Revisiting the lost art of being human : Spiritual science and the project of Transformation
The global pandemic Covid-19 appears to be the culmination of an apocalyptic prophecy made by number of scientifically engaging community of thinkers, for the last few decades, about an impending global crisis. It was the same, premonition based on scientific data that made Bill Gates predict a global pandemic in the 2015 TED talk that went viral in the internet after the Covid 19 crisis. As a global citizen of an emerging economy but traditional society like India , my rational capacity to analytical thinking is often influenced by a more organic, intuitive and experiential consciousness grounded in the traditional wisdom that revered sustainable balance of an interconnected existence between man and his environment , externally ; and also prescribed practices for inward seeking realization, body- mind coexistence, that lay the genesis of some of the earliest human ideas on transcendental universal man. I see the pandemic in the form of COVID 19 as inevitable. Referring to one of the most profound ideas of ancient hindus , the law of causality is inbuilt in the primordial intelligence of existence. The vandalism of nature by human beings and their chaotic, extractive worldview of environmental management, reveals a clear path to this inevitable crisis. There are number of instances and documented evidence from post covid internet and web resources that show mysterious and strange ways in which nature reclaimed its space and status in the planetary species chain, during the course of the Corona virus pandemic. As human beings sought refuge from an erratic, predatory microscopic live-form, the planet has reinstated nature successfully, with an impressive display of resilience and infinite power to replenish and refurbish the decadence set by human vandalism. As though, some invisible, inconceivable, non-localized, autonomous, omni-present intelligence underlying existence, voiced in clear words “Balance and stability will be restored, come what may , no matter who is annihilated in the ethical struggle of interspecies survival”.
The crisis of pandemic unfolds uncomfortable realities. It revealed the vulnerability and fragility of human existence, that claimed a mastery and dominance over technological innovation with an arrogant doggedness, and forcefully intervened and engineered every natural system that was intended to be a gifted legacy for human sustenance. Humanity has never needed the antidote of atonement and realization as it does now. Never before has the entire world come together, in this scale of shared life experience, common destiny of a global crisis. Man’s common future and shared destiny is finally an inarguable fact as entire humanity is forced into the guillotine of a moral equalizer that not only leveled inter-species existence, i.e from the virus to the animal to the human being but also intra-species equilibrium between the rich and poor nations, rich and poor people. The panacea need to be found in ideas of reinstating the ‘selfless’ in institutionalization of an “enhanced self’ . To integrate values of individual freedom and personal responsibility with universalism, balance, coexistence, wellbeing and peace, while creating social institutions. These values are not new, traditional wisdom embedded in the philosophical worldview of a number of ancient civilizations are rich with this wisdom. The most profound and earliest known are found in the rich works of Vedas and Upanishads .
In the words of Swami Vivekananda, the first modernist vedantist philosopher from India whose contribution to deconstructing Vedanta philosophy of the ancient hindus ( I do not refer to organized Hinduism as a religion but rather to an ancient way of life among inhabitants who lived in the region of ancient Aryavattas) for the creation of a secular universal man is still highly contemporary and relevant. Vivekananda spoke of the relevance of Vedanta as a philosophy , which embodies the final wisdom of the Upanishads. In 1920, in his speech at the Chicago conference of world religion, he tried to unearth, revive and revitalize the rationalized coherent knowledge system of the Advaita,in the Vedanta as an invaluable collective heritage of mankind. The basic premises of Vedanta, rests on ideological parameters of inclusion and universal values. The fact that every single element, that inhabits the atomic to the cosmic universe works on few fundamental interconnected principles , make universal ethics as given for the systemic balance of the universe. Having reached the zenith of scientific knowledge, man s intellectual analytical capacity has no doubt been chiseled and surpassed formidable limitations. This is evident in the way man made models of reality in the form of technology has taken humanity into galloping experiences of post human nature. Western science, its enthusiasm with rational spirit of systematic investigation, and search for knowledge is often like a conqueror who aims to conquer his object of interest. The strategy of intelligence here is focused, extractive, goal oriented and exclusive. Eastern philosophies, embodied in the Upanishads are often more inclusive, experiential, systemic and interconnected that focus on diversity, dialogue, and consensus through the body-mind transcendence. The limitations and myopic vision of the prevailing value system that was driven by the western rationality of positive sciences is evident as society grappled to deal with environmental degradation, biophysical limitations to infinite and unsustainable human projects, the growing imbalance between human wellbeing and prosperity. It has become urgent that humanity as a whole should explore alternative worldviews , that could be integrated when we reconstruct the new worldview of the post pandemic human society.
Educational Institutions are vital in this process of reconstruction, reformation for transformation through value centric education. Education has to gear towards enlightened rationalism and activism, by re-conceptualizing ideas of growth, progress and prosperity in the new world. This is possible if we devote considerable energy through research and development dedicated to unearth, revitalize, regenerate spiritual wisdom for humanity. Education in the true sense is not just an accumulation of information on available data. So far, every form and stage of discipline specific education is only an effort to organize, systematize information that are already available through our vast resources of internet. Online courses and MOOc’s have made it possible to access and secure degrees in areas and disciplines that are based on information accumulation only. Infact education for the next generation should strive to create enhanced and empowered human beings, balanced and in harmony with the universe ,in terms of knowledge, wisdom and holistic values of coexistence, sharing and universal ethics, and not be limited to information accumulation only. In the age of artificial intelligence and inter galaxy travel, bio-determinism, technology enabled consciousness, Cyborgs, genetically modified life forms, innovations of the technology enabled man, will be venturing into areas of ethics that are not only unforeseen but also inconceivable.
It is felt that ancient wisdom embodied in Upanishads and Vedanta are rich in values of self enquiry and realization, prescribing paths of self discovery for self improvement . We need to reclaim and revive this invaluable wisdom as an inherited legacy from one of the most dialogical traditions recorded in Vedas and Upanishads, so that the whole world can be acquainted to its practical wisdom of self management vis a vis the deep seated intelligence embedded in the universe, in the new times to come.
Philosophers and rational thinkers of humanity from the east who were inspired by Vedanta, such as Shankaracharya, Ramanujam, Ramana Maharshi, Rama Krishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda , Mahatma Gandhi, A.P .J Abdul Kalam and their followers never claimed to be Messiah’s or religious teachers. Their philosophies and rational ideas on humanity reflect their non conformity with institutionalized religions, practices, rituals and dogmas. It is unfortunate we failed to valorize their contribution in the secular traditions of modern intellectual thought. In-fact the intellectual premises of these thinkers have been their preoccupation with self realization, self management for self improvement and efficacy for the welfare of the larger humanity. They prescribed strategies for self management founded on cognitive psychology for every human being so they could understand their rights , duties and responsibilities as the dominant species on the planet. Every human endeavour and enterprise , whether pursuit of science and technology, pursuit of happiness , rational thinking for nation building and institution building , from this perspective will only empower humanity in the path of coexistence and peace. Efforts for transformation in the new world, has to guide and mentor the application of the principles of spiritual science to administer every aspect of secular life. We need to reinstate spiritual wisdom for self management in everyday activity as much as for the working of our social institutions, carefully and meticulously, separating it from religious attributes and dogmatism. The knowledge of early hindus who followed a unique and specific way of life, is full of assertions to respect balance,interspecies coexistence, reverence for high values of peace and universalism. This invaluable human legacy of experiential and yet deeply philosophical wisdom suffered annihilation and marginalization when more aggressive, extractive, worldviews took over. These civilization lived through aggressive exploitation and conquest of resources for territorial supremacy and empire building. The ground for destruction and genesis for the apocalypse was set.
Integrating self realization and freedom into the human spirit of scientific enquiry as the foundational worldview of the value consciousness underlying educational institutions, should be the defining character of the post covid society. Every new technological milestone to be covered henceforth has to emerge from re-definition of the new universal man, local in action , universal in vision. I feel there are two areas in which this new worldview can peg on, Firstly, on man’s primordial connection with nature, in the revival of livelihood and food production based on organic farming , that clearly demarcates between need and greed. Age-old traditional wisdom of small-scale farming in the household mode of production has always protected man from starvation and food crisis that is fundamental for sustenance of human society. Agrarian societies has to reclaim their dignity and rightful self esteem in the hierarchy of human civilization, by re- orientation of the economic structure of post covid society. 2ndly, Socialization of younger members of the society and their sensitization to the changing consciousness through intergenerational exchanges , sharing of experiences in an exemplary, honest, introspective manner will be very important. Once the pandemic is over, we will steadily enter an ambiguous stage of scarcity, that will cut across economic, political, business and the most dangerously personal and mental health spaces. A fearful knowledge vacuum will engulf not only adults but will also impact the young minds in most dangerous ways. The onus is on the adults for having mislead them to an erroneous understanding of this world till now. The dominant worldview they were familiar with, is that exploitation of planetary resources are limitless, gratification is higher than values, wastage is higher than frugality. This new reality check forced on them will devastate their mind and bodies. It is now on us to reintroduce and salvage few old forgotten values that were normal when we grew up. Nurturing a kitchen garden, home cooked fresh meals, connecting with extended families and friends, story telling and sharing of experiences verbally, rationing of technology for sharing family time with parents and grandparents, respecting nature and taking responsibility of stray animals , feeding birds in the neighbourhood. We have to impart the value of sharing and coexistence as the basic personal value to live a fully connected human life.
Hume, R.E. The Thirteen Principal Upanisads. Oxford: 1921. The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit with an outline of the philosophy of the Upanishads and an annotated bibliography, by Robert Ernest Hume (Oxford University Press, 1921). 5/15/2020. <https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2058>
Olivelle, P. The Early Upanisads: annotated text and translation. New York: Oxford University Press,1998.
The state of the art as far as Upanisad translations go. This invaluable work is highly accessibly and absolutely indispensable for both the beginner and the expert. The important thing about this edition for the non-Sanskrit reader is the inclusion of detailed annotations. In these annotations one can find references to any pertinent articles, as well as Olivelle’s own well-reasoned take on any particular issue. Incredible index, for example (“termite: Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.7; Kausitaki Upanisad 4.20″!)
 Around 125 years ago, on September 11, Swami Vivekanand delivered an iconic and eloquent speech at the Chicago Convention of Parliament of Religions. Introducing Hinduism to the world in 1893, Swami Vivekanand spoke about intolerance, religion and the need to end all forms of fanaticism.