I am grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me to visit Japan and to visit this sacred place which represents an exalted seat of learning, scholarship and practice of the great teachings of Lord Buddha. Japan is pre-eminently the land of the East, -- the East which is the cradle of all the great religions of the world and the sanctuary of the most difficult knowledge of the Spirit. Japan is also pre-eminently the land of Beauty and it can be described as the world’s greatest workshop of art, architecture and aesthetic culture that lavishes profoundest and minutest tribute to Nature, vegetation and gardens and flowers. To visit Japan is to greet the rising Sun of splendour and the fragrant breeze of freshness and delicate tenderness of intimate harmony that is spread out on the entire landscape of this country. It is appropriate that the great message of harmony and peace that the Lord Buddha gave to humanity has been received in this country and has been nourished over a long period of history.
On this occasion, we are reminded of a number of Chapters of Dhammapada such as those on vigilance of the mind and the flowers and the thousands and the elephant. Considering that this visit of mine has significantly been connected with the gifts of the elephants which were made by India during the years when I had the privilege of being a Minister of the Government of India, in charge of Human Resource Development and Science and Technology and Ocean Development, let me cite that beautiful aphorism of the Dhammapada relating to the elephant through which the Lord Buddha teaches us how one should be like an elephant which can patiently bear insult and how that capacity makes one the best among men:
As the elephant on the battlefield endures the arrow shot from the bow, so also shall I patiently bear insult, for truly there are many of evil mind in the world. It is a tamed elephant that is led to the battlefield: one whom the King rides. The best among men is he who patiently bears insult.
On the occasion such as this which signifies a visit to the divine presence of the Lord Buddha one cannot but reflect on Buddhism and the role of religions in the contemporary world. There are innumerable Buddhist schools in Japan, and each one follows its own methods; but the most widespread among them are those whose sole practice is to make the mind quiet. For, as it is said in the Dhammapada, if the mind is unbalanced, all that jostles about in the head, makes holes in the roof, as it were. So through these holes all undesirable movements enter into the consciousness as water enters into the house with a leaky roof. As the Dhammapada states:
Just as the rain penetrates through the thatch of a leaking roof, so the passion penetrates an unbalanced mind.
And it is added:
Just as the rain cannot penetrate a house well covered with a thatch so also the passion cannot penetrate a balanced mind.
There is no religion in the world which has analysed the mind and shown the ways of controlling the mind as we find in Buddhism. There is, first, the golden counsel to observe the mind, and then to watch over the mind and then to control the mind and finally to master the mind. And what a great teaching is given by the Buddha that all of us in the world need today in the following two lines:
In truth, in this world hatred is not appeased by hatred; hatred is appeased by love alone. This is the eternal law.
Unfortunately, even though the world needs this counsel the most, how few follow this counsel! The great teaching of Christ which repeats this very counsel is also repeated by men but not practised so widely. Jesus had said:
If anyone strikes on the right cheek turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
I think both Buddhism and Christianity have given to the world the message of love and tenderness and forgiveness and of humility. And we may even ask as to which religion does not endorse this great teaching that can bring human souls and creatures of the world into one great divine family? All religions have in them the message for universal brotherhood, -- the message that we need today more urgently and imperatively as at no other time. But this simple gift that all religions can give to the entire humanity suffers in its strength on account of one simple fact, -- an unfortunate fact, that religions collide with each other and they are in conflict with each other. In fact, this conflict may be regarded as the central conflict which needs to be repaired by a concerted effort of all religions. Can all religions unite?
Let me dwell on this subject.
The intellectual climate of the world today is being increasingly governed by a philosophy which is called post-modernism. Post-modernism is a signal of the end of the confidence in objective or scientific truth as also in visions of perfection. It signals the denial of any fixed reality and truth or facts to be object of enquiry. 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 question and enquiry 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 grounds of which the fond hopes of Reason can be realised. Post-modernism can be looked upon as a seal of certainty on the uncertainties of the adventures of Reason.
Confronted with this post-modernistic thought, a serious question needs to be raised: Where does humanity proceed from here?
Is post-modernism 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 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 movement of 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 week to prevent these invasions, and considering that globalisation is spreading rapidly, it is not difficult to envisage that the global age will witness a critical struggle between infra-rational forces and the forces that will claim the right to prevail on real or supposed guarantees of the supra-rational.
It may be argued that post-modernism will weaken the power of religions; in any case, during 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 religion has been greatly changing during the last five hundred years, since humanity has been passing through various phases of scepticism, and even today religion or religions have no clinching 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 trend in epistemology implies the challenge that can be met only by a very great effort, which is likely to occupy all defenders of religions.
And, precisely at this moment, particularly when the plurality of religions tends to impel sharp conflicts among religions themselves. The shield of dogmatism which has long remained a powerful armour against rationalistic questioning will be found invulnerable where one dogma will be required to defend against another dogma.
There is, indeed, a powerful guideline in the teachings of the Buddha which can help. The Buddha has spoken of the Adept in which it is said: “The greatest among men is he who is not credulous.” Buddha has spoken of the Sage who should go from door to door in his village, as the bee gathers honey from the flowers without bringing harm to their colours or their fragrance.
Cutting the roots of dogmatism, the Buddha says:
As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing on a piece of touchstone, so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me.
Fortunately, it may not be impossible for religions to agree to this great teaching of the Buddha. 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. The promise of yoga as scientific method of the knowledge opens out the possibilities of a new turning-point. Already, in the statements of the advanced yogins of the world, there is an affirmation of harmony among the revelations of Christ, Krishna and Buddha. They find no difficulty in embracing them and others who have left in the human heritage the message of their revelations.
Fortunately, precisely at this moment, there is a great change in the climate of modern science. This is because of the recent developments in Physics of Quantum Theory and in Biology of the Theory of Evolution. David Bohm in his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order argues that the Quantum Theory presents a challenge to the theory of the mechanistic order, and he has advocated the relationship of matter and consciousness on the basis of some common ground and propounds an idea of a new world view based on the concept of unbroken wholeness. Roger Penrose has, in his celebrated book, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, attempted to address the question of consciousness, again from a scientific standpoint. According to him, scientists have so far failed to recognise the fact that non-computational phenomenon like consciousness should be inherent at least potentially in all material things. Similarly, biological scientists like Francis Collins hold the view that material science not only points to Immanent God but also to Transcendent God, who exists outside of space and time. Roger Sperry, an eminent scientist of the brain and behavioural live sciences, points out:
As a brain scientist I have come to believe in the reality and power of conscious mental/cognitive entities of the mind or spirit and the indispensability of their causal control for both brain function and its evolution — and that science has been wrong all along with categorical denial of this.
Sherwin Nuland, a clinical Professor of surgery at Yale University, has recently published a book entitled: The Wisdom of the Body. In a recent interview, he stated: “The way the human cortex relates to the lower centres of the brain… the way it recognises dangers and its continued integrity… is precisely what the human spirit is doing. The human spirit is maintaining equilibrium, and it largely is related to its normal physical and chemical functioning.”
It is also important to underline that a number of philosophers who have studied evolution have come to the conclusion that evolution is tending towards the manifestation of the Spirit. In India, Sri Aurobindo, the foremost philosopher, mystic and pioneer of the new world, has brought science and yoga close together and shown by scientific and yogic experiments that evolution itself is evolving to lead man from mental consciousness to supramental consciousness.
The time is, therefore, growing ripe when the conflict between religion and science can be overcome by admitting and developing yoga, which is the core of all religions, and which is also scientific in its methodology and which can be admitted by science. Otherwise, if each religion insists on its dogmatic assertions, how can the conflict among religions be resolved? Even the great thinkers, Cottingham, in his recent work, The Spiritual Dimension, has admitted the inadequacy of the proposition that salvation of the human soul needs to 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. He acknowledges that religions do claim superiority of the truth that they claim; at the same time, their claims cannot be examined if they are all based on dogmatism of revelations. The solution of the problem can be arrived at, he feels, only if the criterion of judgement shifts from dogmatism and accepts the criterion of “integration of consciousness” that can have practical effects. It can be seen that, in effect, the solution seems to lie in methods and criteria that are well developed in the science of yoga.
The problem of the contemporary world which has become acute on account of increasing materialism and unsustainable consumerism compels us to revisit the great realms of science, religion and yoga. Instead of unbridled consumption, we have to think of paradigm shift and find means and ways that can create in the world the advocacy and practice of sustainable consumption. Instead of quarrels between religion and science, we are required to eliminate dogmatism and adopt scientific methods for developing and judging spirituality; instead of conflict of religions, we have to have a concert of religions that advocates exclusion of exclusivism. And we need still a farther step, a step of developing a new world culture that follows the lofty example of the Sage as enunciated by Lord Buddha in the Dhammapada in the following words:
One who has put aside liking and disliking, who is indifferent, who is freed from all attachment and all fetters, and who has conquered all the worlds, this hero I consider to be a Sage. … The Noble, an Excellent, the Heroic, the great Sage, the Victor, the Impassive, the Pure, the Enlightened, him I consider to be the true Leader.
And let us remember the culture that has been advocated of the Aryan in the Rig Veda in these words:
dadhann ṛtaṃ dhanayann asya dhītim ād id aryo didhiṣvo vibhṛtrāḥ | ( I.71.3)
They held the truth, they enriched its thought; then indeed, aspiring Aryans, they, holding in thought, bore it diffused in all their being.
Before I close, let me once again express my gratitude for this wonderful occasion to be amongst all of you and to pray with all of you to the Lord Buddha who was, in the words of Sri Aurobindo:
Impassive in his inner consciousness, in his action the most powerful personality that we know of has having lived and produced results upon the earth.
(The Life Divine, Vol.18 SABCL, p.29)