The Asian civilisational dialogue appears to be propitious on three accounts. In the first place, it indicates the present level of civilisation which is marked by the recognition of dialogue as a means of interchange, expansion of consciousness and even of conflict resolution. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to our Asian continent to identify civilisational issues that must be resolved, not only for forging Asian unity but also for contributing the right atmosphere and materials that will secure to the entire humanity lasting peace and unity. And thirdly, it opens up new avenues to absorb in the Asian tradition useful lessons that need to be learned and assimilated from the historical experiences of all the other continents of the world. As this is the first Conference, it would be useful to reflect on, among many other important issues, a theme of deeper significance centred on the study of human consciousness, its urge towards unity, and how a useful dialogue can be instituted between Asian nations so as to promote the growth of the human consciousness towards human unity.
At the outset, it may be observed that human consciousness can best be understood in terms of an evolutionary process, which has an underlying law of gradual development and, as it appears, a cyclical or spiral method of advancement. It may further be observed that human consciousness at the present point of its advancement has reached a critical point, considering that in various domains of human life, we confront dilemmas, conflicts and disequilibria that are acute in their intensity and in their apparent insolubility. Globality is being imposed upon the whole world, even when our consciousness lags far behind from globality
and comprehensiveness. Knowledge is expanding at an exponential rate, but we do not know how expanding knowledge can be embraced in some kind of progressive integrality. Science and technology are increasingly providing to humanity machines and gadgets that can be used for purposes, both and good and evil, but our understanding and practice of discrimination between good and evil remains still at rudimentary levels. Religions, even while claiming universality, are clashing with each other and pressure is mounting to discover as urgently as possible to remedy their exclusiveness that would give relief to the essential aspiration of the human spirit that transcends formalism, sectarianism and dogmatism. It is also significant that the theme of human unity has come to occupy more and more imperatively the centre-stage, and we are forced to study the theme of human unity both philosophically and pragmatically.
It may, philosophically, be argued that a greater social or political unity is not necessarily a boon in itself. The experience of humanity so far has not favoured the view that huge aggregations, closely united and strictly organised, are favourable to a rich and puissant human life. It appears, it may be contended, that collective life is more fruitful when it can concentrate itself in small spaces and simpler organisms.
As an example, the Roman Empire clearly showed the disadvantage of the imposed unity that resulted in the sacrifice of the individual, the cities and the regions that were covered under the Empire. This example showed that eventually on account of the smallness and the feebleness of the individual, the huge organism inevitably, even though slowly, lost its great conservative vitality and died of increasing stagnation.
Analogically, therefore, it is argued that a social, administrative and political unification of humanity would tend to crush and dwarf both individual and regional life, and that imposed unity,
even though it could generate at first an outburst of satisfied and joyous activity, would eventually result in a long period of mere conservation, increasing stagnancy and ultimate decay.
In opposition to this line of thought, it may be argued that unity of human kind is still the thrust of collectivities which are now actively driving towards globalisation, and, it is, therefore, wise to work, not towards an imposed unity, but on voluntary unity that would create necessary safeguards and conditions which would keep the human race intact in its roots of vitality, richly diverse in its oneness.
To continue this debate, we would be required to ask the question as to what really is the meaning of unity and what would be the safeguards and conditions that would render the unification of the human kind vitally alive, richly productive and joyously creative.
The answer seems to underline the importance of the small free units in contrast to larger concentrated unity. Societies such as those we could find in the Asian city states or clan nations or in Greek or Roman city states, manifested a general vividness of life and dynamic force of culture and creation. Athens, for example, can be seen as a supreme achievement of vibrant culture of civic life in which living itself was an education, where the poorest as well as the richest sat together in the theatre to see and judge the dramas of Sophocles and Euripides, and, and where even the trader or shopkeeper took part in the subtle philosophical conversations of Socrates. In India, there grew up a vivid spiritual life of which we catch glimpses in Vedic, Upanishadic and Buddhistic literature. This vividness and richness of life was the result of the complete participation not of a limited class, but of all individuals in many-sided life of the community. This happens when the individual begins to experience the sense of certain freedom to grow, to be oneself, to achieve, to think and to create in the unrestricted flood of universal energy. In contrast, in larger concentrated unity the
freedom of the individual tends to be restricted, it is even dwarfed increasingly. And where this freedom gets conditioned, the sources of creativity and vitality begin to be dried up and stagnation begins to persist longer and longer leading eventually to decay.
Secondly, we have to observe that small city states manifest perilous centrifugal forces which need to be controlled. This need of control, once acknowledged and enforced, tends to give rise to larger and larger aggregates that gave birth to empires which engulfed not only city states and regions but even nations of various sizes. But as the example of the Roman Empire showed, even the best administrated empire can not prevent stagnation, decline and fall.
Thirdly, therefore, it is useful here to observe that the major fault in the larger aggregates lies with the tendency to impose uniformity and to drive away or to crush diversity. Uniformity and liberty stand in antithetical relationship; liberty and diversity stand in reciprocal relationship; the solution seems to be in the evolution of unity instead of uniformity. In search, therefore, where unity and diversity can be reconciled and where liberty can be practised to the satisfaction of the demands of life and civilisation, the human experiment has arrived today at the formation of the national soul and growth of free nations.
Fourthly, it may be argued that the nation is at present the firm group unity of the human aggregation to which all other unities tend to subordinate themselves, and the nation idea may persist in full vitality, even when a larger aggregation of the entire humanity is sought to be formed and achieved, provided that the freedom of each nation is respected and preserved in a world organisation. Happily, we observe today increasing recognition on the part of the world organisations of the principle of diversity and cultural identity. And if this recognition continues to persist even when continental unities are formed, then a salutary world union that
would synthesise unity and diversity on a global scale could eventually be realised.
But this is still not enough. 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 culture on the one hand, and 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.
In Asian dialogue that we are initiating here we need to take into account this deeper aspect, and this dialogue should open up the gates of understanding among the pursuit of knowledge, and pursuit of goodness, and also the pursuit of art and joy and creativity at the same time. Fortunately, Asian nations are in a position to demonstrate the possibility of the fusion of the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness, particularly because all the Asian nations have in their deepest being the heritage of spiritual culture in which truth can be seen at a supra-rational level, the good can be experienced at a supra-ethical level, and beauty can be manifested at a supra-aesthetic level. The greatest need of Asia is not only to arrive at any continental unity in which all the nations could enjoy equal freedom but to discover and manifest the treasure of its spiritual experience and put it at the disposal of itself and at humanity at large, for the development of a universal spiritual culture.
The most important point in the dialogue of human consciousness and unity is to stress the true nature of spirituality. Spirituality points to something that is beyond the world, a reality that is transcendental, a reality that is so much emphasised in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity and many other universal religions which have sprung from Asia. But spirituality is also creative in its fundamental character; it inspires the development of faculties of knowledge which are higher than the faculty of reason; it inspires action at a level not only of the human conscience but also that action and conduct which vibrates with the universal and harmonious divine will; and it inspires creative forms that can manifest the symbols of the infinite and can bring to us the vivid experience of the gaze of the infinite that reveals beauty in all forms in the entire creation. Spirituality is true universality, and it impels that universal love in which brotherhood can flourish. And if we examine closely the concept of spiritual brotherhood, we shall find that if the modern ideals of progress, namely, liberty and equality are to be actualised all over the world, they can be fulfilled only on the condition of the realisation of fraternity.
Spirituality which is both transcendental and immanent, spirituality that fulfils rationality, ethicality and aestheticity, and spirituality which reconciles the ideals of human civilisation, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, should be the fundamental thrust of the highest human endeavour today. It is this thrust that may be an important message of our first Asian Civilisation Dialogue Conference.