Chris Fici is an aspiring monk/writer. He is a member of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram, located in The Bhakti Center, East Village
We are surrounded by the echoes of the words and deeds of the great spiritual leaders of our time, such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and other souls small in stature but great in heart. Hearing them, we seek proper guidance onto the path to push through the various storms that await us in our drive for the dawn of a new day
You can taste this desire, this urge, in the dust storms and mad beats and disguises at Burning Man. You can feel it in your head, the pushing of a new consciousness that may just keep life pulsing and grooving on this big, blue globe. You can see it in the dirt in your fingernails, returning back to the land, sustainable and organic, free from the chemical nightmares of corporate agriculture.
Spiritual leaders arise out of this mulch, dirt, sweat, blood and tears. How do we know who is genuine? How do we take advantage of our own inherent gifts of leadership to guide and shape the future we desire?
In his book Leadership For An Age Of Higher Consciousness, His Holiness Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, one of the leading modern teachers of the timeless art of spiritual devotion known as bhakti-yoga, speaks to the spiritual leaders of today when he writes:
“Many disturbances in the world are caused by a failure to seek unity with those who seem different. In your role as leader, the more you can identify common ground with others, the less you will be subject to conflicts caused by superficial differences.
Universal principles can help you discover the common foundation shared with others by reminding you that everyone originates from the same source and is seeking to return to the same home with God.”
We now look towards the halls of Washington D.C, not with the usual cynical disdain, but with a potent curiosity, anticipation, and even reverie at the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the American Presidency.
We wonder if he can rise above the ferocious fray of world politics as it is and provide the real inspiration for true happiness that his image and persona have implied and promised from the day he began his campaign.
To do this, he must fully embrace his spiritual side, and lead with all the courage, wisdom, and humility at his disposal. Even further, he must rely on the time-tested example of the great teachers and spiritual guides that have come before him. He cannot change this mess alone. We cannot change this mess alone.
The demand for authenticity is high for any leader, most of all for someone guiding us from an elevated platform of higher consciousness. As we understand from the timeless wisdom of the Vedas, a true leader must carry with him a humble, genuine plan of action that guides his/her peoples towards the ideal conditions of life, based on the liberty of the soul, and true justice and protection for all living entities.
This is an extra, immense burden that the spiritual leader carries, but it's one that can bring the most sublime and lasting results, as Bhakti-Tirtha Swami describes in his pleas to the spiritual leader:
“Too much is at stake for you as a leader to limit your view to the horizons of your personal, organizational or national agendas...The increasing interdependence of all forms of life on this planet requires a broader perspective that looks outward to embrace the entire globe, forward in time for future generations, and inward to honor the Lord in your heart.”
There is clear evidence that President Obama is approaching his current gig with a little more thought in mind than just the usual blend of bad cocktails lobbed at him by lobbyists and corporate heads. Throughout his campaign and ascension to the presidency, Obama has consistently called upon the American people to absorb themselves in the classical spiritual values of service, humility, and responsibility.
Carrying a statue of Hanuman with him for luck and wisdom, having been exposed to the Bhagavad-Gita as a child, and stressing interfaith community and communication in his messages of prayer, Obama is bringing a fresh consciousness to one of the most stale and musty environments in the world-Washington, D.C.
In an excerpt from his memoir The Audacity of Hope, President Obama shares his own realizations about the importance of the spiritual foundation in our progressive thoughts and actions when he writes:
When we abandon the field of religious discourse--when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome--others will fill the vacuum. And those who do are likely to be those with the most insular views of faith, or who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.
Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord," or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without reference to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.
To make his image a reality means Obama will have to accept and express another attribute of the spiritual leader, which is the ability to dole out healthy doses of "tough love." After all, to call on an increased mood of service and sacrifice, along with the sweet sauce of humility, in today's "me-first" social climate can't be done with gentle hands and words. Bhakti-Tirtha Swami explains:
"Although truth can be painful, sometimes the desire to attain a higher good will require leaders to face unpleasant realities and act forcefully. Indeed, love is merely sentimental unless it is based on honesty. Leaders need a high level of knowledge, skill, and discernment to express their love appropriately according to the circumstances...At times, a leader may demand difficult sacrifices from others for their own well-being...Leaders must deliberately choose to maintain a level of consciousness that gives priority to what is best for others regardless of outward appearances."
This is Obama's challenge. Behind all his moves, policies, and speeches must be this sense of selfless love, the very heart of genuine spirituality. A love that is not some amorphous, impersonal, hippy-dippy romantic fling, but that which is deep, unyielding, challenging, and rewarding.
In order to change the course of our collective situation from one of impending catastrophe to one that reflects and expresses our aspirations for a world that reflects the best and deepest of our hearts, President Obama must lead the difficult charge to change our climate of life from one of selfish, destructive consumption to one selfless, beautiful sacrifice. To me, this is the measure of whether his messages of “hope” and “change” actually bear any fruit.
Whether we voted for him or not, whether we have an interest in his politics or not, President Obama's ability or inability to bring these higher values into his higher office acts as a reflection of our contemporary counter-cultural revolution, and its success or lack thereof in making our relationship with this planet more sustainable and spiritually connected.
It is also our duty to push the President and any spiritually-minded leader to live up to these high ideals. In the creative cauldrons of our own life experiences, we must demand a new and improved standard for those who run the show. To a man and woman, we are sick of the ultra-rich, ultra-removed personalities who try to rob of us of our heritage and birthright as spiritual beings meant for restoring our relationship with the Divine.
Our service to President Obama must be to keep him at this elevated level, for him to keep his foundational promises but also to make sure he is always looking deeper, to God and to the light and powerful inspiration that comes from Him which guides anybody, anywhere, at anytime, through the darkest hours.
B.T Swami lays it down for Obama and for all of us as spiritual leaders when he writes:
"Learn to love everyone dearly and allow this love for others to radiate through you. As you let the energy of love vibrate around you, all who align themselves with you will contract this contagious, sublime state and spread it enthusiastically to others."
This article is also directed at you, for although you may not be living in the White House, you too have the chance to make a deep, profound, and positive impact on yourself and those around you by stepping up to the plate, with your own divine energies of inspiration and guidance in your hands.
We lead by selfless loving exchanges, and we create real hope and change this way. Take it out of your minds, put it in your hearts, and create the vital action now, from Washington to your own concrete jungle.