It is significant that United Nations and UNESCO have underlined the theme of unity and diversity of humankind. It is also significant that recently, United Nations under its General Assembly Resolution concerning global agenda of dialogue among civilisations has emphasised that “a common humanity unties all civilisations and allows for the celebration of the variegated splendour of the highest attainment of this civilisational diversity.”
These affirmations impel us to conceive a progressive path that can lead us to a union of humankind that permits and enhances free diversity, and consequently, forms the basis of a durable civilisational harmony.
Civilisation may be defined as the state of society, which is governed, policed, organised, educated, possessed of knowledge and appliances. Civilisation transcends barbarism and philistinism precisely because it promotes education, science and ethical and spiritual values. Civilisation is that evolved state of society in which there is not only a sufficient social and economic organisation but there is also the activity of the mental life which seeks to cultivate knowledge for its own sake; it also seeks to infuse knowledge in all aspects of physical, economic, social, scientific, philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic life. The fact that humanity has developed varied systems of civilisation and the fact that there has been celebration of unity and diversity among humankind is perhaps an achievement that we prize most and cherish most.
And yet, the clash of civilisations and cultures has increasingly been recognised as a central issue of the contemporary world. This clash has for
its setting the irreversible globalisation of the world. The world has grown global; and even though global consciousness has not seized humanity, the ideal of human unity has begun to figure largely among the determining forces of the future. The scientific discoveries have made our planet so small that civilisations and cultures cannot grow in isolation from each other. At the same time, the angularities and the sharp edges of civilisations and cultures are now openly in battle with each other. And the Time-Spirit demands that these battles are worked out in a new way.
Dialogue among civilisations is emerging today as a new paradigm in international and intercultural relations. But in order that this new paradigm gets firmly established, it should be made clear that a true and sincere dialogue aims at tolerance; but even this is not enough. It must aim at understanding – understanding of the otherness of the other and of the necessity of that otherness; it must go farther and aim at mutual respect. The new culture of dialogue needs to encourage respect of other ways of thinking, and respect values and experiences other than one’s own. This respect contains a sense of humility to learn form what is different and even to wish that what is different is a valuable element in total enrichment. In India, we have the tradition of respecting swabhava and swadharma of each one, each one’s nature and each one’s law of development; it is even suggested that while one should adhere to one’s own unique nature and law of development, one must wish and promote in everybody else adherence to his or her own intrinsic nature and law of development. The time has come when this noble lesson of Indian Culture can be shared by the whole world for its application.
Dialogue must aim at knowledge; dialogue must seek the knowledge of what is common in all, and where exactly differences lie and how those differences can be fostered for purposes of enrichment of unity. Dialogue must aim at excluding exclusivism and it must promote inclusiveness. And yet inclusiveness should avoid the mistake of imposing uniformity in the world. Even the world culture, which is being generated today under the forces of international interchange, should not be allowed to be a worldwide expansion of one culture; our path should be directed towards the blending of many cultures worldwide, a blending that benefits from the wealth of diversity created over time throughout the entire world. And yet, it must be admitted that the contemporary trends in globalisation do not seem to be favourable to this path.
Four factors have combined together to generate the present phenomenon of globalisation. Firstly, there is the amazing triumph of science and technology which have been applied on a large scale to the production of services and goods and their transportation across the globe. Secondly, social, political, commercial and industrial institutions have tended towards standardisation, mechanisation and even dehumanisation in the processes of management, governance and even in human relationship. Thirdly, there has been a grim battle between the ideals of capitalism, socialism and consumerism which stands today at a point of disequilibrium that tilts heavily towards privatisation and capitalistic forces that favour the growth of multinationals and expansion of markets that promote multiplication of physical and vital wants, motivations of economic security, competitive
methods of enrichment, and profit-making. And, fourthly, science and philosophy, the two great magnets that uplift the powers of reason towards greater heights of the truth, beauty and goodness, have tended towards the denials that emerge from materialism resulting in refusals to inquire into claims of ethical and spiritual domains. The general climate that rules the globe today is that of the pull of humanity downward towards the confinement to the demands of the physical and vital life.
In terms of the history of civilisation, humankind is turning more and more decisively and globally, not only towards philistinism but even a kind of barbarism where the barbarian can roam about the world taking full advantages of civilisation that has been created so far by the past achievements of culture of reason, ethics, aesthetics and religious and spiritual pursuits. This is a kind of invasion of barbarism that aims at its own physical stability in what seems to be a hostile world. In the past, history has witnessed the floods of the overpowering invasions of barbarism that have devastated the cultures that had reached some kind of climatic points of achievements. In the present stage of history, on account of the fact that science has reached such a triumph of knowledge that the invasion of the barbarians from outside, except in terms of terrorism and allied forms, may become impossible. But the point of greatest concern is the invasion of the barbarian from within, from the circle of civilised world itself. And this peril, -- the peril of the monstrous barbarian controlling the civilised world on a global scale, -- needs to be combated if the future is to be saved from the suffocations and sufferings that afflict the inner spirit when it is denied its natural upward surge towards its cultural fulfilment.
Indeed, there are behind the contemporary globalisation higher and nobler motives at work, the most important of which is the drive towards the fulfilment of the dream of humanity to arrive at a form of organisation that would foster united family of humanity in a state of perpetual progress, prosperity and multilayered happiness that comes from constant ascension from height to greater heights. These nobler and higher motives that have inspired the ideal of human unity and brought about the birth of noble and momentous institutions such as those of United Nations and its international agencies do not, however, seem to be strong enough to meet the present perilous situation that confronts us today. We need to study the reasons for this so that we may arrive at better propositions of solutions than what have been offered to us so far.
We have to examine a deeper question of human consciousness which is triangular in character and which manifests conflicting tendencies of rationality, ethicality and aestheticity with some kind of exclusiveness. History has given us examples of the conflict between ethical culture and aesthetic culture, illustrated forcefully in the conflict between Sparta and Athens; and in modern times we observe a sharp global conflict between rationalistic cultures on the one hand, and the ethical and aesthetic cultures, on the other. In fact, in our difficult times, the rationalistic tendency has become so predominant that art is increasingly looked upon as a matter of pastime or a kind of a decoration for sensuous satisfaction, and the conflict between science and values has come to a sharp collision.
A greater difficulty has arisen on account of the latest trends in the field of rational thought, particularly with the development of the philosophy of post-modernism. Postmodernism is a signal of the end of confidence in objective or scientific truth as also in Utopian visions of perfection, and it signals the denial of any fixed reality and truth or fact to be the object of inquiry. In a sense, it is an end of the curve of Reason which began its ascent five hundred years ago all over the world of multisided questioning and inquiry and ushered in the hope of establishing by means of rational and scientific methods a new world of liberty, equality and fraternity. Great achievements have been registered during these five hundred years but it has become clear that rationality can never deliver infallibility and possession of knowledge on the grounds of which the fond hopes of Reason can be realised. Postmodernism can be looked upon as a seal of certainty on the uncertainties of the adventures of Reason.
Where does humanity proceed from here?
Is postmodernism a stage of equilibrium? Or is it not a call to rest in disequilibrium? At the best, it is an invitation to a quest and to a state of humility to seek, to build temporary edifices of structures of knowledge and society, knowing very well that they can be no more than makeshifts through which we may hopelessly hope to manage to live and survive but never to arrive. But will this arrest the movements and invasions of certainties of instincts and impulses of the infra-rational, on the one hand, and the movements and invasions of certainties of religious beliefs that claim to be derived from the supra-rational, on the other? Post-modernistic rationality will be found, it appears, too, weak to prevent these two invasions, and
considering that globalisation is irreversible, it is not difficult to envisage that the global age will witness a critical struggle between the infra-rational forces and the forces that will claim the right to prevail on real or supposed guarantees of the supra-rational.
During the course of this struggle, there is a possibility that the human mind may seek refuge in a return to the religious idea and a society governed and sanctioned by religion. It may be argued that postmodernism will weaken the power of religions and that, in any case, in the sharp struggle that is likely to be waged between science and religion, the influence of religion over humanity will decline. It is true that the relevance of religions has been greatly changing during the last five hundred years during which humanity has been passing through various phases of scepticism, and even today religion or religions have no answer to the scientific demand for public demonstrability of the validity of the claims of the truths that they have proclaimed. That this demand of science has come to occupy a nerve-centre of the latest trends in epistemology implies a challenge that can be met only by a very great effort, which is likely to occupy all defenders of religions, particularly when, in the context of globalisation, the plurality of religions will impel sharp conflicts among religions themselves. The shield of dogmatism which has long remained powerful armour against rationalistic questioning will be found now vulnerable where one dogma will be required to defend against another dogma.
If each religion insists on the authority of its own revelation and its dogmatic assertion, how can the conflict be resolved? Thinkers like Hick and
Cottingham have in recent decades endeavoured to answer this question. According to Hick, the truth-claims of religions need to be subordinated to the wider realisations that the truth of religions or spiritual systems is inexpressible, and therefore cannot be brought into the field of debate where articulate formulation is indispensable. In this light, adherents of different religions need not quarrel, and acceptance of the available formulations need not be insisted upon, but can be left to the cultural climate to which one is familiar for acceptance, realising, however, that basically the truths of religion and spiritual experience are fundamentally ineffable. But this solution is hardly likely to satisfy the adherents of different religions. The issue is much more fundamental. Even the thinker like Cottingham, in his recent work The Spiritual Dimension, has admitted the inadequacy of this solution and tried to find some better solution. He admits that salvation of the human soul cannot and need not be tied up with a banner of a religion on which it is supposed to fly out in its return to its ultimate destined place, and there is no alternative to the development of the sense of toleration among all religions. But even then, he admits that religions do claim superiority of the truths that they proclaim; at the same time, since their claims cannot be examined as they are all based on revelations, and since each one claims finality to its own respective revelations, some other criteria for determining their veracity have to be found. The solution that he suggests is to judge the validity of a given revelation in terms of its power to infuse in the adherents inspiration to cultivate higher and higher degrees of morality culminating to the ideal morality proposed by Aristotle who defined Virtue as a mean between two excesses. He also suggests another criterion. Which religious doctrine guides the adherents better and better in arriving at the highest possible integration? And by integration, he means the kind of integration
take time, and, in the meantime, intellectual though can only hope at the best to continue to spin larger or narrower circles of dreams but will never be able to fulfil them. There is, of course, a third alternative in which the human being consents to rise to higher levels than those of Reason and of Religions and consents to be spiritualised under the illuminating light of living spiritual experiences and realisations. The question, therefore, is whether the human being will choose to remain arrested in some kind of intermediary typal perfection of economic barbarism like earlier animal kinds or whether the human being will consent to rise to higher levels of illumination and spiritual realisations that transcend the limitations of dogmatic religions.
That the choice has to be made by humanity during this emerging global age will be found to be an imperative, and this imperativeness creates a state of crisis, particularly because the choice to pursue higher levels of illumined spiritual realisation is not only difficult but appears to be at first almost impossible.
Sri Aurobindo, the foremost philosopher, mystic and pioneer of the new world, has, therefore, designated the present crisis as an evolutionary crisis, since the higher choice that is available to humanity requires on the part of humanity or at least on the part of the leading portion of humanity to make an evolutionary choice, – a choice that would require a process of transition and evolution from mental consciousness to supramental consciousness.
Indeed, religions can play a crucial role, provided they arrive at a very important point of agreement among themselves. Can religions agree to
exclude exclusivism? This is the central question for religions and societies in the twenty first century. Admittedly, the issue is perhaps the hardest among all the issues of the contemporary world. But the conditions of the contemporary world demand from religions a new critical research, a new critique of Reason and Revelation and a more comprehensive opening to enriching understanding and more ennobling and more integral spiritual experience.
At one time, it was believed that revelations were special gifts of Prophets and Founders of religions and that therefore they could not be subjected to any scrutiny. Happily, however, in recent times there is increasing acknowledgement of Yoga, which lays down methods of cultivating powers of revelation, inspiration and intuition, and the resulting knowledge can be tested on the anvil of repetition and confirmation and even modification by the employment of the same methods and arriving at the same predicted results. Thus, as we begin the 21st century, the promise of yoga as scientific method of the knowledge opens out the possibilities of a new turning-point in the climate of the global world. Philosophy of Yoga seems to be a promising possibility as the philosophy of the emerging global age. Already, in the statements of the advanced yogins of the world, there is the affirmation of harmony among the revelations of Christ, Krishna and Buddha, and they found no difficulty in embracing them and many others who have left in the human heritage the messages of their revelations. It is contended that it is possible to rise to higher levels of consciousness, and as there is a wise counsel to be as perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect, it is possible to dwell in higher and higher levels of consciousness in which all conflicts are transcended.
And where is the limit of the heights of consciousness, once the gates of Yoga are opened? Sri Aurobindo conceives of the possibility and inevitability not of ascending to the supramental levels of consciousness but even of such radical transformation of the human body by the descent of the supramental consciousness on the earth that it could even satisfy the demands of science to have public demonstrability of the claims of the truths of the supramental consciousness. That would, indeed, mean an eventual harmony and synthesis of science and spirituality.
But in the meantime, one cannot minimise the gravity of the crisis, and the necessity of the seriousness and sincerity on the part of humanity to confront the crisis with full sense of responsibility to itself and to posterity.
We are living today at once in the best of times and in the worst of times. Ours is the best time because at no time in the world history, men and women have aspired for human unity as ardently and as comprehensively as today. The fact that the combined will of the people of the world has produced the agency of United Nations to prevent war, to maintain peace and to subserve the goal of universal solidarity, is a concrete proof of the fact that we are living at a very propitious moment. And yet, we find the humanity gravitating downward, in spite of tremendous scientific advances, -- or else because of these very advances, which have provided ready means to gratify and multiply material pleasures, -- into a state of arrestation from where higher aspiration can easily be exiled. We are threatened by the
possibility of nuclear bombardment at the hands of some capricious will and of collapse of the environmental protection; we are threatened by the spread of diseases, which destroy the principle of life itself; we are threatened by the possibility of misuse of biological engineering, which can create monsters or anti-human species, perhaps much worse than dinosaurs; we are threatened by the warming of the earth; and we find ourselves in the grip of acute accumulation of inertia, on the one hand, and uncontrolled passions of competition and search for the gratification of undying hunger, on the other. This is the proof that we are living today in the worst of times. This battle between the best and the worst can triumphantly settled in favour of the best if three wise counsels prevail:
1. That humanity rises in maturity so as to make the right use of scientific discoveries and inventions in order that they are not utilised in the service of the lower impulses but for raising the heights of cultural life;
2. That the nations of the world cooperate with each other in assuring environmental protection and raising the standard of life even of the least developed countries; and
3. That human beings become global in their consciousness so as to generate genuine goodwill and sense of universal brotherhood.
It is fortunate that in the advanced thought of the world, these three things are being advocated, but the voice of this advocacy is rather shrill and it is hardly heard by those who matter. The real difficulty is that these three
things demand a radical change in human nature, and humanity does not seem to be prepared to respond to the demands of this change.
As far back as 1967, U Thant the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation had stated the need for this change. He had declared:
“That a fraction of the amounts that are going to be spent in 1967 on arms could finance economic, social, national and world programmes to an extent so far unimaginable is a notion within the grasp of the man in the street. Men, if they unite, are now capable of foreseeing and, to a certain point, determining the future of human development. This, however, is possible if we stop fearing and harassing one another and if together we accept, welcome and prepare the changes that must inevitably take place. If this means a change in human nature, well, it is high time we worked for it, what must surely change is certain political attitudes and habits man has.”
In clear terms, the solution lies in creating a new psychology that is able to sustain interrelationship between nations which does not allow freedom to lapse into egoism, sense of rivalry, sense of division. Freedom must be wedded to the sense of mutuality and interdependent sharing of the contributions that each nation would bring into the common pool of richness of culture. This necessarily implies an inner change. Once again, we come back to issue of unlocking the spiritual light and force, which lies latent in all of us, and which alone can bring about the needed inner change.
Two ideas have become prominent in our times, and if they are rightly fostered by humanity, we can arrive at universal solidarity and durable civilisational harmony that are based upon freedom and mutuality. The first idea is that of internationalism and the second idea is that of the religion of humanity. But both these ideas will require to be more chiselled and much more forged than what they attempt to convey to us today. Mere internationalism may provide a sense of wideness and globality. But unless internationalism comes to acknowledge and practise not only the political ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity, but also their psychological, ethical and spiritual implications, internationalism may run the risk of falling into the peril of the World-State. The cause of world union of free nations would then come to be injured. Therefore, we have to integrate internationalism with the religion of humanity. But, again, religion of humanity must not be construed in the image of a dogmatic, ritualistic and institutional framework of any particular creed. Religion of humanity should be conceived in terms of spirituality that transcends the boundaries of institutional religions. Spirituality demands, not adherence to any credal belief, but a living sense of fraternity. It is only when fraternity generates mutual goodwill among human beings and among nations that we can avoid the downward gravitation of unity into uniformity. It is only on the basis of the real brotherhood that the ideals of liberty and equality can become united.
As Sri Aurobindo points out:
“Yet is brotherhood the real key to the triple gospel of the idea of humanity. The union of liberty and equality can only be achieved by the power of human brotherhood and it cannot be founded on anything else. But
brotherhood exists only in the soul and by the soul; it can exist by nothing else. For this brotherhood is not a matter either of physical kinship or of vital association or of intellectual agreement. When the soul claims freedom, it is the freedom of its self-development, the self-development of the divine in man in all his being. When it claims equality, what it is claiming is that freedom equally for all and the recognition of the same soul, the same godhead in all human beings. When it strives for brotherhood, it is founding that equal freedom of self-development on a common aim, a common life, a unity of mind and feeling founded upon the recognition of this inner spiritual unity. These three things are in fact the nature of the soul; for freedom, equality, unity are the eternal attributes of the Spirit. It is the practical recognition of this truth, it is the awakening of the soul in man and the attempt to get him to live from his soul and not from his ego which is the inner meaning of religion, and it is that to which the religion of humanity also must arrive before it can fulfil itself in the life of the race.”
This will mean a vast movement of civilisational harmony. This movement will look upon every individual as a living soul, and each one would be given the help and the power so as to grow into self-perfection. This movement would give to every individual not only the joy of work but also free leisure to grow inwardly, and lead a simple and beautiful life. Spirituality applied to politics would aim at realising the ideal law of social development. This ideal law would seek the harmony of the individual and
 Sri Aurobindo: Social And Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Volume 15, pp.546-47.
the society, of the nation and the constituent groups and the nations and civilisations amongst themselves. There is no better formulation of the ideal law than that of Sri Aurobindo:
“Thus the law for the individual is to perfect his individuality by free development from within, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development in others. His law is to harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate and to pour himself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for the community or nation is equally to perfect its corporate existence by a free development from within, aiding and taking full advantage of that of the individual, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development of other communities and nations. Its law is to harmonise its life with that of the human aggregate and to pour itself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for humanity is to pursue its upward evolution towards the finding and expression of the Divine in the type of mankind, taking full advantage of the free development and gains of all individuals and nations and groupings of men, to work towards the day when mankind may be ready and not only ideally one divine family, but even then, when it has succeeded in unifying itself, to respect, aid and be aided by the free growth and activity of its individuals and constituent aggregates.”
 Sri Aurobindo: Social And Political Thought, Centenary Edition; Vol. 15, pp.63-64.
The path that lies before us is a difficult path; many might even consider it to be impracticable; many, even if they concede that it is practicable, might not pursue it, since it might seem to be a path that would take extremely long to arrive at success. But we have to consider the fact that humanity has irreversibly become global; civilisations have come in close relationship with each other; and the advantages of globality and of the meeting of civilisations and the disadvantages or conflicts and clashes can be avoided only if we can apply the truth of spiritual knowledge to the difficult issues of unity and freedom.
If this path is to be declared impracticable, we shall still need to make experiments on this path before we can scientifically declare it to be impracticable; similarly, to those who may refuse to walk on this path simply because success on that path would be so far off as not to be achievable in their own life time, we have to make an appeal by reminding ourselves that we do not live for ourselves, that we can only sow in our lifetime seeds of trees which can give fruits only to the coming generation.
At the same time, who can say that success would not come now? History teaches that unexpected events take place suddenly because of the past accumulation of the forces. We know of revolutions that have swept off the obstacles of the past within a relatively short period. We may also find, by means of detailed scrutiny of the revolutions of the past that behind them a spiritual revolution was already taking secret shape. It would not, therefore, seem unreasonable to predict that, considering the critical stage through which we are passing today where no solution that seems to be practicable will ultimately work, there would grow up an increasing number of
individuals and even groups with a new urge and resolution to break a new path and to arrive at some fulfilling result rapidly rather than slowly. In any case, for those who see that spiritual solution is the only solution, the only course of action is to pursue that solution resolutely, irrespective whether we shall attain success in our own lifetime or whether the effort we make today will bear fruit later and benefit the posterity.
Let us then conclude that we have no reason to fear to aspire; we have no reason to feel discouraged in determining the spiritual course of action; we have no reason merely to stand and watch, – we have every reason to take the staff in our hand and set out for the journey.