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  • Barry Shirley

"Are we destined to be always separated into tribes?"

Hi Guys. In this September 2022 blog (Issue 32), I contemplate the question; ‘Are we destined to be always separated into tribes?’’.

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. So, if you are beginning to realise there is more to this life than you think, and you have the merest hint of something happening in yourself – read on.

These monthly blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality/philosophy and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched). I must emphasise that I am simply coordinating the knowledge and information that I am able to access, gather and present with lots of excerpts. I will also include text from my previous blogs as appropriate.

I have often thought we are too consumed with being part of a group, nationality, culture, religion etc., even though we are basically all the same, with the same wants and needs of stability, love, peace and security. Unfortunately, modern media, feeds us so much of the consequences of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic and dwells on our perceived differences which are then wrongly rationalised into some sort of tribal trap. I ask then, are we destined to be living in ‘tribes’ which appear to pose more complications than the benefits? – is there an alternative?

Tribes are variously described, and the Wikipedia reference provides a classification of four groupings. These groupings are then further considered to be comprised as, …’as political unit formed from an organisation of families (including clans and lineages) based on social or ideological solidarity. Membership of a tribe may be understood simplistically as being an identity based on factors such as kinship ("clan"), ethnicity ("race"), language, dwelling place, political group, religious beliefs, oral traditionand/or cultural practices.

How does polarization then occur between tribal groups in modern society? In a 2001 interview of Dr Deepak Chopra by Linda Richards (editor of the US January magazine) on the release of his then book ‘How to Know God - The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. Chopra was indicating how a lot of persons are curious about their spiritual journey and are seeking out guidance;

Q. “And a lot of people are looking right now. That's part of what you're talking about.”

A. “A lot of people are looking because they're not satisfied with the old answers. I mean, if you're really honest, all our religions come from a period of history when we were tribal. They're all tribal religions: they're about the tribe. All of them. It's not just Judaism, but the Eastern religions as well. They evolved from a tribal culture. The fact is that they were meant to nurture and make the tribe feel secure and that's why we've had religious conflict: tribal war. Today also, all the conflict in the world is still the same thing: It's tribal and it's religious. So, as we move into a more global culture, I think people are slowly and hopefully going to go beyond their tribal nature. It's going to take a while, because it's so programmed in our genes. We don't call it tribalism, we call it nationalism, it's the same thing. If you're Canadian or from the U.S., Indian or Chinese and the whole thing about whose fault was it and: ‘You have to say sorry.’ ‘No, you have to say sorry.’ It's all a very male, adolescent thing.

Q. “How do we move beyond that?"

A. "It'll happen. Slowly maybe. A couple of generations.”

That was 2001, and in more recent times Chopra again describes the problems associated with the degradation of political discourse and rationalisation by people arising from the amount of disinformation and misinformation that bombards us 24/7. Most of this ‘information’ is derived from conspiracies that influence public opinion along the lines of the ‘them and us’ concept (also affected by social media algorithms). However, he has recently restated that he still holds hope that there are enough conscious people in every country that we can be optimistic about reaching a tipping point to achieve a critical mass of consciousness (i.e. being aware of the higher Self).

He states; “The difficulty is that tribal thinking carries with it a package of benefits: you get to belong, to agree with others, to share a common foe, to feel self-righteous and angry at the same time. These are powerful incentives not to change.

Likewise, tribal thinking brings secondary benefits, but one shouldn’t overlook that “us versus them” thinking is toxic and unhealthy to begin with. Where else did every poisonous legacy of war, violence, long-held resentments, and sworn enmity come from? By giving up tribalism, you become a unit of peace consciousness. I can see no other way to achieve genuine healing. You must first see that the world’s wrongs have their seed in you. Only then does the familiar axiom of “Become the change you want to see in the world” stop being a cliché.

In the yogic tradition of India, a crucial quality related to peace consciousness is Ahimsa, usually translated as non-violence. Ahimsa is associated with Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent civil rights movement associated with Martin Luther King. But at heart Ahimsa is about the bond of loving compassion that is natural in each of us when we abandon the seductive allure of false consciousness, in particular the state of separation that engenders all divisions, either inside ourselves or in the outside world. We accept “us versus them” ultimately because there is a “them” inside ourselves. It consists of the shadow self we hide form and deny, which harbors hatred, fear, aggression, and the dread of death.”

Currently, there are many countries that are experiencing extremes of political influence and public opinion basically arising from recent waves of refugee migrations. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has recently been criticised for his right wing extreme and opposing views on immigration, non-Christian values and LGBTQ rights. He is a self-described illiberal leader, eroding democratic institutions in his own country – combining cultural conservatism with nationalism. He is recently quoted as saying; “we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race”.

Are we in a ‘tribal trap’ and never-ending cultural wars? Do we have enough individual empathy for humanity to take us through these problems? Aren’t we all ‘climbing the same mountain’, as it were? Being aware of the higher Self and being conscious, rather than unconscious, would appear to be the answer.

The following cartoon is by Matt Golding (Melbourne based political cartoonist for the Age Newspaper) and illustrates how our individual and collective journeys are all for the same end.

Along a similar theme, Australian broadcaster, James Valentine has written a beautiful opinion piece on how he has faith in humanity (reproduced as follows – July 10, 2022);

“I’m not religious, but my faith is beyond belief:

What do the 39 per cent of Australians who ticked the non-religious box on census night believe? Well firstly, we non-religious are not a gang. We don’t have meetings. We don’t even have a Facebook page. Although maybe some of them are getting together and just not telling me about it.

So, I can only tell you what I believe. I can’t answer for the other 9,945,000 Australians who are not Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jews, Muslim, Hindu, Jains or Zoroastrian. (Apologies to all faiths omitted).

To say I’m non-religious doesn’t make much sense to me. I may as well describe myself as non-reptile or non-mineral. I am not what I am not.

I’m neither against religion nor for religion. What I don’t have, that the religious do, is faith. I don’t mind if you have faith. I’m not anti-faith. And maybe some with faith ticked the non-religious box. They believe in a spiritual realm, an afterlife, reincarnation, or a great Creator. They worship, pray, meditate, commune with the ineffable but eschew religion in the sense of an institution. Therefore, non-religious. That’s not me, but hey, you do you, as the Instagrammers say.

But then what do I believe in? Is it all dusty facts and figures like Dickens’ Gradgrind? Am I an angry, rationalist atheist like Richard Dawkins? Am I a pleasure-seeking libertine of shallow morals, using people for my own ends, uncaring of consequence? These are common assumptions about the non-believer, but I’m not the negative of those with a creed.

With no faith, religion or spiritual practice, I believe in love, hope, truth and my fellow humans. I’m driven by wonder, joy, curiosity, knowledge, wisdom. I believe in equality. Of opportunity of education, of access to water, food, shelter. I believe in human rights, the rule of law, voting, reason and respect.

I don’t want to hurt anyone. Dignity is good. I don’t believe in guilt and shame. I don’t believe that some are evil, and some are good. I think we are all capable of both.

Love yourself. Love your neighbour. Find compassion for yourself, your family, your friends and then perhaps the whole world. I’ll take the insights of the seers and the priests.

I like reason, science, information. Honesty and trust are good things to strive for.

I learn, I listen, I talk, I observe, I pay attention, I try to understand. Be engaged with your family, your friends, your world.

What we have right here right now is enough. It is. I don’t know how it is. I don’t need to know. I don’t need a meaning. Meaning doesn’t make my next breath any more amazing or desirable. I’m born, I don’t know why. I will die, I don’t know when. And I cannot explain what it is to be alive.

When I am no longer in this strange sustaining mechanism of blood and bone, of impulse and emotion, of electrons and electrolytes, I don’t know where I’ll be. The flesh will atomise back into the universe. How wonderful.

I look around. There are stars, birds, other humans, music, beaches, bush, animals, ocean, rivers, mountains, solar systems, galaxies, black holes, dark matter – what a time to be alive! I’m inspired by the banal wonders of a blue sky and a smile. I live for the moments of deep connection and love. I try to inhabit a world of laughter and happiness. I react with pain when I see pain. I don’t know how so many endure suffering and trauma. I don’t know if I could.

I hate injustice, bullying, greed and tyranny. I’m inspired that we bend towards solving and fixing and healing.

I love this flawed and fractured world. I love this moment right now. And this one. And, however many more there are to come.

So, when I say I don’t have faith, I guess that’s not true. All of the above are things I take on faith and trust. But it’s you I put my faith in, and it’s you I trust.

Sometimes that doesn’t work out. But not that often.”

Eastern philosophy and Vedanta (i.e. the most ancient scriptures of India. Its basic teaching is that our real nature is divine.) in particular, can provide guidelines for humanity. The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand plus years old. The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self, it does this with dialogue between Krishna, as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self, (The Gita is considered a mostly secular practical guide on living a spiritual life. The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds representing a blueprint for solving the ethical and moral struggles of human life).

At this stage I normally provide quotes from various chapters of the Gita and the translation or transliteration that goes with the original text to illustrate my contemplation of the subject in this particular blog post. However, I thought It would be more useful to provide some comments from Dr Jack Hawley on his initial discovery of the Bhagavad Gita on his visit to India many decades ago. Dr Hawley is an American author, consultant and teacher who wrote his seminal book on the Gita called, ‘The Bhagavad Gita - A walkthrough for Westerners – (2006 & 2011)’.

The following is an excerpt from his 2011 edition of the book:

Lessons Learned by Jack Hawley:

“Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were traveling across India's Deccan plateau in a non-air-conditioned taxi in the middle of summer. Late in the day, wet and wrinkled, we stopped at a modest guesthouse to quench our thirst and lay our heads on a pillow. Thirsting also for something to read, I noticed a lone book, The Bhagavad Gita, resting on the only shelf in the room. I had been introduced to this ancient text some ten years earlier and had read a few memorable excerpts, but the teachings had never gained a foothold in my awareness.

As I flipped through its dog-eared pages, I stopped at chapter seven where Krishna, the heroic Divinity figure of the Gita's story, begins to describe the very nature of the Divine. I was enthralled and began reading aloud to Louise,

Explaining that this was “God” talking.

  • I am Pure Consciousness, the underlying essence of all elements and beings.

  • I am the innate nature of everything.

  • In pure water I am the sweet taste.

  • In the sun and moon I am the radiance.

  • In the very centre of human beings, I live as virility and courage.

  • I am the slight, delicate scent, the sweet fragrance of the earth.

  • I am the brilliance in both fire and sun, and I am the light of Divinity in all beings.

  • I am the subtle spirit in spiritual practices that gives them their existence -- the love in the devotee, the simple austerity in the ascetic, the sweet sense of charity in the giver.

This narrative on Divinity picks up several times throughout the book, but in those first few words of chapter seven we are plunged pleasantly into what has become a lifelong love affair with the wondrous Bhagavad Gita.

Since that encounter in the guesthouse, I have researched and written three books on the Gita. This one is the basis, the source, the reservoir of practical spiritual knowledge from which the others rise. Over these years we have travelled the world lecturing and doing workshops on the Gita’s teachings.

Five Beguiling Lessons:

With the advent of New World Library's new paperback edition of the book, I would like to share some of things I have learned over the years.

1. I learned that there is a crucial difference between regular and Spiritual reading.

This difference makes a big difference. Our everyday reading, which is part and parcel of living and working in the world, is primarily for gaining worldly information. Spiritual reading has loftier purposes -- to reposition us beyond the worldly and lead us into spaces the mind could never imagine, to touch the Divine in each of us. We may skim during regular reading, but we need to approach our spiritual reading with a higher awareness. I once met a young man in a local restaurant in India. His English was good, but he had a thick European accent. I found myself leaning a bit closer to make sure I could hear. He told me how much he was enjoying reading and rereading my Bhagavad Gita book.

I asked how he liked the German translation. "Oh," he said, "I'm reading it in English -- and I like reading it in English because it makes me think. If I was reading it in German, I would go through it too fast, like I always do, and then, when finished, I would fool myself that I had understood It. But that would not be true! ‘Reading it in English, not my native language, makes me think about every idea and word, and ask myself, 'Do I truly understand this?' The extra work puts it

deeper inside me, and I end up knowing it better."

We all zoom through our reading piles as he does. Whether the content is important or not, we click into a mindless, autopilot mode and thus take in a tiny percentage of what we skim. Speeding might be appropriate for most reading jobs, but speed kills spiritual reading. We have to lean a bit nearer to it.

2. I learned that two of the points I made in the earlier edition need to be emphasized.

First, contrary to its title, this book is not a simple "walkthrough." When the book first came out, I wrote in the Introduction that the stroll may not be bump free. In retrospect, that wasn't clear enough. The book is written in easy English, but reading it entails positive effort. One reviewer said it's a book that asks much and gives back so much more. Moving through it is a great exercise for your spirit, and like any exercise, physical or soul based, you

emerge in better shape.

Second, when I wrote the how-to-read-it pointers in the Introduction a decade ago, I conveyed the idea that getting the most out of this book is largely a matter of one's attitude and mood. At that time, I sensed the importance of this, but now, having lived with the book in the real world, I know it! One's frame of mind while reading truly does make a difference. So, when you read the Introduction (especially the last two paragraphs on page xxiv), inhale the suggestions -- turn your reading into a receptive meditation.

3. I learned that the spiritual journey is the central expedition of your life, and this book may well be the most important reading you ever do. Period.

4. I learned to communicate the Gita's vastness by narrowing my own focal point.

A few years ago, I struggled mightily for days, weeks, trying to write an article on what the Gita's splendour and utility mean to me. The prospect of composing yet another intellectual analysis or codification of the principles bored me. As I pondered, an ancient voice within me whispered, "Share your love." The aha doors opened....

I love the Gita's basic goodness, and how it pushes me beyond merely striving to be a good person, toward becoming my own Divinity within. I love that it provides me with page after page of methods for calling forth that extreme goodness. And

I love how it continually reminds me to do that.

I love my inner peacefulness whenever I enter the Gita's teachings. I love how almost all my anger has been eliminated, and how worldly agitations are largely things of the past for me.

I love the Gita for its depth, its breadth, and mostly its height -- the way it pulls me upward. I love it for its humanness as well as its sublimity.

I love the ultra-honesty in the Gita about religion -- how it lives in the open space beyond religious dogma and yet embraces a reverence for the scriptural teachings of all faiths.

I love the Gita's insistence that we consciously live by our own inner truth. I love how it doesn't compromise an iota on this, how it won't put up with any excuses where truth is concerned.

I love the Gita's clarity about how we have to live with the consequences of our actions, good or bad, but with no hint of punishment. I love how it neither excuses nor overlooks humanity's dark side, and yet doesn't dwell there. Sanskrit, the precise, spiritual language of the Gita, has no word for damnation.

I love the antiquity of the Gita, appreciating that it precedes by thousands of years the societies we Westerners think of as the cradles of civilization. This isn't merely "older is better" snobbery. The Bhagavad Gita has passed the persistent tests of countless centuries, and yet it remains the basis for all the

spiritual teachings known in the world today.

I love the Gita's teachings on acceptance -- not mere compliance, but acceptance as an overpowering state of mind and way of being, a receptiveness so elevated that one's life forever soars when touched by the magic of it. This all-embracing acceptance is the most shining facet of love, the very essence of spiritual surrender.

I love the happiness in the Gita and thoroughly appreciate its careful explanation of how to attain real bliss. I also appreciate that it lays out what happiness is not and is so clear about the pitfalls in the way of lasting happiness.

I love that the all-powerful Divinity described in the Gita is loving and nonpunitive.

I love that the Gita looks death (and life) squarely in the eye and offers a straightforward system for not just conquering our fear of death but triumphing over death itself!

Finally, I love the Gita's emphasis on application rather than airy theology -- insisting that putting the teachings into practice will lead to a happier, more graceful life.

5. I learned that there's an enthralling paradox in all this. In the final analysis, it's not about this book, and it's not even about the brilliant, never-changing principles and teachings of The Bhagavad Gita itself. It's about you. It's about you, learning to rid yourself of your worldly suffering and find true happiness. It's about you, learning to slip quietly into your own true Self within. The only real destination in life is your inner Divinity. In the end it's all you have."


  • “Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal “— Dr Deepak Chopra – US/Indian born Neuro-Endocrinologist – spiritual teacher and author – (b.1946).

  • “We are all the leaves on one tree. We are all the waves of one sea.” – Thich Nhat Hanh – Vietnamese Buddhist monk – teacher, author – known as the father of mindfulness – (1926/2022).

  • “The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore... if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; of other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother; not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. This is the challenge to look at the world from a different perspective.” – Dr David Suzuki – Canadian scientist, environmentalist (b. 1936).

  • “Look at all the conflict between tribes, nations, and religions. They need their enemies, because they provide the sense of separateness on which their collective egoic identity depends.” – Eckhart Tolle – German born spiritual teacher, author of his seminal book, ‘The Power of Now’ – (b. 1948).

  • “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” (shortened by others to; “be the change you wish to see in the world.”) - Mahatma Gandhi. – Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, political ethicist, employed non-violent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule, inspiring movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. – (1869/1948).

Take away

  • It can be assumed that we culturally want to promote our tribe! This mechanism appears to run deep, beyond obvious factors of difference. It doesn’t appear to be personal but depends on the group you belong to. It kicks in as soon as there is competition for something – maybe territory or food etc. Just like the ego, tribes were essential to keeping us alive in the past and both aspects involve an ancient psychology.

  • Seek that human connection and common bond – beyond politics – nationality – religion – beliefs – culture etc – diminish the tribal urge and assess things rationally.

  • Also, diminish the ego by suppressing the overthinking and worry about the future, which does not exist yet, likewise the past which is history – you only have this moment – live in it fully! – be conscious (rational awareness) not unconscious (i.e. dwelling on feelings/emotions of pain, anxiety, fear, anger and conflict).

  • As previously suggested by Dr Chopra, it may take many generations for humanity to achieve a tipping point to universal consciousness (see blog post 31). In the meantime, however, there appears to be a rising number of people reaching to their higher Self and understanding their true nature - which is heartening (and I hope the blog helps people get there).

  • Notwithstanding the wars, conflicts, modern day imperialism, population upheavals, extreme weather events, hateful propaganda (i.e. oppressive regimes always need enemies), starvation, poverty, terrorism, culture wars, extremism, callous self-interest, fraud, corruption etc – there is still hope, for people to embrace their humanity and live compassionately and peacefully with each other – idealistic? Possibly, but possible.

  • If on a spiritual journey (which is an inward journey into humanity itself), seek some guidance (maybe the Gita or similar texts – or even your own intuition) to assist you in your search for the ultimate truth (i.e. unconditional universal love).

  • If you have to be in a tribe, be in the human tribe!

  • Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for achieving overall well-being. If already practicing yoga and meditation – go deeper – both higher vibration activities! Nourish your mind body and spirit!

Compiled by Baz Shirley.


*See also:

Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all my previous posts on:

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