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Going Beyond the Shifting Spiritual Paradigms


(Talk delivered on 7 November 2005 at the India International Centre on
National Conference on Global Peace through Universal Responsibility)

'Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate'. - Carl Jung

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you
commit atrocities." - Voltaire.

A mouth that prays, a hand that kills. - Arab proverb

"How do you find a lion that has swallowed you?" asked Swiss psychologist, Carl
Jung, commenting on the moral dilemma posed by the "shadow," his insightful term
for the dark, hidden side of the human psyche.


The subject of this talk would not interest the majority of the people who go through the humdrum of Indian existence without trying to look for anything beyond the travails of their existence. To that extent the debate remains esoteric, in that it encompasses, wholly, or in parts, religion, faith, spirituality, science and philosophy. For most people the world over religion comprises practices, rituals and worship centering on a supreme being. Yet, childlike innocence encompasses the same reality that informs the enlightenment experience. There are no dissonances at either extremes of the spiritual quest – the infinite enfolds it at the beginning and at the end. While most religions have a shared belief in divine power and a code of conduct can be found in their writings the pinnacle of spiritual attainment must embody the quality of compassion. Fortunately for India the tradition continues.

Today one of its greatest exponents is the Dalai Lama, the itinerant monk who has internalized the acute sufferings of his people to reinforce his compassion. Remarkably, for it is the quintessence of compassion, his effulgence embraces in equal measure the tormenters of his people. The Chinese leaders – never the people of China – may have denounced him from every pulpit. The Dalai Lama enfolds the oppressors of his people with the same benign gaze as he does the rest of the world. Going beyond his individual spiritual attainment, he has been turning his attention to the synthesis between science and spirituality, because without a grand fusion of the two streams humankind might continue to be beset with dilemmas to which no satisfactory answer might be easily forthcoming.

That is why it is perplexing to note that a group of U.S. neurologists have raised objections to plans for the exiled Tibetan leader to open their annual convention, on the dubious plea that a non-scientist has no place lecturing them about science. Several hundred members of the Society for Neuroscience petitioned the organization to rescind its invitation to the Buddhist leader, invited to deliver the inaugural address at their November (2005) conference in Washington. “What I object to is having a non-scientist address a scientific community about science,” said a neurobiologist. About 30,000 scientists from around the world were expected to attend the Neuroscience 2005 conference, where more than 17,000 neurology-related research presentations and over 50 symposia were scheduled. The Dalai Lama is to address the group on the neuroscience of meditation, based on the work of American researchers looking to see whether the intense meditation practiced by Buddhist monks can generate positive emotions.

This episode – even if one discounts orchestration by Chinese interests – is disconcerting for several reasons, not necessarily connected with the persona of the Dalai Lama. That a full seven hundred learned scientists actually appended their signature to this petition on the grounds that a person of the eminence, wisdom, learning and spirituality of the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Prize winner to boot, must be made unwelcome on the ground that a non- scientist has no contribution to make to their discipline is truly stupefying. Does it follow that, in turn, a scientist must never participate in any discussion not connected with that person’s discipline? The narrowness of this approach on the part of such a large number of luminaries from the field of neurosciences is utterly incomprehensible. It represents a paradigm shift away from the very foundation of scientism – the quest for exploring every phenomenon that could have a bearing on the outcome. In this particular case the hypothesis on which the Dalai Lama would be making his presentation should normally have been of more than passing interestto neuroscience, since it deals, above all, with the mental faculty.

In the great scientific–spiritual debates of the earlier centuries the discussion mostly revolved round science and spirituality or science and religion. At times they caused bitter rifts between the exponents of one or the other, seeking primacy for their respective fields. Taking an overview of the debates that raged through the centuries it transpires that differences have been quite pronounced, excluding, of course, names of some of the more famous philosophers and scientists who sought to bring about a teleological convergence. Many of the latter were greatly influenced by the study of Vedic literature, which had become fairly well known in informed European circles by the 19th century. Erwin Schroedinger, who in 1925 hypothesised that the waves of electrons also could be quantized was one such person.

Here note has to be taken of Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy or the ‘Uncertainty Principle,’ as it is better known. In 1927, Werner Heisenberg had explained that not only was the electron picture a blurred one, but that the electron itself was unknowable through any possible scientific experiment. For, in order to know an electron, we must know where it is, and what its velocity is. He thought that this placed an insurmountable difficulty, for both these could not be known together. Heisenberg explained this difficulty by means of ‘thought experiment’ or what he termed, in German language, a ‘Gedanken experiment,’ elaborating that in order to see something, we have to use light, having wavelength smaller than the thing to be seen. So, in order to spot out an electron, which is extraordinarily small, we would require gamma rays because these have the shortest wavelength. Now, Einstein had already shown in his study of photoelectric effect that the electrons are knocked out whenever ultraviolet rays meet them.

So, when a super-microscope is set to detect the fast-moving electron in its orbit around the nucleus, the powerful gamma rays from the microscope, while illumining the electron, would violently knock out the electron from its orbit and would bring about change in its direction and speed. Heisenberg opined that this change in direction and momentum would be uncontrollable and unpredictable, stating that the real nature of electron would remain shrouded in uncertainty. He went on to say that the electrons do not exist as individual entities but as ‘electron cloud’, so the nature of an individual electron cannot be known; we can have only statistical averages of a vast number of electrons taken together. He concluded that we cannot observe the subatomic world without altering it and we cannot give its objective description.

The other implication, derived from Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty was that the cause-and-effect relationship does not apply to the Quantum or the subatomic world. Einstein, however, could never accept the incertitude regarding the knowledge of the electron and its movement as final. He argued that if we can know a baseball, or an automobile or a projectile, we should also know an electron. As a response to the Uncertainty Principle, he often said: “God does not play dice”. Einstein also opposed the idea of indeterminism. Along with his two associates, Podolsky and Rosen, he formulated a mathematical paradox, known as EPR paradox, through which he tried to prove that quantum indeterminism was false. Einstein thought that there must be a ‘hidden variable’, which is responsible for this uncertainty. Einstein believed that, as a rule, there should not be any indeterminacy in the realm of physics. Although until his death he could not find such ‘hidden variable’, he, however, did not give up his opposition to the Principle of Uncertainty or indeterminacy.

Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty shook the physicists – metaphysics as well - as it was an unexpected discovery. Up to that time it had been thought that Physics was an exact science and that things happened in a definite way according to the law of cause and effect. Einstein, Max Born, Neils Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Schroedinger and many other quantum physicists had a conference at Copenhagen where Neils Bohr gave his ‘Concept of Complementarity’. Although most of the scientists accepted this interpretation of the quantum phenomena, Einstein refused to accept the Principle of Uncertainty as final.

Having touched upon the concept the Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty, one can revert briefly to the more recent branch of physics, known as Particle Physics. Einstein had propounded that mass of a particle increases with its velocity. Later scientists hypothetically calculated the ‘rest-mass’ of an electron. They concluded that the mass of an electron would increase, as its speed would increase. Particle Physicists have divided all sub-atomic particles, according to their masses, into three main categories: Light weight particles - Leptons; medium weight particles – Mesons; and heavy weight particles - Baryons.

Photons do not belong to this framework. Up to the present Particle physicists have mentioned the existence of about 200 sub-atomic particles. Some of these have been discovered, others have only been theorized and are arbitrarily known as ‘massless particles’. Most of the particles have an incredibly short life and size. For example, a positive electron lasts only 10-8 seconds. In their experiments on high-energy particles, physicists have come across particles, which live only a few particle-second where a particle-second is 10-23 second or 0.00000 00000 00000 00000 0000 second. At the end of this incredibly small period, they change into other particles. The particle that lives for the shortest period is called ‘Resonance”. Since its existence is extremely short, some like to call this as ‘an event’ rather than ‘an object’.

When known particles collide with very high velocity, sometimes nearing that of light, new particles are formed. The collision or interaction of sub-atomic particle results in ‘annihilation’ of the original particles and the ‘creation’ of new sub-atomic particles. This process of ‘destruction’ and ‘creation’ goes on in outer space. So small and so short-lived are particles at the microphysical or sub-atomic level that a sub-atomic or microphysical particle according to Schroedinger cannot be observed twice. Heisenberg in his Principle of Uncertainty had maintained that a sub-atomic particle could not be observed even once. It is possible that some time in the future instruments may be devised that might enable their study. What Heisenberg had deduced was more the result of a ‘mental experiment’ – a ‘Gedanken experiment’ as he called it. He had followed Einstein’s advice, when the latter told him that it is the theory that determines the form and nature of experiment. Hence, in the years to come it may be possible to have a new theory that enables new mental experiments (Gedanken) and a new mathematical formula that enables a better understanding about the electrons and other sub-atomic particles.

The word ‘understanding’ itself needs further analysis. In 1922, when Heisenberg was walking with Neils Bohr, along the slopes of Hain mountain in Germany one afternoon he put many questions to Neils Bohr, one of which was; “If the inner structure of an atom is as close to descriptive accounts, as you say, if we really lack a language for dealing with it, how can we ever hope to understand atoms?” After deep thought for a moment, Neils Bohr said; “I think we may yet be able to do so. But in the process we may have to learn what the word ‘understanding’ really means”.

Earlier, Laplace (1749-1827) also had said it emphatically that things do happen and must happen in a ‘deterministic’ and ‘certain’ way. Other scientists also, until Heisenberg enunciated his principle, believed that if we know the position of its parts at one particular instant, we would be able to specify the whole thing or event. Laplace had expressed his deterministic view in the following words: “We ought then to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing at any given instant of time all forces acting in nature, as well as the momentary positions of all things of which the universe consists, would be able to comprehend the motions of the largest bodies of the world and those of the smallest atoms in one single formula provided it was sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain; both future and past would be present before its eyes.” The Laplace formulation tantalizingly parallels the ability of the Vedic seers, trikaldarshis, to comprehend the three elements of time. The aspect needs to be dwelled into. It comes closest to the realm of metaphysics and the spiritual experience.

We come then to the Law of Cause & Effect at the sub-atomic level. It might be incorrect to presume that Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty demolished the pillar of causality. Einstein may have been justified in saying that the principle of Uncertainty was not acceptable as the final word on the subject. One conclusion of Heisenberg’s views was that the act of observation by the scientist alters the condition of the quantum particles that are observed.

In 1933, Einstein said that the discovery of a ‘hidden variable’ would account for it. In 1961, Eugene Wigner, a Nobel physicist, proposed that it is the ‘consciousness of the scientist which is itself the hidden variable that decides the outcome of the event. Wigner emphasised that it would be impossible to give a description of quantum mechanical processes without the explicit reference to the ‘consciousness’ of the observing scientist. Since then other scientists have also felt that, at the sub-atomic level, objective truth cannot be known because the objective reality there is inextricably affected by the subjective consciousness of the scientist. Here it would be interesting to again bring in Schroedinger, who said: “Attempt to resolve the dualism of mind and matter was also attempted in the west, but the attempt was carried always on the material plane and, therefore, it failed… It is odd that it has usually been done on material basis… but this is no good. If we decide to have only one sphere, it has to be the psychic one since that exists anyway.” Compare this with a yogi who empties his mind of all thoughts to observe, or rather intuit, phenomenon without interfering with them through a focused gaze that could disturb the phenomenon.

At the present time most discussions on the subject center round the Unified-field theory. Albert Einstein, who had enunciated the particle-nature of light and matter, was, perhaps, the first who thought of the unified-field theory. He wanted to formulate a theory that could explain that all the forces of nature are, in reality, various manifestations of one same force. Though some attempts towards unification of some forces had already been made, it was Einstein who thought of unifying all the forces. Physicists are now dreaming of a Super-unified-field theory or Super-unified Quantum theory. But, in the meantime, some other physicists have detected the existence of an Anti-Gravity-Force that is about 1/10,000 of the force of Gravity and is opposed to Gravity. Perhaps, they will now have to integrate that force also in the same theory. Attempts for unification are going on. As Stephen Hawking the famous astrophysicist at Cambridge says the super-unification of the forces of the universe “is the most out-standing problem in theoretical physics at the present time”. He adds: “It seems very reasonable to suppose that there may be some unifying principles, so that all laws are part of some bigger law from which all laws can be derived”.

The very elementary recounting of the broad concepts of particle physics related to the Indeterminacy Principle, ultimately leading – it is hoped – to the grand unified field theory became necessary to a paradox which science bereft of the spiritual leap might not be in a position to overcome. The fact is that in its present state of development the human mind is simply not equipped to conceive of more dimensions, and certainly not nine, ten or eleven. Even one additional dimension, for that matter, would be mentally inconceivable. However, it might be possible to intuit these through deep psychic insights approximating the Buddha experience of enlightenment.

It is known that many seekers have generally appreciated that the highest spiritual experience is beyond the ken of the senses and the intellect. It is not easy for the human mind to fathom the working of divine grace due to its tendency to rationalize its experiences. That might be the reason that faith in God becomes the basis of spiritual life. When a devotee wanted to know from Ramakrishna Paramhamsa whether he too could attain the mystic state that the saint often experienced, the latter replied that he would not be able to withstand it. Unless it is divinely revealed in a blinding flash of illumination – as has been recorded in the case of some great seers - spiritual experience being very subtle, it requires a lot of preparation and possibly years of patience to attain the mystic state. One has to progress very gradually and appreciate that many spiritual experiences go beyond the average person’s level of evolution.


Superimposing the metaphysical dimension on the global canvas much of the violence that has recently taken place across continents has a religious basis. Where violence has not irrupted on a large scale the underlying tensions have centred on denominational differences, largely between Muslims and Christians. Muslims and Hindus only on the subcontinent and nowhere else. It has been fashionable to attribute these differences to fringe elements rather than to intelligently directed, well-funded, supra-national zeal. What is being witnessed today has developed into a clash of religions. To term it as a ‘clash of civilizations’ is misleading and prevents a more incisive analysis of the phenomenon, erupting with such regularity in many parts of the world. It is the endeavour in this paper to look at the globality of this distressing turn of events at the dawn of the new century. The focus will be on India with special reference to the spatial regression of the Indic heritage in large parts of the subcontinent, where it had survived a millennial onslaught of foreign domination before India became independent. It is frightening that in just six decades after independence Hinduism has been pushed out from large tracts of the subcontinent, especially in the west and the north and more recently in Bangladesh in the East. What is worse, should this trend remain unchecked it will further shrink the geographical space where the Vedic heritage had first manifested itself in its full resplendence - to enrich the philosophical and spiritual roots of world civilization. Even in the restricted space available to it in truncated India - where the space is being further eroded - it is unable to express itself unabashedly and unapologetically. The looming danger in this regard is to the Indic denominations as also to the spiritual heritage of the world.

This conclave comes at a time when the increasingly volatile situation within the country and without practically demands a reformulation of religious attitudes in a world that is using religion to further cherished geopolitical goals. As far as it concerns India, the country was partitioned along religious lines. Over the decades since Independence many of the seemingly intractable problems on the subcontinent have religious underpinnings, to the extent that religious militancy has been instrumental through various geostrategic twists and turns in inducing foreign forces to set up military bases on the subcontinent. Today, when one talks of threats to India from its neighbours or some of the internal threats, these, in many ways, ipso facto translate into threats to Hinduism or on another plane as threats to the Vedic heritage of the subcontinent - a heritage that had developed over several millennia. It was free from religious strife that was virtually unknown in those earlier times. It came to these parts only after the advent of the later religions. The latter ended up by enslaving India for over a millennium.

India’s Vedic heritage is timeless, eternal. It can neither disappear nor be diminished. Having said that, each generation is obliged to find answers to the problems that afflict it at that point in time. This is not only the Karma Yoga enshrined in the Geeta. It is now an existential imperative. Undoubtedly, Hinduism is being assailed from without and buffeted from within. How should it meet this challenge? Some pointers that could provide reasonable answers in the prevailing conditions in India and on the subcontinent are enumerated below:

Radicalisation of Hinduism or hard core Hindutva as expounded by certain organisations is certainly not the answer. Hinduism must retain its core philosophy of compassion, tolerance and non-violence regardless of the threats being faced from various directions.

The threats that the Vedic heritage faces today in the land of its birth, encompassing the entire subcontinent from the Indian Ocean to the Hindukush and Tibet are real. Potentially, they are as grave as any faced in earlier times. These threats have to be countered by the instrumentalities of the state that are designed to deal with them, as for any sovereign state. If need be, these instrumentalities can be further strengthened and expanded till the danger has been definitely warded off.

Meanwhile, it is the duty of the Indian State and every citizen of India to ensure that regardless of differences that might have arisen between the communities due to politically inspired exacerbations or on account of the present global environment that no citizen of any community is harmed or lives in fear. Engendering fear, even if there were to be no physical harm, should be as abhorrent as physical harm.

Concomitant with the strengthening of the security organs of the state the Government – both at the Centre and the States – has to ensure that women’s emancipation and education of the girl child are given the highest priority. No communal organizations, communally minded politicians or individuals should be allowed to stand in the way.

Population stabilization across the length and breadth of the subcontinent must become a SAARC priority.
Indians have to boldly articulate the likely outcome of the demographic shifts being induced in the subcontinent, almost exclusively to India’s disadvantage. Unless a clear strategy is formulated to alter these trends the forces aligned against syncretism will be strengthened immeasurably at the cost of India. The clear danger arising from the demographic exclusion of non-Muslims from large parts of the subcontinent and neighbouring regions, while at the same time pushing in of people who denominationally have the potential to be hostile to India is a grave threat, which needs to be countered urgently and decisively.

At this point it becomes essential to address the central dilemma that the Vedic heritage of the country is faced with. It is one that has bedeviled its foremost exponents, thinkers and practitioners since the time that India came under foreign domination. The dilemma, which remained un-addressed for a thousand years, has now transformed itself into an existential imperative at the start of the third millennium. It is where we stand today trying to come to grips with a problem, which, should it remain unresolved, could see a sharp decline of the Indic tradition in the lands whence it blossomed forth to enrich humans with a philosophy of non-violence and co-existentialist harmony that after several millennia remains perhaps the only hope for humankind hurtling toward self-annihilation – both for itself and the vast majority of the species that co-habit the planet with the humans. This needs explanation.

By the eleventh century Buddhism as a harmonizing, humanity-ennobling philosophy had spread in most parts of what is modern day East, Central, South and Southeast Asia. The university at Nalanda was perhaps the foremost seat of learning in the world of that period. Something similar may have been happening with the other streams of the Vedic heritage. None of these streams showed the least inclination for propagation or external expansion through violence. Yet, what was the result of a millennium of relatively peaceful co-existence? Because of this very passivity, Islam was able to overwhelm Bharatvarsh; with the force of demonic violence being carried to new heights. Not only were the countryside and people mowed down by the invaders, the philosophy of peaceful co-existence itself, that had blessed this land over the preceding millennium was cast aside. The ferocity of the invaders was unprecedented.

The result was that Buddhism was practically wiped out in the land of its birth and the other Vedic streams went into hibernation under centuries long suppression. V.S. Naipaul is explicit: “The millennium began with the Muslim invasions and the grinding down of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of the north. This is such a big and bad event that people still have to find polite, destiny-defying ways of speaking about it. In art books and history books, people write of the Muslims “arriving” in India, as though the Muslims came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest of India is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of the faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the carting away of the local people as slaves, so cheap and numerous that they were being sold for a few rupees. The architectural evidence—the absence of Hindu monuments in the north—is convincing enough. This conquest was unlike any other before. There are no Hindu records of this period. Defeated people never write their history. The victors write the history. The victors were Muslims. For people on the other side it is a period of darkness.”

Nearer our time, a bare three centuries ago, when the Europeans came to India they repeated the cycle of violence and intolerance. The latter eased somewhat when the post-renaissance winds of change swept Europe. Both the religions - Christianity and Islam having been in the ascendant in the last millennium and a half – were born in violence and spread through violence. Their predominant urge has been an admixture of proselytisation and extermination. So deeply ingrained have these tendencies become that the possibility of a major change in the make-up of these religions in the foreseeable future is difficult to visualize. The discourse here relates to their continuing expansionist urges.

It brings us to the heart of the existential problem confronting the followers of the Vedic tradition, especially in India, including those who have taken refuge in this country. The narration concerning the advent of Islam and Christianity, more so the former, since it forms a very large segment of the population of the subcontinent, is a factual historical narrative. The bare facts are indisputable. Equally, it can be indisputably affirmed that having subjugated many parts of the world, these religions retain the same expansionist momentum. That being the case, how should the followers of the Vedic tradition and its offshoots confront this challenge, knowing full well that continuing adherence to their cherished belief in Ahimsa could lead to disasters of magnitudes similar to those in the past. No doubt countries have standing armies to repel invaders. Seeing the neighbourhood in which it lives, India has a large professional army. It is all- volunteer.

Would armed might, however, be sufficient to ward off the ever- present danger to the way of life cherished by the vast majority of its inhabitants? The number of men in uniform or military might of itself cannot remain a sufficient guarantor of long- term stability for the continuance of the Vedic heritage in the face of increasing onslaughts from forces inimical to it. The danger is from beyond its borders as well as from within. One way of confronting it would be through an attitudinal change, whereby the tradition, or even the very philosophy of non-violence, is gradually shed and replaced with the universal norm of physically extirpating the threat from its roots - within the country and wherever else it manifests itself. The world as a whole is moving in that direction.

The question arises whether such an attitudinal change leading to the rejection of the essential elements of the Vedic tradition that are part and parcel of its distinctiveness would not change the nature of India’s great humanist tradition. Would it not then make it indistinguishable from those others who attacked it in the past and still continue to do so? Should such a change be orchestrated - for it would not come naturally to the majority of the Indian people who cherish the ancient heritage of their country - would it not be tantamount to elimination from the nation’s psyche of all that India stood for since time immemorial, for itself and for the world?

Putting it in another way, the world has watched the Chinese strangulating Tibet with a zeal that puts them beyond the pale of human decency. They appear to have become proof against the suffering of the Tibetan people. The last fifty years have been witness to eco-savagery and genocide. If the trajectory were to be plotted for the next fifty years along similar lines, the Tibetan sacred space – a precious spiritual heritage of mankind - would have been excoriated from the Tibetan landmass.

On the subcontinent, in the period since partition, the Vedic heritage is regressing in like fashion. It has practically disappeared from vast tracts to the West right up to Afghanistan A parallel development is taking place in Bangladesh in the East and Kashmir Valley in the North. Left to itself further inroads will be made within remainder India. What should be the response of the practitioners of the Vedic tradition or its offshoots, in India, Tibet and elsewhere? Should they emulate the savagery of the races that held India in thrall for more than a thousand years? Will spirituality on their part change the nature of those who thrive on violence? The paradox has to be addressed. Debates will neither resolve the dilemma nor prevent a worsening of the situation. Resolution lies in action. What should be the nature of that action?

Put more starkly, it would not be difficult to visualize that unless the present trajectory of Chinese activities in Tibet can be halted within a few decades from now the last vestiges of Tibetan culture would have been eradicated from its birthplace. People of the coming generations would not even be able to recall that there existed a Tibetan problem. Something similar has already happened in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the former, Hindus forming less than one per cent of the population today do not even constitute a minority. They stand eliminated. Bangladesh is emulating the Pakistan model. Hindus are now less than ten percent of a population that just four decades ago was well over 25 per cent. In the next four decades it will be close to zero. Buddhists have suffered the same fate.

The Chakma problem has been solved by large-scale expropriation of their land and large-scale rapes and killings. Meanwhile, India itself is fast reeling under unending influx of elements that are potentially hostile. Fifty years from now the picture for the followers of the Vedic tradition could become fairly grim if no remedial action were to be taken. To believers in ‘sarva dharma sambhava’ what could be the nature of that action, without destroying the value system that defined Hindu dharma through the ages? What part, if any, does spirituality play in redressing the situation in India or Tibet when plain commonsense and the historical experience unmistakably point in the opposite direction? What part did spirituality play when the Muslim invaders destroyed, practically overnight, a millennial tradition of vasudaiva kutumbakam?

Thomas Asbridge in his book ‘The First Crusade: A New History’ has this to say about the fall of Jerusalem: its capture, “left the holy city awash with blood, its street littered with mutilated corpses, the air heavy with putrid stench of death. So great had the massacre been that the sheer weight of Muslim bodies left rotting in the mid-summer sun threatened to overwhelm the Latins with disease. The Christian princes soon ordered that the city be cleared. The handful of Muslim survivors were forced into grim labour. They dragged the dead Saracens out in front of the gate, and piled them up in mounds as big as houses. No one has ever seen or heard of such a slaughter of Pagans, for they were burned on pyres like pyramids, and no one save God alone knows how many there were.”

Savagery of this type was repeated on a number of occasions by the followers of Islam and Christianity on each other, as well as on the inhabitants of the lands they conquered. The history of their clashes and conquests is replete with stories of pillage, killing, enslavement and conversions; to expect them to suddenly become non-violent would be asking for an impossible transformation. It calls into question – once again - the ability of the practitioners of ahimsa to withstand the pressures being put on the truncated geographical entity called India. It would be in the fitness of things to mention here that as late as 1947, i.e. till the partition of the subcontinent of India the followers of the Vedic streams could freely practice their beliefs from Chittagong in the east up to the Khyber - and even beyond - in the west; and from Tibet in the north to Sri Lanka in the south. The massive spatial regression of the Indic heritage has taken place over barely five decades. Prior to that, for over a thousand years, although there were large-scale killings and the impositions, the Indic heritage could never be eradicated in toto as is currently taking place in many parts of the subcontinent.

Even humanism and goodness do not provide a way out of the moral dilemma. Einstein in a letter dated June 23, 1953 (in German) wrote to Shinohara. “ I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan but I could not do anything at all to prevent that fateful decision.” Einstein, whose Jewish origins led him to flee Germany for the US in 1933, after Adolf Hitler came to power, also said that war was sometimes acceptable. “I didn’t write that I was an absolute pacifist but that I have always been a convinced pacifist. That means there are circumstances in which in my opinion it is necessary to use force,” he wrote. “Such a case would be when I face an opponent whose unconditional aim is to destroy me and my people,” he said. “Therefore the use of force against Nazi Germany was in my opinion justified and necessary.”

Over two centuries ago, Rousseau’s social contract helped in making the political leaders conscious that in order to retain their legitimacy they must serve the public good. In the prevailing situation today the political and business classes have to factor in this advice in their respective spheres of influence, while philosophers, intellectuals, religious and spiritual leaders continue to search for the meaning of life or the metaphysical abstractions that have been the basis of their enquiry since millennia. Ordinarily, religion and spirituality should have gone hand in hand. This, at least was the perception of the common man up to the two World Wars in the west.

Today it is certainly not the case. The growing religious indifference in the West could be indicative of a move away from spirituality toward hedonism – or possibly, despair. The people understand this. As commented by a leading US publication, “the girls in St. Peter’s Square who cheer the Pope have the pill in their pocket”. Quite a few religious leaders continue to hold sway or even befool their flock without retaining an iota of spirituality in them. Examples abound of leaders of sects who enjoy the adulation of their followers while jet setting in the pleasure grounds of the world, racing horses, with a bevy of glamorous companions – male and female – in tow. Conversely, spiritual persons, deeply revered for their spirituality, may even abjure religion in the accepted sense of the word. In parts of the world where religion has become the handmaiden of the political and geo-political urges of religious and political leaders, the very notion of spirituality must have been ejected from their fold.

Why limit the politico-religious nexus to just these two entities? In the changed economic paradigm, which has held the world in thrall since the demise of the Soviet Union, it is the support provided by capital flows that allows the politico–religious affinities to pursue their dominance agendas. In most cases, if not in all of them, religion negates the very basis of spirituality. Therefore, keeping in mind the direction in which the reigning trinity of capital formation–assertive religiosity–political skullduggery are pushing the world spirituality could soon fly away from the planet.

Eyebrows need not be raised at what has been said. On the face of it, seeing the flow of the misery-stricken human flotsam, bereft of hope, regardless of whether above or below the poverty line, spirituality can be burned at the stake of triumphant capitalism. If hedonism has not been embraced by a larger portion of humanity, it is simply because they do not have the means to do so. It does not necessarily indicate a desire to eschew hedonism. It must be clarified, however, that the talk here is of the direction in which the world is headed. It does not apply to the few holdouts that retain the purity of their quest, as in the case of the large number of people in this land, many others as well, for whom compassion, frugality and respect for mother earth remain the cardinal virtues.


Although Gandhi continues to form an important part of the ongoing political and economic discourse taking place in the country, and elsewhere in the world, it has to be mentioned that in spite of the ideals of the Mahatma quoted with reverence at most forums discussing the future course of the country, his economic and political philosophy has not really found acceptance, in so far as their practical application goes. At the end of the day it is difficult to think of an India that completely dissociates itself from the maxims of the Mahatma, whether they relate to governance, sustainable development, harmony in pluralistic societies or for the conduct of nations in the global arena. It is not surprising that Gandhi continues to attract the attention of so many people around the world, both as the man and the ideals that he stood for.

Unfortunately, the debate around the Mahatma, especially in India, rages around elements that were never put into practice in the land where they took birth. Looking back on the events, pre- and post-independence in India, one cannot fail to get the impression that although he did not lose hope or his faith in his ideals Gandhi might have died a disillusioned man. If not disillusioned, certainly heartsick at the turn of events. Did the bloodletting that took place at the time of partition in the land where for over four decades he had preached ahimsa indicate that his philosophy had failed? Was this not the land of Mahavira and Buddha?

It did not end with partition. The bloodletting continues to this day, in every part of the subcontinent. If present indications are anything to go by it could continue well into the future. It can be seen, therefore, that the ground reality is almost diametrically opposed to the Gandhian values that so many Indians continue to extol in public forums, be they intellectuals, social workers, politicians or economists. The ordinary Indian too continues to revere the memory of the Mahatma. When the state of affairs threatens to get out of hand people still go to Rajghat to take a pledge at the samadhi of the Mahatma.

The increasing hiatus between Gandhianism and the policies followed by Gandhi’s successors, regardless of their political leanings, raises fundamental questions. For the people of India, and for people around the world there can be no perception of India, real or imagined, where the ideals of the Mahatma do not loom large. How is this contradiction to be reconciled? Because, if it is not addressed and is merely glossed over at every public place within the country and without, where the name of Gandhi is taken, India will not be able to emerge unscathed from this troubling dissonance between the precept and its practice.

Seeing that India itself has veered so far away from the Gandhian mould it should have been possible to reject Gandhi’s philosophy out of hand and move forward without a backward glance at an ideal that was considered impractical; or could not be put into effect in a land were shallowness, hypocrisy and untruthfulness have become the order of the day, at least in public life. In which case, getting rid of the baggage of Gandhianism and getting on with the governance of the country in the non-Gandhian mould should have been easy.

This has not been the case. At the same time that untruthfulness and venality are in full cry, the very leaders who have propelled the country in that direction have not been able to dispense with the trumpeting of Gandhi’s legacy because of a lurking fear that should it be discarded India would not only have lost its way, it would have lost its soul.

Then there would be no turning back. The thought of that final break, even shedding the pretence that is, troubles these peoples. They know that without the pretence they would not be able to face their countrymen, not at the hustings, not in public, possibly not even in private. At a deeper level they are not unaware that a final abandonment of Gandhianism would be tantamount to condemning themselves to a karmic descent too horrid to contemplate. For, no matter how immoral the lot that governs the nation, in their heart of hearts they are deeply religious, albeit in a very warped sense of what their understanding of being religious should be. They also know that in India the vast majority of their countrymen revere the Mahatma and in spite of their poverty, deprivation and misery still closely adhere to the thoughts and ideals of Gandhiji. For they are the ideals of Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and so many other sages and seers who moulded the character and destiny of India through the ages. That destiny that awaited India at midnight of 15th August 1947 has still eluded the country. Beneath the despair and turmoil that afflicts the land that destiny still awaits India. India will yet produce the leaders who will take India to the pinnacle that the Mahatma and the sages before him dreamed of. And therefore, the ideal cannot be lost sight off. The ideal of Mahatma Gandhi is far too important for the redemption of India, if it is to find its feet and its true destiny. For the very same reason it is important for the world as well.

It is necessary to go a step further. The reasons as to why, when the majority of Indians believe in it and the political leaders profess to believe in it, Gandhianism has not prevailed in the country of its origin have to be gone into. The main reason could be the difficulty of transplanting the Gandhian ideal of the early 20th century. Under an alien dispensation that ruled the country, and because of it being alien, it started uniting the country ideologically in the earlier decades before independence. The circumstances that obtained post-independence after the partition of India are not the same. And as the years went by, leading ultimately to the dominant market capitalist economy model pervading the world in the 21st century, the implementation of those ideas became even more difficult. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, the conditions had altered radically, and secondly, having moved so far away from the Gandhian philosophy and its economic derivatives it became increasingly difficult to retrace the steps taken. Having said that, the attempts at strengthening panchayati raj and the adherence to the principle, if not the practice, of sustainable development would qualify as a bow in the direction of Gandhi.

Meanwhile, a fundamental change has taken place in the make up of the people of India - and the world as well. More than fifty years after Gandhi’s death, the capitalist model – and the morality or amorality that goes with it - have become the norm. Even countries most staunchly opposed to it earlier, have embraced it whole-heartedly, notably Russia and China. Could people of those days when Gandhi was popularizing the charkha have anything in common with Deng Xiao Peng’s famous exhortation to his countrymen: ‘it is glorious to be rich’. If it is glorious to be rich, then there is nothing left of the Gandhian philosophy. If not the masses, at least the political class and the elites of modern India have embraced Deng’s dictum as fervently as the Chinese in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, as strongly as the American themselves.

Whatever be the reason for this departure from socialism to capitalism, it is undeniable that going back to the economic idealism contained in Gandhi’s writings would relegate India to an economic abyss from which there would be no recovery in the world of today. May be, when consumerism that is fast overtaking the globe makes life itself unsustainable on the planet, people across the world will start reappraising the economic philosophy of Gandhi. That is why the world is not going to forget Mahatma Gandhi. By association India, rightly or wrongly, will benefit from that grand reversal, whenever it takes place on a global scale. If India is to remain part of the global economy, without completely shedding some of the desirable aspects of its socialist past, it must start its own reappraisal for benefiting from the vision of Gandhi wherever it is possible to transform that vision on the ground under the prevailing conditions. If the world has to save itself from self-destruction Gandhian non-violence must become the leitmotif of a globalised world, and a reformed UN structure that allows non-violence between states to become the norm for the 21st century.

It was probably Mahatma Gandhi who said: ‘for my worldly needs my village is my world; for my spiritual needs the world is my village’.

To project or even propel India into a future which many people view with trepidation one must look over one’s shoulder into the past. Not that remote past from which many people today want to draw their inspiration - more consciously than the ordinary consciousness that inheres in the minds of most Indians as to what that past might have been. That would be going too far back. Here, the past merely refers to the period after independence, divided into those early years when many of the participants (at the discussion) were very young, the Republic of India even younger. How did people of this generation look at India at that time, as it was unfolding in the ever present and flowing into a future that beckoned enticingly, even enchantingly. Doubtless there were difficulties, trials and tribulations, which the nation was undergoing. Whatever may have been happening, dejection and despair were not in the ascendant to the same level that they are today. A few decades on, having journeyed with India into the new century, the same generation has a different vision of India. In spite of the remarkable progress made in many fields – and the achievements are certainly there for everyone to see – the spirit that pervades the nation seems to have lost the freshness and innocence, perhaps naiveté of those early years. What India has evolved into in the first decade of the new century is certainly not in keeping with the vision of what India should have evolved into that people in the first decades after independence cherished.

Here we come to the first dissonance. India has gained in many respects. In several other ways it has declined. How does one strike a balance between the gains and losses when the gains are in the material plane and the losses in planes other than material? Care is being taken to avoid the use of the word spiritual when chalking up the gains and the losses. For while efforts to resurrect the hoary past merge into the realm of the spiritual, the understanding of spirituality obtaining now in India - and perhaps the rest of the world - is not the same as it might have been when the great Vedic hymns to creation were being first sung on the banks of sacred rivers that now stand as polluted as the spirits of the souls that still ritualistically immerse themselves in these flows to seek salvation. Looking at it this way, the foremost image that leaps to the surface in the consciousness plane of the beings of today is a vast sea of pollution where the scum that rises to the surface represents, symbolically, the spiritual progress, even if it cannot be measured so as to be able to offset it against the material gains; represented almost exactly on the day of the discourse by a figure of 143 billion US dollars (the external reserves of the country in early October 2005).

Where does one go from here? Should the country pitch headlong into the globalising mainstream and let the currents carry it in the direction of the new forms of nirvana, attained by the leaders of globalisation - the USA and the West, ably followed by their counterparts in the extreme east, China and Japan. Following the leader, in the true spirit of globalisation and the direction in which it is headed, will prevent people in India from falling between two stools, in this world and the next. The dilemma is very real. There are no easy answers. Having said that, answers have to be found. For it is not a question of black and white, of simply tossing a coin and then following the path indicated by the upward face of the coin, pointing towards the sky, the sun and the stars. It may be easier for other countries to do so, like China has done. India’s manifest destiny does not lie in that direction. It lies in realms that can never be reached by true practitioners of globalisation.

There is a need to engage with those who belittle and condemn India, so that their varied and rich talent does not remain tied to an acerbic condemnation of their country – no matter how real their concern – in a language that can only be appreciated by the educated elite and foreigners who joyously lap up this condemnation and confer great honors upon the authors. Condemnation for the sake of condemnation no matter how beautifully expressed is not likely to lead to any real amelioration of the conditions that gave rise to the anger or the condemnation. Writing in Young India in 1929, Mahatma Gandhi said: “My mission is not merely brotherhood of Indian humanity… My patriotism is not an exclusive thing… The conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always, in every case without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large.” Rabindranath Tagore said that while nationalism was often a blessing, too often it has been a curse. The Indian philosophy of Vasudeva Kutumbakam promotes the feeling of ‘one world’. Jawaharlal Nehru propounded the concept of ‘Panchsheel’ as the basis of mutual relationship. The Bhagvad Gita and the Isavasyopanishad tell us that the yogi sees himself in all beings and all beings in himself. He sees the same in all. If one sees all living things as if they were in his body i.e. feels their joys and sorrows as his own, and sees the same Universal Spirit in all things then there is no need for protecting oneself against others. When a man understands that all beings are, indeed, the all-pervading Spirit, then he realizes the oneness of all things.

At the dawn of the new millennium after Christ, when one looks around, it becomes abundantly clear that the spiral of violence within societies, and between nations, has reached a self-energizing momentum that might only be stilled by a cataclysmic event, the likes of which has not been witnessed before in human experience.

Between societies and groupings that cohere to form nations the ideal situation that must be worked towards would be one where the need for primacy does not arise. Non-violence appears to be the antithesis of the global reality in today’s world. Nevertheless, the concept of non-violence which can be deemed to be the most profound contribution that ancient Indian thought made to the world must regain its primacy, within India and without, if human society is to continue to live in a civilized form. That the essential harmony of all sentient beings, indeed sentience itself, as put forward by Mahavira, Buddha and many others was made the basis for India’s freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi should not be looked at in isolation, as a mere reiteration of non-violence. By introducing the ancient precept into the mainstream of the anti-colonialism struggle in India, Gandhi may have been looking well beyond to the universal projection of his innate belief in the virtue of non-violence as a survival imperative for humanity, just when scientific breakthroughs were on the verge of putting immensely destructive capabilities into the hands of mankind.


The 21st century reality of the unipolar world does not confer any leadership role upon India, should the country remain wedded to the prejudices of its earlier experience. If India wants to be heard, if it wants to strike out independently for charting a course that propels the world away from confrontation and the growing spiral of violence, it must adopt as a nation the values that enriched India in the past and continue to enrich mankind wherever those values take root. Simply put, those values relate to non-violence and self-abnegation. The aspect of non-violence has already been touched upon. The point at issue now is, as to whether self-abnegation or self-denial, the greatest of human virtues in an individual can be extended to a nation.

There does not seem to be any other way. India is ideally positioned to take the lead. It must continue to make economic progress and strengthen itself internally and externally. However, having achieved these goals it should deny itself a position at the top table. It should not hanker after a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, as that body is presently structured. India should categorically state that it remains anchored to the aspiration of all Third World countries that are looking to change the lot of their people; be they mired in backwardness and poverty because they were the victims of exploitation in the colonial era, or on account of misgovernance. Having been a part of that world, India must seek a collective betterment for all the nations who comprise the vast collectivity known as the developing nations. Either they all benefit from the new dispensation, even if it were to be so incrementally, over a given period of time, or they collectively hold out for a more just world order. India must assure them that it will not desert them no matter how tempting the offer from the rich man’s club. In reshaping such an ideal for India, the individual and national identity must aspire to march together for a better self and a better world.

When the Indian National Congress launched a campaign for all-out independence from the British Empire, it lacked an issue around which it could rally the people. Mahatma Gandhi who never held any political office but served as a sort of spiritual father of the movement, was instructed by his “inner voice” to lead a Satyagraha – a “soul force” or “truth force” campaign of civil disobedience - against the salt laws, which had been in place long before the British arrived in India. Would it be possible to replicate the Mahatma’s strategy in this day and age is the question that needs to be addressed keeping in mind the cynicism that prevails in all walks of life wherever one looks.

A writer in a recent article (TIME, August 15-22, 2005) poses the rhetorical question about Tibetan youths getting impatient with the Dalai Lama’s policy of patience, forgiveness and non-violence to regain their homeland: “When they are in Tibet, they long to come to India,” (talking about the newly arrived boys from Tibet). “When they get to India, they dream of America. But when they get to America, what will they dream of then?” (Unquote).

But why should this question be addressed only to Tibetan youth? What about the youth from this country and so many other countries who go to America? What do ‘they’ dream of? For that matter what do the American youth dream of? Hazarding a guess the vast majority have only one dream. To make enough money to savour the life of instant gratification and all other forms of gratification that abundant riches bring. It is the same dream that now motivates the young people of China. How does this yearning, which is almost a universal urge on a scale unknown to earlier generations, reconcile itself with spirituality or spiritualism? This is the question that needs to be addressed.

When the youth get restless and pass resolutions like “Now is the time to act” the Dalai Lama tells the robed figures assembled before him (during the consecration of a monastery), that their aim should be to ensure that the monasteries they build are not just physical structures but sanctuaries within themselves – so strong they can inspire the world. They listen with rapt attention to His Holiness. They would be wondering how it would be possible for them to make any dent in today’s hedonistic global society. But then the Dalai Lama is in the tradition of the great line of Rishis who bestrode this land since ancient times. He knows that like all cycles of great excesses, this too will climax in a destructive frenzy leading to a spiritual re-awakening without which the world might not be able to survive this time round. So, with his foresightedness and infinite patience he prepares his flock and his followers around the world for the Satyug that must follow the Kalyug in which the world is presently steeped. Like the Vedic seers of yore and the great Tibetan yogis that went before him, he can see the present unfolding into the future that will require humans of wisdom and compassion to redeem humankind from the existential slime in which it is wallowing. .

In Nature all beings yearn for contentment. A happy or contented person is not likely to get involved in unseemly affrays. An extract from Third Millennium Equipoise reproduced below elaborates on the human condition thus: “In the stages of man's evolution he first tried to understand his environment; then he tried to live with it; and finally he attempted to overcome it. This is the stage that we are in - dominance. Domination can be achieved by a gross process (destruction) or by the subtle process (harnessing). The urge to dominate disturbs the equilibrium and the ferment thus created releases tremendous bursts of energy in the form of physical forces (gross process) and mental forces which on the higher plane become a subtle and on the lower plane a gross process. In the intellectual sphere the struggle between the gross and fine determines the path that will be followed by mankind. In the fine state, as it applies to an individual, the appeasement of the basic urges does not, in itself, lead to contentment”. (Unquote).

In the language of the Waraos, the ancestral aborigines of the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela, the word did exist as such, in the expression Oriwaka, which for the Waraos has the following meanings: “wait together”, “have a party”, “joy of sharing with others”, “paradise where the dead are happy”, meanings that highlight the importance of sharing, of joy, and of the transcendent as the key to happiness. In the Piaroa language (of a Venezuelan Amazonian ethnic group) “happiness” is called eseusa and means, principally “the joy of sharing with others”, in value quite similar to the Warao concept. To the ancient Achaguas Arawak, who also inhabited. Venezuela, their word chunikai meant both “happiness” and “health. To the Baris, in western Venezuela, when their creator Sabaseba gave life to them it was with the following mandate: “You will be called Bari and will always be happy and smiling” and that is why their oral tradition holds that “the Baris are thus not allowed to get angry, because happy we were made by Sabaseba, as our elders have said. Because so all Baris have been from the beginning and so we shall continue to be”.

Insofar as the Mayas are concerned, it is interesting to note the importance given to happiness in the behaviour prescribed by their moral code known as the Pixab: “A thing is good as long as it harms no one. A thing is right as long as it contributes to happiness and life” (Ajpupt Oxlajuj, “Fuentes y Fundamentos de Derecho da la Nacion Maya-Quiche”, Editorial Serviprensa, Guatenmala, 2001, emphasis mind).

In the Maya language Q’eqchi, happiness is called sahil ch’oolejil and means literally “having a glad heart”. Confirming the great centrality that the value of happiness had in daily Q’eqchi Maya life, the main social greeting is,’ which means: “How is your heart?”

Or take the following comparison by Chief Maquinna, of the Nootka nation, also in North America, after having learned the banking practices brought by white civilization: “We Indians have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money and blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them, with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank”

This brings us to the centrality of the shifting spiritual paradigm. Unless the world turns its back on the existing capitalist paradigm, which propels the world towards the multiplication of wants and instant gratification of desires and moves in the direction of the Gandhian paradigm of simple living, humankind will inevitably, nay inexorably, be drawn toward self-annihilation and planetary destruction. Spirituality as understood since the dawn of history cannot find root in such an environment. Except for isolated pockets, it could disappear from the Earth by the end of the century.

We have forgotten that spirituality derives from simplicity and a sense of wonder. Drawing an analogy from the simpler animal world someone said: “The bird does not sing because it is happy, it’s happy because it sings.”


In concluding one has to decide whether India still possesses in good measure that special essence of spirituality, which it must continue to espouse for itself and the world. In the context of increasing globalisation this aspect assumes overwhelming urgency. Should India cease to be itself and become like all other nations, the world might not be able to retrace its steps from the brink. On the other hand if the country were to preserve its unique character it can play the role for which the ancient seers and its heritage had been inexorably preparing it, in humankind’s darkest hour in the face of the coming apocalypse. According to Anandmurti Gurumaa the core point of every religion is to discover the peace within and when you are brimming with the radiance of peace then spread it around, share it with everybody.

The book Dealing with Global Terrorism: The Way Forward ends with Rabindranath Tagore's poem: After 7/7 in the midst of the cacophony of religious pronouncements from all quarters nothing could cut through the obscurantism of driven orthodoxy more clinically, cleanly and irrefutably than the Nobel laureates expression:

"Religion, like poetry, is not a mere idea, it is expression. The self-expression of God is in the endless variety of
creation; and our attitude toward the Infinite Being must also in its expression have a variety of individuality, ceaseless and unending. Those sects which jealously build their boundaries with too rigid creeds excluding all spontaneous movement of the living spirit may hoard their theology but they kill religion". (Emphasis not in the original).

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