Cultural Harmony through Women and the Five Fundamentals
Last fall at a local college campus, the laughter from a group of diverse students caught my attention. They were from various cultural backgrounds: Hispanic, African American, Asian, European/Caucasian. A young man approached them—large, ebony, with intellectual-looking glasses—and was greeted with surprise and a high five by a skateboarding-toting Hispanic student. They exclaimed that they remembered each other from middle school. I watched as a young Caucasian woman shyly approached the students and was welcomed with quiet greetings. An atmosphere of lively friendliness and harmony radiated throughout the whole area.
I thought— what a refreshing counterpoint to today’s clashes between various cultures in our society!
I started reflecting: What is culture? I flashed back to when I was an undergrad and first heard Maharishi describe culture, cultural integrity, and harmony. Maharishi explained that the expressed features of cultures—language, music, arts, foods, clothing, architecture—arise from the unique laws of nature of geography and climate from where these cultures evolved. These laws are “the expression of the underlying intelligence of Nature that promotes growth and peace in a particular area.”
But what is the deeper purpose of culture, in general? Maharishi explained that “cultural values are those that culture life, upholding a right sense of values and supporting the life of everyone in the evolutionary direction.” The ultimate purpose of every culture is to guide us to unfold our full human potential, to connect us with the source of life that underlies us all and reflect it in our own individual way. Maharishi felt it was important to honor and uphold our own unique cultural heritage while at the same time learning from other cultures. In our multicultural world, this approach is vital.
Maharishi taught five principles of cultural integrity and harmony: stability, adaptability, integration, purification and growth.
Since the cultures of the world are like members of a world family, one way to understand these principles is in terms of individuals interacting within a healthy family unit. Each member of a family is unique. When secure and stable within themselves, they are naturally open and appreciative of other family members, learning from each other. They are flexible, adaptable, and able to integrate into their own lives useful and life-supporting qualities from each other. Values that are not life-supporting are eliminated or purified away. Each member, as well as the family as a whole, thereby evolves, matures, flourishes, grows.
These characteristics also apply to larger cultural groups. A stable culture is adaptable—appreciating and learning from other cultures. Integrating the best values, dissolving (or purifying away) those that are not life-enhancing, cultures are able to grow. This happens in multicultural neighborhoods, schools, cities and countries. On a global scale, we evolve together, becoming a world family. The American Indian Lakota tradition cherishes the perspective that “we are all related” – Mitakuye Oyasin. The Vedic tradition upholds the value Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, “the world is my family.”
I recently attended an event hosted by a Maryland Turkish-American organization called ATFA that invited local residents to a meal and educational program. Dismayed by the extremely negative actions by groups that have usurped their cultural teachings and values for violent ends, they reached out to their neighbors to show the true side of their culture. In addition to their lively intellects, a hallmark of their culture I enjoyed was their gracious hospitality. They greeted us warmly and shared a delicious homemade meal. Mostly young men and women professionals, they eagerly offered friendship and imparted knowledge about their culture.
What stays with me the most from that evening are the comfortable, friendly feelings that emanated from the women, who connected with me and each other through smiles, gentle laughter, and conversations about our lives. We women, though appearing different on the outside in terms of dress and accent, felt a sense of genuine connection, sharing qualities and experiences that are fundamentally similar, such as nurturing our children, enjoying a lively interest in knowledge, promoting education, and upholding wisdom and spiritual values that support harmony and peace. These were women of strong religious and cultural values mutually interested in sharing with and learning from other women.
Although usually unacknowledged, women are at the core of upholding cultural values. American writer Mary Austin, in examining letters and stories of her female pioneering ancestors, observed that—in contrast to what happened among men on the battlefield and in the marketplace—it was the values and spirituality shared by women “around the hearth” that were to determine events in democracy, coordinate society, and carry on culture. (Earth Horizon)
British writer, cultural critic, and scholar Kathleen Raine shared a similar observation. In her travels she realized that she learned far more about a culture from the village grandmother than from the academic study of that culture’s philosophy. (Inner Journey of the Poet).
These days, women pass on cultural values “around the hearth” or the kitchen table, in addition to many other ways. Women continue in their role as bearers of culture: nurturing individuals and society in ways that are most beneficial to life.
Women tend to be attuned to the feelings of others—the “fine-feeling level,” as Maharishi called it. Our feelers are out to make sure individual voices—whether within the family, neighborhood, place of work, or political body—are heard, respected, attended to, and often integrated into harmonious collaboration.
Women’s leadership style is often caring, creative and harmonizing, and tends to be not so motivated by ego. A contributor to Forbes.com writes: “The most successful women leaders don’t seek to become the star of the show—but they enable others to create a great show. …being in the spotlight is not what drives them—but rather it’s the ability to influence positive outcomes….”
“I have found that many women leaders enjoy inspiring others to achieve…. Women leaders with a nurturing nature are good listeners and excellent networkers/connectors. They…support a collaborative leadership style that melds the thinking and ideas of others.”
“Women are usually the ones to secure the foundational roots of the family and to protect family and cultural traditions from wavering. They provide leadership within the home and in the workplace to assure that legacies remain strong by being fed with the right nutrients and ingredients.”
Referring to the women in his own family he writes, “It is because of the women in our family that we are well-organized, full of love, spiritually aligned and well-balanced. We are by no means a perfect family, but we are a modern family who embraces traditions even as we adapt to changing times.”
More than ever, in our multicultural country and world, we as women need to honor, embrace, and rise to our creative role as nurturers, collaborators, and harmonizers. There is so much potential for rich mutual learning and growing, but there is also potential for misunderstanding, tension, and eruptions of conflict. Just as women are so often the harmonizers in the smaller unit of families, we need to embrace our role as harmonizers in the larger families of our cities, nations, and the world.
The practice of Transcendental Meditation cultivates harmony through experience of the source of harmony. When we transcend, we settle down to the field of silence within—identified by both modern physics and by the Vedic tradition as the “home of all the laws of nature” – which gives rise to life and guides it in an evolutionary direction. With regular experience, we imbibe its nourishing values of life-supporting energy and intelligence. This “home of all the laws of nature” silently coordinates all the myriad aspects of life in a harmonious way like a cosmic computer—ranging from the vastly immense movements of the galaxies to the immensely significant functioning of our DNA, and all levels of life, including human cultures.
When we as individuals or cultures open ourselves to this home of all the laws of nature, we become strong, secure, stable. From the practice of TM, as stress, tension, anxiety, and depression dissolve, we grow in stability. Our true colors shine. We become our best selves.
This inner stability naturally allows us to be more open to others – flexible, appreciative, learning from each other – adapting to positive qualities from each other. As individuals or as a culture, we become better listeners, willing and wanting to integrate, coordinate perspectives, working for creative, harmonious solutions. These qualities allow us to inspire others to grow.
As we contact our common source in the “home of all the laws of nature,” and grow strong in its nourishing values, our ability to see good naturally unfolds. We grow wiser and stronger in our seminal role as beacons of upholding life, in strengthening both cultural integrity and multicultural harmony.
To live one’s culture, one must live according to Natural Law. All activity in nature begins from the common ground of silence which is found in the mind’s settled state of awareness. Through the TM technique, whenever we reach the settled state of mind we get some blessing from the home of all the laws of nature, and our actions become more evolutionary. The basis of growth is culture, and the basis of culture is life according to Natural Law. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
The world has profound potential to become a better place. I experienced this firsthand in our multicultural community on my way to the library to write this blog. Riding my bike out into my street, I stopped to receive a hug from a neighbor from Gabon, West Africa, as she waited for her grandchildren at the school bus stop. Further along, as I navigated my bike through an office parking lot, a middle-aged Hispanic woman called out, HELLO HONEY! Parking my bike at the library, I acknowledged the gentle smile and nod that an elderly Indian man gave me. The Asian woman at the mini café returned my change with a graceful gesture, giving this mundane exchange a gracious ceremonial flavor. While I sat writing, an older Caucasian woman walked by briskly, lighting up in a smile as her eyes caught mine. A young man held an adorable African American baby girl—and as I admired her, he explained to me proudly that this was his niece. A Sikh mother, patiently trying to calm her boisterous toddler—dressed in bright yellow cotton and a turban—broke into a smile as I gave her a knowing grin of encouragement.
What a rich and friendly microcosm – giving us hope for harmony in the world! Not ignorant of the devastating turbulence between and within many nations today, we can nonetheless make a start: we can tap into the harmony deep within ourselves as a foundation to create harmony, healing, and progress in our communities and our world.
The ability to appreciate and cultivate the good in others, and in the world, comes from a heart that is both soft and strong, an awareness that is clear, calm, rested. A consciousness that is unshakably strong, strong in good. As women, we are uniquely suited by our unifying, nurturing nature to make this happen.
Mary Austin, Earth Horizon, p. 15. (Houghton Mifflin, 1932)
Kathleen Raine, The Inner Journey of the Poet, P 10. (George Braziller, 1982)
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Enlightenment and Invincibility, p. 138, (Rheinweiler, West Germany, MERU Press, 1978)
About the Author
Cynthia Johnson is a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and is a mother, wife and writer. She is a contributor to the book A Symphony of Silence: An Enlightened Vision (1st and 2nd editions) by George Ellis.