Sunday, December 05, 2004

Social Justice, Karma Yoga, and Expectation

Here's my recent spiritual quandary.

Over and over again in ancient texts from the East, we are encouraged to act without attatchment, without expectation, and without being concerned about the results (or fruits) of our actions. Take this text as an example:

"He who does the task dictated by duty, caring nothing for the fruit of the action, He is a yogi...Nobody can practice the yoga of action (Karma Yoga) who is anxious about his future, or the results of his actions." (Bhagavad-Gita)

The basis of such says that the world will always have suffering, and so we are to act simply because we are full of love, not because we are expecting some sort of outcome.

I find this a paradox of sorts, because I then find myself asking: what would have happened had the Civil Rights movement acted without determination, resilience, or expectations of results? Or women fighting for the right to vote? Or those pushing the abolishment of slavery? What if they would've have "acted" - done their duty - and then said: "Well, we've given it a valiant effort, and yet our actions have not gotten us our desired outcome. But that is ok, because we are to act without any expectation of what will come out in the end."

So, in particular, I'm suppose I'm wondering what this philosophy of acting without expectations or attatchments means in the arena of Social Justice (and how determination can co-exist with the concept of 'not expecting a certain result'). To answer that question myself, the following bullet-points are as far as I can get:

Non-attatchment and the cessation of expectation means...

  • You no longer WORRY or have ANXIETY about the results.
  • In the end you realize that somehow in this web of existence everything eventually works out for the good despite our personal efforts (Or does it? Are we co-creators with God, or not?)
  • When you act without attatchment, you're acting not for selfish purposes (such as praise from others or for good feelings of accomplishment and righteousness) but rather from a TOTALLY unselfish and non-egocentric vantage that says: I am simply a conduit of God to ease suffering and promote justice in the world. I suppose that in such a scenario, there is still a place for determination???
  • Or is this a philosophy that needs challenged? Is this a place where East Meets West yields greater results and completes the total picture: East provides the Mysticism, West provides the Social Justice.

I'm looking for some feedback and wisdom here. Anyone is certainly invited to respond, but I'm specifically looking for responses from those of you who are familiar with Eastern Philosophies (Jon, Meredith, Isaiah, Jaxun, etc.)


12 comments:

dave said...

I'm not as versed on Eastern thought as I would like to be but I do know a bit about social justice and I have a thought about acting out of love.
I have to say I am a fan of the east meets west, though I am not sure how each of those groups would feel about meeting. Acting out of love is interesting in that it appears to be full of conflict. If our motivation is love then we are not focused on the results so much as the doing as an expression of love. For example, we give to the homeless guy as an act of love, not being concerned with what it produces. The other side of that is, I think, where the greater movements come in. When we act out of love, if our love is to be in its highest form, then we have to look beyond that one act to what difference it can make. This is where the social justice comes in. We strive to make life better for all of us because of our love. We struggle against the forces of anti-love because that is what love does. We are not in it for appreciation, but because we are in love. This is the very essence of love. Love produces social action for the sake of love. The results come naturally.
I'm not sure if this fits with mainstream eastern thought, though it does fit with the christian concept of grace and love (which was an eastern thought first). I would be curious to find out how this thought plays out with those who are more versed in eastern thought than me.

isaiah said...

Why are we encouraged to act without attachment, expectation, and concern? I believe it is because to act in any other manner is to act from a selfish viewpoint of ego, which is not our true nature. Ego attaches itself unrealistically, expects certain results, and when the results do not come about, must go through a process known as suffering.

“He who does the task dictated by duty, caring nothing for the fruit of the action, He is a yogi...Nobody can practice the yoga of action (Karma Yoga) who is anxious about his future, or the results of his actions." (Bhagavad-Gita)

The quote you have given from the Gita does not necessarily state that the world will always have suffering. All mankind’s suffering is brought about through the thought process. At anytime, anyone can decide to stop ‘suffering’.

We are to act simply with the realization that it is not ‘we’ acting… rather it is God acting and any outcome is of a Divine nature.

Those who acted in the Civil Rights movement acted because they could not- not act. It was there’s to act as they did. Not every action goes noticed. As an example, the actions of a small school district in Arkansas which integrated their schools soon after the Supreme Court declared equal but separate education unconstitutional did not gain the national attention that was heaped upon Little Rock. If fact, few know of the brave people and acts that were carried out in a little town called Fayetteville Arkansas, which proved integration could be carried out in a peaceable manner.

By all means we must ‘be the change that we seek’, as Mahatma Gandhi stated. This is all we can do.

This or any philosophy needs to be challenged as often as we fail to remember we are God acting at all times. When we fail to see this we become lost in questions that have no real answers.

“The only interesting answers are those which completely destroy the question.” Susan Santog

The only wisdom to be found here is that wisdom which is already inside of you waiting rediscovery.

Never fail to act as Divine Order- Divine Order never ceases to unfold.

Namaste-

Jon said...

Trev, I think it sounds more confusing that it is. Don't get too hung up on philosophy. "No expectation" means no attachment to results, and attachment does not mean there isn't a preferred outcome or purpose. The word usually translated as "desire" in Buddhist thought is tanha, and literally means "thirst." "Craving" is a better translation. So there's no dependence on something happening so I feel "Yay, I'm the hero," if I get something good to happen, or "woe is me, the f***ing jerks are ruining everything," if I can't.

In another sense, "no expectation" is simply good advice for keeping the witness perspective. Don't got lost in anticipation what others repsonses may be, have a mind like water, able to go around any obstacle at any moment as the Spirit flows.

Regarding "determination": Wow, if I'm reading you right, you're talking about the whole philosophical thing about how things work in the Matrix; are we all programmed here or not? is the Universe "unfolding" or is it "becoming"? No one argues more for pre-determination than Ramesh Balsekar, but when he's faced with a trivial question like "how should we live?" he always answers with something like, "at any moment you should do what you believe you should do."

Good advice, but some guiding principles might be helpful! I keep coming back to Jesus: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (he added the word "mind," BTW) and love your neighbor as your self. That self is the One Self in both you and your neighbor, no matter what egoic constructs you or he may be presenting.

It just comes down to love, whether that means the appropriate response is a quiet prayer, a kiss, or opening up a can of whoop-ass (sometimes it's necessary: Bodhidharma, who brought Zen to China, began the martial arts curriculum at the Shaolin temple).

You might also reflect back on Dancing Shiva. Remember Shiva's dance, besides being a divine celebration, but is also action, the destruction of the demon of ignorance, the dwarf that Shiva dances on top of.

The trick is to bring the light of divine, holy, selfless, conscious love into the darkest places, without letting that darkness grab you.

Allison said...

trevor, i am definitely not "learnED" in the area of eastern philosophy, but i had to reply, because your post really struck a chord with me.
i have been thinking, perpetually as of late, about what i as one person can do to ease some of the suffering in africa...famines, starvation...now that i know about it, i cannot forget about it, and there is a definite feeling of responsibility in that. my heart is being moved by love, namely Christ's love for these people, who are indeed God's children, and who need to be noticed, and moreso, helped.
i've decided that next year, when i sell my christmas cards (i haven't been able to get any made this year, due to lack of funds, but i can email you the designs if you'd like to see them), i am going to give a percentage of the money i make to some organization that will help the people who are suffering in africa, in places like the sudan and ethiopia. this idea is brand new...i think maybe two or three days old...and i am certain with all my heart that God put it in my mind. i can hardly wait until next year so that i can do this.
so, in regards to your post, this is an action that i feel i am making without attachment or expectation, although the hope that it will bring about some relief is definitely motivating me. but what i feel that means is that you are being motivated and pulled solely by love, and you are not concerned with impressing others by your actions, but you trust that God will take the seed that you have sown, and put it to good use.

maybe i am way off base, but that's what it meant to me, right here and now, in my own life. thank you for posting that. :)

Meredith said...

Dear Trevor,

I have read with interest your spiritual quandary. I, too, have had this same quandary. My western culture has taught me to admire and honor social action that empowers and improves lives. However, a dear friend, Akilesh helped me to view it differently when he wrote this:

“A deep sense of things being the way they are.” "Meredith, things are the way they are. Allow them to be exactly the way they are. All the social consciousness stuff, the social, political, economic change-for-the-better stuff - let it go, allow things to be as they are, don’t resist, don’t hold on to your concept of good/bad, right/wrong. Trust existence. Who is it that thinks she can improve upon existence? This is the thinker, the ego. Much arrogant mischief arises from this thinking. Existence is pure and perfect as it is. First things first. Find out who you are first, then you will find your way in this world - with grace, with love, with understanding. Then your eyes are open, you have access to the wisdom and love of the whole, and you will not be moving from ego fixation, from arrogance, aggression, want and fear. Instead you will flow with existence, the Tao. Your actions will be non-action, your doing will be non-doing. You will act in harmony with the whole moment to moment. And in this way, as a non-entity, you will be immensely helpful to others."

I still struggle with this in my work, where action seems to be what is noticed and valued. But often, when I set my ego aside and just open my heart, I have the experience of just being with another, not doing, letting all concern about outcome go, and feel the magic happen in the interaction.

I have read the other responses to your query posted above, and am enlightened by these insights. There is a lot of loving, selfless energy here.

Peaceful blessings to you,
Meredith

gratefulbear said...

In the Christian tradition, Meister Eckhart wrote a lot about detachment: "...we should learn to see God in all gifts and works, neither resting content with anything nor becoming attached to anything."

Detachment is a big theme in Buddhist writings, and this detachment often leads to a greater sense of compassion -- an awareness of our "interbeing" with the rest of creation, to use Thich Nhat Hanh's word. With some Buddhists, this heightened sense of compassion leads to social activism, as it did with Thich Nhat Hanh. The link between detachment and activism is certainly a paradox!

Darrell
freelance panentheist
http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/

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