Managing the Spiritual Neighborhood

Summary and synopsis.


  1. 1. Getting a handle on morality:  What are the primitives?
  2. 2. Courtesy, civility and community in human society.
  3. 3. Where does spirituality fit in? How does enlightenment manifest in community administration?
  4. 4. Identifying the flaws in top-down administration. Contrast centralized control with a more intimate government that emerges from the grass roots.
  5. 5. Our pronounced bias towards a reactive—vs. preventive—posture: Can government operate without coercion? Can a balance at least be struck?
  6. 6. The distinction between code and culture: How does culture manifest? Is code even necessary in the presence of authentic culture?
  7. 7. Can modern society recover its lost indigenousness? Can the march toward an urbanized, globalized world be reversed?
  8. 8. Are we wed to the model of limitless growth? Can economic equilibrium be achieved, at least at the local level?


Quality of Life definition: Safety, Quietness and Courtesy

The book opens by defining "quality of life" in terms of three primitives: (1) safety, (2) quietness and (3) courtesy. The triad is then expanded with the addition of a fourth element: awareness. This abstract treatment is given substance by the real-world backdrop of a middle-class subdivision in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The perspective is that of a homeowner and community activist—the author himself. His neighborhood home is superficially comfortable and attractive, but a high incidence of crime is driving residents to leave. The narrative delves into how this could be happening. The affluence of the community allows an analysis that focuses on spiritual development, ultimately demonstrating how responsible behavior emerges from refined awareness, individual and collective.

The distinction is made between a reactionary attitude, typical of the unenlightened, and a mind-set oriented toward prevention. Applying the preventive mind-set to the quality-of-life array, priorities are reversed: Courtesy takes precedence over quietness (ie., respect for the garden zone), and both take precedence over safety.

Awareness — a foundation beyond logic

There is an attempt to formally define awareness, even while acknowledging that its subjective nature dooms logic to failure. The key point is that an awareness of something is different from awareness on its own. It is argued that courtesy emerges from refined awareness, and hence, awareness deserves a higher priority in the quality-of-life hierarchy. We learn that this arrangement—awareness, courtesy, respect for the garden zone and safety—is not merely a prioritization, but that it represents the layered structure of reality.

Crime and its relationship to courtesy

Chapters 2 and 3 present anecdotes that illustrate the decline in the quality of life in the author's neighborhood. There are numerous examples of street crime, ranging from petty theft to homicide. These are all traced back to a dearth of courtesy, and hence to a weakness in collective awareness. The focus is on juvenile crime, but the discussion broadens to other issues, including the health of the garden zone and homelessness, with all of these problems tied to the prevailing state of awareness.

Responsibility and the importance of the inner realm

The book examines two key premises: First, responsibility for crime lies not with the criminal, but with the community, and second, a clear experience of the inner realm is central to an understanding of life and existence. This is followed by a deeper look at the behavior of juveniles and a discussion of character development. A quasi definition of spiritual growth is put forth, comprised of four elements: (1) adopting a preventive mind-set, (2) refinement of awareness, (3) distinguishing the inner realm, and (4) growth of character. We see that the quality of life ultimately depends not on laws or changes in administration, but on adjustments that take place within the minds and hearts of individuals.

Action plan — a new vision, a new profession

Chapter 5 outlines an action plan for achieving a new paradigm in community administration. The plan establishes an intelligent presence in what is termed the "garden zone," enabling cooperation among neighbors who would normally remain isolated. It envisions one or more "garden zone managers" who are committed as life-long residents, and committed also to community service. The author's attempt to carry this out in his own 550-home neighborhood is documented. As mediators and advisors, managers offer a prevention-oriented, non-coercive alternative to conventional government. They are recruited from local sources, including schools and churches, and would have progressed to some extent on the spiritual path.

A new profession would take shape—Garden Zone Management—for which young people could be groomed. The program might begin as a simple neighborhood watch, but develop into something much broader; it would serve as the foundation for establishing "Natural Communities," which are defined as having a strong measure of geography, shared interest and shared spirit.

The author suggests that spirituality is generally misunderstood because people don't have the requisite experience. He cites Transcendental Meditation (TM) as an effective technique for providing that experience

Chapter 7 offers a long-term vision, where communities, neighborhoods and local regions could move toward self-sufficiency at least in terms of self-government, rendering top-down administration unnecessary.

The "big G" Government in Fairfield Iowa

The principles derived from the author's experience in an urban environs are shown in the Addendum to be equally valid in small-town America. Although crime in Fairfield Iowa is comparitively non-existent, he argues that the same shortcomings are evident.

A dialog between the narrator and a nameless interlocutor examines the general ignorance of the age, with a contrast drawn between the "big G" Government and an alternative based on trust and intimacy. Since Fairfield is home to Maharishi University of Management (MUM) with many TM practitioners, it provides an opportunity to observe how a large presence of people on the spiritual path manifests in the quality of community life. We see that the legal/judicial framework in Fairfield is just as detached as every other municipality. Numerous examples are cited to illustrate the heartless character of punitive administration. The fact that everyone is basically family, but that local administrators still rely on coercion and intimidation shows how deeply vested we are in the punitive model.

There is a discussion of a "Global Country of World Peace," founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—how it promotes natural law as embodied in the ancient Vedic literature of India. Much is made of the fact that the Global Country does not use force in administration.

Radicalization is subordinate to globalization

A lengthy dialog follows in which the narrator argues passionately that every sort of criminal, from run-of-the-mill thugs to international terrorists, is created by us. The narrator argues that radicalization, so-called, is subordinate to a more powerful conversion: globalization.

Maharishi's influence — the cosmic and the mundane

Vedic science is brought into focus, exploring the connection between principles of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's teaching and the mundane affairs of life in the neighborhoods. How, for example, are chores like pulling weeds, shoveling snow and piano moving supported by MUM's group of advanced TM meditators, or by the collection of specially trained Maharishi pandits (indigenous masters of the Vedic tradition) in nearby Maharishi Vedic City. The routine of the pandits includes the performance of rituals purportedly having the power to bring about peace. There are other cultural aspects of the Veda, ranging from home-building ("vastu" construction), to astrology, to recitation of Vedic texts which on the surface appear unrelated to the TM practice, but are vigorously promoted as a path to happiness and enlightenment. The narrator challenges us to make a connection between these external manifestations of Vedic science and the purely internal technique that yields an experience of unboundedness, and, moreover, between embarking on the spiritual path (e.g., through TM) and becoming a responsible citizen.

Vedic practices — the internal and the external

We see that the infinite manifests in a variety of ways. In objective science it shows up as mathematical "points of singularity." (The entire universe emerged from a point of singularity.) The infinite is also found in the "gap" between syllables of the Vedic literature. And, most importantly, individuals can experience the infinite directly using the TM technique.

In contrast, other aspects of Maharishi Vedic science deal with externals. Home construction, astrology, the Vedic calendar, yagyas and so on operate on the grosser levels. The narrator questions how these practices relate to the silent, inward experience of transcendence and why TMers are receptive to logic-defying claims; e.g., a yagya can prevent misfortune; the position of planets can predict your future, and so on. On the other hand, it's pointed out that equally mind-bending phenomena are found in modern science; e.g., crazy wave-particle duality, the probabilistic nature of physical reality, the fact that time had a beginning, etc. The suggestion is that the same subjective element present in Vedic science is also found in modern science. This points to the fact that every individual is a universe unto himself. Everything we perceive to be separate and outer, even stars and planets, is also inner.

Community Law — turning the legal/judicial paradigm on his head

The Addendum concludes by ripping once again into the character of modern government. The narrator offers numerous examples that illustrate the flaws of a purely intellectual, legalistic approach to administration. The thrust of the argument is that the lack of a subjective ingredient in individual life produces problems on a grander scale.

The book itself concludes with an action plan aimed at inaugurating a new kind of justice and administration. Included is a provision for establishing "Community Conscience Advocates" (CCAs)—an occupation akin to the Garden Zone Masnager, but with additional responsibilities that require interaction with the legal establishment. The aim is to inject some humanity into law and justice. Ten principles of Community Law are enumerated which turn the existing paradigm on its head. As with the Garden Zone Manager, a Community Conscience Advocate is committed to life-long residence and life-long service in a particular locale. For this reason, he or she must be selective about where to put down roots, in that there exist areas so unlivable that the best advice is to leave. Six livability criteria form the baseline: spirituality, crime, industry, urbanization, environment and resources. The ten Community Law principles are: spirituality, intimacy, uniqueness, community, money, character, free expression, consensus, force and sovereignty.

The Community Conscience Advocate must exhibit some degree of spiritual advancement, including an ability to assess, and, more importantly, influence the character of friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. The CCA's influence is exerted not through sermonizing, but through personal interaction. Influencing the legal establishment, on the other hand, requires a sharper line; he or she must educate ignorant administrators about the flaws in their reactive thinking.

Moving away from unlimited growth

Apart from Community Law, the most significant element of the action plan is that communities within a particular geographic region (e.g., Southeast Iowa) endeavor to become economically self-sufficient. To this end, the author suggests formulating a 300-year plan for stewardship and resource management. A "pavement-free" development plan for Fairfield is envisioned, including a network of green corridors. It's suggested that outsiders not be allowed to own real estate, neither residential nor commercial; all property would be titled to people who make their home within the region. It is also proposed that there be a voluntary upper limit on how much real property one individual would own. It is argued that municipalities move away from an open-ended growth model, and instead work toward economic equilibrium, where the cost of living remains constant. Perfect self-sufficiency in a world grown dependent on high-tech is not practical, but communities should at least identify the minimum technology they require and work to sustain that level.

The quest for culture — restoring lost indigenousness

Regarding social structure, the author proposes the creation of "neo-indigenous" enclaves with a spiritual tradition that carries forward into succeeding generations. While acknowledging differing opinions about moral parameters, the author lays out an intentional community structure based on his own preferences. A distinction is made between questions of culture and questions of code, where authentic culture cannot be coerced. Lawyers and legislators dictating laws should not be mistaken for a valid source of culture in human society. What sets this model apart is the challenge it presents to the established legal/judicial order.

© 2018 Alexander Gabis