Society is morally sick. And so are we.
Due to exaggerated individualism and materialism, most people are driven to pursue their own desires at whatever cost. Needless to say, this causes conflict and suffering to others, and to the planet. And people remain unaware that this is not an intelligent strategy even in the pursuit of their own personal happiness.
This situation is like if every cell in your body decided to act on its own, and consume as much nutrients and energy as it could – even more than it needs. Soon parts of your body would get sick, and that would damage the health of the whole body – including that of the greedy cells.
The challenge is making the individual cells clearly understand two things: (a) their relationship with each other and the whole; (b) what a good “cell life” is all about.
“He who, in pursuit of his own happiness, hurts others that are also seeking happiness, will not find it, either in this world or the next.” (Buddha)
Spirituality offers an alternative way to live life and be happy.
What is the principle that we find in basically all spiritual traditions, and that could make a radical difference to the world? Oneness.
This is like each cell taking care of itself, but also working in cooperation with others, having the health of the whole system as its goal. As a result, the cells get all the food and energy it needs, together with a better environment and longer lifespan.
The Need For Oneness
The understanding and experience of oneness can help stop wars, exploitation, injustice, violence, abuse, and environmental damage, among other problems. These actions would hardly have any reason to arise, just like it makes no sense for the left hand to want to hurt the right hand, or for blood-cells to wish the destruction of bone-cells, just so their “way of life” can prevail.
Oneness can improve our social, political, and professional environments, helping create a more “enlightened society” – a society where we recognise that, as human beings, we are all cells of a larger organism.
This may sound highly utopian, because we will probably never live in a world where everyone understands and behaves in accordance with the truth of oneness. However, this change is possible, and any small progress in this direction has the potential to create much good.
Spirituality – in all its approaches and traditions- offers both the perspective and the tools for this transformation.
The Philosophy of Oneness
Some traditions speak of oneness based on an idea of a common origin. For instance, Christianity says we all come from God, and are children of God. In this context we are all brothers, and hurting each other would be less likely. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
In many Eastern traditions, oneness is more based on an idea of common nature, or common being.
- Buddhism speaks of the interdependence of all things.
- Zen invites you to move beyond individuality, to drop away body and mind so that you can see and live from the Big Mind (daishin).
- Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes compassion as one of the highest teachings, personified in the ideal of the Bodhisattva.
- Taoism also invites you to move beyond the attachments to yourself, so that you can live in harmony with the Tao. “Supreme good is like water. Water greatly benefits all things, without conflict. It flows through places that people loathe. Thereby it is close to the Tao.”
- Advaita Vedanta teaches that the whole universe is only Pure Consciousness. Therefore, all is of the same substance and nature, and separation is a mistaken perception.
- Yoga traditions emphasize non-violence (ahimsa) as the heart of the yogi’s way of life, the cornerstone of yogic ethics.
In recent times, some people are coming to the experience of oneness through psychedelics and shamanic rituals. I have heard of 5-MeO-DMT being called the “God molecule”, because people who take it report experiencing visions about the oneness of all things.
The conception of oneness takes different flavors and shapes, depending on the tradition behind it, but they all boil down to this: an invitation to conceive of yourself, and your wellness, as being larger than your body-mind.
Lastly, even if all these traditions were wrong and we were looking at it only from a pragmatic perspective, we can see that the concept of oneness is a powerful tool to transform ourselves and our world, because it promotes goodness and positive action.
The Practice of Oneness
First, you need to appreciate and experience it within yourself. Reflecting about these things, and hearing related teachings, indeed helps. But to understand it at a deeper level, spiritual practice is essential, especially in the form of meditation – which helps move your identity from the ego to a larger consciousness.
Once you start experiencing, in deep states of meditation, your oneness with other beings and the Earth, then it’s time to integrate that wisdom into your daily life, and live in integrity with it. (That is the third of the three Pillars of Meditation.)
The second aspect is translating it to action. The ideal of oneness and non-violence unpacks into several other principles. For instance, here are the 5 core Buddhist precepts.
- Not to cause harm
- Not to take what is not given
- Not to speak what is untrue
- Not to engage in sexual misconduct (one that creates suffering)
- Not to use intoxicants
Can you see how breaking any of these guidelines creates circumstances of suffering? Even taking intoxicants—which some may argue causes harm only to oneself—also adds to the suffering in the world, because it obscures the power of mindfulness in us, making us more prone to causing harm via other means.
Just imagine the paradise we would live in if most people followed all these precepts! Even in their most basic expressions, these simple guidelines have the power to eradicate much suffering.
Oneness is a good rule of thumb to inform our actions. In a way it is like taking the principle do unto others as you would have them done unto you and living from it, but on a deeper level.
Living a life in harmony with the ideal of oneness is highly challenging, and a continuous process of growth. You can do it, little by little!
Ultimately, there are no hard rules. Keep in mind the unity of all beings, and let your actions be a reflection of your ever-deepening understanding of oneness. Don’t be disheartened by how hard this can be at times. Simply keeping this ideal, to the best of your ability, already puts you in a better space than that of most people.
One word needs to be said about balance. Don’t forget that you, too, are a cell of this big body of life too! So, while in service to others, take care of your health and well-being as well. If the lung cells die as a result of helping out the heart-cells, however heroic that may sound, it’s not really helpful to the organism as a whole, is it?
So let us act in a way that benefits the life of the cell and of the organism at the same time.
Whether or not you are involved in activism and philanthropy, realizing oneness and implementing it in your actions is one of the best ways to really effect change in society and the world. It’s an act of love.
It can be challenging to know how to “apply” and live this concept with integrity and balance. But if you constantly think about it and have it as a north, it will be a powerful tool in polishing your character and allowing you to contribute more – in ways both big and small – to the welfare of the organism.
Acting based on oneness is internally rewarded with happiness, regardless of the results of your efforts. Because it allows us to feel connected to everything – rather than feel isolated, alone, and helpless.
When you live your life as though you are an isolated individual, the relevancy of your actions and results is more limited. When you live and act with the awareness of being part of a larger role, of being bigger than your small body-mind life, then you are really contributing to this whole, and your actions matter tenfold more.
When you live like this, the whole is also contributing to you, and rewarding you with a sense of fulfilment that cannot be obtained through individualistic endeavors.
The choice is clear: live and die as an individual cell, or live and die as the whole. The happiness of a cell is only as great as the cell itself. The happiness of the whole organism is far greater than whatever goal the cell can achieve.
Help me spread this message to the other cells, by sharing this post.
If you focus only on your individual needs, and you live the life of a cell. Focus on the greater good, and you live the life of the whole organism.