"Vision of A New Culture"
The Great Learning

A. Toynbee
Rise and fall of Civilizations

1. In order to know the direction of your spiritual quest, you first have to be clear about your current situation. A treatment is only going to help, if based on a proper diagnosis. As you know, we have defined current existential suffering as "being alienated from Heaven, earth and the community". However, to fully understand the situation we are in, the time factor has to be added to it. Just as the ceasing of suffering consists of "restoring the unity with Heaven, earth and the community", we have to fit in in our particular historical period as well. Once we understand the dynamics of history, we will know how to behave accordingly, how to mould our particular role. So what are the characteristics of our historical period?

2. The foundation lies in the cosmic process, which underlies our entire philosophy, that of the Law of the Universe. It says, that in the Vacuum everything is continuously dying and being reborn again. It means, that a certain historical time may be characterized by either birth, permanence, destruction (of the previous era) or dissolution. In periods dominated by "birth" a new impulse is creating a new phase in culture. Coming directly from the Source, it is young, fresh and full of potential. After some time, however, things are consolidating. Manifestation materializes. It is a period, in which a culture reaches its highest level of achievement, wealth and power. The other side of the coin is, that a fully materialized culture is finding itself at the greatest distance from its Source. Hence, the sense of independence ranging from pride to rejection of any transcendence. Sooner or later the Law of the Universe is "calling back" the alienated, separated and therefore non-viable historical period though. It is the beginning of a time in which everything that was belonging to the previous time is broken down. Because people have been clinging to their achievements, without much reliance on any metaphysics, this period is usually perceived as (very) painful, in which people are forced to abandon their sense of security. At the same time the gravitational force of the Beyond may manifest itself in certain individuals. A longing for homecoming may replace the grief of loss. Guilt, remorse and penance are becoming the dominating features, characterizing the fourth period, that of dissolution. It is a time in which everybody is taking refuge in the Ultimate. After the old has become utterly destroyed, the new will be emerging and a new cultural phase is born*.

* It will be clear, that this review of the "law of history" is an "idealistic", spiritual one. In practice the four stages may sometimes not so clearly recognizable. This is due to interference of other factors playing their part in the historical process, like landscape, culture, politics, migration and environmental factors for instance.        

3. Nobody has understood the "law of history" better than A.Toynbee*. Rather than loosing himself in (superficial) details, his life effort was to reveal the patterns of civilization, their characteristics in the course of time, their rise and fall. He studied some twenty different societies of all times. A couple of stages can be distinguished. First of all there is a "civilization", usually favored by certain circumstances - like a difficult situation, technological inventions, inhospitable or very fertile land, existing myths or/and spiritual advancement, migration, social change, painful defeat - spurring to extra-ordinary performance, led by creative individuals. All great civilizations - matriarchy, Mesopotamia, early patriarchy, China, Egypt, Hellas, Christianity, Islam - originated this way. These early beginnings were all characterized by a spiritual foundation, upon which every sector of society was based (very much like our "harmony with Heaven, earth and the community" as described above). There was either balance and stability (matriarchy) or creative differentiation (patriarchy).

* A.Toynbee "A Study of history", 1947 Oxford University Press. The astonishing fact about A.Toynbee is, that he designed a framework of the dynamics of civilization, in such a way, that events can be better understood. First admired, then maligned, Toynbee has regained considerable respect in current times, in which increasingly becomes clear, how right he was. PS. In this essay my interpretation is added to that of Toynbee's.

4. Civilization is heavily depending on the role of a "creative minority". Decline sets in, when the latter cannot inspire the masses anymore. Generally, leaders seem to be able but following only "one great idea". In the beginning this great idea is the vehicle upon which society is flourishing. However, through sticking to this paradigm, despite changing circumstances, the leaders are becoming an obstacle, rather than a catalyst. Their reaction is to keep, what they have achieved, thus turning them from creative individuals into the "ruling minority". From that moment on their only aim is to uphold their privileged position. Sooner or later this is causing a split in society between the ruling elite and the "internal proletariat". Frenetic control, a police state and militarism are the possible consequences. The paradox is this: because of increasing expansion, aggression and military campaigns (in order to keep society together), an empire is exhausting itself. Parallels between the Roman Empire and the current US global hegemony are but all too evident.

5. The next stage in the life of a civilization is that of decay, disintegration. First of all, it is characterized by schism in the social organism, the latter falling apart in roughly three groups: ruling minority, internal proletariat and external proletariat. The ruling elite consists of all those, who are trying to keep up the status quo, like politicians, bureaucrats, moneymakers, exploiters, militarists and those who serve them, like scientists, philosophers, teachers and artists...The internal proletariat on the other hand consists of the "masses". As long as the masses can identify itself with the aims of society, put forward by the elite, it will conform to the "general rule". However, from the first moment, that this will be not the case anymore, the same masses start to feel alienated from the society. While the majority is staying passive, trying to distract itself in escapism, adaptation, vulgarization and resignation, a new minority will either try to revolt externally through trying to bring about social change, or by taking refuge in spirituality, trying to create an inner revolution. The external proletariat on the other hand includes all those, who do not belong to the core civilization, but are living around its borders. As long as the dominant society can keep its inspiration and radiance, these "barbarians" will try to follow its example. However, from the first moment decay is setting in, these people are becoming hostile, with time working in favor of the latter...

6. There are three different responses to the decay, depending on the various groups in society. As has been said above, the ruling elite will try to establish and maintain a universal state or empire, in order to secure its interests. Note that an empire at the heights of its power does NOT correspond with a milestone/highlight in civilization! On the contrary, rather than being inspired by creative and beneficial values, it has turned to being dominated by a "degenerated" power elite, the latter only aiming at maintaining its own privileges. The characteristics of such an empire are emphasizing its "greatness", developing a myth of superiority, chauvinism and nationalism, protecting its privileged position (at the expense of others), expansion of its philosophy, "lifestyle" and rule in neighboring countries, very often - especially when feeling threatened - culminating in raw militarism. The new creative minority - part of the internal proletariat - on the other hand, has been starting to develop a new spirituality, aiming at establishing a new universal religion. Although despising the aims of society (materialism, power) it is using the facilities of the empire - its "tolerance" in order to maintain "unity", "liberties", "stability", "peace", means of communication, administration and technology - to its own advantage.

7. The third response concerns the implosion of boundaries. Extension of empire is weakening its power to keep "things together". Sooner or later the pressure on the "limes" (as the borders of the Roman Empire were called) will be mounting to a critical climax. Two factors are aggravating the situation. First of all, the guardians of the empire being forced to use the services of the external proletariat, in order to keep up the basic functions of society...secondly the spreading of high sophisticated weaponry in neighboring ("barbaric") countries*. The combination of these two factors will prove to be lethal to the empire. At such a stage developments may go dramatically fast. The hatred of the surrounding societies toward the dominant one, will unleash an uncontrollable aggression, in which the former are overturning the latter, trying to get what they can get or either destroy what they can destroy. It is the stage of chaos, trouble, (immense) suffering and the birth of a new heroism, this time on the part of the invaders. It is characterized by "dark ages", in which everything is first disintegrating, while subsequently being slowly rebuilt (something that may take centuries). The invaders - having had no experience in ruling a complicated society - appear not to be able to restore the original high standard of living. The impulse for renewal is on the other hand coming from the new religion, as being developed by the new creative minority in the last days of the original empire. Vitalized by the influx of and mixing with the former barbarians...this new religion will then be slowly penetrate the various sectors of society, transforming them according to the new teachings, starting a new round of civilization.

* Toynbee was writing this already before World War II!

8. Looking at all this, it will not be difficult to discover the parallels to the situation we are in today. We are clearly in the "latter days of the empire", indeed comparable to the time of the decay of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. Crucial is to understand the dynamics of it. Decay means, that the achievements of a certain civilization are disintegrating. They appear to be an empty bubble, a structure without a foundation. The identification with the dominant society is becoming increasing hollow and meaningless, people are thus turning from the periphery and the surface toward the center within (themselves). Trying to repair the old structure (today) will indeed prove to be idle. All energy on the other hand should be withdrawn from keeping the existing society going, including our own privileges. In a time, in which our system has proven to be suicidal - society governed by our lowest instincts: greed, profit and accumulation - this should be self-evident to every right-minded person. The essence of our position in history, is that of ego-death and rebirth of the true Self, hence we should rather be devoting ourselves with going back to the Origin. Since the main characteristic of our system, responsible for the decay is a patriarchal one, the new values to be cherished - rebirth, interconnectedness, community, love, the earth, sustainability, care, respect etc. - are inevitably feminine. Our survival is depending on them. It is corresponding with our re-discovery of the Matrix as the Ultimate Reality. The meaningful context necessary to understand our position in history mentioned above, is empowering our mission: to support "the come-back of the Great Mother on earth". Being backed up this way - the fact that every true civilization is always originating from a new spiritual impulse - is a great support indeed. The seed has been sown, the next stage is to spread the message worldwide.


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Last revising: 10/14/04