Globalizing the Human Renaissance

Globalizing the Human Renaissance
by Rajiv Malhotra and David Gray, PhD

© 2000 The Infinity Foundation, All Rights Reserved

One of the most extraordinary developments today is the confluence of worldviews from a variety of disciplines, ranging across psychology, spirituality, philosophy, neuroscience and healing sciences, among others, under the rubric of consciousness sciences. It is the field where first person experiential methodologies are sympathetically admitted as valid empirical evidence; where hard scientists can openly experiment with and express their spirituality; where psychotherapists can boldly cross the norms of established methodologies; and where Eastern religious ideas can be incorporated either into Western religions or practiced in their original Eastern mode. The Institute of Noetic Sciences, Esalen, Omega Institute, California Institute of Integral Studies, and The Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, are among the many places that have played a key role in facilitating this confluence. Several new organizations are emerging to harvest this perceived bounty, and conferences on the subject are filled with enthusiasts. But in this proposed evolution of consciousness, have we not forgotten something fundamental?

While it is acknowledged that consciousness is unitary, is the recent intellectual institutionalization process been exclusively Western, be it consciously or unconsciously? A large portion of the inspiration, epistemic modeling and practical technology for this field has originated in the East. But is the contemporary enterprise for an emerging renaissance a truly globalized one, or is the know-how first being appropriated by the West and then repackaged? This article addresses several sensitive questions related to this issue, including:

  • Is there integrity in the transmission of experiences and ideas, or are expediency and personal egos ruling?
  • Would a more explicit peer relationship between Western scholars and their Eastern counterparts result in deeper insights as opposed to mere superficialities?
  • Is this enterprise ethical about acknowledgment of sources, and is there credibility in the claims stated by modern Western proponents?
  • What should be the future role of the non-Western peoples under this worldview – as marginalized civilizations turned into museums, or as living traditions thriving in the evolving consciousness?

Of particular interest to us is to examine why Western writers often find it advantageous to diminish, disguise, or even completely re-label well-known Eastern ideas. It is sometimes said that by hiding their true origin with the use of Western terminology, these writers expand the accessibility to a wider audience, raise the credibility, and authenticate and legitimize the theories based on the ‘rational’ West’s methods of science. Frequently, the logic has been added that before adopting a practice from the East, one must remove the risk that its Western practitioners would turn otherworldly mystics or fatalistic Easterners, as compared to the progressive and advanced West. By distancing these ideas from cultures superficially judged as ‘world negating’, chronically poor or somehow less capable, it becomes easier for scholars to gain acceptance, receive grants, sell books, and in general perform better in the marketplace. Furthermore, it is sometimes maintained that since this is the age of the West, that therefore all one has to do is to continue to pluck the fruits from the trees of the East on a selective basis, and process them into final packages for suitable consumption. ‘Why should this issue concern the West at all?’ is often said as a reaction to such an inquiry.

This article challenges many of the underlying premises behind such reasoning, and in doing so, exposes flaws in the viability of the human renaissance program. Specifically:

  1. It challenges the flawed views of the history of the East by which many a modern scholar has falsely concluded that the civilizations of the East were intrinsically poor, world negating, polluted, or scientifically and socially backwards. The implication of this refutation is to question the fear that adoption of Eastern ideas explicitly and openly would be perceived as bad for the West’s well being.
  2. The article demonstrates that much of what is considered as Western civilization was in fact globally developed, and did not originate from, and nor does it belong to, any privileged people. It confronts the modern consciousness scientist to consider that this field fits into the pattern of the West’s historical advancement through appropriation of other civilizations.
  3. It provokes inquiry into whether Western scholars have truly appreciated the inner sciences developed by the East over a period of several millennia, or whether beneath the veneer, slick packaging, and marketing there is often shallowness. In other words, we raise the real possibility that there shall be a wealth of further advancement through genuine partnership on a peer basis, as opposed to the ‘pluck and run’ mentality so characteristic in some instances.
  4. Even where independent ideas have developed in parallel, it explains the benefits of breaking down the Berlin Wall between East and West that exists in modern academics – constructed in this case by the Western side.
  5. We question the genuineness of the modern West’s belief in a unity consciousness and its evolution, in all those instances where the belief marginalizes traditions that are in fact intrinsic to it.
  6. The article exposes the potential risks and dangers that hegemonic behavior, albeit in the name of globalization, poses to the very survival of the human species, and not just to the furthering of our evolution of consciousness.

Consider the case of Jung, given his importance to the leaders of today’s movement. Jung and many subsequent scholars recognized that many of his important ideas, such as the archetypes, collective unconscious, and synchronicity, were influenced by Indian thought. He even taught Patanjali and Kundalini yoga in Switzerland with great respect, before developing these ideas into concrete form. He studied and spoke about many Indic ideas, such as karma, samskaras (unconscious traces of past choices that influence future effects), and states of consciousness. But he later reversed his praise for Indic thought, for he actively recommended against Westerners practicing yoga or meditation. Instead, he proposed that Westerners should develop their own ‘yoga’. So the question arises as to why he would change his mind about a tradition from which he appropriated so many core ideas. The answer is that as he learnt more about Indian life, he witnessed poverty and social problems. Based on these observations, he interpreted Indic traditions as ‘world negating’ and ‘fatalistic’, and hence unfit and even dangerous for Westerners as a role model. But despite this interpretation about India, which was based mainly on his lack of understanding its history, he did not try to hide the deep Indic influence on his ideas and nor his great admiration for yoga, which he described as the most profound discovery by humanity. However, Jung’s successors and historians failed to acknowledge these Indic sources of his thinking, and often even replaced them with references to Greek thought.

Jung’s fear of and consequent U-Turn from India need to be evaluated on three counts.

First, his construction of India as Europe’s “other” is misplaced. Most would agree that it was during the Renaissance that Europe “rediscovered” its cultural heritage and identity, yet the European renaissance is only fully understandable when placed in a global context. It clearly was a cultural renewal, which manifested as a glorious confidence that humans are capable of understanding themselves and their world, and expressed in the flowering of arts of all types. But Europe here did not fabricate this experience out of thin air, nor did it derive its inspiration exclusively from the humanism of the Greeks. The European renaissance, in fact, was based upon the renaissances of many different cultures, and most directly upon that of the Arabs, who synthesized Greek, Persian and Indian learning to concoct a rich new blend of science and art. Our debt to India is far greater than is commonly acknowledged; our “Arabic” numeral system, and the decimal system of enumeration that underlies it, was an Indian development introduced to Europe by the Arabs, without which the subsequent scientific “Enlightenment” would not have been possible. Europe likewise received from Asia technologies which transformed its material culture, including the stirrup, gunpowder, and paper making and printing technologies. Europe was, and the West still is, far more deeply interrelated to the rest of the world than our myth of cultural superiority permits us to acknowledge.

Secondly, his fear that Indian practices would lead to disastrous consequences in the lives of Westerners has to be revisited, since over 10 million Americans practice various forms of yoga and meditation, a trend that is rapidly growing, and yet these American practitioners have not become fatalistic, world negating or socially backward as a result.

Thirdly, India’s poverty must be understood through a proper view of its history. There is a big difference between chronic poverty inherent to a tradition, in which case Jung’s conclusions would be valid, and poverty of relatively recent origin brought about by externally imposed factors. India was indeed extremely wealthy until the mid 1800’s by every account of Europe’s own visitors and historians. Harvard University’s Samuel Huntington writes in ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ that in 1750, India had 25% of the world’s manufacturing output while Europe and America combined had less than 18%. But in 1900, India had collapsed to less than 2% of the world’s economy, whereas America and the West had 84% of the world’s share. He writes: ‘The industrial revolution of the West was done at the expense of de-industrialization of the colonies’. The material wealth of India and its industries were legendary for millennia, and were the very reason for the obsessions of the Europeans, Arabs and Persians to go to India – they were not desperate to go there to save souls.

How many modern scholars who are constructing lofty future scenarios know India’s history outside a strictly Eurocentric view, and are able to appreciate that many important developments of the modern West were the result of India’s influence? For instance, while Europe was in the Dark Ages, the rest of the world thrived. There existed a global economy from Africa to China centered on the Indian Ocean, in which Europe was only indirectly plugged in via the Middle East traders. Into this trading system, Europeans arrived starting in the 15th century, since land trade was obstructed by geopolitical developments. It was this quest to get reconnected with Asia that led to the discoveries of sea routes and drove exploration of the New World.

In the colonial period that followed, taxation of India’s wealth funded Europe’s Industrial Revolution, and India provided much of the raw material and market for Europe’s finished goods. Until this de-industrialization, India’s exports in areas as diverse as steel and textiles had global prominence, but these industries were transferred to Europe and systematically destroyed in India. Essentially, from being the world’s largest producer, India was turned into the largest consumer as its wealth was drained out.

The economic impoverishment of India by the West was also joined to a process of cultural and environmental impoverishment. If we look at the field of education, for example, we discover that Europe was not the sole founder of higher education. The universities in Europe arose from the monasteries, and just as monasticism was an institution originating in India at a much earlier date, so too was the monastic university. They were destroyed, however, in a series of invasions beginning in the sixth century, with the British administering, at most, the death-blow to the traditional Indian education systems. A similar process of not so benign neglect occurred at the environmental level. India had established ancient systems for the conservation of forest and water resources. These principles of environmental maintenance were abandoned, and replaced simply with an environmentally negligent policy of exploitation, leading in part to the many of India’s current environmental problems.

The “post-modern” worldview is actually far more global than many of us realize. The entire field of linguistics in Europe was born when Europeans discovered in India an advanced civilization with a rich language and literature. Pannini’s grammar from 500 B.C. (with 4,000 precise rules) became the inspiration and model for the entirely new fields of philology and linguistics in the West. European authors were influenced by masterpieces of Kalidasa, an Indian who lived in the fourth century; Goethe borrowed liberally from his play Shakuntala in writing Faust. The American Transcendental movement of the 19th century was more openly Indic than today’s New Age. Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman wrote about this openly, and influenced in turn William James. Western, and especially continental, philosophy, has been influenced by Asian thought, with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger as particularly notable examples. This influence, however, is rarely taught in Philosophy classes. There was strong influence also on Browning, Eliot, Isherwood, Huxley, Hesse, Ginsburg, Kerouac, diPrima, and many others. India has also been the fountainhead of Buddhism and much of Asian civilization. These are not signs of a world negating, fatalistic, irrational, or backward civilization.

The relevance of this historical analysis is to examine whether Jung might have advised differently had he acquired a better appreciation for the historical factors causing or at least exacerbating many of India’s modern problems. Rather than blaming these problems on India’s traditions that he had admired, a correct diagnosis would have located the causes in its relatively recent history. This could have changed his stand on the adoption of Indic ideas and practices by Westerner, as the fear of world negation, poverty, and fatalism would not have come up as ghosts in his thought process.

Teilhard de Chardin is another important Western figure, whose influence is felt especially upon those segments of today’s consciousness movement that identify with Christianity. He provides many with a bridge from institutionalized Christianity to the new ‘liberal’ Christianity that is sometimes called post-Christianity. The extent to which Indic thought influenced Teilhard is well documented but unknown to his followers. Teilhard accessed Indic thought through Joseph Marechal since 1910, and wrote summaries and comments on this. Later, Teilhard read Father Pierre Johanns’ two volume work on Vedanta ‘Vers le Christ par le Vedanta’, and commented that of the four schools of Vedanta, he found greatest resonance with the Ramanuja school. In the introduction to this book, Johanns states that there exists no important Catholic doctrine, as formulated by St. Thomas of Aquinas, which cannot also be found in one or the other systems of Vedanta. Father Johanns’ goal was to modernize the interpretation of Christianity, and among his other writings were also a series of articles called ‘To Christ Through Vedanta’. It is not commonly know that Teilhard made a trip to India during the 1930s, and interpreted the plight of street beggars as a result of ‘fatalism’. Did Teilhard make the Jungian U-Turn based upon this interpretation and his superficial understanding of India’s modern-day poverty? Was his perspective also influenced by his being a Jesuit with a missionary agenda?

One wonders why this influence on Teilhard, along with similar influences on Thomas Merton and other modern Christian thinkers, is suppressed or ignored from the popular view. Is there a taboo of the East, particularly of India, the result of so many negative stereotypes, which encourages many to shun any association, while they continue to appropriate secretly? Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, was inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, and quoted it in the first edition of her book Science and Health. But in subsequent editions, and in subsequent writings, all references to Indic sources were dropped, and replaced with Christian references, and most of today’s Christian Scientists would scarcely admit to any such links. Likewise, Rudolph Steiner started in the Theosophy movement, learnt considerably from it and from J. Krishnamurti; yet after his U-Turn from Theosophy, these influences were downplayed or outright buried by his movement. Do such suppressions prevent the emergence of a genuine understanding of the interrelationships among the traditions? Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Robert McDermott are a few other examples of recent Western thinkers who have first learnt from but then distanced themselves publicly from Indic sources. We wonder if this posture reduces the potential benefit to humanity, as compared to an attitude of open celebration, respect and indebtedness to the various world traditions.

We should also note that the appropriation strategy suffers from superficiality. In fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface with regard to appreciating the world traditions. What we’ve appropriated typically derives not from a deep, intensive study, which implies respect for the tradition, but surface facets gleaned from a superficial survey. There remain, for example, thousands of works on the inner sciences in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese which have not yet been translated into English. And these are well known civilizations; it is hard to imagine the potential contributions that might be made by some of the smaller, less literate peoples of the world, some of whose cultures are on the verge of extinction.

This being the case, should modern textbooks on psychology explain how Campbell’s and Assglioli’s ideas were influenced by Asia, or should these links remain unknown to the vast majority of modern psychology students? Likewise, while Wilber openly acknowledges his debt to Sri Aurobindo, it is surprising to find that most of Wilber’s followers have never heard of Sri Aurobindo.

Vipassna is being commercially franchised as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation (with a registered trade mark). But when We discussed with a teacher of Mindfulness Meditation at the Princeton Yoga Center, she was unwilling to believe that it had anything to do with Indic roots or anything with a name sounding like Vipassna. Is it good that much of meditation research is often reclassified by scholars such as Francisco Varela as phenomenology or neuro-phenomenology, sometimes justified as being necessary to be seen as scientific? Or do the old practices and their epistemologies have much more gifts to offer the researchers?

Lucid dreaming is widely discussed, but most persons are unaware that it is a modern form of ‘dream yoga,’ a meditation tradition developed in India and practiced by Buddhists and Hindus over the past millennium. ‘Sacred geometry’ is the new age vernacular for what has for millennia been the science of yantra and mandala in India and Tibet. Reiki, brought to America from Japan, was rediscovered in Japan based on Sanskrit and Tibetan texts. The rapidly growing field of ‘energy medicine’ incorporates many practices and theories from pranayama, Tantra, Kundalini, and other Eastern traditions.

Herbert Benson developed his Relaxation Response idea as a response to Transcendental Meditation, and first pitched it as a free substitute for those wishing to avoid the need to pay for being initiated into TM. Later, Benson originated the term ‘Stress Management,’ and also wrote ‘Emotional Intelligence’, getting his ideas from Daniel Goldman who was deeply involved in Indian religion in the 1960s and lived in India. Goldman was very enthusiastic about yoga and meditation and their potential for dealing with stress. Have a few authors and management consultants hijacked ancient wisdom under proprietary names, and what does this do to the free flow of ideas across traditions as intended by the ancient rishis?

As a question of academic ethics, one must ask if a modern ‘validation’ using scientific methodology implies original ‘discovery’, in which case centuries of prior discovery and use by indigenous cultures would have no standing? In other words, is this field turning toward the lawyer’s mentality which dwells on the question of who ‘officially’ filed the right papers first, and does this stifle progress?

Rupert Sheldrake’s formative causation and morphogenic resonance have made an important impact in the emerging worldview. But what is this theory’s relationship with what Sri Aurobindo’s movement calls ‘supramental contagion’? Is Sheldrake’s theory a biological ‘explanation’ of yoga? How does it relate to the elaborate Tantric physiology of the vital and subtle bodies, so central to both Buddhism and Hinduism? While Sheldrake had extensive and respectful interactions with Indic thought, many followers of his work do not seem to appreciate the links.

What is the relationship between (a) Hinduism’s behavior theory in terms of programmed tendencies (samskaras/vasanas) based on one’s past karmas, and the Buddhist Abhidharma equivalent called skandhas, and (b) the recently developed ‘meme’ theory by Dawkins? Does building a conceptual model to explain what was already known experientially comprise the real point of discovery? What further insights might develop if open collaboration were made between scholars from these fields?

Erwin Schrodinger was awarded the Nobel Prize for developing quantum mechanics. But it is not generally known that before he created quantum mechanics, he was studying Vedanta, which provided a foundation for his search for truth. In 1925, before his quantum mechanics theory was complete, Schrodinger wrote:

“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the “whole”; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: “tat tvam asi”, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.”

According to his biographer Walter Moore, there is clear continuity between Schrodinger’s understanding of Vedanta and his physics:

“The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics….This new view would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One.” Continues Moore: “His system – or that of the Upanishads – is delightful and consistent: the self and the world are one and they are all. He rejected traditional Western religious beliefs (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) not on the basis of any reasoned argument, nor even with an expression of emotional antipathy, for he loved to use religious expressions and metaphors, but simply by saying that they are naive.”

In a famous essay on free will, he clearly expressed that consciousness is a unity, arguing that this “insight is not new… From the early great Upanishads the recognition “Atman = 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.” He considered the notion of many souls to be naïve, a result of maya: “the same illusion is produced by a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.” Schrodinger called his dog “Atman”.

Schrodinger intensely studied Vedas, yoga, and Samkhya philosophy, often rewriting the key ideas into his own words, and eventually adopted them as his belief system. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita were his favorite scriptures, kept at his bedside. Schrodinger’s influential book, “What is Life?” (1944), also applied Vedic ideas. The book became instantly famous and Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA code, credited this book for key insights that led him to his DNA ideas.

However, contemporary physicists have moved away from such links with Vedanta in many cases, at least in their major writings. Dr Henry Stapp, an eminent physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, studied Vedanta for several years, and even wrote a little-known book showing how a specific school of Vedanta was compatible with Quantum Mechanics. But later, when he wrote his seminal work called “Quantum Mechanics and the Mind’, he never refers to any Indic ideas or tradition, not even to his own earlier book on the links between the new physics and Vedanta. As W. Halbfass wrote: “In the modern planetary situation Eastern and Western ‘cultures’ can no longer meet one another as equal partners. They meet in a Westernized world, under conditions shaped by Western ways of thinking.” Many Westerners still have a tough time believing that Asians could do original science, although they could produce literature, speculative metaphysics, mysticism, and even art.

Is Whitehead’s ‘process philosophy’ crypto-Buddhism, and has it provided ‘rational’ cover to accept Buddhist principles without ‘coming out’ as a Buddhist? What advantages to research might there be if Buddhist scholars were included explicitly in order to examine these relationships? Likewise, Schopenhauer’s was openly Vedantic, but neither this nor Nietzsche’s being crypto-Buddhist is widely appreciated. What are the links and comparisons between Derrida on the one hand, and on the other hand, Nagarjuna, Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta, and what might such study bring to light? Wouldn’t it enrich our understanding of the works of these thinkers if we studied them in conjunction with the Asian traditions they found inspiring.

Is the popular ’emerging’ worldview called panchycism or pan-experientialism really new? Hinduism’s central notion of Saguna Brahman as everything there is, was previously called pantheism or panentheism in the West. What is the relationship between these ancient traditions and what is now named panchycism or even pan-experientialism. Would there be merit in discussing openly such interrelationships so as to deepen our understanding? Especially in the field of consciousness studies, it is absurd not to start with the Indian tradition. In this area the West is simply underdeveloped.

Even where independent discoveries have been made or where genuine enhancements make the new model contains original extensions or applications, would it not be useful to do comparative analyses and to keep older models alive for future reference? After all, we keep alive the ideas of Plato and Socrates even when disagreeing with or superceding them, since there is no taboo associated with them. Is it possible that hidden behind the lofty ideal of making ancient know how more acceptable, there is a sneaky desire of looking more clever than deserved? In science you get famous after all for discovering something new, and not for rehashing something ancient. In this ‘publish or perish’ mindset, there is strong pressure to repackage something and claim originality, and to try hard to supercede one’s own teacher, a disrespectful attitude which stands in stark contrast to the tradition in India.

One might wonder, since the Euro-American paradigm appears to be so dominant in the world today, why is it necessary to seek out the knowledge of other civilizations? Isn’t the process of “globalization” basically the worldwide adoption of the Western worldview? Why should we bother seeking to appreciate and understand the knowledge of other cultural systems? Isn’t it really the others who need to understand our system, since they are poor and backwards and we’re not? Hasn’t the influence of the West on the rest of the world, despite a few mistakes, been more or less positive?

These sorts of questions arise out of a benign view of the history of the past few centuries, the self-justifying view in which the spread of Western “civilization” is portrayed as a natural and inevitable result of “social evolution”. But perhaps the term “civilization” here is a misnomer. As Robert Thurman wrote in his book Inner Revolution,

We have imagined our world to be tamed, or civilized, since we live in cities and seem to have nature under control. It is hard to imagine ourselves as wild or untamed. But “civilized” should mean something more than just living in cities. It should mean that we are wise, gentle, just, and even artistic in our dealings with the world and with other animals and humans. Our civilization is what I call an “outer civilization”; its modernity is an outer modernity. It is based on turning the full force of human reason on the enterprise of conquering and taming the outer universe. (p. 216)

History is a “mixed bag”, and while the legacy of Western civilization over the past several centuries has been anything but positive when viewed from a holistic, global perspective, it would probably be a mistake to take an uncritically hostile stance vis-à-vis modernity, and in effect throw the baby out with the bath water. Our current situation is probably not one in which we can step forward by stepping back. Yet it is crucial that we do not gloss over the history of the past few centuries, in which the behavior of the supposedly civilized, “progressive” West has far exceeded in barbarity that of any of the peoples whom they governed with brutal violence. This historical context should not be conveniently erased from our critical consciousness, but should be kept in mind, as an antidote to the mire of naive chauvinism into which we are all perhaps prone to sink. We can only advance by openly acknowledging the mistakes we’ve made.

Rather than arguing for the perpetuation and spread of a hegemonic cultural and economic system, which was built upon a foundation of the violent enslavement and exploitation of non-European peoples by Europeans, and which continues to engage in a coercive and environmentally destructive appropriation of an inordinate share of the earth’s resources, we argue instead for a “Global Renaissance. This would seek to redress the unfulfilled promise of the earlier European Renaissance, which was thwarted as Europe descended into a pattern of violent economic exploitation, supported by an ideology of cultural and racial superiority. And as the world has indeed become a smaller place, now is indeed the time to seek to expand truly enriching cultural exchanges, effecting a process of mutually beneficial awakening of the positive potential of the human species.

© 2000 The Infinity Foundation, All Rights Reserved