|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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RELIGIOUS AND SPIRTTUAL LINKS
Certain of the old connections continue, such as with the Quakers (1) and the Order of the Cross, and this latter group is still strongly represented among senior members of the Vegetarian Society. Theosophy and Mazdaznan continue, though in a very much reduced state. A Jewish Vegetarian Society was founded in 1964. (2)
There also continues the lack of connection with the orthodox denominations; though there has been, in recent years, some stirrings of interest in the Church of England and other bodies in the animal rights debate. (3) Here, however, they have been principally motivated by the extension of the church's concern with social ethics and by a general trend in moral philosophy. Orthodox Christian bodies may take up the humanitarian or third-world aspects of vegetarianism, but not the health and spiritual ones - those are confined firmly to the unorthodox tradition. The real religious link comes with the revival of interest in religious consciousness of the late sixties and early seventies. In this the focus was strongly Indian, hippy culture was both fascinated by the artefacts of India (4) and by its old power as the polar image to western materialism. The importance of the Indian look faded in the seventies, though the fascination with Indian religion and its spiritual and philosophical concepts lived on. In some cases this took a clearly sectarian form, for example in the Hare Krishna Movement or the Divine Light Mission (both of these have vegetarian connections) for others it was more a question of gathering around a spiritual teacher, for example, the Maharishi in the late sixties of Muktananda, in the seventies. These devotees represent specific crystallisations of what was a much more general cultural phenomenon, and my concern here is less with the particular groups than with the more diffuse, non-institutional interest in consciousness that drew on Indian ideas but mixed them with aspects of western mysticism, the occult and personal growth.
This religious approach is in general well represented by the eclectic mixture of the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, first held at Olympia in 1977 and then in subsequent years; (6) by the publications of the Wrekin Trust, and by the writings of its founder, Sir George Trevelyan; by various Glastonbury groups, such as that of Ramala; and the phenomena and teachings of Findhorn. All can be subsumed under the term New Age.
The New Vegetarian expressed this sense of the seventies being at a turning point:
As we shall see this religious upsurge, though it was perceived as something radical and new, represented the continuation of themes familiar from previous periods. Thus it was perceived not as a religion - the word was often explicitly rejected - but as a philosophy or a 'way of life'. Trevelyan wrote of the New Age that it 'did not reflect a religious movement but a spiritual awakening'. (8) A vegetarian woman advertising in the personal column of Alive spoke of 'trying to understand deeper meanings of life, not in so called religious sense, but actually as things really are, beyond most people's materialistic blindfolds'. (9) Part of what this meant was: not Christianity. Almost none of the new spirituality flowed in the orthodox channels. The churches with their concern for social relevance and with their social tone - conservative, reticent, middle-aged - seemed to offer little in the way of mystical consciousness or spiritual adventure, and even less of the rhapsodic, Blakean vision extolled in the earlier writers of the counter culture. The rejection of the Christian option was largely made in ignorance of what the tradition could offer, and much of the appeal of Indian religion, as before, lay in its dramatic otherness. But also at variance with this mood were some more intrinsic aspects of Christianity; among these was the old issue of belief. What the new spiritual movement offered was not dogma but a 'possible approach to life'. 'I made it quite clear that there is no question of trying to impose or enforce belief. We are rather invited to entertain new ideas, and, if we are drawn to them, to live with them'. (10)
Secondly they reject the personal and transcendent god of the Christian tradition. Penelope Neild Smith, a well-known yoga teacher and vegan, speaking at a Wrekin Trust conference, said how many dislike the word god, suggesting as it does 'the irrelevant parts of traditional religion'. Sometimes even words like ‘spiritual being' or 'force' are avoided as too located; instead divinity is seen as within all reality and this means both the universe and the self.
Though Christianity does continue to some degree as a focus of difference, it is really secular materialism that is the powerful counter-image today. It is the existence of a spiritual reality and its importance to life that is the central assertion here.
Certain new emphases in the tradition can be noted.
The characteristic stress on inner being continues, though now increasingly allied to popular psychological conceptions. Humanistic psychology influenced by Indian ideas provides one of the bridging points to their medical ideas.
The goals of spirituality have a stronger this-worldly orientation in this period. Some of this can be seen in the way the world religions are brought into relevance and constructed into a new, essentially western synthesis (though it is one that continues the tradition of the earlier syncretism). Thus Islam, with its central themes of the total transcendence and omnipotence of God, his justice, vengeance and compassion and the social world which these endorse, makes only scant appearance and then principally through its Sufi tradition. Similarly played down are the radical world-denying aspects of Buddhism with its 'stark and frigid contrast to the materialist pantheism' of the west. (12) The Tao features in so far as it is represented as modern nature mysticism. Many of the spiritual aims of Hinduism are similarly turned around for western consumption; thus yoga, or meditation or tantra become not means to the ultimate transcendence of the world and the senses, but to a fuller existence in the world. (13) There is considerable variation in the degree to which this spirituality is 'manipulationist'; and its this-worldliness encompasses groups like EST or Insight interested in success and happiness in the here and now, as well as others more directly hostile to 'worldliness' and concerned with deeper spiritual existence, though within an immanentist framework.
Increasingly evident also is the concern with religious technique - with the doing of religion. The earlier tradition had been more cerebral, one of meetings and reading; now in the modern period, techniques like yoga (14) or ecstatic dancing (15) became increasingly influential. Not belief, but the practical means to an experiential truth is what is sought, and religion, or spirituality, is conceived primarily as a state of being.
Diet is an aspect of this concern with spiritual technique, and there is an attempt to reassert the idea of food as part of spiritual life. Seed, for example, writing in (1972) about the 'New Consciousness' notes that it draws on the ancient wisdom that 'a human being is physically the product of the food and drink which he puts into his body'. (16) Nicholas Saunders makes a similar point in his Alternative London. There is a revival of interest in fasting; (17) this is partly as a spiritual discipline - a recovery of the virtuosi techniques of the past - and partly as a means to states of expanded consciousness; though that it is at the same time seen as a health measure is characteristic of this spiritual mix. The concern over spiritual technique is part also of a new attitude to discipline generally.
a recently incarnated soul will eat 'very crudely' while a 'highly evolved Master' will eat 'very finely'.
Frequently this sense is connected with an idea of purification. Religion, being here considered something of the inner spirit only, Trevelyan writes:
The doctrines of reincarnation and karma exert a powerful appeal in these circles; (22) but they are given four important western twists. Trevelyan notes how western ideas of reincarnation are coloured by evolutionary ideas: 'Thus, the eastern "wheel of rebirth' is, in the West, transformed into a spiritual staircase, leading ultimately to a new Heaven and a new earth'. (23) Secondly, for some at least, the strict doctrine of karma is softened. Both Trevelyan and Marika McCausland speak of 'love' as above karma - 'love in short is the solvent of karma' (24) - in a way that derives from the Christian conception of 'love'. Thirdly the classic notion of metempsychosis as including the passage of the human soul into this animal body is rarely, if ever mentioned; and indeed many of the vegetarian spiritual groups - significantly - reject such a return to animal existence: this does not act as a direct reason for not eating meat; avoidance is related not to human souls but to ideas of spiritual unity of the universe as including animals, or to the avoidance of the spiritually regressive animal vibration. Lastly, reincarnation is here operating within the very individualistic traditions of the west. The goal of one's lives is the evolution of spirit, or possibly the evolution of the human race, rather than the total extinction of being in nirvana. Western reincarnation also envisages a greater carry-over of personality from one life to another than is accepted in the east.
Great stress is laid as before on ancient wisdom. Partly this is the perennial appeal of secret gnosls, though it carries also the sense of knowledge we have lost through the hubris of modern technological man. It appears also in this milieu in a muted 'noble savage' version, whereby 'primitive' societies are shown to have techniques and approaches to life that can be compared very favourably with those of the west; health and psychological well-being are a particular focus, sometimes with good evidence, but sometimes without - thus it is sometimes sweepingly asserted that there is no schizophrenia, or that childbirth is painless, in tribal societies.
The impetus behind the approach is strongly imrnanantist; all objects are potentially means to the new understanding: 'Every form is a housing for Being. Each is therefore a window into the eternal worlds' whether a flower, a crystal etc. meditation, on a single object can lead one through to an empirical recognition that we as human beings are intimately and inextricably part of the whole of nature'. The macrocosm/microcosm image once again underwrites the larger oneness: 'In this way, we proceed to discover that Planet Earth is truly alive, a sentient creature with her own breathing, blood stream, glands and consciousness. We human beings are integrally part of this organism, like blood corpuscles in a body. (25) All things become spiritually significant: 'The quality of Being permeates everything, suffuses everything. Divinity is therefore inherent everywhere'. (26)
Great emphasis is placed on all forms of patterning, The landscape with its icy lines, its prehistoric trackways and megaliths and its symbolic field patterns, becomes a source of meaning. (27) There is renewed interest in all symbolic shapes and patterns, whether gazes, tantric symbols, or maps of the spirit, arid these are felt to reach to a reality beyond verbal understanding and to take upon themselves a magical, iconic quality. (28) Nature itself is resacralised. The most noted example of this is Findhorn. (29) Here man's spiritual work was interpreted as a process of co-operation with nature so as to assist in its flowering.
Gardening becomes a means to the union of the two worlds: 'To create Heaven on earth, as we were told to do, it was necessary to be firmly grounded in both worlds'. (31) Through co-operating with the spirits of nature, Eden could be recovered, and Caddy reports a devas saying: 'Your way is true and simple, the way it was in the beginning when man and I walked hand in hand, talking to one another.’ (32) For Spangler, Findhorn reasserts the ancient idea of God moving in nature. (33)