|This article is reprinted from the Fall 2004 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.
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The One and The Many,
A Letter to India from the West
So, why then should one even bother to look at his trivia? Well, unfortunately, his ravings are not merely those of an academic who must have had a very unhappy childhood, but his theses are presently the operational basis of U.S. foreign policy.
When the Soviet Union started dissolving itself in the period between 1989 and 1991, the U.S. was actuallly in a situation like that of Classical Greece after the Greeks had defeated the Persians in the Fifth century B.C.E. They no longer had a major enemy, and they very easiliy could have put the relationship between East and West on a completely new basis of partnership and cooperation. But, as Thucydides describes in his Peloponnesian War, Athens decided under Themistocles and Cimon to turn into an empire economically and militarily, and to transform its allies into slaves, which finally led to the collapse of Greece in its entirety. In a similar way, the U.S. decided after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to not satisfy itself with the role of the only remaining superpower, but to transform itself from a constitutional republic into a world empire in the the tradition of ancient Rome.
It is part of the strange logic of the present war party around Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Co., and their shared ideologue Leo Strauss, whose students they all are, to believe that one must always have an enemy. So, when the East-West conflict no longer functioned as the controlling regime, various neo-conservative thinktanks came up with the idea of replacing the East-West conflict with a North-South conflict, in general, and the clash of the West against Islam, in particular. In the Summer 1993 issue of the Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Afairs, Huntington presented for the first time his thesis, that a clash among the eight major civilizationsWestern, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and Africanwill be inevitable.
Why will this be the case?, asks Huntington. First, he answers, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic, and he then proceeds to prove that he has no knowledge of any of the named civilizations. The exact oppposite is true: of course, the differences among them are real, but they are not basic. What is basic, is what unites them as just different expressions of the one human civilization. But, unfortunately, one can not simply ignore Huntingtons gibberish, since, beginning with the outbreak of the war in Afganistan, the Clash of Civilizations is on. And therefore, everyone who is interested in a human world, should engage in a dialogue of cultures, to counter the bestial outloook of those who think that war is a perfect imperial instrument of power.
The Peace of Faith
A very good way to engage in such a dialogue is on the basis of a beautiful Socratic dialogue written in 1453 by Nicolaus of Cusa. Cusanus, as he is also called, was a cardinal during the time of Pope Pius II (Piccolomini); he was the founder of modern natural science, and of the principles of the sovereign nation state. He was also instrumental in locating the original writings that became the basis for the unification of the churches at the 1437 Council of Florence, which marked the high point of the Italian Golden Renaissance.
In 1453, Constantinople was conqured by Mohammed II. The news arriving in the West was horrifyingstories of murder, rape, blasphemyand it convinced most people that barbarians had taken over the city. The fall of Constantinople was truly regarded as a clash of civilizations at the time. Nicolaus, who had just visited the city to escort the delegation of the Orthodox Patriarch to the Florentine Council, reacted in a completely different manner.
He wrote the Socratic dialogue De pace fidei (On the Peace of Faith), in which 17 representatives of different religions and nations all go to seek Gods advice. They ask him: What should we do? We are all fighting each other and killing each other, and we all pretend that we are doing it in your name. This can not be your wish. Can you not help us and give us advice?
And God answers: I will not adress you as representatives of different religions. You are all also regarded as philosophers and sages in your countries, and as such you know that there can be only one truth.
Yes, they say, as philosophers we know that the truth is one. But why then do we kill each other?
And God says: You make the mistake of mixing up the words of the prophets, with the Word of God. The prophets are many, but God is one. So they say: Yes, we can see this. But yet, the fighting continues. Can you help us further? And God says: You make another mistake. You confuse the many religious traditions, which are different, with the one truth.
So, the wise men say: Yes, we can also see this. But, how can we now go to our people, and tell them that they should believe in a new religion, when they have spilled so much blood for the old one? And God says: I am not suggessting a new religion. I am talking about the one religion, which existed before all others. The One before the Many. And the One is of a higher quality and of a different magnitude, than the Many. The sages agree, and God tells them to go to their respective countries and educate their people in this spirit.
As everyone in India knows, this is exactly what ancient Hinduism teaches. In the Rig Veda, there is the famous sentence: The truth is One, the sages just give it different names. In Hinduism, there exists the Sanathana Dharma, which is the eternal religion, which is even higher than Hindu Dharma. Mahatma Ghandi regarded himself as a Sanathana Hindu. The one divine truth in Hinduism does not give privilege to one language or nationality or culture, but says that the divine truth glows differently in different souls. The world is so diverse, because God wants it that way. According to Hinduism, it is fine to believe that one is on the right path; but to insist that another is on the wrong path, is regarded as arrogant, and even blasphemous.
So, what is this universal principle, which one can find in all cultures, in all religions and civilizations? It lies in the fact that man is distinct from all other living creatures, through his identity as a cognitive being. Mans creative reason enables him again and again to formulate adequate hypotheses about the lawfulness of the cosmic order, the physical universe, which lead to increased knowledge about this order. When this improved knowledge, which we call scientific progress, is applied in the form of technology to the production process, it leads to an increase in the productivity of both productive facilities and the labor force. This in turn increases the population potential of the planet, both the living standards and longevity of the people.
Once a universally verifiable scientific principle hs been discovered, it can be rediscovered and transmitted by any human being anywhere in the world. There is no such thing as an African scientific idea, or a Western scientific discovery, or Indian scientific progress. What one human being has discovered about the physical universe, he or she has conquered for the whole human race.
The fact that something created in the human mind, a hypotheses, an immaterial idea, has an effect in the material universe, by increasing the power of mankind within that universe, is very revealing. It means nothing less, than that the laws of the microcosm, the human mind, work according to the same principles as those of the macrocosm, the universe at large. And that is something common to all human beings, no matter which culture or civilization they belong to.
All great religions emphasize that cognitive quality of man as divine. In Christianity, it is associated with the notion of man as being in the image of God, or even being the living image of God, who continues the process of creation on earth. There is in Hinduism also the idea, that the human soul partakes of the divine soul. And, in the Koran (2:30) it is said, that man is appointed the Caliph of Allah, and that God has breathed from His soul into man, so that mans soul is from Gods (Koran 32:9).
So, the first requirement of a successful dialogue among culures is, therefore, that each human being relate to others in respect of their mutual cognitive or divine identity. If this cognitive aspect is treated as primary, then the different cultural traditions, as Nicolaus of Cusa said, are an enrichment, not a threat.
The dialogue of cultures should be futhermore approached from the standpont of the great German poet of freedom, Friedrich Schiller. In his 1789 lecture What Is, and to What End Do We Study, Universal History?, Schiller says to the students seated before him:
Even that we found ourselves together here at this moment, found ourselves together with this degree of national culture, with this language, these manners, these civil benefits, this degree of freedom of concsience, is the result perhaps of all previous events in the world: The entirety of world history, at least, were necessary to explain this single moment.1If one takes Schillers approach, then it is clear that univeral history is not the property of a single culture, but that, over the millenia, the torch of human progress has been passed from one culture to the next. Many cultures have had several high periods in their history, in which they represented the avant-garde of mankind at the time. For example, the implications for universal history of the discovery of a 9,500 year-old city, 36 meters below sea level in Indias Gulf of Cambay, 30 kilometers west of the state of Gujarat, has not yet been properly evaluated. But, the discovery of that city confirms stories in the early Rig Vedic hymns, about cities along the Sarasvati river, which were for a long time believed not to be in India at all. Given that this city is 5,000 years older than the previously known, equally large cities of Mesopotamia, what does it mean in respect to the role of Vedic culture in the history of civilization?
Then, another important contribution came from Egypt, which was the cradle of European civilization, and which had many high periods. In what is called the Old Kingdom, which laid the foundation, especially the Third Dynasty from 2660 to 2590 B.C.E. there was an early universal genius of the sort of a Leonardo da Vinci, whose name was Djoser. He was, together with Snofru, the builder of the great pyramids. Other high periods were the Fourth, Twelfth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-sixth Dynasties. When Alexander the Great could not conquer India, he created Alexandria in Egypt, which became the center for Greek-Egyptian education, where many famous thinkers who laid the foundation for the Greek Classics studied; among them was Solon, the first philosopher of statecraft, who stayed several times in Egypt.
After Greece collapsed owing to the imperial appetites descibed by Thucydides in his Peloponnesian War, the Roman Empire eventually brought about a dark age in Europe. But, at the same time, a new high point developed in India, with the Gupta period, in which beautiful dramas and poetry blossomed. Recent excavations in China have uncovered 320 Buddhist sculptures in the Temple of Hsing Tsu with extraordinarily beautiful facial expressions, reflecting some of the same Renaissance spirit as the Gupta period.
And, while Europe was still in a dark age, Haroun al-Rashid and other Caliphs of the Abbasid Dynasty organized a renaissance, by collecting knowledge from all the countries of the Mediterranian region. At that time, Baghdad was the center of world culture, and it was only through the contact of the Caliph of Bagdad with Charlemagne, that European civilization could discover its own roots. Later, the Andalusian culture in Spain, the Italian Renaissance, and the German Classical culture, all built upon and referenced to the contributions of earlier periods. Many of the great universal thinkers, such as Plato, influenced other great universal minds centuries later, reaching into other civilizations, such as Islams al-Kindi, al Farabi, and Ibn Sina, or Russias V.I. Vernadsky, or the representatives of the Indian renaissance of the Nineteenth century.
Thus, without even trying to mention all the most important developments and thinkers of history, the point I wish to make is, that the dialogue of cultures is a fact of universal history. It did and it does take place, over the centuries, and from one great mind to all of his or her successors.
Principles of Hinduism
Whenever one focusses on this universal character, the dialogue is easy. Problems only arise, if one takes a narrow, fundamentalist, or chauvinist view. For instance, there was a very interesting argument developed in an article that appeared on Jan. 20, 2003, in the Hindustan Times, by Karan Singh. He was intervening in the ongoing debate in India, concerning whether or not India should be based on hindutva. Should India become a more fundamentalist state, where religion and state are mixed, or should it remain secular? Singh pointed out, that there are certain primary principles of Hinduism, found in the Upanishads, which give the answer. He mentioned five particular ones, which deserve special mention. It is most interesting to explore how these principles find echoes in European and other cultures.
The first of these principles is the most basic concept, that of the all-pervasive brahman: the ishawaram idam sarvam jagat kincha jagatvam jagatwhatever exists is permeated by the same divine power. Now, one finds the same cosmic dimension of existence in the Platonic tradition of European philosophy and religion. For example, as already mentioned, Nicolaus of Cusa says: Quod libet in quo libet, that the One, the universe, as the most perfect in the order of nature, is antecedent to everything else, so that everything exists in everything else. The reason I can relate to another human being, is not because we exist as self-evident, independent, atomic beings or particles in the universe, but because we are both permeated by the One. You find the same concept in Leibniz, in the idea of the monad: that the entire lawfulness of the universe exists in each individual soul.
The second principle is, that the brahman exists within each individual conciousness, in the atman. The atman is the reflection of the all-pervasive brahman; it is individual conciousness, but it is not ultimately separate from the brahman. This is the concept of the ishwara sarvabhutanam idise tishtatithe Lord resides within the heart of each individual. The relationship between the atman and the brahman is the pivot upon which the whole Vedantic teaching revolves.
In Christianity, one finds a similar notion of man as imago viva dei, as the living image of God. It is the living image, because man is not just a static reflection of the divine principle, but he is himself capable of the creative principle. He is capax dei, capable of particiption in God.
A third Vedantic concept is, that all human beings, because of their shared spirituality, are members of a single family. The Upanishads uses amritashya putrachildren of immortalityfor the idea of the human race. In Christianity, God, of whom man is the living image, has the characteristic of existing in the simultaneity of eternity. If, in his lifetime, man contributes a valid universal principle, which is based on necessary predecessors and which lays the basis for necessary successors, he provides new value, through his work, to the importance of the past, and he enriches the future. Thus, he connects his mortal existence to the infinite chain of humanity.
The fourth concept of the Upanishads is the idea of the essential unity of all religions, of all spiritual paths, ekoham svat vipra bahuda vadantithe truth is One, the sages call it by different namesas it is said in the Rig Veda, and which we have already discussed in regard to Nicolaus of Cusa; namely, that the One is of a higher order than the Many. At their highest, Hinduism and Christianity are universalist religions, in which there is no contradiction between reason and faithi.e., the opposite of fundamentalism.
A fifth Vedantic concept is that of the welfare of all beings, bahujana shukhaya bahujana hitaya cha. At its highest, Hindu philosophy seeks the welfare of all human beings and all forms of life on the planet. In European philosophy, there is the concept of eternal and natural law, which must guide all concrete, positive law. According to this, a government has legitimacy, only if it is committed to the common good and the welfare of all of its citizens. According to Nicolaus of Cusa, there can only be harmonyconcord in the macrocosm of the universe at largeif all microcosms develop their potentialities to the fullest.
This idea, that there can be peace in the world only if all nations develop their potentialities in the best possible way; this idea, which is deeply rooted in philosophy, must be the basis for a community of principle among perfectly sovereign nation states. Peace is possible, only if each nation is permitted to develop to the full its own characteristics, its own potentialities, and regards it as its fundamental self-interest that all other nations similarly develop to their maximum.
The real purpose of the dialogue among cultures is not to establish new dogmas, of who is right and who is wrong, of who is more important, and who less. The real purpose of the dialogue, is to find the universal science of human possibilities. The goal is, that all human beings become students of Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, as she is called in Indian philosophy, or the goddess Athena, as she is known in Greek mythology. And about Athena, Schiller says in his Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man, that she must come to Earth fully armed, because she has to fight stupidity, and it takes courage to be wise.
The Beautiful Soul
I have found that many excellent Indian scholars have a very negative perception of the West. They observe, that the entirety of Western civilization is in trouble, because it is based totally on pavrtti (outward action), and that there is absolutely no nivrtti (inward contemplation). Unfortunately, one can not argue with the observation that, as a result, Western civilization has become inwardly poorer and poorer; essentially, one can add, over almost 200 years, and especially over approximately the last 40 years, in particular. The lust for money, power, and pleasure has become almost the only desire, and a far-eaching erosion of values, an increase of violence, and ugliness, and enslavement to objects, has been the result.
While this view is completely correct concerning the present popular culture, it does not make the distinction, that the present desolate condition of the West is the result of a complete takeover by the tradition of the oligarchical point of view, the long line of Aristoteleanism, empiricism, positivism, the British and French Enlightenment, utilitarianism, and so forth. And today, unfortunately, Western culture seems completely dominated by ever new varieties of that mechanistic world outlook. So, these Indian scholars say: You see, the Western emphasis on natural science leads to this result; therefore, we need the Indian emphasis on spirituality.
But what many of these scholars seem to overlook, is that there is a whole other tradition, the long line of Platonic thinking, of Classical art in architecure, painting, drama, poetry, and music, which fulfills every demand of Indian spirituality. Maybe it is because of British colonialism, which hated that tradition as a threat to its rule, that its existence was somewhat suppressed in India.
Christianity, for example, has a notion of the development of nivrtti in the form of its saints. Admittedly, in present Western culture this concept seems a bit obsolete, but does it have to be? And the very idea of nivrtti, to go deeper into the inner nature of oneself, beyond the identity in the ego controlled by the senses, and to find ones identity in the larger Selfthat concept absolutely exists in the form of the Sublime, especially as it is developed by Friedrich Schiller. It was he who even said, that all improvements in the political realm could come only from nivrttihe called it Empfindungsvermögen, for which there is not even a word in English.
In the Bhagavat Gita, the goal of human development is from tamas to rajas to sattva, that every person should become a sattvika person. It says, that every person has the potential and task to become a brahmana, the highest form of sainthood. Friedrich Schiller formulates the same idea, that every human being must develop into a beautiful soul. This is a person, for whom freedom and necessity, passion and duty, are one. This is a person, who can blindly follow his or her instincts, because they are developed to the level of reason, and would never suggest something in contradiction to reason. The beautiful soul is the person for whom reason and spirituality are one.
The dialogue of cultures at this historical moment is a wonderful thing, because it will encourage the brahmana persons in Russia, America, China, India, Germany, and all other countries of the world, to come forward, and not abandon the world to the barbarians.
1. Friedrich Schiller, What Is, and to What End Do We Study, Universal History, in Friedrich Schiller, Poet of Freedom, Vol. II, ed. by William F. Wertz, Jr. (Washington, D.C., Schiller Institute, 1988), p. 263.
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