India and the Changing World

The grip of the Cold War upon the world has loosened. A raging flux of events is sweeping everywhere. The flow of powerful forces has tipped the balance; strong nations are trying to breathe easier and weak ones suffocate as the jigsaw pieces move. The Soviet gambit of relinquishing superpowership and backing off from a stagnant stalemate may sow the seeds of a productive change in Russian society. The European Community is trying to make the whole larger than its European parts. Japan is industriously gnawing away at every niche and has drawn blood through anaesthesised wounds. The United States has leapt like a mighty submerged whale trying to shake off weighty barnacles, with the United Kingdom riding its fin. China has lashed its dragon-tail. The Gulf potentates long for quiet opiation. Uneasiness and chill have given India pause from its self-indulgent pettiness.

In the press of all these events certain fundamental changes stand out as characteristics of the world today. For one, we have witnessed the collapse of communism such as we knew it. Capitalism as a principle increasingly opposed communism, and, quite interestingly, along with the collapse of its antagonist we will witness the downturn of capitalism itself. Due to the decompression of these two major forces, we have scope for freedom of smaller nations. And in the midst of all this, in however left-handed a manner, we are seeing the prominence of the United Nations as an emerging world-body.

There are many factors which brought about these changes. On the surface are the tactical ones, and as such the most obvious. The age being deeply steeped in commerce and industry, the economic factor is the most immediate. The collapse of communism, especially in the USSR, was engineered through economic competition with capitalism. In China too the spirit of communism is dwindling through economic liberalisation. Apart from economics, there are social and individual factors as well. Access to information, technology, education and mainly access to a freer vision of the world played on the society. Finally, individuals themselves do not want to be regimented by the state, but would rather breathe a free air.

But beneath these tactical surface factors run deeper reasons. Both communism and capitalism as implemented display extremes of somewhat exclusive principles—in communism the principle of equality and in capitalism the principle of liberty. In the USSR and China everyone was first made equal in however negative a manner, and in that whatever individual freedom could exist was given. On the other hand, in the US and originally in the UK liberty was the main principle and each individual was free to develop as needed or as possible. But since this soon leads to chaos, some equality of law and order was brought in to support a viable liberty of individuals. The origin of both liberty and equality is in the objective scientific press of the 18th and 19th centuries. Emerging from theocracy and feudalism, Europe discovered science as a liberating force, since its truths were universal, available to everyone, neither interpreted by some theocracy nor controlled by any feudal lord. Liberty found its genesis in science’s throwing off the social yokes of theocracy and feudalism. So also the universality and objective nature of science removed the difference between one person and the next. This engendered equality. The objective material principle worked in another way as well. Capitalism was organised as a means of exploring and exploiting properties of matter directly by the individual, and communism was organised as a principle of social interaction in collective matter.

The native impetus of science, its fundamental principle of progress, is a discovery of objective truths of physical nature based on previously discovered objective truths and new objective perceptions of matter. Yet this principle has played only a small part in the development of science. Two utilitarian processes have hijacked its progress: the capitalist-imperialist impetus and the economist-consumerist impetus. The former came about because capitalism needs differentials in markets and suppliers even though its exercise tends to equalize these differentials. To preserve them artificially, a capitalist-imperialist society relies on state infrastructure and a prominent military, both based on advanced science and technology. In the economist-consumerist paradigm, each individual is a potential consumer of tools and conveniences required for personal development, and science and technology are used to make these conveniences available to all—thereby giving science another impetus for growth. While the capitalist-imperialist approach relies on domination and the economist-consumerist approach relies on interdependence, curiously, each is susceptible to the other, and we see societies espousing a combination of the two. For example, the US, promulgating consumerism internally, seeks domination abroad, while Japan, promulgating interdependence abroad, has organised its own society on a military footing to meet the consumerist paradigm in the export markets. A contradiction is planted deep in both models and they shall not suffice, either exclusively or in combination, for the emerging world.

Science itself has come to a threshold where the objective principle has to be widened, and we have to look for an intuitive-subjective impetus to science. This has come about through the methodologies of science itself. In atomic physics it is quite apparent that the observer cannot be independent of the observed system. This also happens in other material organisations such as economic and social systems where experiments cannot be repeated since they alter the system. In that sense, there are no objective perceptions of matter. Science will be led through subjective means. But this is only the very objective way by which subjectivism enters science. There is an even deeper way of intuitive inspiration in science. We can take a clue from the Kena Upanishad:

That which sees not with the eye, that by which one sees the eye’s seeings.

The innate interconnectedness of all phenomena is the essence of the intuitive-subjective approach. Consider two men, one of normal sight and another born blind. There is the objective reality of day and night—the diurnal cycle of nature. One sees it but the other cannot. Since the blind man cannot distinguish night from day, is there no distinction? How would the man with sight communicate his physical perception to the externally blind man? There is a faculty even in the blind to know light and it is this faculty that needs to be invoked in communicating truths for subjective perception. Language enters as the vocable for expressing subjective perceptions, for the development of language itself proceeds through inner subjective means. Proceeding merely from this scientific viewpoint, we cannot see the exclusiveness of liberty and equality surviving. We need also to bring forward that third principle of the French revolution embodying the innate interconnectedness of all, the principle of fraternity, amidst a balance of liberty and equality.

But even beyond these scientific reasons, there are yet deeper spiritual reasons. Sri Aurobindo has said, “there is a spiritual possibility of the race,” and a basis is being created for that to work out. In this possibility, we shall see the development and fulfillment of the individual and the collective simultaneously and harmoniously. This nexus between the individual and the collective shall shape the character of the emerging world. Externally we shall see internationalism in individuals and heterogeneity in nations, a diverse expression of an innate unity. Liberty, equality and fraternity are outer reflections of deeper soul-principles—freedom, unity and godhood: freedom of the soul from the bond of existence and action; unity of the soul throughout manifestation; godhood of the soul’s identification with the Supreme in and above manifestation. The soul’s freedom could open the path of escape from manifestation into some individual liberation. But more concrete and true is the World-soul’s fulfillment in realising the Supreme here on earth. Events on earth ever press towards this realisation, and the current changes prepare a superhuman step in the unfolding evolution. We shall see not just a tactical balance between liberty, equality and fraternity, but a living harmony of freedom, unity and godhood. Harmony is the ineluctable principle of any permanent vision of the world.

But what precisely will be the character of the emerging world? It shall be marked by an integral development of the individual’s personality through access to education, information, technology, work, culture, and much more deeply, through a spiritual seeking. In participation in the collective, individuals shall bring forth several faculties, not just a single prominent one, in a well-rounded manner, and press on the collective, just as the collective would press on the individual to become more and more integral. In the collective character we shall see resolution of national and international issues not through imposition but through multilateral discussions, shall we say multilogues, in national and international fora. While authoritative regimes such as a theocracy or a monarchy or a dictatorship suppress a balanced interaction between the individuals and the collective, even democracy shall prove insufficient: almost everywhere there are either hung parliaments or thin and threatened majorities. This situation will continue until there is a political restructuring to accommodate complex and multilateral considerations. And, finally, we shall see a rich diversity of culture in the midst of a world-union. Suppression of any culture would disappear and even classical forms of culture would give way to new expressions and their commingling.

For such a novel character of the world to emerge we need novel world institutions. For the individual’s fulfillment we need educational, cultural, technological, and commercial institutions which give scope for individual development. In the collective we need local government with organic legislative, executive and judiciary aspects close to the community. There would be a shallow layering and hierarchy between local, national and international organisations. The national body will emerge in a multifaceted manner—there will simultaneously press on one another a nation based on language, a nation based on culture, a nation based on education, geography, history, tradition, a nation based on spirituality—press until they congeal into one national unit. For example, India is one such nation, not some bland homogeneity but a rich diversity pressing on itself to create a nation-state. The state apparatus of such a nation needs to be decentralised into local and organic forms of government. In particular, the local bodies would form a layer of laterally interacting networks throughout the world. At the same time, the national umbrella organisation is required to participate in international fora. And for resolution of complex issues in a multilateral manner, we would see development of channels for specific and general communication laterally and vertically.

Before seeing how we could cast such a future world, let us examine the existing landscape. In the capitalist model as exhibited in the US and the UK the principle of liberty alone stands and needs to incorporate into itself the principle of equality to which it was set up in opposition: ironically, if a certain principle is opposed by a another, then the harmony of a higher truth is in the synthesis of both. In Europe the economic interdependence is rather limited since it is by nature commercial alone. In particular, it is an obvious prey to the capitalist model. We should also consider the resurgence of a reunited Germany. There are fears especially in Europe that Germany might go again the fascist route. But we have hope that Germany would settle instead into leadership of the European community and also be checked by it. We may characterise the resurgence of Japan as imitative. She has weakened her own cultural and religious tradition and hence may not be able to dig deep enough to chart an independent path, though of course she has amassed a great amount of money power. Russia right now we see is passing through a transitional phase. She seems to be going the imitative route, though she is invested with past experimentation, both practical and mystical. In any case, whatever be the resurgence of Russia, we have doubt that it will happen in time to make a central contribution in shaping the future world. In China, communism still seems to linger, but it must go. It has led to a complete suppression of individual freedom. Seeds of its end have already been sown in the economic liberalisation on market principles by the Chinese leaders. We did see the beginning of a pro-democracy movement in the intellectual circles of Chinese polity. However, it was not unmixed with arrogance. From speeches we have heard of student leaders we find that this arrogance cannot tolerate the peasants of China as voting members of the democracy. Even though the Chinese cultural tradition, with its mysticism and spirituality, has been weakened by communism, it is so cast and is so long-living that it may revive and grow from the current trickle to a mighty stream. The main difficulty with the Chinese resurgence and influence in world events may lie in that seeds of her fragmentation might already have been sown as well. The economic liberalisation of China has happened through development of pockets of market structures which have grown independently, evolved different mechanisms of dealing with customers, government and foreign countries. Further, China needs to incorporate into herself Hong Kong and perhaps Taiwan. International pressure on account of Tibet and human rights’ violations is certain to mount against China, pushing her into habitual isolation or even break-up. And finally there is Islamic fundamentalism vying for some sort of audience. With the freedom of nations in Central Asia and East Europe there is an Islamic belt right through East Europe, the Middle East, West China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, this is an anachronistic development. Theocratic attempts have been made but they are now done for; their time in this world is over. They are centralising and arbitrary. In essence they have the principle of fraternity but complete suppression of liberty and equality, and hence cannot survive. Their sole use may be to serve as opposition to the capitalist principle which is spoiling for antagonists.

Through all this we see that India is indeed in a unique position to come up with a model that the world could hark to. We see in India a concentration of all the ills in the world. We see teeming diversity, lopsided prosperity, factional militarism, resurgent right-wing appeal and we also see frustration of vision. There is no direction in which people know that they are going. But more than all this, India has maintained a very long and continuous tradition of the deepest spiritual seeking. At this time in the world we need to delve into our roots and come up with a vision for the future, and India has preserved that knowledge for which we should search. The path to individual liberation has already been shown by India and extensive collective experimentation as well has been conducted by her. These have lapsed due to an inertia in the Indian milieu, but they need to be revived in this new age in a new way. And, finally, also quite importantly, India has a test-bed in which to try out whatever models she develops. The Indian subcontinent is the natural domain of India and if any paradigm can harmonise it, then surely it will inspire the world.

At the same time, there are a lot of problems facing India. There are problems at the individual level and problems for the collective. The basic problems of the individual in India are pettiness in personal dealings, lack of pride in work, poor professionalism, no dynamism and no aggressiveness. Drive for the superlative is a `must’—wanting to be the best, the highest, the fastest, and so on. Another problem of the individual is emasculating intellectualism. This intellectualism has a weak receptivity to India’s cultural and spiritual heritage. This is all the more prominent in Indians abroad, who would rather make a clean break with it, or an embarrassed admission of it. In contrast, the Chinese outside China have maintained robust cultural ties much to their advantage. What we need is a full-blooded expression and embassy of Indian culture and spirituality. Finally, for the Indian individual, there is the pseudospiritual, sentimental religious piety, the fatalistic, other-worldly attitude. Indians do not seem to be fully engaged in existence in the physical. This is exhibited in our divergent trichotomy between what we learn—our education, what we do—our work, and how we live—our homes. There are problems for the collective as well. Every concept that needs implementation has been corrupted. Democracy has been interfered with through poll-rigging, booth-capturing and gerrymandering and, as seen in Punjab, Kashmir and Assam, its results are obvious. Socialism has spawned a massive bureaucracy which has become the double bond of India—double because first it cannot implement what it is set to and second it smothers any organic effort which could change India’s character. Another problem which is the outgrowth of the first is its growing factionalism. The solution to this lies in the solution to the first. But what may in the international context be India’s nemesis is that there is too much slack in the system. We are not on the frontier of our possibilities and capabilities. Nations cannot respond to social, political or international pressures by becoming smaller, but have to steer themselves always on this frontier. Otherwise they are threatened with trivialisation. This is precisely what has happened to India. In this commercial age the main lines of commerce are skirting our shores rather than going through it.

What course of action then should we take as individuals, as citizens of India, and certainly as citizens of the world? As individuals, we have to fulfill ourselves in the fullness of the spirit by whatever path we choose. In the collective, we have to participate in the various institutions, local, national and international, while being imbued with the spirit of the emerging world, and not on the terms of these institutions. Our every act of participation in them must to some extent chip away at their rock of inertia and sculpt for them bodies of the future. We have to lead, cajole and press India and her institutions towards world-citizenship. But, of course, this has to be done with a deep sympathy. Finally, as individuals we have to act with the deeper motive of preparing ourselves and humanity for its next evolutionary step towards which the world is being moulded.

Certainly we need some signs, some telling touchstones that show us we are on the right path. The one thing we should look for is a solution to a deep problem in the world today—a complete absence of personalities that can lead the world forward. As a natural outcome of the subjective-intuitive age we should see the emergence of personalities that can house the world-afflatus. We should also look for efflorescence of cultures, not just classical ones but also new creations, and their harmonious commingling. Lastly, we should look more and more for multilateral solutions to international issues and problems through multilateral fora for their development, discussion, communication and implementation, rather than through imposition. Through all this shall emerge a new world-order starting from the very external liberty, equality and fraternity but growing ever towards an expression of inner freedom, unity and godhood, already charted by the Lord of destiny—India’s and the world’s.

1992

(Note: Dramatic changes have occured in India since 1992.)

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