The Indic Contributions
We stand at a point in time defined in many different ways. In general it is the beginning of the third Common Era millennium, an “era” that is “common” because the culturally Christian Europeans have recently enjoyed five hundred years of imperial domination of the planet. We are in the Jewish year 5761 dating from the time of Abraham’s journey from Ur into the land of Canaan. We are in the Muslim year 1422, dating from Muhammad’s departure from Mecca to Medina. In Indian terms, depending on religious worldview, we are either many millennia into the Kali Yuga of degeneracy, awaiting the return of Vishnu in his apocalyptic Kalki incarnation, or two and a half millennia after Shakyamuni Buddha and his colleagues such as Mahavira the Jina, and on our way to the perfection of the buddhaverse under the aegis of Shambhala and the future Buddha Maitreya. In East Asian terms, we are either two and half millennia after Confucius and Laotzu and the “Western” (Indian) Buddha, either still seeking harmony between heaven,
earth and humanity, or on our way to the Blissful Paradise of Amitabha Buddha.
In modern, secular terms, we are five hundred years after “The Renaissance:” either on our way to understanding and mastery of the physical elements of the universe, soon to complete a physical paradise on earth for all humans who can afford to live in it; or blindly hurtling forward on the back of the great machine of industrialization, soon to deplete the physical resources of the planet and terminally imbalance our lifeworld, putting an end to life on earth as we know it.
We are convening the Completing the Global Renaissance: The Indic Contributions conference and establishing the Global Renaissance Institute, in order to harmonize all positive visions of the present moment and to ensure that the people of the planet move forward together toward a viable future with room for all. We acknowledge that the scientific discoveries, technological inventions, and material changes wrought by “Western” cultures since the European Renaissance have put us all in an unprecedented situation. Due to our control over the forces of nature, chemical, biological, and atomic, and the technological magnification of the power of individual acts, our total mutual interdependency has become utterly undeniable, for better or worse. And due to our overall inability to control the intellectual and emotional forces within ourselves, such as prejudice, fanaticism, intolerance, hatred, and greed, the probability of our being successful in creating a positive future is generally considered low. Doom is felt to be hanging over us, causing some to intensify their “eat, drink, and be merry” approach in isolation from less fortunate others, and causing others to sink into cynicism and apathy.
Our view is that “the Renaissance” is simply poorly understood, and therefore still incomplete. Some human beings have accomplished remarkable things through the advance of material or “outer” sciences, which have become widely known. Others have also accomplished extraordinary things through the advance of the spiritual, or “inner” sciences, which are much less widely known; or if known, confused with religions, defined as nonrational belief systems. “Renaissance” is a term that implies the breaking free from imprisonment in the darkness of prejudice and ignorance, enclosure in a limited or dogmatic cultural envelope, and being reborn through rediscovery of forgotten knowledge and wisdom to emerge in glorious creativity within a boundless horizon of positive potential. Thus far, rediscovery of supposedly Greek knowledge of physical sciences through the medium of Arabic culture enabled Europeans to break free from the dogmatic culture of the church and explode into physical conquest of the planet and its elements. What remains to be done is to recognize that even that physical knowledge was not merely the gift of the Greeks, but came from an interconnected Eurasian ecumenical life world, and that that same life world contained equally sophisticated and powerful spiritual sciences that are needed to keep systematic human spiritual and cultural development in pace with human beings’ physical powers. Once this is clearly recognized, the work of recovery of these spiritual sciences can rise to the priority it deserves, and their broad implementation to human development can be facilitated.
We believe that the mother lode of these spiritual sciences is to be found within the matrix of Indic civilization, loosely associated with the numerous Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain subcultures that thrived throughout that most populous and wealthy subcontinental part of Eurasia for thousands of years, until foreign conquerors impoverished it almost beyond recognition. These Indic spiritual sciences in the form of Buddhist teachings spread throughout most of the rest of Asia, causing renaissances in numerous countries, moving into the West in an overt way over the last few centuries. We do not consider that such spiritual sciences were ever totally absent in the other world civilizational streams, only that they never achieved the mainstream status in them that they enjoyed in India. In fact, the presence of spiritual sciences worldwide, often culturally underground, facilitates the global implementation of the Indic sciences in terms accessible to other cultures.
Our proposal is that the various cultures and cultural traditions are all intrinsically valuable, as they are all components of a larger humanity. Enmity between cultures, as well the eradication, conversion or subversion of any one by another, is caused by collective confusion. The way out is to see beyond the narrow confines of personal or collective ethnic self-interest, and to see instead the collective self-interest of all humanity, via an awareness of our unavoidable interdependency. The world does not need the imposition of any ideology, be it Western or Eastern, communist or religious. Rather, the world needs a respectful interaction of the world’s cultures, one that respects difference, and seeks to appreciate rather than eradicate it. Cultural exchange can and should occur, but with a spirit of generosity and mutual respect.
There is a unity of consciousness, which links all that exists. It manifests variously in the constantly evolving sentient beings and material entities. In this context the previous historical attempts at globalization may be seen as certain parts of this unity consciousness trying to subvert others. When such subversion happens within one individual’s mind, it results in the shadow side, and the repression of the subverted shadow eventually plays out in harmful ways. Therefore, there has to be an explicit and conscious recognition and celebration of the non-Western civilizations as equally valuable aspects of the same consciousness in our interdependent collective evolution.
This is a brief introduction of the work we hope to initiate – a work of at least some centuries no doubt – which we are calling “Completing A Global Renaissance.” Though this work is conducted at the very edge of the precipice of planetary doom, ecocide, genocide, terracide, we are extremely confident that good sense and good will can prevail. Or, as H. H. the Dalai Lama says, if we fail, we will at least feel as we go down that we did everything we could to the best of our ability.
The Inaugural Conference: Focus on the Indic Contributions
The main purposes of the conference are
I. to critique the tacitly or overtly presumed intellectual superiority of the West and put the dialogue between the Indic and the Western on an equal footing (seeking to avoid triumphalism from the Indic side, though that is a serious temptation, since the Indic has not been the aggressor and has been exploited and insufficiently appreciated);
II. to heal the breach between the Vedist and the Buddhist perspectives within the self-understanding of Indic civilization, in order to restore it to its full dimensions;
III. to develop the materials for and styles of presenting the crown jewel of Indic civilization, its adhyatmavidya – its philosophy/psychology/ epistemology/ linguistics – Inner Sciences, as extremely commensurable with and highly valuable to the rebalancing and furthering of contemporary science in the global context.
- To accomplish the first purpose, we must
a) provide new perspectives on and analyses of the imperialist events, including both Islamic and European invasions, showing how India was not the less but the more developed civilization during those times, on environmental, economic, social, ethical, literary, cultural, and inner scientific levels – this involves confronting the fact that the gentler, more vulnerable civilization that loses in a clash with a more violent, more needy civilization is often the superior, not the inferior, of the two;
b) exemplify how the outer sciences retrieved during the Renaissance
supposedly from the Greeks via the Arabs, actually came in many
instances from India – such as the mathematical zero and the decimal
system (the purpose here not being just to pump up Indic pride but to
put Western trimphalism in doubt, open the possibility of the
incompleteness of the Renaissance achievement, and establish credibility
about the “inner” elements of the Indic contributions);
c) clarify the comparison between the Hellenic turn (from Plato to
Aristotle etc.) toward materialist outer sciences and the Indic turn
toward the inner sciences;
d) demonstrate how continuing with the “superpower” definition of
“development” along the lines of constantly increasing
industrialization, militarism, consumerism, and materialism is obviously
e) establish how therefore perspectives from the inner science
civilizations, mostly rooted in the Indic, are urgently required to
change course and restore balance.
- To accomplish the second purpose, we must
a) show how the Axial age individualist/liberationist revolution against Vedist ritualism was led by shramanists, with Upanishadic thinkers representing the conservative wing, the Charvakas and Ajivakas the radical wing, and the Buddhists/Jains the mainstream, during the classical period of Indic civilization beginning from the Magadhan/Mauryan empire lasting for a millennium at least through the Guptas to the Palas in the east;
b) show how the major cultural export of Indic civilization during all
this time was Buddhism and its civilizing elements;
c) connect the Pali and Jain Suttas and the Abhidhamma with the
Upanishads and the Sutras of the six Vedist Darshanas;
d) connect the Mahayana sutras with the Bhagavad gita, the Bhagavatam,
and the Puranas;
e) connect the Vijnanavada and Madhyamika siddhantas with the Vedanta;
f) connect the bhakti deities with the celestial bodhisattvas – Krshna,
Shiva, and the Goddesses with Avalokiteshvaras, Manjushris, and Taras;
g) connect the yoga systems and the Tantric movements- siddhas and sants;
h) connect the Tibetan civilization to the Indic as the continuation of
the Mahavihara Universities and the whole cultural web surrounding them,
after the Islamic invasions had destroyed the originals in India;
i) restore the link in the contemporary world between world Hinduisms,
Sikhism, and Jainism, and world Buddhisms by reaffirming the Indic roots
of the latter.
III. To accomplish the third purpose, we must
a) align deconditioning negative mentalities and emotions and cultivating positive mentalities and emotions and ethical development (Abhidharma, Yoga Sutras’ yama and niyama) with contemporary therapeutic psychologies;
b) align yogas of altered states (Abhidharma: dhyana / samapatti, Yoga Sutras: pratyahara, dharana, anusmrti, and samadhi, Mahayana shamatha-vipashyana of coarse and fine) with current special human powers research;
c) align the cultivation of transformative insight, identity and reality therapies (Vedist six darshanas and Buddhist four siddhantas) with contemporary philosophical schools;
d) align the cultivation of universal responsibility, love, and compassion (Buddhist sevenfold cause and effect and exchange of self and other precepts, give and take meditation, and Vedist bhakti yoga) with Western esoteric traditions and current popular psychology with its positive thinking techniques;
e) align creative imagination yogas (visualizing the buddhaverse,
cultivating cognitive dissonance, and controlled imagination unexcelled yoga tantra: creation stage, and bhakti practice) with their equivalents in New Age culture;
f) align the yogas of bliss and beauty (unexcelled yoga tantra and
kashmir shaivism, perfection stage six yogas, kundalini, and shaktipat)
with contemporary charismatic movements;
- Globalism or Westernism?
- Challenging The Presuppositions Of Western Superiority
Traditional accounts of the development of Western thought tend to stress its continuity. Modern philosophy and science, we are told, go back in an unbroken lineage to the ancient Greeks. Some of the more historically accurate versions of this cultural narrative acknowledge that this lineage was not exactly unbroken, and that not everything had its origins in Greece. This narrative is remarkably resilient. It has been used as an excuse to downplay or gloss over the real contributions of non-European civilizations to European thought and technology. Take, for example, the Renaissance, that glorious period of awakening as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. It is portrayed as a rediscovery by Europe of her cultural heritage, the science, art and literature of classical Greece and Rome. It was that, of course, but not only that. Fortunately, the European Dark Ages did not affect the rest of the world. Islamic, Indian, Chinese and Meso-American civilizations had previously undergone their own “Renaissances”, periods of intense creative and scientific discovery. The Europeans, woven as they were in the global web even in the thirteenth century, were the beneficiaries of a great deal of science, art and technology developed elsewhere. It is well known that Europe’s cultural heritage, the classical knowledge of Greece and Rome, was largely lost to Christian Western Europe, but was preserved by the Islamic world, which itself experienced a Renaissance based, in part, upon that very classical knowledge. What is not as well known is that both the Islamic and European renaissances were in turn indebted to India. India was the origin not only of the “Arabic” numerals, so-called because they were transmitted by the Arabs to Europe, but was also the origin of the decimal or place value system of enumeration. It was this system that made possible the development of abstract mathematics and thus the scientific revolution that transformed Europe following the dissemination of this knowledge to Europe from India in the thirteenth century.
Perhaps every civilization imagines itself to be of central importance, and thus tends to downplay the contributions of other civilizations. We hail Gutenberg, for example, as the “inventor” of the printing press, yet fail to acknowledge that both moveable-type printing and papermaking technologies were invented in China. The tendency to imagine that Europe’s global dominance arose from Europe sui generis, due to Europe’s intrinsic cultural superiority, is a legacy of the colonial period, during which Europe ignored its cultural debt to the rest of the world to justify violent conquest and appropriation of the world’s resources. One could argue that the promise of the “first” European renaissance was unfulfilled largely because its global nature was not recognized. Now, however, given the increasing interconnection of the globe, we appear to be on the verge of another renaissance, one that has the potential of being truly global. This potential will only be fulfilled, however, if we relax the façade of the “superior Western paradigm” by both
acknowledging the past contributions of non-Western civilizations as well as exploring the wisdom of these civilizations. Before this can be achieved, however, it is necessary that we examine the still quite prevalent belief in the superiority of the West. Without doubt, the West has contributed much to human civilization. What we argue against is the notion that any one civilization has a monopoly on any human feature or virtue such as reason, goodness, and so forth, and that any society represents the apex of human evolution with other societies understood to exist further down the evolutionary ladder, and somehow bereft of or deficient in the same virtues.
Particularly egregious are the attempts by thinkers such as Hegel to define as universal features that are, in fact, quite culturally specific. This includes, of course, his “universal history” which saw Europe and America as the pinnacles of human evolution. Hegel wrote, for example, that “universal history goes from East to West. Europe is absolutely the end of universal history. Asia is the beginning.” This idea was clearly a justification of Western colonial exploitation. But Hegel took the idea even further. Since his “history” was solely defined in Eurocentric terms, any act committed by the Europeans, no matter how reprehensible, is justifiable as a necessary step in human evolution.
Hegel wrote that:
Because history is the configuration of the Spirit in the form of event, the people which receives the Spirit as its natural principle…is the one that dominates in that epoch of world history…Against the absolute right of that people who actually are the carriers of the world Spirit, the spirit of other peoples has no other right.1
Hegel saw the evolution of human history as a unified totality, proceeding via the evolution of the “world spirit”. The “world spirit”, for Hegel, was Western, with other cultures relegated to the dustbin of history, forced either to adapt to the West or be trampled underfoot by this “world spirit”, which in Hegel’s writing appears as an abstract mask for the reality of Western aggression.
Such extreme cultural chauvinism is precisely the meta-narrative that we can refer to as the myth of the West. This myth not only ignores the past and present interdependency of “the West” with the rest of the world. It also promotes a contrived notion of Western cultural unity, glossing over the remarkable diversity found within Western nations, past and present. The very notion of a distinct West is relatively recent in history, as the English, Irish, Germans, Italians, Greek, Spaniards, etc. each saw themselves as distinct cultures often in conflict with each other. It is probably helpful to distinguish the ‘West’ as conceived in “Westernism” or the myth of the West, i.e., as homogeneously dominant, culturally, historically and ideationally triumphalist, from the geographically and culturally porous reality of the ‘West’.
This meta-narrative underlies the way in which history is taught in the West. Most modern world history narratives start from roughly 1500, the period when Europe ascended from her dark ages. Educated Westerner often fail to appreciate that prior to that time, there pre-existed sophisticated civilizations in Asia that had a high degree of economic and cultural development. This is particularly well illustrated through the interaction of India and the British. When the British first approached India in the eighteenth century, India actually had a much greater share of the global GNP than did Europe. Europeans raved about India, much like today the world raves about America as the land of opportunity. Until 1750, India’s share of the world’s manufacturing output was 24.5%, while the entire share of the West, including America as well as Europe, was only 18.2%. By 1913, however, the West’s share was over 80%, while India’s was under 2%. As Samuel Huntington points out, “the industrialization of the West led to the de-industrialization of the rest of the world.” 2
It has been said that most Europeans do not know their own history since so much of it happened in Asia. The British and other Western powers, while benefiting from the resources and the labor of other peoples, rarely took this debt into account when claiming superiority for their own civilizations. Given the continuation both of this pattern of global interdependency, as well as a general reluctance on the part of many Westerners to acknowledge this debt, one could argue that the current globalization is more akin to British imperial model than different. In many ways, the “post-colonial” world has been replicating the patterns of the colonial world, suggesting perhaps that the world is “post-colonial” in name only.
Hegel, followed by many others, developed a linear theory of history, in which humanity is seen as going from bad to good, from backward to progressive. In the Judeo-Christian variation of this narrative, there is also the God sanctioned and God demanded special status of the Western people to spread the truth to the rest of humanity. Abrahamic religions have posed a view of history as a progress from ‘evil to good’. Hegelian and other extrapolations such as Marxism and Nazism fit neatly into this linear model. The underlying narrative of all these ideologies has been of ‘us’ against ‘them’ on some basis of superiority. The ‘us’ gets redefined periodically as more people get included by subjugation, merger or otherwise, but the fundamental linear trajectory is maintained.
Scholars have enhanced and reinforced this myth, avoiding the facts that do not fit it. For instance, it does not fit this meta-narrative that both India and China had advanced well ahead of the West in medicine, mathematics, psychology and yogic sciences (as opposed to mere ‘mysticism’), and in education and economic prosperity. These facts would negate the fundamental premises of this narrative. Not only are such facts of history negated, but also demonizing Indic civilization has served to marginalize its credibility – it is portrayed through a series of stereotypes, including being viewed as ‘world negating’, socially abusive, even immoral, backward, and irrational, as compared to the West. Being the biggest surviving anomaly to this Western superiority narrative, the reality of Indic civilization is often seen as the greatest potential threat to the present Western model.
This narrative begs several questions, such as: Was India chronically poor and hence its civilization may be dismissed as backward, or was it in fact extremely wealthy for most of its history until recent times? Did the West achieve modern scientific progress by itself or was it facilitated by considerable appropriation from others, such as India and China?
Just as commercial brands are ‘created’ by advertising, paradigms in the humanities are also likewise manufactured. Eventually, these new ‘truths’ become part of popular culture and are tough to uproot. These brands in turn influence identity and the myth gets perpetuated. The mythmaking of the superior West has involved demonizing others, while at the same time appropriating their good things and calling them Western. The subverted people have been made to develop a sense of pride in seeing their heritage being appropriated and ‘legitimized’ by the ruling West.
The mythmaking of the West has often orchestrated its encounter with other civilizations into four stages which might be called the “U-Turn”: (1) Study the newly discovered culture with respect, including discipleship and acknowledgement of its merits. (2) Neutralize the vernacular to remove the source tradition’s identity (such as is now being done by popular new age and by modern psychology’s appropriation from India), often justified as helping simplify and modernize the knowledge. (3) Repackage the knowledge into Judeo-Christian language or into Western science. (4) Devalue the source tradition to cover the tracks, hide the evidence of appropriation, and claim one’s “originality”. This keeps the myth alive. Variations of the above pattern of appropriation can be seen, for example, in the Christian appropriations of Judaism and Paganism followed by their radical devaluating, once the appropriation was completed. Even when Greek thought was appropriated to create the myth of the modern West, the Greek’s Pagan religion
remained devalued. In the case of the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, they were demonized as practitioners of wholesale human and animal sacrifices, so as to legitimize the appropriation of their material wealth and the perpetration of their genocide.
For example, in the past century, Rudolph Steiner learnt much from the study of Indic traditions through the Theosophy movement, but then he made the U-Turn by distancing from it, then re-labeled it as his own brand of Christianity, and finally devalued the Indic sources. Carl Jung studied yoga, Kundalini and many other Indic sciences, and taught them at first with great respect. But then he declared them as dangerous for Westerners to practice, on the false assumption that Indian thought was world negating and hence not progressive like that of the West. Contrary to his warning, over ten million Americans now practice various forms of yoga and meditation, and these include many over-achievers from various walks of life who are not backward or world negating. In many other such cases, the meta-narrative of the superior West subverted the truths about the non-Western source tradition, as these riches were appropriated and repackaged as Western, while the source tradition was devalued as inferior.
- Focus on INDIA
While the web of interrelations between the world’s cultures is complex and beyond facile reduction, in this conference and in the initial work of the Global Renaissance Institute, we shall focus on Indic civilization. India has long occupied an important place in the global imagination, as befits its status as one of the most ancient of human civilizations. The positive contributions of Indian civilization to the world are legion, and enumerating them here will definitely not be possible. What is possible, however, is to look into some of the many ways that Indian thought has deepened and enriched Western thought, to a far greater degree than is commonly known.
In order to clear the ground of received prejudices regarding what might be India’s contributions (actual past influences or potential present and future contributions), this conference will begin by analyzing the genesis and effect of various distortions of “the East” (especially India). In this context we will address the strong distorting influence which writers such as Max Weber (in, for example, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) have had on the West’s perception of India and “the East.” Such perceptions include enduring stereotypes that India is “socially apathetic,” “other worldly,” “mystical,” and “world-rejecting.” Counter to what Weberian stereotypes would suggest, all of the great nations of Asia have historically turned to India for its material, cultural, and knowledge resources. These included Islamic nations, whose rich scientific traditions owed as least as much to India as to the Greeks. This legacy was passed to the Europeans, on the basis of which they were able to forge their own renaissance and scientific revolution, with little awareness of the sources of the knowledge they were appropriating and misattributing it to the Greeks.
The influence of India on her neighbors, specifically those in Central, East and South East Asia, have long been recognized, largely because peoples of these other nations went to great lengths to accurately translate and disseminate Indic knowledge and know-how into their own languages and cultural idioms. This resulted in an accurate transmission that maintained respect for the cultural source. In the West, however, this transmission occurred largely indirectly at first, resulting in ignorance about the ultimate source of the knowledge, as well as in an incomplete and often inaccurate transmission. It is rather unfortunate that when Europe and India directly encountered each other it was under coercive conditions, resulting, ultimately, in the colonization of the latter by the former.
Such a grossly inequitable relationship is not conducive to mutual understanding and respect. As a result European portrayals of India were riddled with self-justifying depictions of Indians as irrational savages. Such false portrayals it impossible for them to explore the potential contributions of Indian civilization, and when Europeans did borrow useful facets of Indian thought, it also put pressure on them to deny the source of these findings, since to openly acknowledge that the West had something to learn from India was to implicitly undermine the myth of cultural superiority which was the flimsy justification for colonial exploitation.
We need not resort to the distant past to find examples of Indian influence on Western thought. In fact, some of the most interesting examples are modern, given the fact that it wasn’t until the past two hundred years that the Indian classics have been translated in European languages. Once the masterpieces of Indian literature and philosophy were translated, however, they rapidly received a great deal of attention. The great German poet Goethe, for example, was greatly affected by reading Georg Foster’s 1791 translation of the Sanskrit play Shakuntala, written by the great fourth century poet Kalidasa. Regarding the play, he wrote “Sakuntala: here the Poet appears in his highest function. As a representative of the most natural condition, the finest way of life, the purest moral endeavor, the most dignified majesty, and the most solemn reverence of God, he ventures into base and ridiculous contradictions.” 3
We do not need to be literary critics to discern the influence of Kalidasa on Goethe; we need only compare the first few pages of the former’s Shakuntala with the latter’s Faust to see that Kalidasa was the source of Goethe idea to begin Faust with the “Prelude in the Theatre,” which represents a conversation between the play’s director and author. It is thus clear that there was pronounced Indian influence on one of the greatest works of modern Western literature.
India’s influence on Western literature increased during the nineteenth and twentieth century as Europeans and Americans became increasingly aware of Indian thought and literature. Emerson and Thoreau, for example, were quite explicit in their admiration for the Hindu classics, namely the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita. The “oversoul” of the Transcendentalists is clearly a rephrasing of the Upanishad doctrine of the impersonal absolute, Brahman. These ideas also provided an intellectual foundation for the poets Walt Whitman and W. B. Yeats. Yeats was as familiar with Indian thought as he was with neo-Platonic thought, although his philosophy is usually identified with the latter.
The influence became stronger still during the early twentieth century, as modernist authors looked to non-Western cultures for inspiration in the development of new literary models in an effort to free themselves from the constraints of tired Western genres. While authors such as Ezra Pound turned to Chinese and Japanese poetry, T. S. Eliot turned to Indian sources, particularly the Upanishads, Buddhist Sutras, and Patañjali’s Yogasutras, the influence of which is most pronounced in his seminal poem, The Waste Land.
There is probably no need to do more than mention here the Beat authors, such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and Gary Snyder. The influence of Buddhism on their writing is both obvious and profound. This was the product of the transmission of Zen and Tibetan schools of Buddhism to the United States, which achieved a cultural “critical mass” during the 1960s, when interest in these traditions broke out of the counter-culture and into the mainstream.
The translations of a few Indian texts drew the attention of scholars in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and had a significant influence on Enlightenment era thinkers such as Voltaire, 4 as well as on the Romantic era philosophers who shaped Continental Philosophy in particular. One of the most striking examples is that of Arthur Schopenhauer, whose subtle, psychologically oriented philosophy played a significant role in the development of psychoanalysis and existentialism in the early twentieth century, and post-modern thought at the end of that century. Schopenhauer unabashedly admired the wisdom of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, and adopted ideas from these sources into his own thought. Most notably, he went against the dominant colonial attitude, which saw the European and Asian cultural exchange as being a one-way street, with European ideas and technologies and Christianity inevitably destined to supplant Asian cultural traditions. Schopenhauer, however, predicted that the reverse would be true, arguing that “In India our religions will never take root; the ancient wisdom of the human race will not be supplanted by the events in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian wisdom flows back to Europe, and will produce fundamental changes in our knowledge and thought.” 5
Indic thought also played a major role in the life of Erwin Schrödinger, who developed the theory of quantum mechanics, which in turn has ushered in a new era in modern electronics. A curious feature of quantum mechanics is its deconstruction of the naïve conception of individual, independent existence, at least on the atomic and subatomic levels. Rather, such “particles” can only be understood as existing not in any definite and identifiable way, but as a superposition of possibilities; the ultimate status of entities, when taken individually, is indeterminate; their existence is only ultimately characterized in terms of a spectrum of quantum states.
Schrödinger had studied with some interest the Upanishads and Vedanta teachings, and explicitly connected the doctrines of these scriptures with the insights behind his quantum mechanics. In his book What is Life? he wrote that
From the early great Upanishads the recognition ATHMAN=BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was, after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts. 6
It is curious that one of the most profound developments of twentieth-century science owes a debt to one of the oldest of the world’s spiritual traditions. This should not be a surprise, however, when we consider the interdependency of humanity, and the fact that all innovations, however profound, are based upon earlier discoveries.
Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, was also deeply influenced by Indic traditions of thought and meditative technology. India had long been particularly preoccupied with what might be called the “inner sciences”, the speculative and empirical exploration of the self and consciousness, a field that was almost entirely neglected in the West until the beginning of the last century. Jung was particularly innovative here, but again his innovation was based upon the intensive study of the world’s spiritual traditions. Jung found Indian traditions, particularly the traditions of yoga, most helpful in this regard. Jung made a careful study of Patañjali’s Yogasutra and employed many of the concepts therein in the composition of his seminal work Psychological Types. His concept of the “collective unconscious” also bears great similarity to ideas found in Hinduism and Buddhism, such as the buddhitattva or “Universal Mind” of Sankhya philosophy or the alayavijnana or “store-house consciousness” of the Yogacara school of Buddhist philosophy. Jung was aware of quite sophisticated psychological theories of these schools of thought, and made explicit mention of them in his text.
Jung was open about his utilization of Indic sources, although he went to pains to distinguish himself from the traditional practitioner of Indic arts such as yoga, in part because he was being criticized for being exactly that. Jung did argue that Eastern contemplative traditions such as yoga were inappropriate for Westerners. Clearly, his facile bifurcation of “East” and “West” as culturally incompatible regions is absurd, but given the time period in which he lived and worked it is understandable that he would such a view. Indeed, it is remarkable that he took Asian speculative and contemplative traditions as seriously as he did. In this day and age, however, there is no excuse for us to fail to go far beyond Jung and explore in depth the insight and applicability of Indic traditions.
India has also long served as a source of spiritual inspiration for many people throughout the world, and not surprisingly gave birth to several of the world’s major religions. Indian monks and mystics inspired peoples as far flung as the Greeks in the West and the Chinese in the East, beginning well before the time of Christ. This influence continues to this day, and not only in obvious ways. For example, it is not commonly known that an important Vedanta scholar Ramanuja, who lived in South India during the eleventh century CE, influenced the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, which was quite innovative in the Christian context. A recent book by Anne Hunt Overzee, The Body Divine: The Symbol of the Body in the Works of Teilhard de Chardin and Ramanuja, 7 details the similarities between their theologies.
These similarities may not be due to mere chance, to “great minds thinking alike”. Great minds may often think alike, but very often due to direct or indirect influence. In the case of de Chardin, in appears to be rather direct. 8 In 1935, de Chardin traveled extensively throughout India. He also studied a scholarly monograph on Ramanuja’s theology, at which time he wrote in his notebook that Ramanuja’s view on the relationship between God and the world was “identical to his own view of things except that it is ‘static’ and without ‘center-complexity’.” 9
The genius of de Chardin nurtured in the West and expanded during his long years in Asia, lies in his recognition that the “evolution” of humankind would never and could never involve the global spread and adoption of the supposedly “advanced” Western culture. Rather, this evolution could only be achieved through a process of what he called convergence, in which difference is not eradicated but preserved and celebrated. He wrote, in his The Coming Convergence of World Religions, that
As with general cultural convergence, religious convergence is unitive yet diversified. It excludes reduction and substitution as emerging from the unitive process, expecting, rather, some form of unitive pluralism. Religious convergence is not syncretism … [nor does it] consist in the emergence of one tradition as simply dominant and absorbing the others…
…the religious traditions have developed separately and now will continue their development together. They have a further meaning together which we had not even suspected. It is not that we will discover that all along they really were all the same. On the contrary, we must expect to find that their differences … are actually meaningful together, contribute to each other and constitute the new unity out of their diversity. 10
It is this spirit of humble celebration of diversity, rather than Hegel’s triumphalist tone of the subsuming of all other cultures within the totalizing embrace of the West, that must be the dominant spirit of the emerging worldview, if we are to escape the mistakes of the past and forge a truly lasting basis for peace and wisdom within the world.
These thinkers are not anomalous, but in fact represent a trend that appears to be culminating now in the development of what might be termed the “emerging worldview”, a worldview that must be truly global to live up to such a lofty title. This worldview is particularly well represented in thinkers who are conversant with more than one cultural tradition. Examples of this phenomenon would include Nishitani Keiji and other members of the Kyoto school of philosophy, which have integrated Buddhist and Continental philosophies. Nishitani, in his book Religion and Nothingness, 11 integrated the perspectives of Buddhist philosophy with the thought of Western mystics and philosophers such as Meister Eckhard and Martin Heidegger. This integration is not casual or based upon a superficial understanding of another system, or the desire to subsume one tradition within the totalizing embraces of another. Rather, it is based on the intensive study of both cultural traditions, and is thus nuanced and respectful with regard to both.
Also among Western thinkers who have studied Asian philosophies in depth
and who have incorporated aspects of the latter into their own thought, a notable modern example is Ken Wilber, whose “Integral Psychology” openly draws upon the work of the Indian thinker Sri Aurobindo. In his early book, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), 12 Wilber pointed out the similarities between Asian traditions and various schools of psychology current at the time. He drew attention to the real and valuable contributions to be made by non-Western schools of thought, and in particular those of India.
In this book, as well as in later works such as Transformations of Consciousness, 13 Wilber expanded the scope of modern Western psychology by also including within his schema the supra normal or “transpersonal” states of consciousness described and cultivated by practitioners of India’s meditators and yogis. He showed that Western psychology couldn’t afford to ignore the thousands of years of empirical experimentation in the field of consciousness studies and psychology that has been conducted by these practitioners, albeit under different names. Wilber’s debt to these traditions is particular notable with regard to Sri Aurobindo, who created a schema of states of consciousness. Not fearing to acknowledge his debt to Sri Aurobindo and the Indic traditions, Wilber has generally been quite up front with regard to his use and remodeling of the insights of the Indic traditions. Hopefully, Wilber and many others like him will continue to explore the very fruitful potential for East-West dialogue and exchange, in a respectful and intellectually honest fashion.
To challenge the Western view of globalization, one needs a strong and compelling argument that there exists value outside of the West. It is critical to bring to light and evaluate the cultural traditions hitherto unknown or unappreciated in the West. For this, Indian civilization offers an especially interesting opportunity. Essentially, there are at least five different ways in which India defies the meta-narrative of linear history:
- Many advances happened in India long before the West, and these seem
to confound many Westerners’ assumptions of their place in history.
- Archeologists continue to find older civilizations with more sophistication than is permissible in the linear narrative of history, as such findings challenge the logical sequence in which advances are supposed to have occurred.
- India is rich in worldviews built on non-locality and non-reductive ontologies, and this is threatening to the prevailing paradigms of science and philosophy.
- India poses a serious theological challenge by insisting that Abrahamic religions do not have a monopoly on legitimate paths to the ultimate truth, and that its own tapestry of teachings on the nature of reality is rich and most sophisticated.
- The assumption that Western social norms are universal is challenged by Indian culture. For instance, Hindu women scholars have challenged Western Feminism’s claim to be the sole ideal for all womanhood, and have provoked controversy by openly questioning this hegemony.
We can show that many so-called Western ideas were appropriated from India. We can also show that much more exists in India that has not yet been appreciated. For example, only a small percentage of Sanskrit texts have been studied and translated by Westerners, and there is a wealth of remaining written and oral texts dealing with profound philosophical and psychological subjects. But mere “translation” is not enough, especially if they are done in a spirit of contempt, or treated as exotic. Rather, their translation must be done with a spirit of respect, and this must be conjoined with the development and nurturing of a discourse in which these materials are taken seriously.
We know that many of the modern appropriations by the West have been superficial and sometimes inaccurate, sometimes in the interest of commercial or egotistic pursuits. Thus the wealth of Indic learning is far greater than is commonly understood in the West. To bring this material to light is a task that can no longer wait. There is also great urgency because the roots of Indic traditions are suffering neglect, atrophy, and are exposed to attack by those who seek to supplant them with Western, materialistic models. Furthermore, given the great contributions that Indic traditions have already made to the rest of the world, it would be unethical to fail to acknowledge them. We should help restore and nurture a revival of Indic heritage within India itself to facilitate the global renaissance.
The accomplishments and past and potential contributions of all world civilizations, major and minor, should be studied in depth and brought to the attention of the world community. Since our interest and specialization is in India, we propose to undertake such research with regard to India, but it is our hope and expectation that others will follow suit with regard to the other civilizations of the world.
- The Unity of India’s Cultural Heritage
Indic civilization gained its great advances in ethical, spiritual, and intellectual development by providing social space and educational facilities to its most gifted individuals from all classes of society from a very early historical moment, the mid-first millennium before the common era. This was probably due to India’s wealth and economic surpluses being relatively greater that those of other Eurasian nations at that time, making it easier to support and educate numerous individuals who could be excused from compulsory military service and lifelong productive labor. The powerful monastic movement that arose in India from this time became the engine of India’s great achievements in the inner, or spiritual, sciences, forming the core of the great Indian universities of the first millennium C. E., the most influential institutions of learning in the world during that time, institutions that experienced no dark ages as did schools in the West.
Approximately 2500 years ago, Prince Siddhartha renounced the world at the age of twenty nine, just after the birth of his son and on the eve of his own coronation as king of the Shakya nation in northern India. His radical break with his native social cosmos still seems spectacular today, and a common conclusion is that Buddhism is essentially “other-worldly,” in the phrase of the influential German sociologist, Max Weber. While appreciating the spiritual vision and yogic virtuosity of the Buddhists, scholars, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern, insiders and outsiders, tend to ignore altogether Buddhism’s vast contribution to civilization on the planetary and millennial scale.
We cannot evaluate precisely the spiritual contribution of the Buddha if we neglect the import of the story that he was predicted to be either a World-Conqueror or a perfect Buddha. In the eyes of his contemporaries, his choice of the latter path was in order to have not a lesser but a greater impact on our planet. In Indian myth, a Chakravartin or World-Conqueror is a political Messiah who creates world peace for his own generation. The Buddha, or Jina, Enlightened Conqueror, was a spiritual and social Messiah whose whole life was dedicated to save the entire world from suffering, to bring permanent peace to all. His conquest was not political and military in nature, though it had immediate social impact. He renounced kingship and the use of force and sought instead to conquer the hearts of humans with his Real Teaching (Dharma, a word that came into wide use in India only in his time). But he did carefully design a social movement, a powerful, militant, and universalistic movement which expanded gradually and hugely through the centuries and nations of the world. His conquest was aimed not only for his lifetime, nor even for a few generations. It animated a civilizing process – a taming ethic, a liberating religion, and a humanizing science – that still operates now, twenty five centuries later (because it is still incomplete, this planet still not fully civilized today).
The Buddha was a Teacher, he conquered hearts and minds with his Truth or Teaching. But his Teaching could not accomplish its educational aim without an Institution, a new Community founded on his civilizing ethic. Though it embraced lay men and women of all social classes, this Community was monastic at the core. That means that it was a form of society that institutionalized at its center its recognition of the supremacy of the interests of its individuals over its own collective interest. In fact, this monastic social movement was profoundly original in its development and refinement, and was able to flourish only in India for approximately eight centuries, probably due to the relative wealth of Indian societies during those times. The Buddha was the inventor of the institution, using the pre-existing traditions of wandering asceticism, and developing them into a viable monasticism as the institutional engine of his enlightening mission.
Buddhist monasticism emerged from his “Axial Age” time in India and swept throughout Asia transforming the landscapes, the cultures, and the politics of all its nations, as well as countless individuals. It is even quite likely that it influenced West Asia, North Africa, and Europe through lending its institutional style to Manicheism and Aramaic and Egyptian Christianity.
To appreciate the uniqueness of Indic civilization, we need to gain insight into the essence of monasticism as a revolutionary institution, designed by Buddha to embody in an alternative social reality the seeds of the planetary buddhaverse he saw manifested in the future. He was aware that it would be a long time before the planet was civilized enough for the realization of an ethical, aesthetic society whose relationships would be openly based on selflessness of wisdom and love.
The Buddha designed monasticism as the Jewel of the Community (Samgharatna), a specially protected society within society, to enable individuals from his time onward to establish an extraordinary standard of ethical, religious, and intellectual life oriented to transcendent individual and social fulfillment. He established the first “monastery” in history in the town of Rajagrha, with the encouragement of King Bimbisara of Magadha, and the financial support of a wealthy merchant of that town, Sudatta or Anathapindada.
This view of monasticism as a revolutionary institution is not immediately evident to modern people whose image of it has been formed by Protestant secularism and materialism. A number of writers have evoked a similar vision of the role of Christian monasticism during the difficult ages of European history – as a bastion and harbinger of spirituality, culture, and even civilization. But no one that I know in modern times has elaborated such a vision of Buddhist monasticism as a whole, though recent works on specific periods are providing more and more corroborative data. Thus, to fulfill my charge to elucidate the spiritual role of Buddhist monasticism in the unique development of Indic civilization, I can not merely refer in outline to a well established picture of its history. I must provide an argument that will enable the reader to re-examine the historical record for himself from a new perspective. The argument can be summarized in the following ten theses:
I. Enlightenment transcends all dichotomies,and is just as powerful in the social realm as it is in personal experience. The core insight of selfless emptiness is simultaneously an embrace of the inexorable relatedness of the selfless individual to all others. Nagarjuna expressed this as “emptiness the womb of compassion” (sunyatakarunagarbham).
II. Buddhahood is thus far more than political Chakravarti Conqueror-hood; it is the complete Truth-conquest of the whole world, the creation of the pure Buddha-land, though the unfoldment of the Land appears to take time from the perspective of the unenlightened people trapped in ordinary time or history.
III. The Buddhas’ compassion is expressed as the ultimate artistry of transformation of the planet, which unfolds progressively through history as the process of the taming of violence by non-violence, what we all know as the “advance of civilization.”
IV. Truth-conquest, or Buddha-land-building, can only proceed nonviolently, since individuals can only be conquered from the inside, from their hearts, by their own free understanding. Their insight itself is what liberates the energy of the general good will that constitutes the perfected land.
V. Perfect Buddhas must carry on their “truth-conquest” by means of education in the liberal sense, which is neither indoctrination nor training. The insight of psychological “selflessness” has been the inexhaustible source of the creative individualism Buddhism has always nurtured. This has also been the liberator of the world-transforming dynamism of the ethical selflessness that has adorned the history of Buddhist societies.
VI. The educational institution Buddha founded is the Precious Community (Samgharatna), functioning on the moral, spiritual, and intellectual levels as the anchor of the new ethics, new religions, and new sciences.
VII. Monasticism is the core of the new Community, and is an original invention of the Buddha; the institutionalization of transcendentalistic individualism, society’s acknowledgement that its highest interest is the self-fulfillment of its individuals.
VIII. It is a mediating institution, Centrist in every sense, midway between city and wilderness, priest and hermit, noble and commoner, indirectly providing both social cohesion and mobility.
IX. Its main rival, whose origin lies in the same era, is totalizing, imperialist militarism. Monasticism’s greater planetary success over-all (though the tale is not yet ended) may be due to the human spirit’s basic soundness, but is also understandable in terms of its natural alliance with the merchant classes and the bureaucratized, meritocratic state.
X. Three phases of monasticism can be discerned in every culture in which it has exerted its influence, a) revolutionary, or radically dualistic, b) evolutionary, or educatively nondualistic, c) fruitional, or pervasively nondualistic. The flourishing of the Indian monastic universities was brought to an end with their physical destruction by the Turkic and Iranian invaders of India who changed the nature of Indian society over several centuries around the end of the first millennium C. E. Earlier invasions by less ideologically motivated peoples such as the Scythian Kushans had been absorbed by the more sophisticated Indian civilization style without loss of key institutions. The Islamic ideology and triumphalist culture of these later invaders, however, with no tolerance of other spiritual traditions and no social experience of monasticism, caused them to fundamentally alter the fabric of Indic civilization by eradicating the monastic universities. After the invaders had settled down, of course, Vedist lay practitioners emerged and rebuilt a few monastic centers under a Vedantic banner, which have well served an elite group of practitioners to this day. But the large-scale Buddhist centers were unable to return, their leading practitioners having fled to Tibet for the most part.
During the last thousand years, the historical awareness of what the integrated Buddhist-Vedist civilization of India had been like was completely lost, except for the Nepal valley where it persisted to some degree. This is one of the major factors that caused people to think that Indians had no interest in history and have no historical record. Most of that record had been kept in the Buddhist monastic libraries that were burned to the ground, the books used as kindling. Some of it was recovered by archeologists during the British period, when Europeans replaced the Muslims as imperialist conquerors. But the British also had little tolerance for the individualist, monastic, liberation- oriented traditions of ancient India. Only a few dissidents among British scholars showed much interest in the Buddhist aspect of the civilization, the Vedist one being better suited to the maintenance of authority, productivity, and the strict hierarchical organization essential for a small minority of foreigners to maintain control over a huge population of individuals who once had known the most liberated society in history. Therefore, the self-definition of the Indic was systematically deprived of key elements of its civilizational memory, those elements that were bound up with the Buddhist dimension. In fact, the Indian intellectuals who led the revival of Indic self-confidence that built up to the independence movement looked at Buddhist monasticism as the institution that had weakened the martial vigor of India, considered Buddhist focus on liberation as the source of the excessive Indic “world-rejection” that Westerners taught them was the source of all their problems, and even developed a kind of phobia about Buddhism as ritually unclean, as anti-caste and therefore associated with the lower classes. This has been a self-defeating tendency that persists still today.
Fortunately, prior to the second common era millennium invasions, important elements of the Indic Buddhist-Vedist civilization had already spread to most of the other countries of Asia, where they continued to flourish, though nowhere except in late first millennium China (subsequently to suffer conquest by Mongols, Manchus, and finally Europeans) did they approach the mainstream status they had enjoyed in India. In second millennium Tibet, however, most of the elements of the full Indic tradition, monastic, messianic, and apocalyptic, survived and thrived, more or less completely taking over the indigenous culture by the middle of the second millennium.
Thanks to these turns of history, it is now becoming possible to reconstruct a complete picture of Indic Buddhist-Vedist integrated spiritual and scientific civilization. In any effort to bring forward for appreciation and implementation of the Indic contributions to the coming, most urgently needed, global renaissance, it is essential that this complete civilization be restored to self-awareness.
III. Overview Of The Inner Sciences
The inner sciences are empirical sciences involving the mind and all mental, sensory and cognitive powers as well as consciousness in all of its states. They are scientific in the sense that they are based on empirical observation and experimentation with these inner phenomena. Given the nature of the phenomena being observed, out of necessity they abandon the third-person perspective in favor of the first-person perspective. However, their observations and experiments are reproducible, as generations of investigators have attested. From a certain perspective, they are actually more rigorous scientifically for the simple reason that the “outer” sciences, which explore external “objective” realities, are based upon the naïve assumption that the perceptual data, as captured by the sense organs and organized in the brain, accurately correspond to the “reality” they allegedly represent.
The Indic empiricists, at a very early date, did in fact problematize this assumption, and sought to address it by developing increasingly sophisticated models of the cognitive, consciousness and sensory powers. Some might criticize this first-person methodology, and argue that inner phenomena can be analyzed via the same reductionistic methodology as are external phenomena, but it is not at all clear that first-person, subjective experience is reducible to third-person description. The physicist Piet Hut has written that he anticipates that “first-person felt experience and third-person description will both become part of an extended form of scientific method, in a framework that will transcend the current dichotomy.” 14
The Indic Inner sciences did not, generally, proceed via blind speculation, but rather proceeded by experimentation. These experiments included, among other things, sophisticated analyses of the mind and mental states, thought experiments designed to remove negative emotions and negative thought and/or behavioral patterns, as well as yogic techniques that employ the interconnectivity of body and mind to achieve mental and physical transformations, as well as states of deep relaxation, deep concentration, and heightened cognitive powers. Many insights resulted from these explorations, as well as practical techniques such as the use of breath control, visualization and other yogic techniques to accelerate healing and overcome infections, including infectious agents that are not susceptible to modern medical treatments. The Inner Sciences have often been dismissed as “magic” or “mysticism”, allowing their startling efficacy to be safely ignored.
Such dismissals, however, are the product of close-minded ignorance. As Robert Thurman wrote,
The enlightenment tradition discovered the micro and macro dimensions more than two thousand years ago by using sophisticated contemplative practices to augment the sixth mental sense of inner vision. They discovered the infinite divisibility of the atom. They discovered bacteria and microbes. And, most important to the pursuit of enlightenment, they discovered their own neurons and even the sub-atomic level of their own awareness. This realm is supernatural only in relation to a constricted definition of natural. It is mystical only when its analytic investigation is not completed. It is magic only when the technique involved is not understood. 15
Inner science traditions, generally speaking, took their analyses to an extremely subtle level. The analyses of consciousness, for example, undertaken in the Samkhya-Yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Buddhist traditions, found what we simply call consciousness to be a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, actually consisting of multiple levels of consciousness. These, ranging from coarse to subtle and very subtle levels, serve as the basis both of our sensory experience, our cognition, our sense of self-consciousness, and, ultimately, the sub-conscious substratum that serves as a unifying force in our own sense of continuous experience, and that is also the basis for the common or collective consciousness that appears to link all living beings. The Inner Sciences also envisioned a subtle body that unifies mind and body, avoiding the bifurcation between the two that continues to plague modern Western thought.
The Indic Inner Sciences, however, do not simply offer an alternative way of conceptualizing reality to Western ones. Within the Indic Inner sciences there is a tremendous diversity of views, such that many of the debates present and emerging in the West will all be enriched, on different sides, by consideration of Indic material. To take the example of consciousness studies again, the recent move by some analytic philosophers of consciousness to remove it from objective analysis and engage in phenomenological contemplation, would be both enriched and challenged by looking at the views and contemplative practices present in Vedantist and Buddhist traditions.
The knowledge and technical know-how of the traditions of Indic Inner Sciences are not mere cultural curiosities, to be studied as anthropological curios. They are, rather, valuable repositories of understanding into the nature of humanity and reality, and can potentially deepen the self-understanding of us all. This fact was long recognized by peoples all over Asia, who frequently sent their best, brightest, and boldest to India to study the inner sciences of meditation and yoga. Unfortunately, while Muslim Sufis were vitally interested in the Indic inner sciences, their traditions were esoteric and so were not transferred to Europe during the late medieval and renaissance eras when a vast amount of mathematical and outer scientific knowledge and technology were transmitted. This, perhaps, was due to a certain degree of resistance on the part of both the Muslims and the Christians, whose religious beliefs made it difficult for them to
accept the inner sciences, which were often related with what seemed like religious ideas and practices. Nonetheless, Indic meditative and yogic knowledge and practices did penetrate the Kabbalistic and Christian mysticism of Western adepts, transmitted through Sufism.
The failure of Westerners to appreciate the Inner Sciences has been gradually remedied during this last century, as increasingly large numbers have come to experience their benefits; among them not only practitioners of meditation and yoga, but also serious and highly influential scientists. Psychologists such as Jung, were highly influenced by Asian traditions of meditation; in particular Patañjali’s Yoga tradition and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The impact of the Indic Inner Sciences has also been great on the contemporary cognitive sciences, though their benefits are still minimal, due to their continuing unfamiliarity and also to cognitive scientists’ tendency to veer away from the human subjectivity in the attempt to reduce all mental phenomena to material processes.
India has been at the cutting edge of these fields for the past three millennia at least, and there is still a great deal India can potentially share with the West. It is important that we act quickly however, before more of the riches of this intellectual legacy are lost due to neglect and a loss of self-esteem on the part of their caretakers, some of whom are inexorably drawn to the outer material success of Western culture.
What is needed is not a rejection of either the inner or outer perspective, but rather their integration. Such an integration has the potential to effect a transformation, a transformation which sees a shift from the perspective of an alienated individuality to a spiritual sense of individuality in which we have a sense of being unique and precious beings inextricably connected to all other beings, who are equally unique and precious. Such a perspective might give rise to a global renaissance, or, in other words, to what Robert Thurman calls an
“alternative modernity”, which he describes as
an inner, spiritual, individual modernity that requires neither unrelenting materialistic industrial destruction of the planet nor a retreat into an imagined primitivistic utopia, a modernity that calls us to move forward in transforming ourselves and our world to gain a quality of life higher than any we have ever known…The task before us now is to deepen our interconnectedness and free ourselves thoroughly from alienation. Then our unified consciousness can only improve each individual’s sense of inextricable interconnectedness with all others, and we will never be caught in the destructive rampage inevitably unleashed by any form of alienation. 16
The global renaissance is perhaps inevitable, and may already be happening. For it to be successful, and for the human race to avoid descending into a new dark age of possibly catastrophic consequences, it is necessary that we get past the idea that any one people is intrinsically superior to any other, and recognize that we are all deeply and profoundly interconnected, such that the apparent wealth of any one group is deeply related to the poverty of another. This new era will need an ethic of global responsibility, which will not be possible with out a development of the inner sciences, based not on any one cultural tradition, but on the collective wisdom of all of humanity.
- Cited in Enrique Dussel,The Invention of the Americas(New York: Continuum, 1995), p. 24.
- Samuel P. Huntington,The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order(New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp. 86-7. Huntington drew this data from the following source: Paul Bairoch, “Internationalional Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980,” Journal of European Economic History, vol. 11 (Fall 1982), pp. 269-334.
- From Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,Literarische Werkevol. 42 sec. 2, p. 247 (from the 1st Sophien-Ausgabe ed., published in 1887-1919 by Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger Weimar.
- Concerning Voltaire’s study and favorable impression of Indian philosophy see Wilhelm Halbfass’India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding(Albany: SUNY Press, 1988).
- Arthur Schopenhauer,The World as Will and Representation(New York: Dover, 1969), vol. 1, p. 357.
- Erwin Schrödinger,What is Life? with Mind and Matter & Autobiographical Sketches(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 87.
- Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- de Chardin’s study of Indian thinkers, especially of Ramanuja, is not widely known, but it is the subject of an interesting book by Ursula King entitledTowards a New Mysticism: Teilhard de Chardin and Eastern Religions(London: Collins, 1980)
- King 1980, p. 244.
- King 1980, op. cit., pp. 158-9.
- Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
- A second edition of this book, published in 1993 by Quest Books (Wheaton, Illinois), is still in print.
- Written in conjunction with Jack Engler and Daniel P. Brown (Boston: Shambhala, 1986).
- See Piet Hut’s essay “As in a Dream”, located online at: http://www.infinityfoundation.com/ECITdreamframeset.htm
- Robert Thurman,Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Real Happiness(New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), pp. 213-14.
- Inner Revolution, pp. 270-1.