Sunday, 11 June 2017

Gandhi's Seven Social Sins

There are many things that trouble us, all of us, in different ways. If I was to sit and spend all my life focusing on what I see as unhelpful, as wrong in life, no doubt I would never leave the house and even there I wouldn’t feel safe. In so doing I would be committing what I have heard described as the greatest sin of all, to fail to exist, to live and unlived life. I have wasted enough years doing that and I refuse to do so ever again.

Despite its very real troubles I have faith in life, a love for life. I believe in life. To quote William James. 'These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.' " I have found this to be 100% true.

I was recently chatting with someone I love dearly, it was not an easy conversation, but it was essential. I have had this conversation with them before. The first time I found it almost unbearable it was too painful to hear. Thankfully I love them enough to listen to their pain. What was clear was that they had been ruled by fear all their life; for all their life they had been dominated by fear. Gosh how I wish I could relieve them of it, but alas I cannot. No one can.

Fear is a deeply powerful emotion, it can be crippling in its power, which is why so many of the dark forces of life employ it to control and dominate. In many ways this is perhaps the root of human sin if you like, this use and or instilling of fear to dominate others, it seems to be the root of so many of our human troubles.

No area of life is exempt from using fear in their attempts to get what they believe is right. It has been one of the great evils of religion of course. How often have people been subjugated by fear in so many ways. Modern advertising does it too, in their attempts to sell us a lifestyle that will take all our troubles away and you see it very clearly in politics, particularly around election time. I never saw this more clearly than during last year’s EU referendum and we have seen it again in recent weeks as we have approached last Thursday’s General Election. As each one passes I see the seeds of division being sown and it troubles me deeply, we also see scapegoating too on the increase. This bothers me greatly too and I know I am not immune from this either. I have blamed others for my troubles.

Now of course the temptation is to withdraw, to crawl under some kind of fear based spiritual rock and refuse to engage. This is fear of the highest order, it is selfish and a rejection of life. The spiritual life can only be lived in reality. Its purpose is to bring healing and not to sow seeds of division. We are all in this together regardless of our views about how life ought to be. The spiritual life has to be an ethical life.

If the spiritual life has to be ethical, then how do we live such a life without causing harm and sowing those seeds of division. Well I believe it begins by first of all recognising our one shared humanity. Recognising that we are all formed by the same substance and have the same spirit flowing through us, that not one of us is perfect we all fall short of our attempted ideals, we are all sinners in that sense, we are all driven at times by fear and we are all open to the transformative power of love, no one is beyond redemption. We are all more human than otherwise.

Throughout human history many have attempted to show us ways to live a more ethical life. In recent years Karen Armstrong wrote her “12 steps to a Compassionate Life”, it inspired my early ministry. I spoke of it constantly and I led groups exploring her ideas. It was her attempt to return compassion back to the centre of the social, economic, political and spiritual life. There have been others who have spoken of what has blocked us from living the ethical life. Towards the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory came up with “The Seven Deadly Sins”, which were based on Greek philosophy. The seven were Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Unlike the “Ten Commandments” they contained no “Thou Shalt Not’s”, instead they were designed to aid the individual to examine the state of their being.

Now the main problem with the list is that they were still an examination of our inner life and not an examination of how we live our lives.

During the 20th century Mohatma Gandhi published another list. It was named “The Seven Social Sins” and was published in his newspaper “Young India” on October 22nd 1925. The list is as follows:

Wealth without Work.
Pleasure without Conscience.
Knowledge without Character.
Commerce without Morality.
Science without Humanity.
Worship without Sacrifice.
Politics without Principles.

The list had sprung from a correspondence that Gandhi had with someone who he only identified as a “fair friend.” It is understood that the list comes from sermon first delivered at West Minster Abbey. He published the list without commentary. All Gandhi said was : “Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Is that possible? Can these seven been known by the heart, so that we can avoid them in our daily living. The focus of the list is on our conduct in society. It is salvation by not only faith but also works, how we live our lives in our daily interactions. They seem firmly in keeping with his own spiritual ethics of non-violence and interdependence and each one is an example of selfishness overcoming the common good. As he himself said "A person cannot do right in one department whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole. " It is said that Gandhi believed that these social sins were a greater threat to society than the personal sins listed by Pope Gregory.

Many years later in 1947 Gandhi gave the very same list, this time under title “the seven blunders that human society commits, and that cause all the violence”, to his fifth grandson Arun. Sadly within three months Gandhi had been murdered by a Hindu extremist who obviously had fallen into the trap, that so many do. and made Gandhi the scapegoat for so many of the countries troubles. So often the great and the good are destroyed by the violence that is given birth to by fear, by seeing others as something other than human. Sadly things have not changed in the last seventy years.

What do you think of Gandhi’s list? I like them. I think they are a great model for the spiritual life, for living a life of ethical principle and dignity, by attempting to overcome them. In so doing we can begin to bring to life the loving compassion that Karen Armstrong is promoting, a love that is the essence of all the great traditions. We see this love expressed in the teachings of Jesus, it is worth noting that Gandhi, although a Hindu, read the Gospels every day, believed that the Sermon on the Mount was the model of the good life and saw Jesus as the embodiment of Satyagraha. That his life was an example of how to live the spiritual and ethical life. If we were to adopt the principles that would ensure that we avoid living by these sins or blunders then we would begin to create the society that at its core would be justice, equity and compassion. 

Is this possible can we live the spiritual and ethical life can we live in such a way as to avoid these seven sins or blunders as Gandhi named them? I wonder what do these seven statements bring to your heart, mind and soul? I wonder if you can think of examples, in today’s world, of any or even each of them? What about your own life, where do you fall short? How could you begin to live a more connected life?

We all fall short of the mark, every single one of us. None of us is perfect, perhaps it is this as much as anything that makes us more human than otherwise. It is important to understand that to sin originally meant to fall short of the mark, the word "sinare" was an archery term that literally meant this. By the way when I write of sin here I am not writing of original sin, I do not believe that anyone is born this way, it's just that none of us hit the mark every time. In what ways can we aim higher and therefore raise the targets we reach when we all fall short? By the way it’s worth remembering this when we look at the specks in the eyes of others and fail to see the log in our own.

I firmly believe that to live the ethical life requires us to grow spiritually to take care of our inner life, certainly this was Gandhi’s view too. This leads me to ask you who read this "blogsot" to do me a favour. I'd like you to think of ways that this can be achieved, how can we improve our inner lives so that we can be more effective in our own homes and communities and therefore live more ethically. How do we improve our inner lives so as to see where we fall short and therefore live more ethically?

It is easy to look at others and point out where they fall short of the mark, to scapegoat, to blame; it is perhaps less easy to look at ourselves and to see how we fail to live up to the ideals of justice, equity and compassion. The truth is we all fall short of the mark, we are all far more human than otherwise and that perhaps when we criticise others for their very human shortcomings what we are really doing is deflecting from where we ourselves fall short. The truth is we can do something about ourselves, if we take care of our own spiritual needs, where as we can’t change others. We can inspire them by the way we live, but we cannot change them

We can aim way above these “Seven Social Sins”

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principles.

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