During the 1960s and probably earlier, Indian Gurus flocked to the West to spread their message
Dressed in everyday, humble Indian clothing, they came to deliver a simple directive to our Western culture embroiled in complexity, greed and money. It was a message of simplicity, intelligence and common sense.
Those Gurus in their loose kaftans, beads and sandals must have appeared quite exotic. But, they were not dressing in any special way by Indian cultural standards. Their straightforward outward appearance was a big part of their message to us.
The correct response to this may have been to wear a t-shirt and jeans, a leather jacket, or perhaps a suit. If they had thought deeply about it, the hippies should have begun worn outfits that symbolised their commonality with the rest of society. An even better option might have been to keep dressing exactly how they had previously.
In typical Western-style, though, we missed that message of fitting in and being humble.
Instead, the hippies wore the same clothes as their Indian teachers, creating a cultural gap between themselves and the rest of society. They dressed in a way that supposedly represented spirituality.
Such clothing went on to represent hippies, tree huggers and lefties. These outfits attracted judgment from society and created a mental separation in the wearer from society itself. The transmission of Eastern meditation methods to the West couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
Gradually spirituality took off on a cultural tangent of its own
The way people dressed, the way people spoke, the incense they burned, the music they listened to and the people they hung out with all came to represent the ‘culture of spirituality.
The result was that the mainstream of society, the ordinary people who needed it the most, became suspicious of spiritual methods. At the same time, the hippies came to claim ownership of spirituality for themselves.
Spirituality became something separate from the mainstream — an escape from the world to a place where we don’t have to get a job, we don’t have to pay our taxes; a place where we can hang out and smoke weed all day and talk meaningless philosophy with our friends, meditate on purple light, chakras and grow our beards indefinitely.
Has spirituality always had this issue?
It does seem that our society is unique in that spirituality is so detached from mainstream life. The very fact that there is a term for it: ‘Spirituality’ really demonstrates that we have not managed to understand what it is as a society.
The more we try to escape from our situation, the more difficult it becomes to live in this world.
Spirituality in this form — as something distinct, as some solution or key that will allow us to escape from the pain of life — is driving a wedge between the natural world that is in front of us and our ability to be fully in it and at peace with it.
So the hippies have a lot to answer for. Many of that generation will tell you that they are responsible for introducing spirituality to the West, and without them, we would all be doomed. That isn’t true. The fact is, they screwed it up. It was supposed to be for everyone, but they stole it for themselves.
Still, you can’t blame them. It was new, and like small children with new toys, they innocently ran with it in a fun way rather than a practical way, and now we are living with the consequences of that.