- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 2
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 3
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 4
I. The Problem of Development
II. The Illusion of Economic Development
III. A Deeper Perspective on Indian National Development
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 leading 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.
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) 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. 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. 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 – 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. Therefore at present, Nationalism is our one immediate and practical necessity. It was seen by Sri Aurobindo even more than hundred years ago when he wrote, “With us today Nationalism is our immediate practical faith and gospel not because it is the highest possible synthesis, but because it must be realised in life if we are to have the chance of realising the others. We must live as a nation before we can live in humanity. It is for this reason that Nationalist thinkers have always urged the necessity of realising our separateness from other nations and living to ourselves for the present, not in order to shut out humanity, but that we may get that individual strength, unity and wholeness which will help us to live as a nation for humanity. A man must be strong and free in himself before he can live usefully for others, so must a nation. But that does not justify us in forgetting the ultimate aim of evolution. God in the nation becomes the realisation of the first moment to us because the nation is the chosen means or condition through which we rise to the higher synthesis, God in humanity, God in all creatures, God in Himself and ourself.”1
The Present Scenario and the Future Prospects
The above discussion was intended to provide a wide perspective on our present utilitarian gospel of development and its grave perils if continued any further. The important question facing us at present is that even if it is understood that a change of course is desired can we really do it? The answer is that we can and will be made to do so in spite of the fact that, at present, most of us are acutely concentrated and hell-bent on seeking somehow, anyhow, the satisfaction of our physical life nature’s natural animal appetites by the acquisition of the needed material means. This has brought the modern materialistic economic science to the forefront and all walks of life have gotten thoroughly infested with its destructive utilitarian spirit. As a result, like everything else, the politics of the country too had (for quite some time) become – in the hands of clever unscrupulous actors in the field – a means of acquiring position and money through the misuse of political office acquired by winning elections. The natural instinct of the players in the political field has been to always look at and evaluate everything from the point of view of how it may be used to help them achieve their coveted object – the political office. To such a gaze it soon became apparent that, since Indian people were deeply divided and almost prejudiced when it came to their caste, creed (pantha or religion), language and region, this matter could be used to advance one’s political fortunes by appealing to such baser things in the people. Herein lies the origin of all the phenomena of reservations and all kinds of other entitlements based on one’s identity according to the above parameters.
Before the Modi government came to power in 2014, the “reservation card” was (and to some extent still is) being played to the hilt by all the so called “secular” – a euphemism for minority appeasement for votes – parties for their despicable ends. The new Prime Minister gave the slogan of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ (economic development for everyone) perhaps, to get the country out of the muddy pit of communal and social divisions which had become so injurious to the national spirit that giving vent to anti-national feelings began to be looked upon by many as the only sure road for gaining impeccable “secular” credentials necessary for getting minority votes. Till the last U.P. elections, the going has not been easy for the new government which – while avoiding sensitive nerves on reservation – had placed its stress on the service and development of all the poor people of the country. After the May, 2019, Parliamentary Election results, the country is witnessing a pervasive psychological movement anticipating the extension of the BJP’s sway to cover the whole of the country within the next few years.
This series of the articles on development has been written to bring to light before all the discerning eyes some of the hidden aspects of the reality of the modern materialistic concept of Development or Progress (“Vikas”) and how an exclusive focus on it is swiftly leading humanity towards its seemingly unstoppable extinction in the near future. Now, the important question is: how should the attitude of the new benevolent Prime Minister and his government on his pet and cherished concept of “Vikas” be changed in the light of the deep and incontrovertible findings reported above about its perils? Before we proceed further on this it has to be pointed out that this question – which in our view has now assumed critical importance for the very survival of the human race – has never been relevant for us during the seven decades following our Independence in 1947. It has become relevant only now – and even assumed a great practical significance – when we face the palpable prospect of the country swiftly moving towards a psychological crystallization where an overwhelming majority of the Indian people – without any distinction of language, cast, creed or gender – will come to have trust and faith in the person of Sri Narendra Modi – something never even dreamed by most people till the coming of the May 2019 Parliamentary election results.
The wave of nationalism that brought Sri Modi to power and has been progressively sweeping the country ever since, has been – as pointed out before in the words of SriAurobindo – the practical need of the country since the begining of the last centuary but got a chance to fully manifest only during the past few years. Now the important question for us is what form this new spirit is going to take? Is it going to take the form of Hindu Nationalism as desired by some and feared by just as many. Here we have a very clear cut answer from Sri Aurobindo who wrote one hundred years ago, “… We do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions. Hindu nationalism had a meaning in the times of Shivaji and Ramdas, when the object of national revival was to overthrow a Mahomedan domination which, once tending to Indian unity and toleration, had become oppressive and disruptive. It was possible because India was then a world to itself and the existence of two geographical units entirely Hindu, Maharashtra and Rajputana, provided it with a basis. It was necessary because the misuse of their domination by the Mahomedan element was fatal to India’s future and had to be punished and corrected by the resurgence and domination of the Hindu. And because it was possible and necessary, it came into being. But under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole.”2
Now the important question pertains to the true form and force of nationalism suited to India. Again we have the answer in Sri Aurobindo’s soul stirring words, “I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatana Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism.”3 And further, “When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the dharma and by the dharma that India exists. To magnify the religion means to magnify the country.”4
From the above quotations, to a superficial gaze it may appear that Sri Aurobindo is contradicting himself by again returning to Hindu nationalism under the new label of Sanatana Dharma. To such a view it has to be pointed out that Sanatana (eternal) Dharma is not at all synonymous with the modern concept of religion which is a passing phenomenon in time due to its requirement of exclusiveness for its very survival. The Sanatana Dharma is eternal because, in it, all religions – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. – can find their just place when they can be made to rise above their exclusiveness and intolerance. The Sanatana Dharma represents an all-encompassing approach to the supreme spiritual Reality without any exclusiveness – admitting even materialism and some kind of atheism – and its spirit is almost as wide as that of the universal nature. It is in this light that we may understand the following statement of Sri Aurobindo, “Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatan Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed.”5
We have come to our present predicament because, even after independence, during the past seven decades we have allowed the West to think for us and have been progressively moving towards becoming an ill-executed and foolish copy of it. The pursuit of the modern gospel of Economic Development (“Vikas”) is leading us towards a precipice and still, because of the progressive westernization of our hearts and minds we have never ever been able to give any serious consideration to (or even suspect) the dangers underlying such a pursuit, contrary to the genius and the soul of this country. We have been doing what Swami Vivekananda had warned us against when he said, “But mark you, if you give up spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materializing civilization of the West, the result will be that in three generations you will be an extinct race; because the backbone of the nation will be broken, the foundation upon which the national edifice has been built will be undermined, and the result will be annihilation all round.”6
The modern materialistic conception of development ought to be widened and, wherever necessary, superseded by the concept of development suited to India and, at this critical juncture of her destiny, even to the humanity at large. The only concept of development suited to the genius of India is the one which aims at the fullest and the completest possible development of all the parts of a human being – soul, mind, life and body – with a view to enable them to be ever more and more perfect instruments for the manifestation of the Absolute Divinity* – the one and the only true object of all manifestation.
Now, the important question is: how we may go about it? By itself, it is not any religion, philosophy, science or social and political system – not even all of these together – that can successfully carry us very far towards our object because nothing much of any enduring value can be achieved as long as man remains what he is. It is only an ascension to a greater consciousness that can enable man to change himself. It is only the pursuit of Sanatana Dharma that can enable man to ascend to a higher consciousness. The time has come to declare and succinctly formulate and effectively put forward this wider view of development before the people of India. This done, we can leave it to the genius of the spirit of India – the Sanatana Dharma – to accomplish the miracle of getting us out of our present painful predicament.
The upshot of all the above is that Sri Narendra Modi should and it is hoped will soon be in a position to lead the country towards this wider concept of “Vikas” (development) by putting the brakes on the march of the disastrous utilitarian psychological formations that have naturally gotten formed (the thing that invariably takes place) when we blindly sought for and pursued – as we have been doing ever since Independence – economic development in the modern materialistic spirit. It is a most daunting task to turn the wheels of such a materialistic march and can be achieved only by a still greater and rarer working of the divine Power than that which brought Sri Modi to power in 2014 and again in 2019. Such a power has to enter the hearts and minds of people and bring about a concentration of the national mind and Will on this task. When this is done, we will be securely moving on the way leading to the fulfilment of India’s true mission in the world which is to lead all mankind towards the divine Reality and thus be instrumental in eventually establishing the divine Life on Earth which is the one real aim of human life on earth as declared by Sri Aurobindo in the following momentous words, “The ascent to the divine Life is the human journey, the Work of works, the acceptable Sacrifice. This alone is man’s real business in the world and the justification of his existence, without which he would be only an insect crawling among other ephemeral insects on a speck of surface mud and water which has managed to form itself amid the appalling immensities of the physical universe.”7
And this is India’s mission which is not to abandon this material life for glories of diviner existence but to bring God down on earth and uplift the earthly life by that Power. In the eloquent words of Sri Aurobindo, “India has in herself a faith of superhuman virtue to accomplish miracles, to deliver herself out of irrefragable bondage, to bring God down upon earth. She has a secret of will power which no other nation possesses. All she needs to rouse in her that faith, that will, is an ideal which will induce her to make the effort…. The ideal is that of humanity in God, of God in humanity, the ancient ideal of the sanatana dharma but applied as it has never been applied before to the problem of politics and the work of national revival. To realise that ideal, to impart it to the world is the mission of India.”8
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Vol. 8, pp.84-85, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Puducherry
- CWSA, Vol. 8: p. 304
- CWSA, Vol. 8: p. 12
- CWSA, Vol. 8: p. 10
- CWSA, Vol. 36: p. 170
- Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 3, p. 153, Mayavati Memorial Edition, Adwait Ashram, Kolkata.
- CWSA, Vol. 21: p. 48
- CWSA, Vol. 7: p. 1017