Development and progress are bandied about as the panacea of all evils of society. But what is their widest scope, the deeper implications and higher meaning, what are the psychological forces that push development? All this has been discussed and understood in a limited fashion, indeed only the surface has been scratched.
The driving force of a country’s growth is the psychological push of its people which in turn is powered by what motivates them. In the modern era phenomenal results have been achieved by the concentrated power of nationalism – pride in one’s country and concern for her well-being. An outstanding example is the transformation of Japan from a traditional medieval feudal culture into a modern industrialised nation in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. When Russia was defeated by Japan at the beginning of the twentieth century in the Russo-Japanese war, the rest of the world sat up in astonishment. No European country had been militarily defeated by an Asian one in modern times. Almost half a century later, as a consequence of the nuclear holocaust of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan was on her knees. But thirty-five years on, in 1980, Japan had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and it was feared by some in the West that if her growth continued apace her GNP might equal or even exceed that of the US by the end of the century. That potential was never realised as her people became more self-centred with the exposure to Western modes of thinking and their main feeder of growth – intensity driven by a certain selflessness – dwindled almost to stagnation. The current PM of Japan realises that without rekindling her national spirit Japan cannot be pulled out of the doldrums.
The Western gospel of utilitarianism, a selfish concentration on narrow aims causes greater and greater dysfunction in the various parts of society. Utilitarianism has been transposed into materialism and everything is valued according to its money-making potential. The quality of goods and services deteriorates even as they become more expensive. Medical care, education etc. are costing more and more while delivering less and less. Only the leavening of the spirit of nationalism has kept Western societies from sinking completely into the mire of destructive selfishness.
There is, however, an even greater power, more enduring and free from the ultimate evil and destructive effect of nationalism, which can fuel economic development, even though being self-sufficient in itself, not expressly concerned with it. Until a few centuries ago India was one of the richest countries of the world (in 1700 the GDP of India was greater than that of the whole of Western Europe)( Angus Maddison, The World Economy, Paris: OECD, 2001, p. 261, Table B-18.) and that too after centuries of repressive Muslim rule. But political unity and based on it, the spirit of nationalism is relatively new to India. Throughout her long history she has been united culturally and spiritually but not politically. When an individual or a collectivity can rise beyond egoism, both its own and that of a larger collectivity – a nation or even humanity – and connect to its true spiritual self and can live in it to some extent, as ancient India was able to, then the power of this greatest potential begins to act visibly in all the fields of human endeavour. Once this power is aroused in a country there are no limits to her development. Not only physical development but also a psychological growth which can be the only true basis of happiness and fulfilment – witness the widespread dissatisfaction and psychological alienation and loneliness lurking just below the glamourous surfaces in modern materially developed countries.
Indeed, the problem has become so serious that the present top heavy material development, if not balanced, is poised to destroy all civilised societies in the world. True growth and progress can only be the results of an integral spiritual growth of consciousness whether of the individual or of the society or the nation. The conditions in which people live are the result of their state of consciousness. To seek to change these without a change of consciousness is a vain chimera.
In present times, India too has sunk into the morass of utilitarianism and in a worst possible way. As a nation, as a society, she seems to have forgotten her deeper well-springs of energy and has become lost in the chaos of conflicting narrow self-interests spiralling her into greater depths of depravation of every kind. A nationlistic pride in the country and her achievements may be the lever to pull her out of this degradation and set her on the road to her true destiny which is also her heritage from times immemorial – the intelligent will to live for the spirit not only individually but also collectively. Nationalism, which underpins the Modi government manifesto, can act as a bridge to carry India onto the path of integral self-fulfilment and enable her to play her true role among the community of nations. But, she must not forget that the spirit of nationalism, however necessary and useful at present, is just one stage in the greater psychology and has to be transcended to attain that for which India’s soul has always been striving – a progressive manifestation and expression of the Spirit in the terrestrial Nature.
“There are deeper issues for India herself, since by following certain tempting directions she may conceivably become a nation like many others evolving an opulent industry and commerce, a powerful organisation of social and political life, an immense military strength, practising power-politics with a high degree of success, guarding and extending zealously her gains and her interests, dominating even a large part of the world, but in this apparently magnificent progression forfeiting its Swadharma, losing its soul. Then ancient India and her spirit might disappear altogether and we would have only one more nation like the others and that would be a real gain neither to the world nor to us…..It would be a tragic irony of fate if India were to throw away her spiritual heritage at the very moment when in the rest of the world there is more and more a turning towards her for spiritual help and a saving Light. This must not and will surely not happen; but it cannot be said that the danger is not there.”
– Sri Aurobindo
(Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo 36, Pages 503-04)