Why have paraphrased quotations from Eastern religions become so popular on social media?
Ever since the Beatles (et al.) went to India to study transcendental meditation in 1968, western culture has seen the wisdom of Eastern mysticism paraphrased and popularized in books, magazines, social media, and self-help, “pop” psychology.
Why have these teachings been welcomed and integrated into western culture?
Let’s look at one such credenda as a point of focus.
Over the past year or two, I’ve seen the following moxie in various forms, quoted, reposted, and reblogged ubiquitously around the Western sphere.
“Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart.”
Trite power quotes like these seem to be especially popular among females. For example, see this commentary from Embracing Inspiration.
Apparently, this concept arose from within eastern mysticism.
“My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart. You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality. The time has come. Your time. To live, to celebrate, and to see the goodness that you are. You, my child, are divine. You are pure. You are sublimely free. You are God in disguise, and you are always perfectly safe. Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light, and breathe into the goodness that you are.” ~ Swami Kripaluanandaji
If I may read my own understanding of Truth into Swami’s words, I would say he is describing one’s subjective experience of accepting one’s self, experiencing a sense of unconditional love, and coming into the presence of God. If I’m right about this, then it does describe a subjective truth, but the spiritual Truth of Swami’s words have been lost in the translation. I would substitute the word “judge” with “condemn”, and instead of the alarming phrase, “You are God in disguise”, I would put this sentiment as, “You are known and accepted by God”.
But without taking the liberty to reinterpret the underlying meaning, these statements stand in direct opposition to what the Bible says [words of Christ in red],
…about judging one’s self.
“For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” ~ 1st Corinthians 11:31-32 (NKJV)
…about constructing personal standards.
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” ~ Mark 4:24-25 (NIV)
…about expectations from others.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~ Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)
…about humility and forgiveness.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” ~ Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
If the wicked servant had ever taken a moment to engage in transcendental meditation and judge himself as one receiving unmerited mercy, perhaps he would have escaped the second judgment by the master.
After recounting the scriptures above, a second glance at Swami’s admonition seems effeminate and foolish. But if that were the end of the story, then how could such teachings ever gain popularity in the East?
Having lived in Asia for 15 years, I might generously presume that these foundational concepts of being indebted to the good graces of others, judging one’s self, constructing personal standards, forming reasonable expectations from others, and exercising humility and forgiveness, are a basic, integral part of many eastern cultures – something that is well understood, but would be tedious and mundane to recount. As such, these concepts are therefore assumed as prerequisite knowledge for the proper understanding of Swami’s admonitions to accept and forgive one’s self, which is a personal truth that is commonly understated or ignored in eastern cultures and therefore needs to be emphasized.
In contrast to eastern cultures, the foundational concepts that are well understood by those in western cultures are confidence, self-reliance, independence, individuality, and personal liberty. The problem with members of a western culture citing such teachings from eastern mysticism as axioms to live by, is that it exalts the self without first laying the background fundamentals of one’s place and responsibility in one’s family and culture. Given the natural female desire for affirmation, it is easy to see how feminist culture can hijack eastern mysticism to offer moxies for “female empowerment” and the “strong independent woman” mascot. As a result, key truths offered by eastern mysticism become an excuse for irresponsibility, and a justification for entitlement for those in the west.
But if these same females had grown up in a culture having a strong patriarchical social structure, such as filial piety in the far East, or the caste system in India, where women are routinely considered to be inferior to males and burdened by heavy expectations for performance, they would then understand the true wisdom of Swami’s words [paraphrase mine]…
“My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Every time you condemn yourself you break your own heart. You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality. The time has come. Your time. To live, to celebrate, and to see the goodness that you are. You, my child, are divine. You are pure. You are sublimely free. You are known and accepted by God, and you are always perfectly safe. Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light, and breathe into the goodness that you are.”
This is truly an important insight that needs to be shared with humble Easterners of modest means who are heavily constrained by cultural demands. But liberated western women have no such discipline in their repertoire of life experiences, and therefore, they miss out on the life-giving truth of an authentic self-acceptance resulting from a transcendental meditative introspection.
So you see, the cultural context makes all the difference.