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When spirituality goes global

Andrew Cohen in Mumbai

By Joe Perez

Andrew Cohen, who is currently promoting his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment, is discussing the globalization of enlightenment on the Big Think blog. he describes how he originally traveled to India as a young man in 1984, and three years later returned to the U.S. to begin to teach enlightenment, and he draws a contrast to patterns in global spirituality today.

Whereas Americans have often sought spiritual illumination in India, Indians are now turning to Western Enlightenment.

Andrew writes in “Globalization Isn’t Just for Economists”:

The great surge of modernization in that ancient land is generating enormous stress for the multitudes who are striving to cash in on the new opportunities for prosperity. I could feel it most strongly when speaking to young people. They are under overwhelming pressure from their families to excel and conform: do well in school, get a good job, get married, have kids, send them to college, and—best case scenario—move to the USA so they can do it all in the promised land.  Three decades earlier, I had come to India to find my soul. Now young Indians want to come to America to find material success.

The most revealing incident happened at my first talk at a college in Mumbai: I noticed that the title had been changed from “Spiritual Self-Confidence” to “Self-Confidence.” I was surprised—India has always seemed to me to be the one place in the world where no one has a problem with the word “spiritual.” When I inquired as to why it had been removed, the organizers informed me that if they used the word “spiritual” in the title, young people wouldn’t come. “Spirituality is for grandparents,” I was told.

After describing how he pushed his audience of Indian young people to “think their own thoughts,” just as India’s spiritual luminaries have done, Andrew says:

If fifty years ago you were to tell somebody that Americans would teach Enlightenment in India and that Asian seekers would come to California to learn about what the Buddha taught from an American Jew, they would never have believed you. I can hardly believe it myself.

Cohen’s article is a valuable perspective on the emerging World Spirituality movement. No campaign for human liberation will be complete until (to put things much too simply) Westerners discover the riches of Eastern enlightenment and Easterners discover the riches of Western enlightenment. My point being, Spirit’s next move is drawing people from every nation into a global encounter with our True Self, and we are all doing so in ways uniquely our own.

About Joe Perez

Joe Perez is Executive Editor of Spirit's Next Move, Director of Communications and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality. He has eight years of blogging experience and has seen two of his blogs published as books including Soulfully Gay, a pioneering Integral Spirituality memoir. He is an Honors graduate of Harvard University, has studied at The Divinity School at The University of Chicago, and holds a certificate in Integral Leadership from Pacific Integral. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality.

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