Being In Society but Not of It
One of the very important element of the esoteric wisdom pertaining to spiritual development is to learn to live in society, while at the same time being “detached” from it. At first sight this can be hard to grasp, though crucial to understand and apply this principle in our lives if we want to achieve spiritual mastery and the final liberation. For many people interested in spirituality, the concept of living in society and wanting to reach spiritual awakening does not go together, and yet there are many on the other side of the spectrum who believe that one should fully embrace the society and be fully identified with it in order to achieve their spiritual goals. One can wonder though which of these two viewpoints is correct?
In the East there are many people who believe that it is only by being a hermit that the quickest and the most thorough form of spiritual development is possible. A good example of this are the Indian pundits who have organized their life in a way that from their early age they study about their religion from a guru, up until the age of 25. From that age until the age of around 50, they establish a family and lead a family life, and then at the age of 50 they go to seclusion in order to dedicate themselves to spiritual development. This example is a common viewpoint in many Easter religions, which speaks of the necessity of seclusion and full dedication to spirituality alone, away from disturbances of society, if one is to succeed with it. There also exist hermits that shut themselves completely from the world, and there are monks and nuns who live in semi-isolation, surrounded only with people of their kind.
If we look at the example of Siddharta (the Buddha), it is indicated in his life story that he also lived this type of life when he left the palace of his father, because he believed that asceticism is the only way to enlightenment. Some time later he realized that extremes serve no purpose – neither the one towards indulgence, nor towards complete isolation and doing harm to the body. This is why he came up with a middle way – the way that gives the body and the psyche only what is necessary, while at the same time avoiding things that are harmful to it and that are harmful to spiritual development. The story says that in the end he reached his goal of enlightenment by dissolving Mara (the egos).
We need society to work on ourselves, because through living in society we come to know ourselves in ways that we never could when living isolated from people. When we live within society and have interactions with people, we get to know our egos more, because they inevitably surface from the subconscious mind. A lot of the egos is sparked by our daily interactions, whether that be interactions with one’s partner, children, friends, colleagues, clients, boss, or just random people in our town – we can always learn something about ourselves because the egos are always emerging. However, this doesn’t mean that we should go out and seek for as much as interactions as we can get. It is necessary to find a good balance, so that we don’t feed the egos more than we are able to eliminate.
It is said that our inner Being has organized our life circumstances for us, and within those we can learn about ourselves. These circumstances are enough for the learning that come by living in society – we do not need to keep increasing our interactions if that doesn’t feel right. When we learn the lessons that we had to learn, then new circumstances open up; and if we don’t learn, we have to repeat the same lessons again and again. I believe that the surest way to pass those lessons is to dissolve the egos that are involved in our reactions, because by so doing we understand that part of darkness within ourselves, and we develop compassion to see from the other persons (who was also involved in this learning) point of view.
People who are not at this point in their spiritual work (or people who have not done any work at all), see daily mechanical life as the best thing there is, unaware of higher realities and higher purpose. Sadly, this creates a strong form of identification with things of life, grasping for them with all their might, and feeling devastated at the face of tragedy. People at this level are dependent on society’s ways of thinking, unable to do anything outside the recognition of society’s norms and values. This is what it means to be of society and dependent on it for one’s own happiness and peace.
On the other hand, those who took up the spiritual work seriously, those who are dissolving their egos and building up or activating their solar bodies, will eventually start seeing life differently than they perceived it before starting with the inner work. They will see that it has a deeper meaning, that people around them and their circumstances are not just random things that are there to be used, overcome, or enjoyed, but rather that their inner growth is connected to those elements. They get more and more understanding about life and what is taking place in this reality, which spontaneously creates a form of detachment from daily life and from society. These people who live life with the goal of achieving awakening still participate in society and are part of it, but understandings and insights that they’ve gained through the inner work have caused an inner transformation, that serves as a special help to see life for what it is.
When we begin to reach milestones in the inner work, we get more and more in tune with the Being. We can discern between the activities that are good for us, and those that are harmful. We start to let go of impulses and drives of the ego. The latter creates feelings of clinging or aversion towards something or someone, and in such a way having control over us and how we participate or not participate in society. But when we let go of that and follow the voice of our essence (and later on the Being), we know exactly what is the best course of action in order to achieve the goal of self-realization. As we approach that stage, we increasingly begin to use life for that purpose, with understanding and compassion towards people in our life and society as a whole, but nonetheless detached from it, because we know that the river of life, on which the society is flowing effortlessly downstream, is not taking us where we want to go.
HDP, December 2020.