On Serenity and Selfishness

Not everything that works wonderfully in India can work here. Israelis should examine the 'shanti', Western version of the values of the Far East with a little more skepticism

In recent years, Pesach has become not only the festival of the Exodus from Egypt and the celebration of spring, but it's also become the "shanti" (tranquillity) season - a remembrance of the rite of passage and education that an entire generation of Israelis went through in the ashrams of India. Very little thought has been given in Israel to the fact that what is considered spiritual here in recent years is not the good, old Judeo-Christian values of moderation and proportion, of caring for the other and society and repairing the world, but rather an instant, Western version of the values of the Far East, according to which the most important thing is to go with your own flow, connect to nature and be serene.

According to data from the Foreign Ministry and the War on Drugs Authority, some 30,000 Israeli backpackers go looking for serenity in India every year. The significance of the figure is growing: One out of three Israeli youngsters has been there. When so many Israeli youths feel that it doesn't matter if they vote or not; when so many youngsters aren't media consumers because it depresses them; when so many youngsters feel that the proper thing to do is what feels good to them, the time has come to examine what's happening to us. For example, did the legitimacy to think only of yourself and take care of only yourself come not only from TV and the Internet of the West but also from the spiritual workshops of the East?

Here are some of the sayings popularly perceived by many of those returning from India, who swear by them: A person should connect to their self and do what they really feel. Really? Sometimes a person looks inward and reaches the necessary awareness, understands what they really want to do and the correct thing to do is the precise opposite. For example, if a man doesn't feel like seeing his and his ex-wife's child twice a week, he has to completely ignore what he feels. Or, from another sphere of life entirely, if a citizen feels that it is not genuine and proper to go vote, it could help the Transfer party put 20 MKs into parliament, which apparently will never lead to serenity.

One must be liberated of conditioning and overcome it. But why? Responsibility, respect, guilt feelings are important instruments that help us be human beings, to take care of our parents, our children, to take care of our employees, and not be too nasty to our spouses. Without conditioning, it is not clear what restraints would remain in many of us.

It doesn't matter what will be. The material world is meaningless. That may or may not be true, but it is simply irrelevant as long as one chooses to live in the West. In the Western world, what will be matters a great deal, and money definitely helps buy happiness and serenity. Money even buys the ability to take part in the shanti festivals.

Moreover, the saying that it doesn't matter what will happen is largely the opposite of the saying that life has meaning, and that a person should seek it out to justify his/her existence. If you are getting out of the game and forgoing competition, you are also giving up the possibility of influencing your environs, to leave behind a positive mark and make people's lives better.

And in the same context: the desire to live a full life with positive energies and the energies of love means that you are leaving the treatment of all the suffering and evil to someone else. To avoid knowing that there is evil in the world so you aren't harmed is not spirituality. It's escape. Meaningful spirituality is to deal with the evil, to take part, to be useful and nonetheless not to get hurt. From that aspect, Harry Potter, Frodo and Buggins are a lot more spiritual than the participants in the Bombamela festivals.

The worthy approach to the spirituality coming from the East is to respect it but suspect it as well. Not everything dressed in loose, white clothing, relaxing and smoking grass is positive, pure and full of positive energies. And not everything that worked wonderfully in India can work here. Israelis should examine this spiritual merchandise with a little more skepticism. Is it real or snake oil, is it relevant to their lives and do they understand the operating instructions? Meanwhile, a warning label should be attached: exposure to this spirituality could damage society's health.