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An eastern tapestry

Can Eastern Mysticism Save the World? Gilles Lipovetsky has an Answer...


A French philosopher posits that practices like meditation and yoga likely bear at least some semblance of alleviation.

The statistical projections are devastating. We seem to be approaching an ecological, and thus, social, economic, and spiritual collapse. In the face of all these crises there’s a change, a kind of collective lesson, and the germination of new ideas for constructing more appropriate, integral abstractions to solve, or try to solve, the causes of the collapse.

For more than three decades, French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky has dedicated himself to analyzing and reflecting on the values and inertias that define today’s societies. Loneliness, individualism, consumerism, frivolity, and postmodernity, along with other topics, circulate throughout his work.

In one of his more recent works, De la légèreté (Of Lightness) (2015), Lipovetsky speaks of the anxiety of pursuing lightness. Beyond a moral resolution, France abounds, perhaps excessively, in the value given to this quality: lightness as a means of coping with pressure, to be more at ease, and to enjoy each moment and its richness as much as possible.

In a sense, beyond the frivolity implied by the above, what comes to mind are some of the foundations of an Eastern philosophy that have slowly advanced in the West, perhaps even since Alexander the Great expanded his empire and became interested in the diversity of its practices and customs.

Zen Buddhism, meditation, and yoga (though it’s risky to lump them all together) all respond to transcendent values based on detachment, loss of ego, and an ability to be more fully present, among others.

Eastern ideas seem to fit the moment of collectively sought alleviation described by Lipovetsky. Toward such an end, we interviewed him about this coincidence and whether he believes that Eastern values can save us from the catastrophe (a crisis of values) currently faced by all of us.

Here’s his response:

Do you think that Eastern philosophy, so trendy of late, can endow the West with values beyond its being merely fashionable?

Since the advent of the New Age, since the 1970s, we’ve witnessed a multiplication of oriental practices: Zen, yoga, meditation… Before there were very few, the counterculture was something very marginal, and now it’s a much more widespread phenomenon. It’s an expression of the new models for relief. To keep the pressure at bay, people need to relax, and spiritual practices are adapted toward that. Now, can this generate a social transformation that can help us? I think that thus far it helps people to personally feel better, but I don’t see how that can change modes of production, forms of government, the laws of the market…


In our world, our spiritual practices are directed towards private happiness. I mean, they’re technologies for better living, but we can’t expect that one thing alone will do everything. Exercises in spirituality, as was said in ancient Greece, never had the mission of transforming the world. They’re intended to transform one’s own life, to make one happier, but to put it in simpler terms, they’re not intended to transform the objective world.

In your opinion, how could such values really take root?

I think things are moving fast and the salvation of societies will have to come from a more humane place, in the formative years. I think it’s possible to convince people. Thanks to the digital world, the internet allows a rethinking of educational problems and this can facilitate the dissemination of such a rethinking. It’s not an absolute solution but we’re faced with a great possibility.

Talk to the author: @AnaPauladelaTD

Image: Public domain

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