Synthesis of 2012 Seminar – "What is the Role of Spirituality in Modern Society?"

Synthesis of the Public seminar:
"What is the Role of Spirituality in Modern Society?"

December 8th, 2012
Copenhagen, Denmark

On 8 December 2012, marking the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, Soteria International held in Copenhagen the 5th edition of the Spiritual Human Rights conference. SHR-2012 was organized as a public seminar on the topic of “The Role of Spirituality in Modern Society” and gathered distinguished speakers from various religious institutions and spiritual movements in Denmark, social activists and human rights defenders.

Stepping beyond the differences in approaches of the systems they represent, participants exhibited remarkable cohesion on the subject of importance of spiritual awakening for healing modern society’s faults and the dangers of excessive secularization that brought the world to the current alarming state of affairs. One of the aims set by the seminar was to identify the common grounds of various religious and spiritual systems, the common denominators that would set the base for a true dialogue among them and create a healthy and effective environment for the spiritualization of societies. The proceedings of the seminar showed that such task requires a laborious and extended coverage, far above one-day seminar. It also occurred that the approaches intended are different as well, some call for assiduous actions; some adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards how spiritualization should re-emerge in societies. However, the remarkable effect of the seminar, was that divergent ideas get blended and evolve into transcending solutions, when discussed on a background of openness, true dialogue and heartfelt consideration. That is spirituality exemplified!

A prominent idea carried out by all speakers is the need to connect not only on the individual level, but also on the level of communities and societies. Elizabeth Knox a warmhearted pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church being State Church of Denmark, who adopts also elements of Celtic spirituality and reconnection with nature in her work with people, talked about the awareness of change at the leadership levels of the church and about the creation of church councils in local communities, re-establishing the connection to the grassroots. She offered an inspiring description of the levels of experiencing the Divine Grace, according to a Christian philosopher, which points to the fact that social activism is inevitable on an authentic spiritual path, as the perception of the Grace will incite one to address the social problems and will motivate to go forward with the spiritual practice in order to find true and lasting solutions. On a separate note Church Ms Knox pointed out that concentration of power poses serious challenges for any religious institution and for spirituality as such and thus needs to be seriously tackled in the reformative discourse.

The idea of de-hierarchization of religious and spiritual movements was supported by many speakers, mainly from the perspective of the individual responsibility in the quest for the Divine. Ole Therkelsen from the Martinus Institute talked about the need for everyone to develop a Christic, neighborly love and that spiritual teachings are merely props in that individual process. He iterated the idea of the need for a science of spirituality that would be accessible to all, and free from institualization of spiritual practice.

A wonderful example that teachings are important, but in the end of the day it is the action that counts was set by Amma, in a presentation delivered by Noa Octavia Justensen. Amma’s philosophy that it may be someone’s karma to suffer, but it is her dharma to help them, is a beautiful example that spirituality is the action that springs from the heart.

Why is it that so many spiritual movements and spiritual activists suffer persecution from the authorities?! This question, which is one of the main objectives of Soteria International’s activities, was raised by Dada Krsnasevananda from Ananda Marga. Its founder, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar has been imprisoned under false charges for 8 years, survived poisoning attempt by government officials and fasted on a liquid diet for over five years in protest. It appears that when spiritual activists attempt to bring not only relief to the suffering world, but to restore justice in an unjust world – they face severe and dramatic reactions from the establishment. The solution suggested by Dada Krsnasevananda is to be even more perseverant in the mission and to develop clear visions of the proposed social model. Mr. Krsnasevananda presented the PROUT model developed by Ananda Marga in answer to the social ills of our present-day society. He also observed that the need, the longing for spirituality in the world, is on the rise, and emphasized that now more than ever spiritual movements need to act united.

The appeal to act was put forward also by Bashy Quraishy from the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO). He invited to move from dialogue to cooperation. He pointed that all spiritual movements and religions (apart for that sides which developed as bureaucratic structures, rather than institutions for the soul) face one common ground, namely action against over-secularization of the modern ages. He gave inspiring perspectives for organizations promoting spirituality and called upon alliances to be made for the reality of a beautiful world. Mr. Quraishy also presented an interesting angle on faith, religion and spirituality and stirred an exciting and knowledgeable discussion in the panel, on the issue of faith being scientific and not based on blind beliefs but rather on consolidated results.

An original appeal to action was made by Chaitanya Candra from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Going in line with what was said before, he pointed that spiritual movements should not seek becoming popular, but uncompromisingly state the faults of the current state of affairs and take active stand for the promotion of spiritual awareness. He reminded that there were times when spirituality was a frontrunner of society when secular rulers sought guidance from spiritual sages.

In the same line was advocated by Birthe Heldt from the Church of Scientology, sharing with the panel the backlash of authorities and media against the Church of Scientology, mainly because of its message for a self-supported psychological well-being, and its harsh critique of psychiatric treatments propagated nowadays. Ms. Heldt called upon spiritual movements to be active in the field of human rights, and actively stand against those who perpetrate violations against people. Otherwise, she pointed, spiritual message without the support of activism may lead to unnecessary troubles.

The subject of activism of spiritual movements stirred a discussion in the audience whether it is advisable for spiritual practitioners to take active stand against faults of society, or rather bring the change by exclusively focusing on spiritual attainment, disregarding the social surrounding. The answer was illustrated by Advaitananda Stoian from Natha Yoga Center with a comprehensive comparison: when on a long journey a stone gets in your shoes and causes pain, you stop and take it out, otherwise you might never reach the destination because bleeding will cease your endeavor. That once again pointed to the responsibility of spiritual practitioners to be active in modern society. Advaitananda also presented an original perspective upon the mechanism of abuse, which is valid in any aspect of political-socio-economic structure and which ultimately creates the kind of backlashes described earlier. In spiritual tradition the need is considered the chaining factor that ultimately obstructs freedom, thus the need for safety of citizens creates abusive power schemes resorting to almost paranoiac measures.

He also contributed to the panel with a valuable categorization of principles towards a spiritual healthy social environment, or as he has put it – an environment with a strongly immune spiritual system, which allows in all that is good for the system’s wellbeing and eliminates all that is poisonous.

Advaitananda stated that the yoga school he represents also faced severe abuses from authorities and media both in Denmark and in Romania where it originated from and where the case is still ongoing (which is one of the cases monitored by Soteria International). He shared with the panel that 2 days before this seminar abuses spread across to Italy, yoga teachers from Natha sister school were arrested and took from their jobs or homes to the police under charges of human trafficking - an interpretation by police of karma yoga activities, or voluntary work that is an inherent part of spiritual practice. The example strengthened the message for spiritual activism and stimulated initiatives for joint actions proposed by the panel, in support of the Italian yoga school. On a broader scale, the discussion concretized on the measures and actions to be taken in the spirit of spiritual activism, with valuable insight from participants’ expertise, mainly leading to the motto: ”coexistence or no-existence”, again and again pointing to the need to ally, to respect the differences by preserving the unity.

Soteria International deeply appreciates the spirit and the message that was created during this year’s seminar on spiritual Human Rights by the remarkable and dedicated speakers and audience. The seminar was a genuine example of an open, constructive and empowering dialogue. Additional materials will be made available on our website together with follow-up information for future events.