What characterizes civilization is not the presence of comforts, but the purification of consciousness
Many people consider as civilized societies that have comforts such as cars, cellphones and computers. Societies without these are deemed primitive, backward and uncivilized.
Such equalization of comforts with civilization overlooks the reality that people having all such comforts are still capable of the barbarism normally associated with the uncivilized. In fact, the very technology that produced those comforts can be abused by tyrants to perpetrate perversities of the kind that would make even barbarians shudder. A chilling example is Nazi Germany with its state-of-the-art technology and its gas chambers – and the Holocaust.
Those whose consciousness is purified by spiritual practices don’t succumb to the selfishness that drives materialists to competitive hostility towards others.
Echoing the historical record, Gita wisdom underscores that material advancement is no guarantee of civilization. The Bhagavad-gita in its sixteenth chapter describes godless materialists who attain position, power and prosperity – all signs of material advancement. Yet the Gita (16.18) underscores that because their consciousness is defiled by dangerous passions such as arrogance, lust and anger, they act in envy and animosity towards others, thus imitating the ways of the uncivilized.
In contrast, the Gita (12.13) characterizes advanced devotees who have purified themselves of such base passions as benefactors of everyone. Such benevolence characterizes not just devotees but all serious spiritualists, as the Gita (05.25; 12.04) indicates. Those whose consciousness is purified by spiritual practices don’t succumb to the selfishness that drives materialists to competitive hostility towards others. Spiritualists see others not as their competitors but as their partners, for they perceive everyone as linked with the supreme spiritual reality and on the same journey towards that reality.
What makes people civilized is the purification of their consciousness – purification that is manifested in their conduct as service attitude, selflessness and spiritual focus of life. Those with such purified consciousness may be with or without modern comforts, but they are actually civilized.
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