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 realized. 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 globalization 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 skepticism, 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 globalization, the plurality of religions will impel sharp conflicts among religions themselves. The shield of dogmatism which has long remained a 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 realizations 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 that 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, realizing, 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 that Jung and others have advocated, so that the collective subconscious and the individual conscious can attain integration and balance by the discovery of a deeper integrating centre in the human personality. It will be evident that neither the criteria of moral excellence nor of integration will be able to resolve the problem. Each religion claims to provide the best possible ethical inspiration and each religion, if pressed, will suggest that its own method of integration is the best method.
If religions cannot resolve their conflicts among themselves, we shall have to fall back on the state of crisis that humanity is confronted with today. On the one hand, there is a force that is striving to assert the powers of the infra-rational which are likely to develop new forms of barbarism within the civilized state of society. For it is possible to utilize the present scientific and technical knowledge to create an order of existence in which physical and vital wants of the human being can greatly, if not fully, be satisfied, and this order of existence can be maintained by mechanical devices and application of the power of machines that can imprison the human spirit. It can be said that the latest trends of competitive individualism and capitalism as also of the materialistic communism are likely to nourish the modern economic barbarism, unless some radical changes occur in the ideals of Capitalism and Communism. On the other hand, there is likely to be still a new lease of life for the scientific and philosophical or anthropological rationalism; postmodernism may be overpassed, and new avenues of rationalism may come to develop. Rationalism may come to drop its dogmatism that binds it to assume that only the sensible is intelligible. But these developments will take time, and, in the meantime, intellectual thought can only hope at the best to continue to spin larger or narrower circles of dreams but will never be able to fulfill 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 spiritualized under the illumining light of living spiritual experiences and realizations. 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 realizations 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 realization is not only difficult but appears to be at first sight almost impossible.
Sri Aurobindo, the foremost philosopher of our times, 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 have 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 only 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 minimize 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 stand today at a critical point of development, but if we trust in the power of human spirit to triumph eventually, we shall have the privilege to surpass the dawns of the past and to come to dwell in the noons of the future.
Let us, therefore, look upon the future with voluntary optimism.