One of the wonderful bonuses that arise out of the Scientific and Medical Network Conferences is the networking and exchanging of ideas and information. Knowing my interest in the study of religious tolerance alongside my heartfelt vision for the infusion of spirit throughout our lives, (explored in some detail in my first book, Healing This Wounded Earth….) a delegate asked if I had heard of the work of Phiroz Mehta. Indeed I had not, and that is why I find myself on holiday by the side of the pool reading Mehta’s wonderful book, The Heart of Religion. And an amazing book it is, but sadly no longer widely available I fear: because it really needs a wider exposure in an age hungry for an understanding of the role of both religion and spirituality in our lives. Mehta was an extremely erudite student of both and well qualified to write this masterpiece.
An Indian born writer and lecturer on religious topics, he died in 1994 in his 92nd year, but not before leaving a valuable legacy of his knowledge in his various books, not least of which is this one. Completed in 1976, this book encapsulates a lifetime’s study into all the major religions of the world, both theoretical and personal. Mehta was deeply concerned with discovering through personal experience the Truth that is The Heart of Religion, through practical as well as theoretical research: he accordingly practiced both the “outer” and the “inner” disciplines of several of our great religions. This book therefore carries with it a great deal of authority.
Some may find it a slightly difficult read in places, perhaps most so when they are unable to comprehend where Mehta is coming from, in his search for the Transcendent and the Truth. But I would submit that this is the reader’s loss. The book is crammed full of wisdom that is as fresh today as it was in the 1960’s, indeed in some aspects he had tremendous foresight of what was to come, and this and cannot fail to elicit the response from any thinking person today; why on earth after all these years are we still doing so very little about this?
I shall be dipping into this wonderful work again from time to time in this forum, not least for his advice and wisdom in two comprehensive chapters on mindfulness and meditation, but here is a taster from elsewhere in the book, in his chapter on Morality, Religious Observances and Discipline (p. 278):
“Science has opened up many beneficent possibilities and put undreamed of power into our hands. But we have shamefully betrayed our trust by criminal misuse of power, due to our lamentable shortness of understanding, compassion and self-restraint, and because of our abject slavery to greed, fear, power-lust and licentious self-indulgence. Inevitably catastrophe has castigated us again and again but we remain un-chastened, and point a finger of blame always at the other person instead of to our own hearts burning with the poisonous passion for wealth and pleasure and power.
Technology is merely a tool, a lifeless mechanism. If – and only if – it is operated by a clean hand, a wise mind and a pure heart, will it serve us for our lasting good instead of crushing us relentlessly under its juggernaut wheels.”
And from Healing this Wounded Earth:
“We lived simply in those early post war years, and the material changes we have seen since then have been immense. But material wealth does not apparently bring us happiness, peace and contentment. We now live in a culture where success seems to be based on celebrity status and wealth. The material possessions of others often create envy and greed, and this fuels its own social problems. Do we buy what we want rather than what we need? Is our purchase fuelled by need or greed?
The continual urge to maintain an expensive lifestyle can cause stress and depression, both of which are now epidemics in the western world and the cause of many other health problems. The links that can exist between mental ill health and physical disorders, such as certain cancers and heart disease, are well documented.
The stark fact is that most of us now have a love affair with our car, our house, our computer technology and our other material possessions. And we all love a bargain. So much so that many of us are unwilling to pay the premium for fairly traded and fairly priced organic or local goods. We love our sanitized, standardized, pre-packaged meat and perfectly blemish free fruit and vegetables. But when we chase the cheapest mass-produced goods we are at the same time casting aside any ethical considerations regarding the production of those goods. We really do not want to think about the possible sweat-shop conditions of the laborers, the unrealistically low wages that may have been paid, the cruelty inflicted on helpless animals, that our purchasing behavior may be promoting. But we need to!”
And on Yoga, Mehta wrote in 1976 (p. 279):
“Yoga is in fashion. For most of its practitioners it means a system of exercises in physical postures and breathing. Far more important aspects such as the pure ethical life in thought and speech and action, the discipline of the mind, meditation and communion, are barely considered, or else altogether ignored. The common appeal to greed and vanity and egoism – get fit; acquire a lovely figure; enjoy the pleasures of life even more; achieve success and triumph over your competitor – meets with an eager response from the multitude, so that a rapidly expanding field of exploitation has opened up, financially and psychologically.
The spirit can never be bought and sold….”
And from Healing this Wounded Earth:
“Unfortunately Yoga today has too often become nothing more than the learning and practicing of physical postures to aid and maintain physical health and fitness, flexibility and balance in our bodies, a sort of yogi aerobics! But combined with meditation, the use of mantras and breathing exercises, the postures become much more than a physical fitness regime. Yoga becomes a holistic healing system with the aim of attaining the healthy integration of body, mind and spirit. Yoga after all comes from the Sanskrit ‘yuj’, meaning to join or yoke. If practiced completely, true to the principles of Patanjali, it is a spiritual journey, a search for deeper self - knowledge, a source of inner peace, and mental and physical harmony. The postures or asanas so often isolated today into nothing more than a keep-fit class were actually developed as an aid in concentrating the mind to meditate more deeply.”
plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
It is clear that too many people simply are not aware or do not care about the abyss towards which we are all plunging. How do we stir the masses out of apathy? We need education, education, education, writ large, as they say, but is that going to be enough, or will it be soon enough?
Reference - the website of the Phiroz Mehta Trust, Being Truly Human
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden