values.

In that spirit, and in direct response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Lerner and a group of interfaith associates are forming the Tikkun Community, a movement he calls the "first spiritual politics movement in the United States, the first national organization for people of every spiritual and religious background who want to support a spiritual politics."

The founding conference of the Tikkun Community will be held Jan. 19 -- 21, 2002, in New York City at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. The choice of location is a deliberate show of support for the people of New York in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Thus far, the roster includes an impressive group of Jewish intellectuals including authors Grace Paley and Kim Chernin, and promises to include religious leaders and thinkers from the Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths as well.

The Tikkun Community's founding conference will focus on "strategies for progressives facing the post-Taliban world, a world with what may be an endless war on terrorism used to justify accelerated globalization of capital and the return to the FBI tactics of the Nixon era." Announcing its conference, Lerner said: "We reject not only the terrorism of the Bin Ladens, but also the George Bush vision (as he called it, 'crusade') of corporate capitalist modernity which is marketed to the world as an intrinsic part of globalized capital."

The Independent spoke to Lerner about the vision of the Tikkun Community and the significance of the upcoming conference.

Indy: Although many Americans probably agree with your view of world events, it's difficult going against the current nationalist/militaristic tide. The Sunday New York Times (Dec. 16) reported that more Americans are buying guns since 9/11 and that gun manufacturers are manufacturing and marketing special "homeland security" models of weapons. And just this week, President Bush removed the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, making way for a possible new arms buildup, likely in space.

Lerner: I understand why anyone is feeling discouraged at this moment. The forces of militarism and vengeance are at their height. Part of the reason this has happened is that the Democrats have collapsed into the Republican game plan; progressives have no alternative voice now in the traditional political system.

But the other voice is starting to be heard, and that's why we're forming the Tikkun Community.

As for the elimination of the ABM treaty, no missile defense system could have protected us from Osama bin Laden's death squads. The notion that we are somehow going to build up some kind of military power that will protect us is ludicrous.

We've all been in a tizzy about anthrax. How are any of the [Bush administration's proposed] mechanisms of repression going to protect us? It's so obvious. It's like buying a cannon when the problem is we've got fleas.

We must focus on the root of the problem. We are dealing with people who have been driven so crazy by the situation they are facing, the situation the world is facing, that they are willing to die to be heard.

Indy: Can you explain what you mean by 'the situation they and the world have been facing'?

Lerner: There's a tremendous amount of pain and suffering going on around the world as a result of globalization, the selfishness we call corporate globalization. Two billion people on the planet are living on less than $700 a year. One billion live on less than $360 a year.

Think about this: On Sept. 11, more than 32,000 children died of diseases related to malnutrition elsewhere in the world. But for the most part, we don't hear about it. We close our eyes to the global economic system that is causing terrific pain and suffering around the world.

Indy: But what about those -- mainly spokespeople for international trade agreements, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc. -- who claim that a global economy will create a more economically just world?

Lerner: Statistically the proof is absolutely otherwise. Look at these statistics. In 1960, when you looked at the top 20 percent of people in the world, those living in the world's richest countries, and what they earned, compared with the bottom 20 percent (those from the world's poorest countries), the ratio of difference in income was 30 to 1.

By 1990, that ratio had shifted to 60 to 1.

By 1998, the ratio was 78 to 1. In other words, the top 20 percent, the wealthiest one-fifth of humanity, earned 78 times more than the 20 percent at the bottom.

Those organizations [supporting economic globalization] can claim success because globalization does help develop a middle class in some of those third-world countries. There is a small segment in those societies that is doing better. But [the global business community's] connection is primarily with people like themselves, not with the poor. The simple fact is that most people are doing worse.

Indy: Tell us one thing that people can do to try to change the situation, to stem the feelings of helplessness to change things.

Lerner: The first thing they can do is reject the idea that they should be realistic. The central thing keeping everyone locked into destructive patterns is their belief that they're the only ones who believe that they want a different kind of world.

Most people would say, "Yeah I really want that too, but that's not realistic." If they want to make one major step forward, overcome the realism trap. Go for highest ideals instead. Insist that your highest ideals be embraced instead -- this is the idea of "emancipatory spirituality," one of the central tenets of the Tikkun Community. Bring spiritual values to daily life.

Indy: Some on the left are wary of the notion of "spiritual," perhaps identifying it with dogma or an organized religion that they reject.

Lerner: That is why we don't identify ourselves as a Leftist movement. We believe that Left movements of the past that have focused strictly on institutional structures and not on the poverty of spirit that created those structures in the first place will be limited in their effectiveness. In the founding principles of the Tikkun Community, we state our belief that many of the significant social movements of the 20th century, though successful in part, have tended to underplay or even deny a very important dimension of human life -- the spiritual dimension. And this deficit has limited the potential impact that all these movements could have.

We want to not only fight for traditional social and economic justice concerns, but also to level a deeper critique of capitalist society based on its fostering of materialism, selfishness and a narrow utilitarian approach to the universe and to other human beings -- an approach which misses the fundamental spiritual dimensions of human reality.

We want to replace the globalization of selfishness with the globalization of spirit -- spirit that looks with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the mystery of the universe.

Kathryn Eastburn

The Tikkun Community

Plans for the building of a spiritual politics

To see the comprehensive plan of the Tikkun Community, go to www.tikkun.org. Here's a brief overview of what the community will actually do, assuming that members and volunteers step forward.

Form a network and community of support for progressive, spiritually oriented social change activists, professionals, artists, writers, poets, teachers, healers, business people, theologians and social theorists. This network will work on plans for children's programs, retirement communities, singles networks, and Web support.

The End the Occupation Project will work to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza while firmly committed to the survival of the State of Israel. This project will seek to develop a national education campaign on the Middle East situation, aiming at ending the occupation and at developing a compassionate recognition of the legitimacy of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

The Planetary Consciousness Project will seek to foster an awareness that our own well-being is directly dependent on the well-being and self-fulfillment of every other person on the planet, and the well-being of the planet itself. Three primary areas of focus will be:

1) Security. Recognizing that security depends not on massive defense spending or economic agreements for free trade that benefit large corporations, but by recasting our role in the world as the primary force for economic and social justice for all peoples on the planet.

2) Global Scorching. Taking immediate steps to alert people to the dangers they face from U.S. policies that undermine global agreements to slow global warming.

3) Nationalist Triumphalism. Instead of using the legitimate anger at terrorists after 9/11 to allow a new nationalist energy to shape domestic and foreign policies, the Tikkun Community will urge the government and the American people not to ignore the hard-earned lessons of the need to restrain American imperial ambitions and to strengthen global cooperation.

The Community will also acknowledge the need to remember that much that is good in America was won and remains powerful only to the extent that popular social movements struggled for and continue to struggle for democratic rights and protections.

Progressive polling of public opinion. An attempt to address the problem of narrowly shaped questions asked in public opinion polls shaped by the dominant media. Operating on the assumption that for those who wish to build a world based on love and generosity, the relevant questions are rarely asked, this group will develop an alternative polling network.

Formation of a network of spiritually oriented professionals and business people who support a new bottom line in the world of work, recognizing that monetary profits should not be the only measure of a business's success.

Establishment of a national office that will issue public statements and seek to achieve national recognition for the ideas of the Tikkun Community.

(Adapted from http://www.tikkun.org/index.cfm/action/ current/article/76.html)

-Kathryn Eastburn

What Would a Yogi Do?

Practise, of course, but deeply and with spirit

Immediately following the terrorist attacks of September, Yogi Amrit Desai, founder of Kripalu yoga, came to Colorado to teach a brief workshop in Woodland Park.

Yogi Desai first came to the United States in 1960 as a fine art and design student, and began teaching yoga at the same time. He developed a methodology that changed the popular notion in America of yoga as a physical discipline, re-introducing a spiritual dimension of practice to Hatha yoga. He named the new approach Kripalu yoga, in honor of his guru. Often referred to as "meditation in motion," Kripalu eventually grew into a society headquartered at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, one of the largest in America.

Yogi Desai now teaches his approach in the newly developed form of Amrit yoga. In addition to his own teacher training sessions and intensive seminars around the country, he teaches workshops at the Chopra Center for Well Being and the Bikram Yoga Colleges of India.

The Independent spoke to Yogi Desai about the spiritual benefits of yoga and the events of Sept. 11. He will return to Colorado this spring for a 7-day intensive training session to be held in Cañon City.

Indy: How can yoga practice help people to deal with the trauma of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11?

Yogi Desai: Yoga is designed to help you get in touch with the healer within. When you are free from fear, you connect with that healing force. All you have to do is relax, let go of struggle, fright, internal dialogues and images triggered by fear. Most people don't know this, and continue to try to look for a solution.

Indy: Yes, but most people are enveloped with fear at this time. How do we just shed our fear?

Yogi Desai: Think of it this way: Fear is simply that which repulses us. What we call love is simply that which we are attracted to. I have no friends; I have no enemies. I have only attractions and repulsions; likes and dislikes. Those whom I call friends are extensions of my attractions. Those whom I call enemies are extensions of my repulsion. My attractions I call "love." My repulsions I call "fear." Hatred is the child of fear. When we see evil, we become self-righteous and lay all the responsibility on "them." It's a good way to get out of the loop.

Indy: And where do we fit in the loop?

Yogi Desai: The attack was merely a trigger. Everything an individual experiences is not a direct product of [the attack]. We need to look at what we are doing to create that trauma. Each person reacts according to their own history -- their memories, their fears.

Difficulties are not a problem for a person who wants to grow. Difficulties are a better way to grow than a cozy, comfortable setting -- that's when people fall asleep.

Indy: In what way can people actually benefit from the crisis?

Yogi Desai: I have said in my writing since the Sept. 11 attacks: The greatest opportunity for transformation as individuals and as a planet comes in moments of crisis. While times of prosperity and stability promote only superficial shifts, crisis shakes the foundation of safety and comfort we are accustomed to, calling for profound paradigm shifts.

Before you expect external shifts in the world, let inner shifts remain at the core. Let's use the fact that we have been forced out of patterns of comfort and safety and familiarity to soften entrenched ways of behaving and thinking about ourselves, each other and the world.

Indy: What sort of "entrenched ways" do you mean?

Yogi Desai: The American culture is built on building ego rather than transcending ego -- our whole psychology is developed around pathology, not transformation.

In yoga, everything is about transcendence of the ego. If we approach it this way, psychology and yoga can work together successfully for healing.

Indy: How can the behaviors of a nation be changed?

Yogi Desai: A nation cannot change. Only individuals can change.

Look, these events are not the truth, but they can be the messengers of truth. They reveal to us who we are now, both as individuals and as a society. But just as the forest is made up of trees, our country is made up of individuals. Only individuals have the possibility to influence and even prevent such tragic events from reoccurring. The event of Sept. 11 is a wake-up call for the entire culture that for centuries has not been seen.

Indy: It's hard to understand how yoga can actually teach these things.

Yogi Desai: Yoga is an art of living-- as the child learns in the mother's womb. It's like musical geniuses whose children receive their energy. The child learns from intuiting, from seeing their parents, from the feeling center rather than the thinking center.

When you practice yoga, you need to address not just the physical, external dimension, but the internal dimension -- emotional, spiritual and mental -- finding out how to harmonize those energies that are in conflict all day long regardless of what you are doing.

On a yoga mat, it's no different. We practice yoga with the same internal conflicts. If yoga is not deeply absorbing, relaxing, engaging, it's not yoga. That's just entertainment.

Kathryn Eastburn


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