Dialogue  July-September, 2006, Volume 8  No. 1


Harmony through Theo-diversity

Lokesh Chandra

Open Spaces

Our century demands new structures of thought, faith, and nature harmonizing in the beauty of life in the immensity (virat) of the cosmos that envelops us in its embrace of Divinity (not God), and in the open natural spaces of the unknown. No shadows of dogma, no imprisonment in the deadening certainty of Revelation, no cutting down the venerable oak-trees of centuries for bushes, no suicidal verdicts donning lineaments of religion, no downing the flow of time, no omnipotence of God that strangulates the flux of time, choice and punya.

Monocentrism to fundamentalism

The concept of globalism is a child of contemporary softening up of the triumphalist terms of the 19th and early 20th century when thinkers like Max Weber spoke of the uniqueness and universal importance of the special “Western” culture and civilization. They saw their direction of development, as of universal importance and validity, and as a chain of factors that led to cultural events in the West. The plurality of cultures was an idealized presentation of the non-European ways and institutions as a critical counter-image, as backward stages of Western development. Plurality was neither owned nor honoured, but merely provided a clarity to the formulation of European culture as the only “regular and scientific” progress. All foreign cultures were backward as they lacked the socio-historical roots of a dynamic force to bring forth science and technology. Achievements, destructions and crises were the threefold dynamics of change. Crises were not regressions, but catalytic forces. The traditional non-Western social structures and values have been derogated and brought down so that non- -Western thinkers are compelled to channel their ideas in the Western mould. The contamination of air and water, coupled with the exhaustion of natural resources, is bringing about climatic and other violent changes. The lack of any perceptible human purpose and the threatening ecological crises introduces a fleeting era of Western self-doubt. Yet the West cannot accept a diminution of its values, which are the driving forces of both its faith and civilization. She may borrow some useful elements from other faiths or cultures, but there is no intercommunicating future in the “mind” of the West.

Dialogue for trivialization

Life sphere has two tiers: the inner core and the outer shell. Faith and culture are the inner core: the ideals or standards on which value judgments, aesthetic feelings, and other aspects of the ethos are expressed. Civilization is the second tier of the life sphere, the outer shell of institutions, social apparatuses, scientific knowledge and technologies to maintain the life sphere. Civilization the outer shell, is built on culture the inner core. While civilization can be global, faiths and cultures are pluralistic. Technological innovation, instantaneous transfer of information, political and economic systems transform into a shared civilization. With the universality of civilization, differences between faiths and cultures take an ever-increasing importance. The apparatuses of civilization are used in accordance with the ethos and values of a culture. Diversity of faiths and cultures and sharing of common civilization apparatuses are imperative.

Globalism bring in its vanguard memory-Erasing and Mind-Emptying (MEME) viruses. They are disrupting independent nations into “self-hating” people. They grow on them as invisible aids to turn into tumors. The host nations turn into objects, in the belief that they share the anonymous collectivity of Western civilization, and one day may become “honorary white nations”. In the era of colonization, people disallowed such objectifications that colonizers created for them. If one remains an object one cannot become a subject.

Prof. Wilhelm Halbfass of the University of California says: “The meeting and ‘dialogue’ of the cultures and religions of this world coincides with their trivialization”.

Transcendence and Existence

Existentialism is essentially in contrast to transcendence. Humans are in contrast to God, not in opposition. The freedom of human effort and achievements is emphasized. It is a protest against views in which human beings are regarded as helpless playthings of God. Human beings act on their own, and are not subject to any will? The word ‘existence’ became a technical term in Germany after the First World War. Each individual is unique and inexplicable in terms of any metaphysical or scientific system. It is a disavowal of theology. A human is a being who chooses, thinks and contemplates. His choice is not dependent on God. The coming together of thought and contemplation and human choice out of them makes life liveable. Existence is as authentic as the Divine. Karl Jaspers went to the length of not speaking of God but of transcendence. He said “we have to have something beyond existence, it can be only transcendence”.

Nietzsche is a critic of Christianity and substitutes God by Ubermensch ‘Superman’ who has overcome himself and is the master of his passions. He is creative in excelling in both passion and reason. He says that perfection can be presented as a challenge and ideal for every one of us. Instead of worshipping perfection, we can try to perfect ourselves in this life, on this earth. The idea of the Superman is an antithesis to god.

The coexistence of theocentric and homocentric faiths

In Palestine, faith was geared to a system of belief. The belief was final and irrevocable because it was a divine revelation, a revelation of God Himself. Judaic faith and systems which emerged therefrom had to separate faith and values. In India, faith and value are on par. Faith cannot emerge unless there is a value. The Pali scriptures point out that Lord Buddha had said that you are welcome to the Dhamma but you have to visualize it yourself. The expression is ehi svagata-vadin “come, you are welcome” to this ehi-passika Dhamma “you have to visualize the Dhamma yourself.” If there is a God, questioning is out. Tertullianus declared: “I believe it because of its irrationality. Faith and rationality do not go together. This was brought up by the founder of Christian theology, St. Augustine. When somebody asked him what was God doing before he created the world, St. Augustine shot back: “he made a hell for the inquisitive”.

In the Rigveda 1.89.10 goddess Aditi “The Boundless” is identified with gods and all men, with the sky and air, with “whatever has been and whatever shall be”. The Divine and human are in a complementary relationship in Indic thought. In the Rigvedic “Hymn of Creation” the sensible world is the spontaneous unfolding of the supra-sensible. In this pluralistic universe one is all and all is one. Humanity has to rise to synergy of phenomena and essences. In the long pilgrimage of living, we have to know a Life greater than own. We have to embody a living region of consciousness and to ensphere ourselves in the heart of life simple. Herein meaning and value are created by the inner spirit, the “Divine Humanity” in the phrase of Swedenborg. In the inimitable words of Tagore: we “realise the essential unity of the world with the conscious soul of man, we learn to perceive the unity held together by the one Eternal Spirit, whose power creates the earth, the sky, and the stars, and at the same time irradiates our minds with the light of a consciousness that moves and exists in unbroken continuity with the outer world”.

The theory of karma distinguishes Indic faiths from the Abrahamic in that man is responsible for his fate. It envisages the supremacy of human beings vis-à-vis an Absolute God. Karma becomes crucial if a person reaps the fruits of his actions. The other shore of divinity can result only from good actions in life.

Questioning versus Commandments

Homocentric faiths have an open mind and multiple denominations, can have different points of view, multiple deities, and own plurality of all kinds. In the theocentric religions, God is the Supreme Absolute: The Only One True God (five absolutes). In the homocentric faiths, the sensitivity for the sacred is all-pervasive: life and supreme divine, individual and cosmos, existence and cosmic order (jiva and Brahman, pinda and brahmanda, rita and Satya). These three together gave to India’s perceptions depth and humanism that percolated down to the lowliest. Every one shared the sanctity of life, and the sanctity of nature, in the lap of the sanctity of mountains, in the sanctity of rivers. Vedas, Upanisads, and Buddhism did not emerge from a God: they are not systems of Revelation. Here ascent is from life to divine. The human being has to divinize himself, he has to elevate himself, by actions, by ideas, both on the level of the mind and the body, guided by meditation.

Faith and philosophy blended in India in a unity of a vision (darsana) that helps an experience (sadhana). The luminous consciousness, karmic experience, the dawning of Illumination (Bodhi) in the depths of our being united intellection and meditation.

Original Sin versus Original Enlightenment

A basic concept of Christianity is that the very fact of human birth is ‘original sin’. Humans are born in sin. Is the totality of nature created in sin? It is not so in Indic systems. The basic difference between Indic and Abrahamic faiths is the concept of sin and virtue. Indic faiths do not have ‘original sin’. Sin is an outcome of our actions, of our karma. Christianity has the word sin, but no specific word for punya, its positive aspect. In Indic systems, papa is sin, and punya is usually rendered as virtue, but virtue is guna.

Indic systems are rooted in agricultural concepts. The idea of karma stems from ‘if we sow wheat we won’t get rice, if we sow rice we won’t get wheat’. Whatever we sow that is the harvest. Likewise, whatever actions a human being sows, they will be his harvest. Good deeds will bring good, and bad deeds will bring evil. Karma is that we are responsible for our deeds. The theory of karma affirms responsibility, and validated effort. The theory of reincarnation reinforces the primacy of good actions (punya). To cite the American poet Walt Whitman: “No I, not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.”

All living beings can attain enlightenment. It is a statement that all life is sacred and has innate enlightenment. Instead of ‘original sin’ of the Abrahamic tradition, it is the doctrine of ‘Original Enlightenment’ that respects life.

Path to harmony

After millennia of separate histories, the faiths of mankind now suddenly find themselves in a common situation. Natural resources dwindling, water table going down every year, pollution reaching critical levels, social relationships being dominated by egotism, and national frontiers in meaningless array: all threaten human life itself. The technosphere is on a collision course against the biosphere. Humanity needs a dynamic transformation. It has to be a meaningful arrangement of different orders. It has to be a symbiosis of the multiple, a polycentric consciousness.

The confluence of the nobility of several traditions, functioning in their respective domains, can ensure a harmony of life, nature and Enlightenment (Bodhi) from the beyond within. To quote Poet Tagore “every moment it comes from the heart of the master, it is breathed in his breath”. Our self must be born anew every moment in the rhythm and repose of the Spirit.

Okakura Kakuzo finds meaning in the Void, identifies infinite possibilities in imperfection, and praises asymmetries. “Worship of the Imperfect... is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life”. From close dogmas we need an open Void, the infinite of possibilities. To cite Chuang-tzu:

Maintain the unity of your will.

Do not listen with ears, but with the mind

Do not listen with the mind, but with the spirit.

The function of the ear ends with hearing;

That of the mind with symbols or ideas.

But the spirit is a Void ready to receive all things.

From monocentrism to polycentrism

While the world follows multiplicity of religions, a new sense of respect and understanding of others will have to be developed. “Higher religion” will imply a negative approach towards existing religions and create misunderstanding. We will have to inhabit the spiritual universe as a continuing relationship between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. There is no ‘inside’ without an ‘outside’. It has to be a continuing realization in the dream-space of humans. Without diminution of religious autonomies, we will have to own the ‘other’. Alterity or otherness will be integral to humanity. No universal mission as a management of the world, but the acceptance of pluralism as well as respect for multiplicity. We have to pass from de facto plurality to pluralism. It has to be an authentic human plenitude of various strands, held together by mutual respect. We have to avoid abstract and faceless principles. The thoughtless imposition of one universal validity can dehumanize. Humanity can function mainly on its intrinsic multiformity, by vindicating respect for each other. Without abolishing constitutive polarities, we can awaken the feeling of human solidarity in a pluralistic world. The deepest core of the humanum is in its bewildering intimacy of immensity and in the human values of divergence. In the 13 volume Oxford English Dictionary, the root word civis is akin to Sanskrit Siva. Thus civilization rooted in the benign Siva has to be a creative symbiosis to replenish humanity. It has to be away from the cold embrace of a universal cultural invariant. In the words of a 12th century monk, “every creature of the world is for us book, picture and mirror”, to read, to look and to reflect.

The terms higher religion hurts existing psychopheres. We have to evoke values of harmony, which can come from mutual respect, admiration of multiplicity, pantheism, and other like ideas and ideals. Universalism introduces hegemonic ideas. “Cultural commonality” cannot function as it will become skeletal without its flesh of variance. A “higher religion” generates antagonisms. A uni-dimensional norm of humanity is against the deep reality of history. We have to discover freedom to acknowledge variousness. All the centuries, claims, lands, languages cannot be articulated according to a single symbol-system. The ‘new science’ is bringing in indeterminism, plural logical systems, quarks without substance, irrational numbers and so on. They compel us to a polycentric world, to new sensibility of polytheistic consciousness. Our century will have to be many-splendored, with a liveliness to sharing. It will not be a desire to control and manipulate societies through money or mind, sex or spirituality, power or privilege. No values exist in a vacuum. They have a history of centuries, exegeses of hundreds of minds, and the faith of millions. So concepts like ‘cultural commonality’ ‘universalism’ will be counterproductive rather than creative. India has accepted and respected differences, the beauty of many forms, the eternality of various values. She has meshed the many in the harmony of divergence rather than of convergence. In the multiple patterns of polycentrism alone can we find a meaningful movement forward.

Respect for the cultures, civilizations and religions of each other, without interference or conversions by a subtle psychological agenda, alone can be the values of humankind in our century.

‘True universality’ will be rich diversity, with no single meaning. The various lines, the many realities will be lived in every one’s deepest feelings. Religions, in the plural, will be global in the sense that they will be rooted in human consciousness as the vision and faith of fellow beings, whatsoever their demographic numbers. Universality of civilization, rather than a universal civilization, will seek civil behaviour in the affirmation of diversity. Such a civilization will be multiple and the centre will be everywhere.

Diversity is the Law of Nature

Bio-diversity is the supreme law of nature. There are over a hundred thousand species of flora and fauna in India alone, more than a lakh of forms of plant and animal life in our country. Likewise, faith has to divine the several meanings of spiritual life, the fuzzy wisdom of nature, the light of the Many, and to image the sacrament that enshrines the Multiple, the Changing, the Silent. Let us not wound the years with ‘The Only True One’. The One has to become the Many, Theo-diversity is an inescapable corollary to the astounding discoveries in science and their universal application in technology. Theo-diversity alone will ensure the ascension of humanity to light and nobility that makes Joy (sac-cid-ananda) not an attribute of the spirit, but its essential nature. Our century seeks a creative and imaginative reflection on the spiritual destiny of humankind, away from the disembodiment of the human at the altar of monocentric theism. Theo-diversity will lead us to the spontaneity of the fountains of the mind, bring light to eyes long blind, and we may say:

I observed

The designing of gods.


 Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati