Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 2

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Introduction

I. The Problem of Development

This erring race of human beings dreams always of perfecting their environment by the machinery of government and society; but it is only by the perfection of the soul within that the outer environment can be perfected. What thou art within, that outside thee thou shalt enjoy; no machinery can rescue thee from the law of thy being.1

“At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny; for a stage has been reached in which the human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way. A structure of the external life has been raised up by man’s ever-active mind and life-will, a structure of an unmanageable hugeness and complexity, for the service of his mental, vital, physical claims and urges, a complex political, social, administrative, economic, cultural machinery, an organised collective means for his intellectual, sensational, aesthetic and material satisfaction. Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites. For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it. This new fullness of the means of life might be, by its power for a release from the incessant unsatisfied stress of his economic and physical needs, an opportunity for the full pursuit of other and greater aims surpassing the material existence, for the discovery of a higher truth and good and beauty, for the discovery of a greater and diviner spirit which would intervene and use life for a higher perfection of the being: but it is being used instead for the multiplication of new wants and an aggressive expansion of the collective ego.”2

A. The Materialistic Ideal and the Utilitarian Spirit of the Present Socio-economic System

The whole modern socio-economic system is geared towards meeting only the vital and physical needs of man, for the material perfection and well-being has become the sole recognised Dharma of modern societies – all else being considered either a pretentious falsity or a thing of minor and dependent consequence. The overriding concern that the modern societies show for the fulfilment of the vital and the physical desires of man, and the prominent part that money plays in the fulfilment of such desires, has brought the economic science to the forefront. The economic science and its calculations confine themselves to only those parts of individual and social activities which are squared (or squarable) against the measuring rod of money. Thus, Economics addresses itself to only a fraction of what would be considered relevant to a person’s welfare even by a materialist. Still, important policy decisions having profound implications for all aspects of life are continuously being taken, almost wholly, on the basis of narrow economic calculations alone. This is the spirit of “utilitarianism”. As if the materialistic view of man was not narrow enough for a speedy disaster; this made matters go from bad to worse.

“For the last hundred years or so mankind has been suffering from a disease which seems to be spreading more and more and which has reached a climax in our times; it is what we may call ‘utilitarianism’. People and things, circumstances and activities seem to be viewed and appreciated exclusively from this angle. Nothing has any value unless it is useful. Certainly something that is useful is better than something that is not. But first we must agree on what we describe as useful – useful to whom, to what, for what? For, more and more, the races who consider themselves civilized describe as useful whatever can attract, procure or produce money. Everything is judged and evaluated from a monetary angle. That is what I call utilitarianism. And this disease is highly contagious, for even children are not immune to it.”3

The gospel of utilitarianism seems to permeate modern societies; debasing by its touch all that has opened to it consciously or unconsciously. Virtually nothing seems to have escaped completely its distorting influence. Politics, education, medicine, art, music, religion, friendships, relations, love, etc., all seem to have come under its sway. The spirit of duty, commitment, service seems to be fast losing ground to it even in areas such as education, medicine, social service, etc., which have traditionally been its strongholds.

At present the whole of the human race has come more or less completely under the sway of the materialistic ideal. To start with, the safety of the present civilization has to be sought not only in the explicit recognition of the spiritual aim of existence but in its application to all the problems faced by it. Today all the countries, the world over, are enamoured of and altogether enslaved by the “development ideal” which concentrates on achieving an ever greater and greater volume of goods and services as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP)*.

* The GDP is – more and more – becoming rather a measure of “human deprivation” than anything else. For example, when one walks to work at an office nearby, one does not, through this simple and enjoyable act, contribute anything to the GDP. However, if one has to take a high-speed bullet train – spending hours getting to and back from work – one (indirectly) contributes enormously to the GDP; initially by way of expenses incurred in building and then in operating and maintaining such an expensive means of transportation. As the number of people who get subjected to such deprivations goes up, the GDP also goes up. The GDP also increases as conflicts (or their future likelihood), crimes, corruption, epidemics and diseases increase, because to maintain peace, safety and health, the public expenditure on these things – which enters directly into the GDP accounting – has also to be increased proportionately with the proportion ever growing higher due to ever declining real value of the services (per unit of money) in these fields due to the relentless working of the utilitarian spirit.

The menacing giant of religious fundamentalism and intolerance has been raising its head since the beginning of this century and still seems to be unabated and even growing. However, even this giant – even in areas and cultures most under its sway – has to play “second fiddle” to the mightier and seemingly invincible titan named “development” which is put forward by the “wise thinkers”, the world over, as the one thing that really matters and as the very condition of survival.

However, this titan – in spite of its very impressive performance in developing material infrastructure and changing the physical appearance of things – has not really been able to deliver in terms of the real well-being. As we have seen earlier, the deeper reason for this is that, basically, it is impossible to bring about a real improvement on this front without a corresponding improvement in the consciousness in which people live. For example, the quality of a service depends critically on the consciousness of people, especially in the case of the areas such as health, education and administration. As consciousness rises, we open more and more to a feeling of fraternity leading eventually to the consciousness of unity and oneness with all when spiritual levels of consciousness are approached. To the extent we fail to identify with other people and their sufferings and joys (as our own), we fail to truly serve them*.

* The source of all sympathy and concern for others in our surface being – the real basis of all true service – springs from the deepest truth of our being where we are all one and enjoy and entire identity with the One without a second of the Veda and Vedanta. No selfish materialistic tendency, however acute, can really shut us completely from this truth – which in spite of our myopia – keeps things going and saves us from a complete collapse. Oblivious of all this, humanity has often tried in certain ages – as it seems to be doing at present with its slogans of happiness and enjoyment for all through growth and development directed entirely to the service of the animal self – to shut itself from this deeper truth and had come to grief by behaving like the proverbial fool who hacks at the very branch of the tree he is sitting on.

Since everyone, without exception, must be on the receiving end in the case of (at least) some services, therefore, as the quality of services begins to continually deteriorate, everyone must become progressively worse off in real terms. In an economy consisting only of services (and no goods), one person’s spending on a service is another one’s income from performing it. Even if we were to multiply the nominal amounts involved in the above process by a factor of hundred and thus nominally increase everyone’s income a hundredfold – as to a large extent we have been unconsciously doing during the process of economic development – nothing would have really changed unless during this process the quality of service also changes. Even if enormous improvements in the technology of performing services were to take place during the above process – as have actually taken place during the past few decades due to rapid advancements achieved in science and technology – it need not have affected the real value of services because all advancements in technology are a double edged sword and can equally help or hurt depending on the motivation of the performers (of services). For example, the quality of educational and health services seems to have remained unaffected by the tremendous technological improvements that have been registered in these fields during past few decades. Actually, according to the experience of a good many, it has been – in spite of the appearances to the contrary – really getting progressively worse during this period,  as doctors shown an increasing tendency to use the new advences in technology invariably to freighten and cheat their customers.

If we look at the development statistics, the aggregate volume of services in nominal terms has been growing faster than that of the goods. As a result, services which accounted for only about one third of the GDP in the 1950s now account for almost four-fifths of the GDP in the case of materially advanced countries like the US and about two-thirds in the case of the growing economies like India and China. If the quality of “services” declines – as it seems to have been for some time now – then the real GDP must also decline unless compensated by more than proportionate (almost double or triple compared to the fall in the real value of the “services”) increase in the real value of the volume of goods produced. We have seen earlier how the utilitarian spirit has been progressively eating at the core of quality in both goods and services. Now, certainly, technology has brought about a very significant increase in the volume of goods produced but the quality in the case of a good number of things – even of such essentials as food, water and air – has been deteriorating all along with disastrous consequences for human health and well-being.

Because of a cut-throat competition in a market economy the producers tend to concentrate on the improvements in the appearance of products while (to cut costs) taking out all that can be taken out – without the risk of the consumers easily finding out – from the products in terms of quality and durability. The movement is increasingly tending towards a scenario where more and more producers are busy developing and practicing (without compunction) ever noveler ways and means for bewitching and cheating the consumers. The result is that the markets are flooded with lots of worthless goods of bewitching appearance.

The upshot of all the above is that the well-being of people – even when narrowed to the satisfaction of the external being – has been declining in real terms. We must realise once for all, that, “The conditions in which men live on earth are the result of their state of consciousness. To seek to change these conditions without changing the consciousness is a vain chimera.…”4

B. The One Key for the Resolution of the Present Problems

Essentially, there are hardly any world problems that cannot be traced to human agency and which could not be overcome, to a great extent, by appropriate changes in human behaviour brought about from within. The root cause of all our problems – even of the most external – are the severe inner constraints on our vision and values which are, to a great extent, the byproducts of our acute selfish concentration on our surface selves. As things stand at present, we contemplate changing almost everything on this earth – the whole media is full of the deafening noise of intellectuals and political and social leaders about such changes – but ourselves wherein lies the only key to the solution of all our problems. There is not a single country – out of an aggregate of more than 200 on the globe – which at all concerns itself with real “man-making”. The present day education, whether “secular” or otherwise, hardly addresses this problem and is geared only to provide students with diplomas and skills which may be used to pursue their narrow selfish ends for which they had been amply groomed by the psychological atmosphere prevailing at these institutions and in the society at large.

What all this is leading to – and already has to a good extent – is obvious if one impassively looks at the present scenario where one finds oneself surrounded by, to use Yogi Sri Krishna Prem’s eloquent words, “…an aggregate of meaningless individuals determinedly pursuing their contemptible aims.”5

The one way out of this problem is that an increasing number of people becomes conscious of this deeper aspect of our problems and makes a determined move in its own way to address them. As the evolutionary crisis deepens – especially in relation to ethical and moral infrastructure – it may lead to a real awakening to this need intense and critical enough to enable it to become at least one of the most important goals to be pursued by the governments across the world.

(To be continued……)

References:

  1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Vol.12, p.468, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Puducherry
  2. CWSA, Vol.22: pp.1090
  3. Collected Works of the Mother (CWM), Vol.12, p.353
  4. CWM, Vol.12: p.39
  5. Dilip Kumar Roy, Yogi Sri Krishna Prem, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, 1992, p. 134
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