have world teachers really transformed society?
13 Pillars of Enlightenment: how to realize your true nature and end suffering
The Dalai Lama, Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Attar of Nishapur, and others have been considered “world teachers” in their lifetimes. Their insight into why we have problems and what we can do to end suffering has reached billions of people. While they may have guided some individuals toward personal transformation or enlightenment, over the millennia society on the whole has failed to become an ideal world of peace and love. Why is this?
the common message of the world teacher
There’s a common thread among the wisdom of the world leaders that can be summarized in a few sentences:
The sense of self, who we believe we are, is the result of a mind conditioned by ideas. This self is the obstacle to knowing and appreciating the holism of consciousness, because in its narrow-mindedness it obscures the fundamental structure of reality and produces a false sense of separation between itself and other people, nature, the world, the animal kingdom, thought, and phenomena. The antidote to the self’s destructive and isolationist tendencies is to realize what this conditioned mind is all about, stop identifying as it, and find the truth that lies beyond it.
But who is even aware enough to be motivated to search for an answer to suffering? Who cares to know what they are beyond this shell of a person that is full of beliefs and other people’s ideas? If you want to awaken to your true essence, it is you who must have the desire and fortitude to do so. No one, no matter how great a teacher, can have an experience or realization on your behalf. Out of the 8 billion people on earth, how many have the desire or awareness necessary for worldwide transformation of society?
a revolutionary message
Though the teacher’s message is timeless and free for the taking, it is nevertheless ignored, misunderstood, or dismissed as no more than a philosophy or an opinion (often as too revolutionary). But how can one unerring message have been considered too revolutionary in each and every age from ancient times down to the present?
it’s easier to distract ourselves
People gravitate toward distracting themselves from the conflict that is generated within them and which manifests societally — even if, ironically, one of the distractions includes worshiping and idolizing the teacher, or obsessively studying (and often teaching) and interpreting his words. Worship of the world teacher and indulgence in his teachings can be as much of a distraction as drugs, guns, television, video games, gambling, sports, crossword puzzles, or anything else. If a person does not personally observe and explore his or her own self, then teachings have little transformative effect.
where futility meets effort
Each time a world teacher emerges on the scene, a following of sycophants and opportunists arises to concretize his teachings into an institution. This seems to be the natural progression of things. Thus, even in his own lifetime, his message quickly becomes distorted, redirected, misinterpreted, and altered by those eager to use it for power, egoistic purposes, and personal gain. Just look around and you’ll see this in action as a host of religious leaders ramble on and on about the wondrous teachings of Jesus or Mohammed, for example, while they cheat and manipulate their followers, offering up false promises, and make fortunes off their fears. There’s a big difference between a sage’s words and what they mean after lesser minds have interpreted them for their lost followers.
where do things go awry?
Universal love and wisdom taught by a series of sages has failed to stop wars, chaos, rivalries, violence, murder, sexual abuse, slavery, crime, unfairness, hate, prejudice, racism, revenge, sadism, masochism, and every other terrible act borne of the innate tendency of the self to stew in conflict and anger.
“Had I known how listening is superior to speaking,
I would not have wasted my life preaching.”
― Attar of Nishapur
the pattern of human behavior
The creation of the egoic self is due to psychological conditioning, and it is psychological conditioning that is needed to break the spell of the self so that one becomes motivated enough to do something about suffering, conflict, and fear.
Eventually, one’s conditioning produces a strong enough desire to enquire into the essence of the self. Going deep enough, there emerges the realization that the self is nothing more than an illusion that causes internal conflict that is broadcast, projected, and reflected onto the world as universal conflict. The individual is at war internally and therefore society is at war externally.
begin with your self
Spiritual growth is not a group activity. Transformation must begin with the self; it cannot be otherwise
A conflicted individual is in no position to dictate that society should not be in conflict. And so we suffer today from the exact same personal and societal problems — primarily described as suffering — that our species has experienced throughout history.
One who walks the path to awakening does so alone; and one who awakens cannot convey or share a realization with others. The individual must do the work for transformation to take place.
what has changed for us as a species?
Even the most eloquent sage is limited in his reach and efficacy in a world of immature souls who are not yet ripe for his message. And each world leader knows full well that the path to salvation is a personal one. For change of perspective to occur, one must desire it to occur. This is a desire that arises in the heart and not the mind.
World leaders have done much to guide individuals to transform, but most people are not capable, interested, or ready to get to the bottom of their inner conflict all at the same time, which is what would need to happen for society to change as a whole.