Hunger for Wholeness

Hunger for Wholeness: Why Social Justice Needs Religious Convergence with Swami Padmanabha (Part 2)

September 18, 2023 Center for Christogenesis Season 3 Episode 23
Hunger for Wholeness
Hunger for Wholeness: Why Social Justice Needs Religious Convergence with Swami Padmanabha (Part 2)
Show Notes Transcript

Hunger for Wholeness: Why Social Justice Needs Religious Convergence with Swami Padmanabha (Part 2)

In Part 2 of Ilia Delio’s conversation with Swami Padmanabha, Ilia and Swami explore the relationship between religious convergence, inter-faith dialogue and social justice. They ask whether religion can possibly play a role in modern peace, and what affects the radical personal spirit can have on global wholeness.


"We have a commitment to our potential."

Swami Padmanabha is an author, monk, and spiritual mentor. For the last 25 years, he has been following the devotional branch of Hindu monotheism known as Vaishnavism (often referred to as bhakti) while at the same time deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue, or what he calls “theological cross pollination.” Swami travels around the world each year as a retreat leader, public speaker, and community-builder. Being a valued scholar in his tradition, his work also includes hundreds of articles and seminars, as well as copious presentations in universities and academic circles. Swami Padmanabha´s first book, “Inherent of Inherited?”, was widely acclaimed by both practitioners and scholars of his tradition. At present, Swami is touring the US while presenting his second book, “Radical Personalism: Revival Manifesto for Proactive Devotion.”

To learn more about Swami Padmanabha visit:

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Why Social Justice Needs Religious Convergence with Swami Padmanabha (Part 2)

Robert: Welcome to Hunger for Wholeness, a podcast from the Center for Christogenesis. I'm your host, Robert Nicastro. Last week, Ilia and Swami discussed the call of devotional religious life, specifically the challenge to reveal the presence of heaven as already alive and active on earth. But IIia wonders, how do we reconcile this notion with the pains and injustices of modern life? And later, IIia and Swami speak about how the insights of Vaishnavism inform our hunger for wholeness.

Ilia: Today. You know, there's so much with regard to increasing poverty, gun violence. I'm here in Washington, DC where gun violence is really rampant, quite honestly, or is simply the fact that a lot of people are being eked out of an economy driven by technology. And if you don't have the means and the education to work with technology, you know, robots are coming into our, you know, more and more and will replace humans in a lot of blue- collar jobs. So how do we shape our lives to this reality that you so beautifully described in the face of, you know, incredible disparities among people.

Swami: I'll say to begin with that we should allow ourselves to be moved by those disparities, to be touched. By that, I mean, we should allow the suffering of others—we should own, learn to own others, people's pain. I mean, we should take advantage, so to say, of those sufferings in a way that we can increase our compassion and get closer to humanity. I'm from Argentina and I've traveled a lot in South America, and you can imagine

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third world countries. There's lots of the things you're referring to here. Last night I was watching one movie called Prayers for the Stolen, which describes how in Mexico, there's so much sex trafficking and child trafficking and stuff. After the movie, I was just almost in tears. I had to have another call with someone, and I was almost not able to talk.


So it was so shocking, but at the same time, yeah, it's part of our reality, and we have to learn to include that. Not to reject that, but to include that as part of our reality in a way. I will say that now if, if we are to offer something as a solution to that, first, we need to allow ourselves to be touched by that and touched deeply by that, which I think most people are not allowing themselves to. And some people may run too quickly about, okay, how to solve this, finally. But first you have to allow yourself to be touched by that deeply to begin with. And then we can talk about the concrete specific solutions that may take place, at least in my opinion, we need a lot of going deeper into our humanity. And in fact, you mentioned technology, and I feel as technology advances, I mean, we have to upgrade our humanity because if not, technology will offer some form of humanity, of human experience, which if we are not too deeply human, the human experience offered by technology will be enough for us. And at one point, the lines will blur and we won't be able to make any difference between humanity and cyborgs, so to say. And that's a delicate situation, to say the least.

Ilia: Yes, for sure, for sure. So I want to pick up, you know, first on what you said, we have to allow the experience of others and their situations to affect us deeply. And I do think we tend to build up walls of resistance or just walls of apathy or toward them, but that's not me. So, you know, I don't have to really be overly concerned. Or if I give money, hopefully some organization will figure out the problem and make a solution. Honestly, I think I admire people who are involved in works of justice. I just don't think that that's what's going to move us as a planet toward a more sustainable way of life. There's something about us that has to change personally. In other words, we have to be personally transformed in our minds and our hearts.

And therefore, it's not so much what we're doing. It's how we are actually experiencing and perceiving ourselves in the world. What are we in relation to those who are being trafficked to those who are drug addicted? For example, the opioid addiction is very high here in DC and young people are dying from drug overdose. And, you know, there are some people, especially at the higher levels, making money off of these things and saying,


“well, that's just the price you pay for success or for progress.” You know, some people are going to fall by the wayside. And I think as a human person, we have a responsibility. Our humanity is not our own, like humanity is one. That's what we're saying. You know, the human person is not just an individual. The human person is part of a whole. And I think if we don't have awareness that we're part of a whole that includes all persons, all aspects of creaturely like. There's something about us that just is stifled, thwarted or just cut off. And I wonder how our religions can help us reconnect to this wholeness that we so desire.

Swami: Yeah. And that's connected to the question you made before about how do we religious people relate to one another and can really go deeper into our, not only a social function of interfaith dialogue, but a real inter-faith dialogue. When we are conversing with our own tradition from depth, then we converse with one another. We allow each other to be nourished and transformed.

Ilia: Yes.

Swami: And for me, that's a lot to do in the context of wholeness. I mean, I love that you have picked that word for the title of your podcast, because wholeness for me implies integration of everything and integration of humanity, integration of spirituality, recognition of how everything is interrelated. As I know you also like to say, everything is relationship in itself. We have that term also in Sanskrit, “sambandha”, which means “some, everything banda-type connected.” So in nature, everything is connected with everything. There is a common center, and everything is connected to it. So basically for us, the goal of life is to awaken, to become aware of that particular fact regarding what you mentioned, and allowing ourselves to fully experience what others are experiencing. I'm not saying that in the terms that you become overwhelmed and you cannot function on any level because there's so much going on at this precise moment that you just try to capture it all.

We may collapse in a nanosecond, but I agree with what you mentioned, that at the same time we have to allow ourselves some transformation beginning at home, beginning in us, and not so much being so anxious about changing the world. In one sense, changing the


world is easier than changing ourselves. And I tell that many times to those in my group that are very much about outreach proselytizing and evangelizing, like, let's change the world, but we can do outreach as much as we have done in reach, so to say, you know? And that's quite difficult. So for me it's very important to, yeah, allow ourselves to experience the experience of others. Also has a lot to do with not being afraid of intimacy.

Ilia: Yes.

Swami: What's going on in the depths of everyone's heart? And most of us in today's world and society are terrified about intimacy. And that's why something so potentially sacred like sexuality, which is a lot about intimacy and nakedness in every sense of the term. That is totally objectified, as seen as, and becomes the source of many of the most main abuses in the whole planet. While it has the potential of being so sacred, we are so, how to say, traumatized and afraid of intimacy that we weaponized all these types of experiences, basically.

Ilia: That's very insightful actually. I think you're absolutely right on. You know, we do fear, we fear ourselves for one thing. We fear just our own nakedness, you know, our own vulnerability, our own bodies for that matter. We're constantly trying to make them into something that is different and using every technology and product out there that can reformulate them. And I think you're right, I think we've turned the body into a weapon, into an object of manipulation, of commerce, you know, of something that is a play thing, something that can entertain us. And therefore, that too is part of the great disconnect. I mean, in a sense, you know, I've often thought that God is, well, we speak of God's ecstasy and love, it's God's erotic energy. You know, there's an erotic energy at the heart of life, but we never, certainly in our Catholic world, we're like, no, and we don't speak about that stuff.

We're so kind of gnostic. You know, we've made everything into an intellectual discourse that we've kind of subjugated. We put the body and sex and sexuality and eroticism and love into some closet, and then we wonder why we have a sexual abuse crisis among the


clergy, you know, because you can't do that. There's a beauty to these things, you know, and you're right in saying that Genesis is, and God saw it was good, you know, it's really good. It's lovable. It has God at the heart of it.

Swami: I recall you in one of your books, I think it was The Emergent Christ. You quotes Pseudo Dionysius, I'm not know if I'm pronouncing it properly. He describes creation as an erotic outpouring.

Ilia: Yes.

Swami: And I was like, and you'll read in my book, I quoted you a few times, especially in that section, because it's so parallel to our own tradition. We have one sutra that says [sanskrit, which basically has, is basically the same thing: this whole material creation is the byproduct of God's overflowing in ecstasy. And in our tradition, there's very like, esoteric descriptions of god's, if you will, sexual life, and how this world is a byproduct of that. So the principle of sexualities including in the DNA of creation, basically.

Ilia: Yes.

Swami: For us at the center of the cosmos, it's not so much a biological affair, but there is a love affair going on.

Ilia: A love affair. I think that's really much closer to the truth, quite honestly. Instead of this kind of sterilized concept, we talk about love, but it's so divorced from everything, it's so sterile. It's like God is an ice cube, you know? And love, you know, is a big freezer, and just the opposite. This outpouring, this erotic love, this overflowing love, this ecstatic love, literally.

Swami: So, I think the real question may be why we are so afraid of speaking in those terms, why we are so afraid now we're only in my own tradition, not only in yours. There's, for example, lots of emphasis in asceticism, disassociation from the world. And I'm a renouncer myself, but I try to include in my discourse and emphasis of, you don't need to


be a monk to attain a, like mental liberation. You don't need to leave this world. The goal of life is not like an evacuation plan for the afterlife, but everything is here and now. And sexuality is not bad, the body is not bad. But as you mentioned, we are so much, I like your point. We fear ourselves because we don't know. We know that we are naked, we intuit we are naked, but we probably have not yet been aware enough of how much we are already being loved unconditionally. Not only despite our nakedness, but because of it.

Robert: Rather than an encouraging escape, can religion actually help us to re-engage our bodies? Next, IIia and Swami discuss how vulnerability can empower social justice and water the roots of radical personalism.

Ilia: You know, and that insight, Swami, I think goes all the way through the very levels from our connection to the earth, our politics, our relationship to one another, we fear being exposed, we fear being disclosed, you know, unrobed. We don't want to be seen for what we are. And again, I think I do a lot of work in artificial intelligence. And you know, even in social media, the way we construct profiles, young people today always, you know, kind of curating their bodies, and their faces, so they look beautiful and young and healthy and wonderful. And this deep, deep fear. And what it's led to, quite honestly, is a self- loathing. So it's not only that we are fearful of our true self, the naked self, we loathe what we might find that if we were to actually disclose that self, we might actually, you know, the mirror might crack or something like this.

And yet, as you say, which is right on, that is the beauty of deity is in that vulnerable, naked itself, right? Thomas Merton, one of my favorites on this, you know, God utters me like a partial thought of God's self. And sometimes, I just wish that every single person could realize the absolute beauty of divinity is already here in your life. You know, like, you are a fractal, you are a radiant light of the divine love, you know. And how do every person, whether they're poor or rich or black or white or whatever, language or religion, and I think if we could see that, if we could see what we really are together, I think we would have a whole different world. We would want to, we would want people to share in this


abundant life together. We would want to share our resources. We would want to share our money so that everyone has adequate work. That's what I think. I think our whole structure of social justice, quite honestly, it's good intentions. You know, the intentions are good, but it's not going anywhere. Because what it is, is that deep coming to the root of the human person, and what we really are, and exposing that root for what it really is, the divine love.

Swami: Your words remind me of a verse. I won't say the Sanskrit, I will spare you that, but it basically says that “if we put the food in our mouth, it goes to the stomach, it nourishes the whole body. But if you try to eat through your ears or through your nostrils, or other holes, you'll collapse and die.” So similarly, if you try to nourish the root of the tree, instead of putting water on the leaves and the branches, the tree will be nourished. If not, the tree will be killed. So what you are mentioning is, again, bringing attention to the very root of how to solve the ultimate—well, God, as Tililich will say, he's the ultimate concern—so how to nourish that, the ultimate concern. And I think that the very root of the healing we need to go through. And that's of course part the duty of us religious people, I will say, is to really make, go to that root and help people to deal with their guilt and with their fear, and with their terror of nakedness by making it clear how we are loved unconditionally. I really like John of the cross idea, like, love what God sees in you and remind people over and over again, you are already lovable. You don't need to, I mean, as you mentioned, you just go to Instagram, to social media, and you can see the problem there and the solution included there, you know?

Ilia: Yes. Right.

Swami: Soo, yeah, we need to embrace our nakedness and our vulnerability. That's the first chapter of the last part of my book. I tried to unpack the content of my book, and I felt the first chapter had to be about vulnerability and empowerment. Because we don't learn to be vulnerable and to acknowledge how empowerment comes from proper vulnerability. Nothing else will follow, nothing necessary will follow from that, actually.


Ilia: We have to, in a sense, sometimes break down. We have to deconstruct, you know, the walls and the things we've built around ourselves to protect ourselves, deconstruct those mantles of whatever they are for us protective mantles. And I like your idea on vulnerability. That's why, in a sense, suffering is not the worst thing in the world. Although what we don't want to do is, you know, invoke suffering on others or provoke it through war. I mean, that's a terrible thing. But we can learn through suffering about what it means to be vulnerable, what it means to be, in a sense, our priorities, you know, what is most important in our life. I know as I get older and, you know, things start happening. Like my little head here, you know, and teeth go and head go and, you know, pretty soon, you know, you're getting like all new body parts.

Ilia: But there's something about this. When I was young, I just thought I was invincible, you know? And I just thought, gee, I'm going to live forever and I can conquer the world and, you know, win the Nobel Prize. And I was very, very ambitious. And now I have a much greater openness and compassion, I think for those who just find it difficult. You live with someone who has the beginnings of Parkinson's disease, and I really begin to see, you know, just how vulnerable we are. And it rearranges that suffering, rearranges our priorities. You know, we begin to allow ourselves to decompress, not be in charge so much, stop manipulating everything. And that's where we can begin to see God shining through in places like the cracks of our lives.

Swami: Yeah. Because God is almighty, but he's also all vulnerable. I'm sure of course, you as Christians in the figure of Christ that's very present of full vulnerability, but full empowerment at the same time there. And we need to enter that space ourselves in order to appreciate that that's the nature, not only of God, but of reality itself. And yes, as you mentioned, I was also 20 years old at some point, and you felt, okay, let's conquer the world here, almighty, me. And then you realize in time, hopefully for me, just to become an elder means to, one of many definitions of elderhood will be, you start to appreciate vulnerability and the charm of it, and how the more invincible you are, the less attractive you are. I always, when I'm watching babies, newborn babies, they're so attractive. I mean,


if a baby enters the room, all the attention will go there immediately. But that's also because the baby is in such a fragile condition, he's so vulnerable.

Ilia: Yes.

Swami: Even if we don't know, that's what is taking us in that direction. I always recall here in the US, this comic of Superman, when it was published, Superman was invulnerable, there was not even kryptonite or anything, so nothing could kill him. And in time people stopped reading the whole comic because it was boring. He was too perfect. He was too invulnerable, invincible. So they added this kryptonite and everyone started reading it again.

Ilia: Yes, that is great, actually. I didn't think about that. I was thinking something similar recently though, how we are not enamored by perfection. We're actually, and there's something about the sufferings, you know, and the incompleteness of things that actually attracts us as if we can try to overcome, we can try to, so vulnerability has on the other side of it, the quest for more life, you know, there's something. We don't want to die, even if we're vulnerable and sick, we don't want to die. We want to live. And I think that that deep rooted quest for life is our root reality. We are made for life. You know, we really are. And I think if anything, it's a way that says vulnerability may be like a new proof for the existence of God. Like, because there is this power of love at the heart of our lives. We don't want to die. We want to experience it ever more fully. So that's why I think, by the way, I think artificial intelligence for all it can do, we're a little bit fearful of it perfecting us. We don't really want that. We need our imperfections. We need, in a sense, to be constantly aware of our weaknesses in order that we can strive evermore towards that wholeness.

Swami: And some idea comes to my mind just because of what you say, that we need imperfection so we can strive and grow. And also I'll say probably, maybe unconsciously we need, and we want imperfection so we can continue being loved unconditionally. Because of being imperfect, because if I will be only loved, if I'm perfect, that will be called


conditional love. And that's not love at all. So maybe we also need to keep imperfection in place, so the miracle of unconditional love continues happening because the moment you become perfect, you are loved, because you are perfect. That's not so magical, so to say, no.

Ilia: I want to ask you about the title of your book, Radical Personalism. What led you to that title and what exactly do you want our listeners to know from based on the title alone?

Swami: I remember when I gave a copy of my book to Richard Rohr recently. I visited him in New Mexico, and he was so appreciative of the title to say, “Radical Personalism, I like it so much.” And I appreciated that because he likes to speak in terms of radical, so many times, radical grace. And that's a very used word nowadays, radical. So I think we need to redeem that word as well, so, for me, radical personalism of course means radical means something to the very root. And personalism is, in my tradition, we are personalist, which means for us, God is a person, we are a person, and we are meant to relate to one another in the most personalist of all relationship, which is love. So exploring, my book is like an exploration of which are the limits of personhood, not the limits.

There are no limits for me, which is the unlimited reach of that. We like to call God in our tradition, the supreme personality, not only a person, but God is the most in union terms, the most individuated personality. So if we want to relate with such a person, such an individuated person, we are also to become as personal as we can. But also I have seen so much, such a degree of impersonalism or depersonalization in my own tradition and in others as well. So maybe that was the negative impetus that took me to write a book and title it radical personalism, especially in those who claim, I am a monotheistic person, I worship God, I love him, but then I misrepresent that in totally depersonalized ways. That's way more dangerous than someone who is overtly impersonal, depersonalized, I don't believe in God and so on. So maybe I was one of the impetus to go in that direction of exploring the notion of radical personalism.


Ilia: I actually really like the title very much because I have been working on Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of a personalizing universe. Yeah. He himself wrote an essay called “Sketch of a Personalistic Universe,” and he sees that evolution is the movement to becoming ever more personal. And by personal, he means evermore consciousness, evermore conscious, greater thought driven by the energies of love. It's very similar to what you're saying.

Swami: Yeah, yeah. I even quote him in my book, his notion of super personalization and ultra-humanism.

Ilia: Ultra-humanism. Exactly. And therefore, that's why he sees that artificial intelligence, I mean, computer technology could be a help to us to help enhance personalization, but it can't supplant us. And that's what, you know, going back to some of the things we've said here, religion needs to get out of quiet corners. And really, somehow, Swami, we need to somehow converge these great insights and these energies and bring them into a way that we can help this process of evolution towards greater personalization, which I take as the healing of the earth, the healing of a very wounded human community, and opening up and maybe exposing our vulnerability to our capacities for an ever greater love together. Not just personally, but personhood is deep relationality. You know, the more personal we become, the more deeply relational we become. That's the whole point of personhood.

Swami: Yeah, exactly.
Ilia: Not super individualism. It's super personhood, right?

Swami: Exactly. That's why I mentioned individuation and not individualism. So to be a person is what allows for the experience of loving interaction. So, that's for us is so crucial, because if there are no people, if there is no individuality, there is no possibility of relationality, as you mentioned. So Ilia, I totally agree with you. We need to take a very strong stance and invoke a very dynamic voice to address these issues to the world and to acknowledge our vulnerability so we can address our, heal our woundedness and


brokenness. But before healing anything, we have to acknowledge whatever needs to be healed to begin with.

Ilia: For sure. And I think we're always partial, you know, we're always healing. Our brokenness is not a one-time thing. We're always partially broken, partially wounded, and in need of healing. And yet I don't think we ever, if we are making every effort to move toward wholeness, then over time our wounds are healed. And, you know, our fractures are brought together and sutured in love and we can move evermore into a greater fullness. And I think our task is just to keep participating and doing what we're doing here is shared together and expand our awareness that we are in this whole, this one planet, this one life, this one heart of divine love together. You know? And that's really the beauty. In the end, we will all be united as one in this heart of love that is gone. And so I think it's be really fantastic. And if we could begin to live that here on earth, wow, this planet really has, could have a very hopeful future.

Robert: This concludes Ilya's discussion with Swami Padmanabha. Be sure to listen to our next episode with Jesuit priest, Greg Boyle. A special thanks to our partners at the Fetzer Institute. As always, I'm Robert Nicastro. Thanks for listening.