Social Work : The Ethico-Spiritual Paradigm ► [06] Spiritualised Social Work

Posted: 17.06.2005

VI. Spiritualised Social Work

Ethics and spirituality are inseparable, but they are distinguishable nonetheless. Ethics supports and sustains society and spirituality both. Without practicing ethical values, society cannot become functional nor spirituality practical. All religions have more or less common ethical essence, though they may differ in their philosophies and rituals. Ethical component of religion provides it a social base and projects four forms of governing values viz. prescriptive, preferential, permissive and proscriptive. All social functions have to abide by these values, if they are to aid society in its survival and development. Social Work has its roots in ethics but must have its culmination and crowning apex in spirituality. Spirituality admits of diverse paths and forms, which is congruent with the spirit of postmodernism. It is something inner, subjective and non-rational which is also consistent with the general tone and tenor of postmodernism. But in several other respects, they are as different as chalk and cheese.

While postmodernism inflicts wounds on human psyche, spirituality applies the soothing balm. While postmodernism is a terrifying and monstrous phenomenon mothered by human ingenuity, spirituality is the alpha and omega of life woven into the human situation by the Supreme Being itself. If spirituality is the essential nature of man, it must inform all human actions including social work. There are so many religions in the world and man is necessarily born into one of them. But religion is no more than the outer shell of spirituality. Spirituality germinates there and as it grows, it sets itself free from religious conditionings and limitations. Spirituality, in spite of expressional differences, carries the images of eternality and universality. That is how and why spiritual souls descend on earth age after age and disseminate messages to mankind that impart a momentum to its onward march towards divinity, the goal of self-realisation. Man has fabricated super technologies that promise to eradicate all physical problems, plaguing him since his origin. These technologies, however, were spun in response to the demands of man's lower nature. They were intended to meet the basic needs of man squarely, so that he could devote himself to the fulfilment of his higher urges more freely.

But, contrary to evolutionary intentions, these technological achievements, inveigled man into sybaritic indulgence causing temporary deviation and setback. It is the dharma of Social Work to put man on his destined track, but it can take up this exhilarating assignment only if it is steeped in spiritual orientation itself. To rescue man from the snares of materiality and turn him towards spiritual destination is one of the most urgent tasks social work can think of for the present. The craze for super-affluence, vulgar pleasures and beastly satisfaction is dehumanising and despiritualising man, violating the sanctity of nature and thereby paving the way towards perdition. It is high time that Social Work comes out of its sheltered cocoon and makes adventure into the realm of the spirit. All problems, individual or social, lie at the roots and not at the shoots. Unless we engage ourselves at the level of root causes, we cannot have access to abiding solutions.

Man's fundamental problem is one of a spiritual nature. Unless our whole endeavour and energies are directed to work at the spiritual level, we cannot get beyond patchwork and palliative. The blind quest and obsessive pursuit of higher and higher standard of living rather than life relentlessly drive man towards a reckless exploitation of nature, foster atavistic forces in him and transform life into an unbearable tragedy. Social Work must curb this wild craving for limitless material possession, cure man of his consumerist malaise and inspire him to work for the affluence of spiritual goods and riches. Spiritual valuables are inexhaustible and they multiply on sharing. Only a spiritual culture can generate a sense of proportion, a harmony of means and goals, a balance between conservation and consumption, which constitute the coordinates of existence and co-existence. Social Work education must become the harbinger of this spiritual culture. It must restructure its curriculum so as to provide due space to a spiritual discourse. When social work education is spiritualised, it will acquire an unprecedented vigour and force, which its professionalisation had stifled or eclipsed. Only a spiritual culture can banish inhuman exploitation, injustice, cruelty and violence from the face of the earth. Let us take it as a truism: a true spirituality does not eschew material dimensions of life; it simply proposes to pursue them with a sense of unfailing righteousness and uprightness.

Spirituality is neither anti-worldly nor other-worldly, it is this-worldly par excellence, if rightly understood and interpreted. Spirituality reminds man of his true nature, his great stature, his divinity, his glory and dignity. It is the greatest source of man's empowerment, greatest solace in adversity and greatest strength to surmount redoubtable crises of life. Spiritual Social Work, therefore, is the highest kind of social work that subsumes all other varieties. It negates none, integrates all into a beautiful mosaic. It raises the status of smallest actions by endowing them with a higher meaning and placing them in a wider perspective. Spiritual social work is performed with disinterested motive without any expectations of reward or return. Outwardly it appears to be done to a stranger, but inwardly it is felt to be done to oneself. The doer of Social Service in the traditional context carries a sense of superiority and seems to oblige the recipient. His actions are intended to earn religious merits and improve his trans-worldly prospects. Such actions perpetuate the life conditions of the recipient; they do not redeem him of his problem. Such actions may glorify the giver but always demean the recipient. Social service does not strike at the root of the problem; it simply deals with the symptom. Instead of enabling or empowering the recipient, it weakens his inner resources, dents his self-image and diminishes his self-worth and self-respect. Professional social work did have a marked superiority over traditional social service in the social and economic sense, but not in the ethico-spiritual sense.

The dichotomy and alienation between the professional and his client was even more pronounced than between the giver and the recipient. Hubris and greed are natural accompaniments of a profession and they cannot be shed so easily or willingly. Here the spirit of self-renunciation and self-sacrifice is conspicuous by its absence. Thrust of a profession is on efficiency and obsession with efficiency squeezes out all human feelings from interpersonal relations and make them purely mechanical. Mechanisation of human relationships is perhaps the greatest tragedy of human history that so blatantly afflicts our age. Humanisation of interpersonal relations is, therefore, the greatest challenge that Social Work has to face today rather than refinements of techniques. No spiritualization of social work can be thought of unless this desideratum has been accomplished.

Ramakrishna had aversion for words like help and compassion as these carried connotation of superiority and arrogance. It was in 1884 in Dakshineswar that the sage had said: "Compassion for beings? Will you, little man, bestow compassion on beings? No, no, not compassion for jivas (souls) but service to them as Shiva (God)". [Chatterjee, Margaret, The Concept of Seva - A preliminary Exploration in “Approaches to the study of Religion"]

Vivekanand coined the word 'daridranarqyan' on the basis of this utterance of his master. He proclaimed "He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak and in the diseased, really worships Shiva". Service, thus, received a new dimension in Vivekanand's understanding of it as work and as both means to and symbol of god realisation. He went so far as to say that liberation is only for him who gives up everything for others. He turned from the rarefied vertical relationship between man and God... from the brooding awareness of the identity of Atman and Brahman to the horizontal relationship, for how can man love God whom he hath not seen unless he loves his brother whom he hath seen.

The only admissible goal of a spiritual social work is the holistic development of spiritual being who because of various constraints has forgotten his true nature and mission in life. Spiritual Social work should not be construed merely as a therapy, but also a process of self-discovery, an adventure into the realm of the spirit that harbours the highest truth. Whereas PSW dictates to protect professional identity and maintain distance and difference from his 'client', the spiritual social work urges and encourages to completely identify with the person in need and experience his problems from the deepest depths of his being. He has to become ant in order to communicate with an ant. No social work in the spiritual sense can be treated as authentic unless it involves the fusion of beings. The self-coded professional social work does not have the same penetrative power as the spiritually sensitive social work.

Spirituality is Sadhana and Seva both. Sadhana, if it does not manifest itself in Seva remain barren. However, without Sadhna Seva cannot reveal its full expanse and reach its full depth. It will be a fumbling activity performed in darkness of ignorance and ego driven passions. Without sadhana-gifted vision, seva may have undesirable and unintended consequences. Spiritual awakening is an explosive event whose echo reverberates up to the limits of social horizon. A truly spiritual person does not care for his own salvation, his mission is to vanquish and destroy all demonic forces of oppression, injustice and cruelty and establish a reign of love, harmony and freedom. Such a social transformation is not brought about through violence and bloodshed but by persuasion and force of personal magnetism. However, no society, even if divinely designed, can be totally free from suffering. Suffering is an ineluctable constituent of the very structure of human existence. It can be brought down to an irreducible minimum, but cannot be removed lock, stock and barrel. Death, disease, disaster, old age, accidents and heredity are categories that are woven into the very texture of the human situation. So there will always be a certain number of people in every society, victimised by these existential imperatives, who will need caring and sharing inspired by the spiritual nature of man. Social service, however involves only a fraction of spirituality, it cannot and does not exhaust it. Spirituality has a ubiquitous presence that sustains, animates and illuminates the whole society and cosmos. It is a proof of its own existence and does not require any extraneous evidence. [ibid]

Social work is, thus spiritualised when the so-called client is seen not an object of compassion or commiseration but as God incarnate. There is a total reversal of relationship - the client becomes God and the worker his servant. The Christian missionary also derives his inspiration from the same paradigm. He sees every leper, beggar, decrepit and mutilated as embodiment of Christ. His ideal Social Worker is the Son of God who lived and died for the sake of the downcast and derelict. Social service, however, should not have two faces or facets one ostensible, another ulterior. Spiritually sensitive social work should remain constantly vigilant, it should not be deemed an occasion to impose one's own worldview on others. Spiritual Social Work flows from the pristine purity of human soul; it should steer clear of all extraneous considerations.

The only admissible goal of a spiritual social work is the holistic development of spiritual being who because of various constraints has forgotten his true nature and mission in life. Spiritual Social work should not be construed merely as a therapy, but also a process of self-discovery, an adventure into the realm of the spirit that harbours the highest truth. Whereas PSW dictates to protect professional identity and maintain distance and difference from his 'client', the spiritual social work urges and encourages to completely identify with the person in need and experience his problems from the deepest depths of his being. He has to become ant in order to communicate with an ant. No social work in the spiritual sense can be treated as authentic unless it involves the fusion of beings. The self-coded professional social work does not have the same penetrative power as the spiritually sensitive social work.

Spirituality is Sadhana and Seva both. Sadhana, if it does not manifest itself in Seva remain barren. However, without Sadhna Seva cannot reveal its full expanse and reach its full depth. It will be a fumbling activity performed in darkness of ignorance and ego driven passions. Without sadhana-gifted vision, seva may have undesirable and unintended consequences. Spiritual awakening is an explosive event whose echo reverberates up to the limits of social horizon. A truly spiritual person does not care for his own salvation, his mission is to vanquish and destroy all demonic forces of oppression, injustice and cruelty and establish a reign of love, harmony and freedom. Such a social transformation is not brought about through violence and bloodshed but by persuasion and force of personal magnetism. However, no society, even if divinely designed, can be totally free from suffering. Suffering is an ineluctable constituent of the very structure of human existence. It can be brought down to an irreducible minimum, but cannot be removed lock, stock and barrel. Death, disease, disaster, old age, accidents and heredity are categories that are woven into the very texture of the human situation. So there will always be a certain number of people in every society, victimised by these existential imperatives, who will need caring and sharing inspired by the spiritual nature of man. Social service, however involves only a fraction of spirituality, it cannot and does not exhaust it. Spirituality has a ubiquitous presence that sustains, animates and illuminates the whole society and cosmos. It is a proof of its own existence and does not require any extraneous evidence.

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