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"Practical Spirituality"
[Presented at the India International Center in November 2002;
Published in World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues (Jan-Mar 2003, Vol. 7, No. 1)]

PRACTICAL SPIRITUALITY
AUDREY E. KITAGAWA

Practical spirituality requires that we all acknowledge our role as global citizens, and to fully step forward into that role of global citizenship. We must recognise our interconnectedness and to know that we are all actors on the world stage carrying great responsibilities. Each person has an impact upon the whole. There is no actor in the world who acts in isolation. Therefore, if I had to distill two major aspects that we must all contend with as global citizens, I would say that we must hear very clearly the voices of all people, and in particular, the voice of advocacy and the voice of inspiration. The voice of advocacy is important because it identifies and articulates what is on the global landscape. The voice of advocacy raises awareness, and sounds the alarm so we can mobilise ourselves towards positive actions which address these challenges. It also allows us to consider alternatives for a better life.

The voice of advocacy speaks about the tremendous imbalance in the allocation and distribution of the world's resources and the rise of materialism and militarism in unprecedented proportions. A quarter of the world's population - 1.3 billion people - live in severe poverty. Nearly 800 million people today do not get enough food to eat and about 500 million people are chronically malnourished. More than a third of the children are malnourished. In industrial countries more than one hundred million people live below the poverty line, more than five million people are homeless, 37 million are jobless, more than 840 million adults are illiterate, of whom 538 million are women.

If we are to hear the profound words of the previous speaker, we must know that we cannot progress as a human family without elevating the status of women. From the energetic plane the pairs of opposites must balance. You cannot oppress 50 per cent of the world's population and not have that oppression and suppression be made manifest upon Mother Earth which represents the feminine principle. Therefore, if we wish to see the elevation of all humankind we must consciously work towards the elevation of women.

There are in developing countries 160 million pre-school children who are underweight. 1.2 billion people live without access to safe drinking water and 110 million land mines are undetonated in 68 countries. In this militarised world the most vulnerable segments of the population who suffer from the consequences of war are women and children. Over 26 million people in the world have been displaced by war. Over two million children have been killed and maimed by war.

From 1986 to 1996 over 300,000 children have been involuntarily mobilised to fight in adult wars. I am with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. It is an indictment against all adults that such an office should even have to be created. Yet I am thankful that this office exists because we advocate the rights of children affected by war. We must awake to man's inhumanity, and to challenge why we are killing our future in killing the innocents of the world.

In the disparity that exists in today's world between the rich and the poor we find that the wealth of the ten richest billionaires is 133 billion dollars, more than 1.5 times the total national income of the least developed countries. The effective debt relief for the 20 poorest countries would cost 5.5 billion dollars which is equivalent to the cost of building Euro Disney. Providing universal access to basic social services to alleviate income poverty would cost 80 billion dollars, less than the net worth of the seven richest men in the world. Six countries in the world today can spend 700 million dollars in nine days on dog and cat food. Today's world spends 92 billion dollars on junk food, 66 billion dollars on cosmetics and nearly 800 billion dollars in 1995 alone on defence expenditures. In one country alone over 276 billion dollars is spent on military defence and the figure is rising.

What is contributing to this great disparity? Of the 100 largest economies in the world 51 are now global corporations and only 49 are countries. The combined sales of the world's top 200 corporations are greater than a quarter of the world's economic activity. The top 200 corporations' combined sales surpass the combined economies of 182 countries. The top 200 corporations have almost twice the economic clout of the poorest four-fifths of humanity. The top 200 corporations have been net job destroyers in recent years. Their combined global employment is only 18.8 million which is less than a third of one hundredth of one per cent of the world's people. Not only are the largest corporations cutting workers from the job force, but their CEOs often benefit financially from job cuts. The top 200 corporations are creating a global economic apartheid, not a global village. The top eight tele-communication firms, for example, have been expanding global sales rapidly, yet over nine-tenths of humanity remains without telephones. 200 giant corporations, most of them larger than many national economies, now dominate well over a quarter of the world's economic activity.

Tom Reifer with focus on the Global South has indicated that "...the drive towards the contemporary top down process of globalisation and militarisation reveals how the notions of free trade, the free market and global security, touted by the World Economic Forum, have in reality been an elaborate myth to justify the utilisation of violence and state power on behalf of vested interests, underscoring the critical role of military expenditures in state corporate globalisation and contemporary militarisation. Such policies emanate from the structural machinery of the State-Corporate nexus and the power elite that preside over their operations." He goes on to say further that "...the present model of development is hopelessly flawed, being based on patterns of unjust consumption, exploitation, and exclusion which cannot by definition be generalised to all humanity. A new paradigm that provides for universal human rights based on social justice and peace is the only solution to the problems of humanity, not ever greater consumption, violence, militarisation and war."

If we are to find a different paradigm from the landscape that exists today we must be firmly committed to the principle that there can be no peace when we spend so much of our funds on the mechanisms, and the machineries of war.

So, what are we to do, as we look at this landscape? It seems so hopeless. Are we to fall into despair? This is where the second essential aspect of living practical spirituality comes in, and that is the voice of inspiration. The voice of inspiration is the voice that asks, "Why have we come here? What is our true purpose in life? Have we come to eat, sleep and die like animals, to be relegated to such a horrible status?" The voice of inspiration calls us to remember that all that is made manifest in creation speaks to its transitory nature which presents us with lessons in life that drive us deeper into ourselves, that we may seek the truth of who we are and, why we are here.

I had the privilege of studying under an enlightened master who said to me upon my first meeting with her that "Our true purpose in life is realisation of God." We are here to find our eternal union with the Divine, and to know our true nature, which is the Spirit. She said to me, "You are a perfect child of God, immortal, eternal and already in God's Light." How wonderful to know that truth! It is the voice of inspiration that will call us to remember our true purpose in life. Which is not the acquisition of material things, but to realise our divinity, our union with the immortal, eternal self. The journey back to the divine self is the sacred journey that we each are traveling upon. It is the journey for which there can be no substitutes. It is the journey that calls upon each of us to take responsibility to realise the Divine. The facts and figures which I have shared tonight are symptoms of ignorance. The way out of ignorance is the way that has been shared with us by the inspired masters. The road out of ignorance is enlightenment.

To travel the enlightened road means to exercise discipline, to undertake those practices to tame our minds and our senses. It also requires courage to reach way down deep within ourselves to do the right thing in the face of all adversity. Beautiful words have been said tonight about Mahatma Gandhi. However, at the time that he spoke with his voice of inspiration, he encountered harsh criticism, and many aspersions were cast upon him. Still, he had the courage to hold firmly to his principles, and to live his spirituality. He said, "My life is my message" satyagraha (truthfulness), ahimsa (non-violence). All came to see his courage, his unswerving commitment to his principles to apply spirituality in daily life.

We too must live our spirituality by doing the ceaseless, fearless self-examination, and turning the searchlight inwards to see how we must change. It is our duty to be mindful of our thoughts, speech and actions and to align our consciousness with the universal laws of love, peace, unity and harmony. As we travel the sacred road back to the mastery of our base nature, the ego, we must understand the importance of humility. As my master said to me, "We cannot make a drop of blood, or a blade of grass. We did not place in the heavens the billions of stars, the moon or the sun that shines. Therefore, we must divest ourselves of all arrogance."

Finally, may we never be afraid to speak of the supreme power of the universe, which is the power of love. God is love, and love is the essence of who we are. The potential of love that resides within one human heart is comparable to the potential that resides in the life of the tiny acorn that grows in the mighty oak tree. Love expressed and shared daily with others, magnifies into greatness. Live everyday from the power of love that your life may be your message radiant as a beacon of light, and filled with hope and inspiration to all those whose lives you touch within your family, your community and the world.

At this time I would like the privilege of sharing the Maha mantra with you. I have shared this Maha mantra wherever I have travelled, and at almost every forum in which I have spoken. This is the Mantra of enlightenment, the beautiful Gayatri Mantra. May we receive the illumination of God's light and love into our daily lives and with every breath that we draw.

Aum Bhoor
Bhuwah Swaha,
Tat Savitur
Varenyam Bhargo
Devasaya
Dheemahi Dhiyo
Yo Naha
Prachodayat.

Om Shanti,
Shanti, Shanti.
Om Peace,
Peace, Peace.

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