The 4th of July is Independence Day in the USA, celebrating the independence of the 13 colonies from British rule, and the beginning of a new country, the Untied States of America. Once there was a discussion on NPR (National Public Radio), on the Diane Rehm Show, about the meaning of patriotism in the US. I found it very interesting and would like to share some of my thoughts. It is really a huge discussion which I can’t give justice to. I bring it up as food for thought to stimulate your asking yourself and others questions. We all live in counties, and I am sure that wherever it is, there is a sense of national identity and pride.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? What exactly is patriotism? Patriotism to what? A country, a place, a way of life?
This discussion in general has applications for anyone in the world, because most leaders and many citizens of countries put forward national interests (economic, political, and geographical, i.e., national boundaries and rights etc.) above what could be considered the interests of the planet—and currently the “health” of the planet is very poor. According to one of the shows guests, the Right (of the political spectrum) puts the national interest above the world, whereas the Left tends to see the world interest above the Nations.
I don’t think the designation of being a Liberal or Conservative can really define a spiritual person, because someone such might be seen as either on different issues, according to the person’s conditioning and perspective. Perspectives on various social issues are relative and one may have good reasoning to support them. In any case there was a lengthy discussion about the new trend of immigrants to keep their former identification with their country or continent of origin, which the guests thought undermined the future of the “American identity”. They didn’t like the hyphenated designations, like “Chinese-American”, etc. They put forward the idea that people should see themselves as Americans first, and their connection with their home country second. We could have a discussion of what being an American, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or any citizen of a particular country actually means from the material and spiritual perspective.
Regardless of how the country or world may categorize me or any Vaishnava (my spiritual tradition), for those of us on a spiritual path it is important to use days like this to reflect on our relationship to our country and the world in light of our spirituality. I am personally grateful for the religious and other freedoms I have by living in America. I do see my identity partially as American in terms of my body, even thought I see my spiritual relationship with God as most important. I acknowledge that being a member of Nation requires us to have certain responsibilities in exchange for our Rights. At the same time, I am well aware of the huge downside of national patriotism in regards to the peace and ecology of the world.
Certainly my spiritual teacher, Shrila Prabhupada was very critical of any type of body identification or what he called, “skin disease”. So in light of this, let me pose the question, “If we put our allegiance to Krishna or God or our Higher Power above the National interest, does that make us unpatriotic, or not useful for the national interest?” There are many serious spiritual practitioners involved in the US military and in public service. If spiritual folks are law-abiding, morally upright, tax paying, are they not to be seen as patriotic? The shows guests emphasized the importance of peacefully expressing disagreement with government policies.
The events of Sept. 11 put a new urgency into the topic of patriotism in the US in the minds of many—and some leaders tried to exploit this sentiment to their political agenda saying basically “If you are not for us in fighting terrorism, you are against the ideals of America”. In the last Presidential election, the idea of the candidate’s patriotism received much press. The implication was that the candidate who was more patriotic would be a better president. Is that really true?
Whether a family, dynasty, sports team, religion, race, or a Nation, these limited ways of defining our self create enmity, strife, and pit one group against another. On the larger stage of the world, national or religious identifications have brought about all of the wars, and the degradation of the environment.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. What exactly is patriotism? Patriotism to what? A country, a place, a way of life?
And is patriotism always a good thing, or is it sometimes bad? Of course this last question was unfortunately not asked on this show. Although I think Diane (the host) is a good person and has an important show, she tends to be rather conservative in her views (everyone has their bias and agenda). The guests were older (no young people were heard) and in agreement about the positive ideal of American patriotism. The discussion was simply to see what people’s conception of patriotism was. Certainly there are good things about patriotism within a certain context, yet it is not politically correct to discuss its’ negative aspects.
One of the show’s guests disagreed with a caller who said patriotism should include everyone who lives in the country—including the animals, and the land.
In a broad sense national patriotism is about bodily consciousness, which from a spiritual perspective is the root cause of all problems. Patriotism can be like a person’s religion. We extend our false identification of our self as the body to include our spouse, children, relatives, community, ethnicity, religion, and nation. Although from one perspective, it is good to expand our limited sense of self from just our body and our selfish desires, it should not stop at a particular nation, species or even the whole planet. If it doesn’t progress beyond a particular physical designation, then we will be at odds with those who identify with a different one. Whether a family, dynasty, sports team, religion, race, or a Nation, these limited ways of defining our self create enmity, strife, and pit one group against another. On the larger stage of the world, national or religious identifications have brought about all of the wars, and the degradation of the environment.
Everyone is interested in their bodily enjoyment-and their family’s-and if their country provides them that, then they are patriotic. The “American way of life,” which is often spoken of, is a life of material enjoyment and opulence of a certain familiar variety. People want to continue that, even though America consumes a huge percentage of the world’s resources and is willing to go to war to preserve that.
One of the show’s guests disagreed with a caller who said patriotism should include everyone who lives in the country—including the animals, and the land. He said that is a geographical idea, and to him American patriotism is to the ideals of the Constitution and what America stands for. He said patriotism is not a list of qualities but a feeling in the heart.
I was really taken aback by his ideas.They seemed so limited so limited and intangible. I’m sure the mass of people living in this country would not agree with him (perhaps the feeling part)—perhaps theoretically, but not in their practical application. Very few people today even know what the American constitution says. There is a vague idea of freedom for what the Constitution says: freedom for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, yet that means different things to every group of people.
Everyone is interested in their bodily enjoyment–and their familie’s–and if their country provides them that, then they are patriotic. The “American way of life”, which is often spoken of, is a life of material enjoyment and opulence of certain familiar variety. People want to continue that, even though America consumes a huge percentage of the world’s resources, and is willing to go to war to preserve that.
Spiritually everyone must understand their soul identity—we are all brothers and sisters of a common Father, although he is called by many different names. There is one spiritual system in the Universe, and regardless of one’s religious lens, we have to be convinced that the land does not belong to any people, religion, race, or nation. The land has been there before us, and is going to be there after us. It is the responsibility of every human being to take care of the planet and all living beings as service to the common Father, our spiritual source. We may live in a particular country and prefer that country to others, yet our sense of nationalism or patriotism must extend beyond the limited and artificial national borders. If we don’t develop a spiritual sense of our true identity and know who the real proprietor of the land is, it is certain that the number of world conflicts and wars is not going to decrease. We have to expand our sense of patriotism by expanding our sense of self. Patriotism has its’ place, yet I don’t believe it should be at the cost of other people, countries, or the environment. It is a complex topic, though at least the spiritual perspective should be introduced while understanding other perspectives.
Nationalism, as it is generally practiced today, is actually another name of Militarism. Only if people have a spiritual vision of everything and every living being can nations live peacefully together. Nationalism has to be spiritualized if we are to avoid future world conflicts of “national interest”.
The Bhagavad Gita, which is one of the oldest scriptures on Earth, gives us the peace formula in the 5th chapter, 29th verse:
“A person in full awareness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme and proprietor of all planets and higher beings, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.”
Therefore true “patriotism” is spiritual patriotism. Though we may temporarily inhabit a particular body, race, gender, family, city, country, planet, or Universe, our real lasting connection is to the Supreme Owner of Everything, the Creator and Source of all. Nationalism, as it is generally practiced today, is actually another name of Militarism. Only if people have a spiritual vision of everything and every living being can nations live peacefully together. Nationalism has to be spiritualized if we are to avoid future world conflicts of “national interest”. Certainly this “solution” for world strife is likely impossible without enlightened, spiritual leaders, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it and strive for it in our life in as large a sense as we can. Everyone is important, and the more people walk a spiritual path, the better. If we want a better world, we must start by being better people and then influence our circle to walk the spiritually conscious life.