Poverty, crime and self-esteem: the crucial connection - Interview with Benjamin Creme
Esotericist Benjamin Creme explains that when people begin to share resources, through a variety of social, economic and political reforms, people will feel less threatened, and there will be less crime.
Monte Leach: The problem of crime, particularly violent crime, is certainly on the rise throughout the developed world today, with the US the most violent among all industrialized nations. The traditional approaches to this problem, such as more prisons and police and longer prison sentences, do not seem to be working. Why are we experiencing this increase in crime, and how do we begin to understand why people are committing such acts?
Benjamin Creme: There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, but the most important is that we are entering a new cosmic cycle. New energies are making themselves felt. In particular, a new energy now pervading the planet, the energy of equilibrium (which involves the law of action and reaction), flushes out all the negative forces. Under the influence of this energy, more and more people will revolt because the old habits and ways of thinking, the centuries-old codes imposed on the mind, must be broken. People will no longer accept the old, imposed solutions.
Society as a whole is attempting to emerge from this age-old bondage. The eruption of crime, corruption, drugs, and violence is the inevitable prelude to this change. It occurs mainly in the inner cities, where what Maitreya calls crime combustion occurs, where people are addicted to drugs, sexual violence, murder, and other crimes. This process of combustion, He says, brings the dirt up to the surface, and neither the police nor the military will be able adequately to control the outbreak of crime now occurring.
ML: How can we begin to break this cycle of crime?
BC: Maitreya says we have to understand the causes. The domain of the problem, He says, cannot be limited to the crimes themselves, because the solutions then will be simply reactive, dealing only with effects. To increase the police forces, build more prisons, put more people in prison, deals with an effect and not a cause.
To understand the genesis of the violence, it is necessary to acquire a more detailed, overall picture of the pattern of people's lives so as to redirect their energy. This crime is the result of a rising energy, wrongly directed, that needs to be more constructively channeled.
Maitreya says, for example, that politicians have a responsibility for the desperation of those addicted to drugs. People go to drugs, Maitreya says, because they are suffering from spiritual starvation. If people are so straitened in their lives that they cannot even eat properly, they will lead desperate lives. They will sell their bodies. They will steal and end up in prison. If they are deprived of nourishment, if they are deprived of a future, if there seems no hope, they turn to drugs to help them forget their desperation. From drugs, it is not far to crime, even murder. People who take drugs generally commit the greatest number of crimes because they are desperate for money for drugs. They lose all restraint and lash out in any direction to get what they want.
ML: You are saying that there are new energies coming into the world now, and these are producing changes, not always for the better?
BC: That is the major reason. These changes are definitely for the better in the long run. But in the short term they raise to the surface all the corruption and violence which has been repressed and suppressed for centuries. Once this energy of equilibrium galvanizes them, that repression becomes aggression, leading to an increase in crime and violence in this disjointed and divisive society. Crime occurs when we have extreme wealth next door to extreme poverty. In a more equitable society there would be less crime.
ML: You talked about the connection between drug addiction and crime. A recent study found that heroin addicts committed 15-20 times as many robberies and burglaries as criminals who did not use drugs. It is also reported that approximately 70 per cent of the people in US prisons have abused drugs.
BC: Drugs loosen the fabric of behavior patterns. Drug addicts get desperate and lose all sense of restraint; they need money for their fix. The average criminal works almost as a professional. He knows the limits to which he can go without ending up in prison. But the drug abuser loses this sense of proportion. Because of this, he does not have any expertise in avoiding arrest, and inevitably ends up in prison.
ML: Could you explain what Maitreya means by 'spiritual starvation' when referring to those who take drugs, and how that starvation can be cured?
BC: Spiritual starvation is a very extreme form of self-alienation. People do not know who they are. Life, therefore, becomes totally purposeless. People want to end their life; they commit slow suicide by taking drugs.
If you present a future without purpose and hope to people with enormous disadvantages, who live in inner cities in a dreary environment, with no jobs and no prospects, they are going to avoid work altogether and therefore commit crime to live, or give up and take drugs. But they need money for the drugs. It becomes a vicious cycle.
A drug addict has inwardly divorced himself from life. He has given in. The way to restore hope is to restore meaning to his life: he has to gain a new view of himself, a sense of his own worth. The first thing is to help him raise his self-respect. Self-respect gradually becomes self-awareness and eventually, according to Maitreya, Self-realization, which is the aim of all life. If people are not aware of themselves, if they think they are useless, worthless and powerless, with no place in society, then suicide is an inevitable result, whether it is immediate or slowly by drug abuse.
We cannot solve the problem by putting drug addicts into prison or just by strengthening the laws or by preaching ideologies or religion. As Maitreya says, if you lecture a prostitute or thief, they will reject your words as ideology. But if you say, "whatever you are doing, whether thieving, prostitution, or taking drugs, be yourself, be honest, be sincere, be detached," then the person can experience himself as he is and feel what Maitreya calls the observer within. The observer within is not a limited, finite person; it is infinite. People call it divinity. When the person experiences himself as this infinite divinity, then he grows in self-respect. That is how he can get out of this vicious cycle of crime and drug addiction.
ML: I read a recent 'New York Times' article that reported a drug rehabilitation effort in one of the New York City prisons, Rikkers Island. This effort has proved quite effective in curbing not only drug addiction but crime and violence as well. Is this the type of approach that you believe could be effective on a wide scale?
BC: In a prison environment, very much so. Maitreya says the only effective way to deal with the individual's internal world, his sense of self-alienation, is through his environment. If he is in prison, it has to be the prison environment. If he is in the outer world, it has to be the environment of the city in which he lives.
According to Maitreya, it is through the power of the environment that self-awareness is created. For example, when an individual enters a church, he feels peaceful and tranquil. The Self experiences this and the mind is no longer in confusion and turmoil. But the mind of someone living in the bleak, depressing conditions of run-down inner city housing will be desperate, and the person will reach for drugs to find escape. If there is no stress or strain in the surroundings, then there is no need for drugs. Maitreya says that within the human body is the most powerful drug known to humanity: detachment. Detachment can emerge only within a sane, clean, and peaceful environment.
In the New York prison experiment, they have changed the environment. The prisoners, for instance, live in dormitories. They do not have single, isolated cells. They can move about. They wear ordinary clothes. They can talk to each other and exchange ideas. They have a kind of group communication in the broadest sense, a group therapy where they can discuss their problems both individually and as a group, and in this way rehabilitate themselves. They grow in self-awareness because they are growing daily in self-esteem and self-respect. This is certainly the way forward.
ML: I understand that Maitreya is training certain people to achieve this type of self-esteem and self-awareness that you were talking about.
BC: Yes. As I understand it, in London, Maitreya teaches and trains a group of holy men from India -- swamis, who organize groups of young people from broken homes, displaced persons, people who are caught in the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and criminality. They are taught self-respect. At one point in the process, they are given a simple breathing exercise which for a moment allows Maitreya to give them the experience of themselves as the Self. That sense of themselves as the Self, the observer, frees them more and more from their addictive situation. They gain self-respect, and then work by themselves to get out of the seemingly endless cycle of drug addiction, crime, and alienation. These programmes are gradually being put into effect in the United Kingdom.
ML: You have spoken about poverty. Could you comment on how poverty contributes to this cycle of crime and drug abuse?
BC: I have no doubt that poverty is one of the main factors in the growing incidence of crime. This increase has been taking place in the richest countries of the developed world. That is no accident. With wealth tends to come complacency, which Maitreya calls the root of all evil. Divisions create envy and therefore crime.
Modern wealth has been created mainly through the action of market forces, which now dominate the whole of the industrial world. It is based on the false premise that we all start at an equal point. Of course, nobody starts at the same point. Market forces help a few to become very wealthy at the expense of the many who become poorer. This is taking place all over the world. There is an increasing number of hungry and desperate people living in utter poverty. Yet there are more millionaires of all nationalities throughout the developed world. Market forces are inevitably divisive because they separate one section of society from another. For this reason Maitreya calls market forces the forces of evil.
This is what creates the cycle of crime, and therefore prison as the only alternative. At the moment prison, is the only alternative for violent and dangerous criminals. The prison population is growing all the time but has reached a point where it can hardly grow any more because the prisoners are in revolt. They, too, are responding to the new energy of equilibrium. They will not put up with the excess of rules and regulations necessary to keep them quiet.
Paradoxically, to create a society based on the free play of market forces, there must be a very strict control over the economy to ensure business efficiency. This is the poison of commercialization, as Maitreya calls it. It imposes restrictions on the natural needs of society. When the needs of society are not being met by the politicians, the people revolt. When the people's voice is not heard, there will inevitably be revolution. Part of that revolution is the growing incidence of crime.
ML: Are crimes of protest, like the 1992 Los Angeles riots, ever justified?
BC: They are understandable. They are also inevitable. As soon as there is injustice on a large scale, there will be a flaring up of violence. It has always occurred, and it will occur more and more violently as people lose control, as drug abuse increases, as people under the influence of drugs take part in the protests. But the violent protests are not the result of drug-taking. They are the result of the imbalance of our society -- too great wealth side by side with too great poverty. The only answer to this problem is the implementation of the principle of sharing. That is why Maitreya puts the principle of sharing as the cornerstone of everything He has to say about social change.
Commercialization, based on market forces, is now gripping all the nations of the world. The west is even encouraging this system in the former Soviet Union. It will work no better there than it does anywhere else in the world. There is a place for market forces, but blindly followed, they will bring this present society and its economic system to the verge of destruction.
Maitreya has foretold a breakdown of the world's stock markets beginning in Japan. It is a bubble which inevitably will burst and bring the whole of this corrupt economic system to an end. He says the new politics will include neither the extremes of capitalism nor of communism. People will no longer accept isms as the answer to their life and social aspirations. The regeneration of life will come through the institution of freedom in all departments.
We are witnessing the ending of three age-old totalitarianisms: political totalitarianism, in the main demonstrated in the former Soviet Union and China, the so-called communist system; economic totalitarianism, demonstrated in the west today in the US and her allies in Europe and Japan, which imposes as tight a control over people's lives as did the political totalitarianism in the Soviet Union or China; and finally, and the last to go, will be religious totalitarianism under the control of the Vatican, the ideological warlords in Islam, fundamentalist Christianity -- and even now in Hinduism and Buddhism, erstwhile tolerant, open-minded religions. The whole religious world is now moving in the direction of greater control over people's lives. Religious totalitarianism is now reaching an acme of power, but will eventually follow both political and economic totalitarianism into the past. Then a new freedom on all three fronts -- political, economic and religious -- will demonstrate itself through a truly free society based on a recognition of the inner divinity of all people.
ML: We have been talking about the economic and social aspects of crime and drug abuse, but there are also personal and spiritual reasons that people take drugs and commit crimes. It sounds like there are no easy solutions. Perhaps a combination of economic reform and personal/spiritual counselling for the individuals involved would help.
BC: That is part of the answer. Remember that the new energy of equilibrium has been released into the world, and this energy counteracts the negative forces. When general world tension begins to decrease, when the principle of sharing begins to be implemented through a variety of social, economic and political reforms, people will feel less threatened and there will be less and less crime.
From the July/August 1993 issue of Share International