Humanity is at a crossroads. What lies ahead is a choice to continue on the path we have trod for thousands of years through many formulations of political organization or to head in a radically new direction. Why head in a radically new direction? Because we must. For if we stop and look with absolute honesty at the circumstance of human civilization we will probably be horrified, for we will be looking at the devastation of Eden and a future marked by escalating social chaos. We will see a beautiful and bountiful home planet that has been terribly defiled, facing exhaustion and violent environmental change in the not distant future. We will see a growing imbalance between the reality of Nature, which is marked by harmonious coexistence, and the actions of humanity, which seem to be marked by the impulse to dominate and exploit not only Nature, but also each other.
Until recently, the vastness of Nature and the limits of human technology were such that the planet could contain humanity’s rapacious activity, but the equation is rapidly shifting. Humanity is now, for the first time in its history, of a dimension in its sheer numbers and technology, capable of exhausting Nature’s capacity to support the web of myriad life-forms on this planet while also threatening the civilizations that depend on environmental stability. Should this happen, while the planet will regenerate itself in geologic time, humanity faces disaster.
Should we stop to look honestly, we would see that there is something in the character of humanity that has placed us in an antagonistic relationship with our own environment while pitting us in continuous strife amongst our various nations, races, religions, classes, and ideologies. Further, we see that there is something in the human character that can have the evidence and the consequence of this antagonism unfolding right in front of us yet fail to sufficiently come out of denial concerning the inevitable looming catastrophe to do what is necessary to change course and avert disaster. We see human history for what it has been – the endless confrontation and competition among individuals and groups in which too often, not the wisest and noblest, but the strongest, cleverest and most aggressive dominate. The phrase is “dog eat dog” – but it is not dogs that connive to break and dominate each other – it is humans. With this, we also see the plague of psychological illness that results from a culture based in interpersonal competition that gives rise to emotional insecurity.
That’s the bad news. If, however, we continue to look honestly, we see not just a single path marked by aggression, competition, excess consumption and domination. We also see that another path intertwines and has always been present. We also see a path marked by wisdom, honest intelligent curiosity, dedication to truth, compassion, inclusion, generosity, justness, courage, creativity, and the impulse to harmonious beauty. It is a path with its own particular strength and has been a constant modifying force to the path of aggression and domination. Human history has not been steered solely by the impulse to power, its abuses and iniquity, but also by these nobler impulses. In other words, within the human character there exists paradoxically both the impulse to dominate and deny Nature and the impulse to reflect the same harmony and balance that is Nature. These paths intertwine, yet it seems one path has, to date, dominated and set the overall direction for humanity’s journey, and so far, it has been the path of greed and willful ignorance that now leads us all toward the cliff of disaster.
These two paths have been identified for millennia, and even given names. The first path is that of human ego, that capacity unique to humans within all of Nature to abstract its experience out of Nature. It is the legendary fall from Eden, the source of original human sin. It is the capacity to separate ourselves psychologically as individuals and as a species from the interconnected web of Nature, to deny its laws of balance, to use, consume and destroy only for the purposes of our own aggrandizement. But there is also this second path that reflects the interconnectedness of Nature. It is sometimes called wisdom, sometimes called spirituality, sometimes called love, and its laws of harmony and connection are deeply imbedded within us, for in truth we cannot be separated. It is the source of all spiritual truth and psychological insight concerning humanity, and it is the source of political and economic justness.
We have to recognize that within us exists the capacity for our own salvation and we must dedicate ourselves anew to living in truth. While we may have forgotten our interconnection to Nature, Nature has not forgotten us. It has operated as the unconscious impulse to all that is good and has been the saving grace of humanity. It has been the counterbalance to the arrogance, lust for significance, power, and the blind need for excessive consumption that has often erroneously been described as “human nature,” but is really aberrant to our deepest nature. Perhaps silently, unconsciously, the path of wisdom has always guided us over the long road of human social evolution, for actually we have moved increasingly and inevitably in its direction intertwined with the dominant path of power and domination.
Now, however, we must recognize that which has been unconscious and make it conscious. Humanity’s identification with ego and its destructive impulses must be seen for what they are and overcome while we choose and open to a conscious flowering of our own interconnectedness. We must realize that we cannot continue functioning in denial of truth or it will most surely bring about humanity’s downfall. Buddhism refers to this denial and attachment to ego as dukkha – suffering – while other religions refer to it as sin – and the suffering that awaits us should we fail to change paths is certain to be immense, even catastrophic.
While Buddhism addresses our circumstance eloquently, this concept of ego’s fatal allure is not entirely foreign to the West. In our very beginning, the ancient Greeks, who valued balance, beauty, and wisdom above all, also had a term for this denial. They called it hubris, described as the overweening arrogance of assuming human equality, even superiority to the Gods (Nature). Hubris exalts the pursuit of glory, of power, of wealth and conquest and in the ancient world this egoic hubris was embodied in imperial Rome supplanting the Greeks as the definers of Western civilization. And though Imperial Rome lasted five hundred years, hubris took it inevitably to its fall.
So now, several millennia later, it would seem we are perhaps headed for our fall, a fall like no other, and humanity must find within itself the wisdom and courage to change its path from this egoic hubris. Available to us is the path of awakened consciousness, the knowing of our appropriate place within Nature and the Universe. This too is not a new message. It is the foundational teaching of Buddhism as it was for the Greeks. It is the message of wisdom, and it has journeyed with humanity from the beginning of civilizations, mostly hushed and treated like a step-child. But now, it must be given its place as the true pathfinder leading into the future. To not do so surely will be even more catastrophic than it was for the Romans and Western Civilization that fell into the long historic period known as the Dark Ages, for while culture fell, the world of Nature was safe to nurture new civilization. Now, it is Nature itself that is threatened.
Buddha knew, the wisest of Greeks knew, and the prophets and seers of all the ancient cultures knew that truth is heard, understood and manifested only when the human egoic mind is stilled, allowing the quieter subtler wisdom of humanity’s deepest nature to be heard in its whispers. The path of wisdom is here for us. It always has been, emerging out of our ancient past, the guiding hand of all of humanity’s noblest actions. It is not the Greek Fates, but we who will decide. Fear and domination cannot be the way; we must embrace each other and Nature as kin and source if we are to avoid a dystopian future. Ego’s tricks are endless and its allure is very strong, but its call is a lie that has led us to this existential moment. Even the slightest allegiance to truth tells us it is time to change paths. We must go within once again into our inner nature to find the wisdom, will and strength to choose truth, to choose to love each other and all of Life, to live in balance and beauty. We must reinvent human society and culture before chaos and massive disruption send us into a new dark age. We must leave the path of greedy cleverness we have trod for so long and now choose the ancient path of humble yet noble truth, harmony, and wisdom.