We must make a paradigm shift from “Unity in Diversity” to “Diversity as Unity” if we wish to ensure our survival and the happiness and prosperity of our future generations
In the wake of the tragic attack of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre in New York – that has come to be known simply as 9/11 — in which nearly three thousand civilians lost their lives, the world got caught in the grip of a tit-for-tat military onslaught. As soon the organization Al Qaeda and its founder Osama Bin Laden were identified as the alleged perpetrators of 9/11, there has been an ever-increasing escalation of military hostilities that have in turn led to conflicts within many countries of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the global situation is now such, what with persecution of Christians on the rise, that it is practically a confrontation between two monotheisms – Islam and Christianity — that is threatening the very survival of the human race.
While talking of peace wars of all sorts are being waged with hatred in the heart and with increasingly sophisticated weapons of mass destruction, the latest “addition” being the Russia-Ukraine conflagration. The root cause of war is a wish to dominate, to impose a unique mode of thinking and living on others. And war impoverishes mankind. No one can gainsay that the greatest need of the world is durable peace so that diverse peoples and cultures can coexist and develop.
What can ensure peaceful coexistence is a way of life that values human reason as a tool for critical enquiry, that accepts the findings and discoveries of science, that is prepared not only to make use of technology but also to reassess traditional viewpoints in the light cast by science, and that is prepared to engage in a mutually constructive dialogue so as to rise to higher levels of understanding. In this perspective, “modernity”, far from being an obstacle, can be a valuable vector for development and progress.
It is well known that living systems have evolved along a path of increasing “ordered complexity”, acquiring a range of “emergent properties” that conferred comparative advantages for survival and sustainability – and this because they lived in an open exchange with their environment, in contrast to closed systems which tend towards inevitable disorder, what is known as “entropy”.
Another biological truism is that diversity is a sine qua non for survival. The implication for human beings is that if we are genuinely interested in our continuation at an enhanced level of existence, we have a duty of openness towards each other as well as a duty of acceptance of our mutual diversity. And this sense of duty must have primacy over the exercise of our mutual rights. This is the kind of natural, beneficial self-restraint that is conferred by the overarching and all-encompassing concept of dharma.
As Bhagawan Das, quoted by Jean Herbert, says in The Science of Social Organisation (1932): “From a scientific point of view, dharma is the characteristic property; from the moral and legal point of view, it is duty; from the point of view of psychology and spirituality, it is religion, with all that this implies; from a general point of view, it means law and justice; but above all, it is Duty.”
It is interesting to note that the United Nations, which has shifted from a needs-based to a rights-based approach to development, should feel it necessary to underline the notion of duty in this context, in the following words: “When something (like development) is defined as a right, it means that someone holds a claim, or legal entitlement, and someone else holds a corresponding duty, or legal obligation.”
Elaborating upon the idea of duty, Pujya Swami Dayananda of Arsha Viday Gurukulam in Combatore, South India, writes: “If each performs his or her duty, the rights of the other are assured, and there is no conflict between them. If, on the other hand, one or the other ignores the duty and only clamours for his or her rights, there is bound to be conflict. Human beings are social beings: therefore they have duties to society, to the family, to the country, to humanity, even to the elements of nature.”
In other words, each of us has a duty of care not only towards other human beings, but also towards “the earth, the air and the water from which we take our sustenance.” These words were written long before the word “sustainability” gained currency in an environmental sense. We can see how we are all dependent on our interconnectedness, hence our mutual duties, hence Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: the world is one family. We cannot make it alone: each component has got its different but convergent role to play in the maintenance of the emergent integrity of the whole.
This ancient wisdom has found an echo in the modern terminology of Fritjof Capra, who reinforces this viewpoint in his The Web of Life, explaining how the Cartesian paradigm of the universe as a mechanical system made up of separate parts, of the human body as a machine, of fierce competition and domination as being essential to life in society – of how this paradigm, then, is receding in favour of the model deriving from a systems approach which “recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent upon) the cyclical processes of nature.”
If anything, Dharma is all about cycles, if we think, for example, about the Law of Karma and about Rebirth. Capra writes about the “deep ecology” that is, in effect, Vasudhaiva Kutambakam revisited: “Ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual… understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels a sense of belonging, of connectedness, to the cosmos as a whole.” Once we begin to internalize this point of view, we see the futility of destructive warring and this should make us switch towards a genuine search for peace.
But we must get rid of our monotheistic mindset which gave rise to the Cartesian paradigm which, as we have seen, can no longer sustain social existence. Alain Danielou explains the limitations of monotheism in the apprehending of the Ultimate Reality and its inability to promote a harmonious life. He writes about how “monotheism makes confusion between the religious and moral planes, outward ritualisations and inner progress, how it mixes faith and propaganda, mystical emotion and spiritual progress.”
He goes on to explain how “monotheisms are always linked to one culture, one civilization” and how, as a consequence, “monotheistic religion becomes for the believer a means of glorifying his culture and race, of spreading and imposing his influence. The believers then see themselves as the ‘chosen people’ who are the only ones following the ‘path of God’. Monotheism therefore becomes the exaltation of a preferred God, which rejects all the other aspects of the divine… which it then seeks to destroy.”
There has been enough destruction. Let us accept that Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahuda Vadanti – Truth is One, but the Sages call It by different names. If we do so, we shall understand that difference need not mean division but means, instead, that diversity without which we, simply, cannot be. We are many, but we are also one: we must make a paradigm shift from “Unity in Diversity” to “Diversity as Unity” if we wish to ensure our survival and the happiness and prosperity of our future generations, where they may live in this beautiful world.
* Published in print edition on 6 March 2015