Unity matters. Being able to work as a member of a team is critical for building personal connections, ensuring professional success, and solving the highly complex problems of the world. Unity and Oneness of Mind and Spirit are often considered the pinnacle of human expression. “Oneness is the secret of everything,” said Swami Vivekananda, an Indian Hindu monk who introduced Indian philosophies to the Western world. Likewise, we’re told that separateness is nothing more than an illusion and a fundamental source of suffering. “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness,” says Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh.
While this perspective has Eastern underpinnings, it’s certainly not the sole domain of non-Western philosophies. Einstein himself, the quintessential Western thinker, echoed warnings of imagined separation:
“A human being . . . experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison . . .”
In this view, perceiving ourselves as cut off from everyone around us – alienated, distanced, not belonging – is a self-created prison. And that artificial sense of division holds us back from realizing our true natures. We view others as attackers or oppressors, and consider ourselves victims, but the true source of our actual suffering – separation from others – is the illusion of separation we create in our minds.
So, overcoming separation just might mean an end to suffering. And that’s noble, is it not? In this world of pain, who wouldn’t want to relieve just a little of the anguish, and find a solution to at least some of our problems? Maybe, just maybe, if we overcame the collective trance that’s so invested in separation, we could see an end to the violence, the constant warfare, the industrial-strength destruction and suffering that never seems to abate. If we’re going to make that happen, we have to pull together. Get on board. Sync up. We know that we face problems far bigger than any one person. We’ve known for generations that our collective survival depends on collective action. As John Lennon sang decades ago in Imagine, “I hope someday you’ll join us… And the world will be as one.”
Now, you don’t have to be a hippie, a “New-Ager”, or a Buddhist to feel a profound need for connection and oneness with others. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, humanity’s “Fall from Grace” – the ultimate separation – only happened when Adam and Eve forfeited direct contact with God for the sake of a taste of forbidden fruit. Their defiance of God’s commandments in the Garden of Eden wasn’t just a slip-up. It was a conscious choice to stray from unity with God’s commandments. And according to some traditions, it ushered in all the ills on this fallen planet.
According to this tradition, humanity is paying the ultimate price for that disobedience: separation from God, expulsion from the Garden, exclusion from Divine Sustenance, and a whole lot of pain and suffering. The slings and arrows of the world aren’t the only source of our pain, though. Our need for a sense of Connection is so deep, it’s hard to put into words. And when we lose it, it can be pure anguish. Many see strict obedience as a path back to God. After all, if disobedience originally cost us Divine Union, then obedience to Commandments should restore it. Numerous scriptural passages say so. In Romans 5:19, the Apostle Paul says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Deuteronomy 5:33 promises, “Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” A deeper, richer way of life is promised to all who agree to follow the Commandments. John 14:23 says, “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”
Even in the context of a modern secularized world, religious groups of seeking individuals bond together to draw closer to God. Seeking Divine Unity together by following the rule of law as a community, binds them in a coherent, cohesive whole. Regardless of the current climate of distrust for religious institutions (perhaps in reaction to it?), orthodox faith-based groups endure through generations – so much so, that their numbers increase exponentially in a relatively short period of time.
According to the Orthodox Christian Network, in 2015 “almost half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today [were] converts. . . . The majority of these married into the church. But a growing number are joining simply out of an affinity for the faith.” In the case of Kiryas Joel, a densely settled enclave of 22,000 ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews in upstate New York, their community is “bursting at the seams” and is annexing more land to accommodate its quickly growing population. And between 1973 and 2015, for the Lancaster County Pennsylvania Amish settlement (which is by definition a strictly regulated community of faith), the count of church districts grew from 50 to more than 200. That’s a doubling of the Amish population in Lancaster County alone, every 20 years. And beyond Pennsylvania, the Amish population is keeping pace, totaling 300,000 members in the U.S. and Canada alone. That’s not counting thriving settlements in Mexico and other Latin American countries.