The Difference Between the Socialism of Marx and Yogananda’s “Spiritual Socialism”


What’s the difference between the socialism of Marx, Lenin and Mao, and the "spiritual socialism" of Yogananda?

—Siddharth Kumar, India


Dear Siddharth,

The difference lies in the word Yogananda used – spiritual.

Marx, Lenin, and Mao were social reformers. Their socialism was born of the mind and their social system was imposed from the outside onto the people, with force: nobody owns any property, nobody owns any business, everything belongs to everyone.

Yogananda, on the other hand, was a spiritual reformer. For him, such common belonging was the result of the inner evolution of souls: egotism naturally diminishes and a spontaneous sense of unity among people arises, due to their spiritual growth. He explained that individualism exists only for the eventual ushering in of spiritual socialism, in which evolved souls will naturally live for the greatest good of the greatest number of people.

In short: “spiritual socialism” will be established naturally, as people grow inwardly. On the contrary, Marx and the others pushed an idealistic system, which contained noble ideals on people who, however, weren’t ready for it. Therefore force had to be applied, even suppression and violence.

Yogananda explains in the Autobiography of a Yogi: “Utopia must spring in the private bosom before it can flower in civic virtue. Man is a soul, not an institution; his inner reforms alone can lend permanence to outer ones.”

In The New Path, Swami Kriyananda explains the same thought with different words: “Without inner transformation, outer improvements in the human lot were like attempts to reinforce a termite-ridden building with a fresh coat of paint.”

The best politics we can practice, therefore, is to try to uplift the consciousness of the world, in our own small way. We need to begin with ourselves, of course. In this way, we contribute to a natural, happy, and inspiring “spiritual socialism.”

All the best,

PS. If you are interested in reading a little more about this topic of “spiritual socialism,” here is what Swami Kriyananda said about the topic.

Paramhansa Yogananda said that society in future will be based in what he called “spiritual socialism.” From this remark I gather that some of the ideals, even if few of the practices, of modern communism are in harmony with the vibrations of the new age, and to some extent explain why communism has gained such a hold on the minds of men.

I can give only my own interpretation of what the Master meant by this term, “spiritual socialism,” since he didn’t explain it. It is an interpretation, however, based on several years of direct association with him, during which time, although not everything he said was remembered, the sense of what he said lingered on, and lives within me still to this day.

That aspect of communism which seeks to enslave people while providing for their material needs was certainly contrary to the Master’s vision of justice. In principle, he was opposed even to social charities, because, he said, they discourage people from developing their own initiative. He deplored the direction taken by America during the last depression, when people learned to depend on the government to feed and look after them. This trend, which has only been gathering momentum, weakens the individual, and encourages the government to assume more and more the role of dictating men’s personal lives. Such a trend is contrary to the entire principle of Self-realization.

Since Yogananda’s vision of the future included the removal of such social injustices, spiritual socialism as he envisioned it cannot imply some far-reaching socio-economic system, with the rigid controls that total government ownership would entail. Rather, it can only describe a society in which people have learned at last to think naturally in terms of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” It implies a social condition in which people understand that more can be accomplished by voluntary cooperation with one another than by ceaseless, cut-throat competition. Therefore it implies, I think, a state where decentralization is seen to be as necessary to the country as centralization — each serving as an important counterbalance to the other.

For centralization of course there must be, in an age of such rapid transportation and communication as we live in already. Without some central management there would be chaos. But lest too much power be concentrated in the hands of a few men, it is also desirable that man’s deeper values rest on human and spiritual, not on political considerations. It is one thing to be expected to abide by the same traffic laws wherever one goes. It is quite another to be told where he may go.

Under spiritual socialism, then, there will be universal equality based on common acceptance rather than on government-enforced laws. At the same time, Yogananda foresaw a United States first of Europe and, separately, of the Americas, then eventually a United States of the World.