Theo-Diversity and Humane Values

Prof. Lokesh Chandra

 

The author is a renowned Indologist, art historian and expert on Buddhism, with over 360 books to his credit. Prof. Lokesh Chandra is also a former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, the director of the International Academy of Indian Culture, and a founder member of IFIH.

 

The dawned twenty-first century demands new structures of thought, spirituality, 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:

 

What I shall never know

I must make known.

Where travellers never went

Is my domain.

 

No shadows of dogma, no imprisonment in the deadening certainty of Revelation, no cutting down the venerable oak-trees of centuries for bushes, no verdicts of suicidal decisions donning lineaments of religion, no drowning the flow of time, no omnipotence of God that strangulates the flux of time, choice and punya.

1. Diversity Is the Law of Nature

Biodiversity 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, the spiritual life has to divine the several meanings, 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, ekoham bahu syam. Theo-diversity is an inescapable corollary to the astounding discoveries in science and their universal applications in technology. Theo-diversity alone will ensure the ascension of humanity to light and nobility that makes Joy not an attribute of the spirit, but its essential nature (sac-cid­-ananda). 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.

 

Our world has been conditioned by two major currents of theism, one emanating from the agricultural and the other from pastoral civilizations. We will have to analyze their etiology and teleology, their origins and purposes, to comprehend their historic impact, as well as their relevance to an emerging world where the role of environment is getting modified. Today humanity seeks the music of the creative and the Many, rather than that of the frozen and the One, in the inexhaustible riches of Joy standing at the threshold of an archetypal world, that is, on the threshold of the Dharmadhatu.

 
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2. Desert versus River

The three great traditions of (i) Judaism, (ii) Christianity, and (iii) Islam crystallized in arid zones. The desert is a vast stretch of sand, in its imperial majesty of the immense, and overwhelming in its logic of the ONE: all that the eyes see is ONE monotone. It is boiling in the day and freezing at night, with man feeling its oppressive extremes of temperature. It is violence incarnate, violence sans end. It leaves its deep impress on the mind: rigidity, fixity, and obstinacy.

Indic religions arose on the banks of rivers with waters flowing. Flow symbolized change, evolution was a prime component of its inner dynamics. The flow of waters was sacred (ta amruta apaha Chand. 3.1.2, apsu purushastamevahamupase Kaus. 4.10). This flux or change was integral to Dharma. The waters flowed because of the banks of rivers. If there were no banks the waters would not flow, they would slush into marshes. Inner ethics are the banks of the spiritual universe. Samskara holds the Dharmadhatu.

 
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3. Monocentrism versus Polycentrism

The desert with its endless and unvarying landscape sublimated the immensity of the One Vast Sand into The One Ultimate. The Single Highest became the crowning extreme. Extremism is inbuilt in monotheism. The prophet Isaiah comforted his companions in exile that Jahweh is not merely the God of Israel, but “The Only God” that doeth all things... He is the one, perfect, immutable. When someone asked what God did before the world was created, St. Augustine answered, “He made a hell for the inquisitive.” Monotheism is a theological term, and Theodore M. Ludwig says that it cannot include other traditions, except Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Polycentrism emphasizes the principle of Many, and merges divine reality with the world. It is a plurality of divine forces functioning in life and nature. While the monotheistic God has “unlimited authority,” polycentrism is value, integration of meaning, the possibility of multiplicity of perceptions at the highest levels of spiritual perfection. In 1935 Erik Peterson in his essay Monotheismus als Politisches Problem analyzed monotheism as a political problem. French thinkers like Alain de Benoist seek a neo-pagan resurgence as a new location of the sacred in plurality and freedom of human life. Polycentrism is the bridge leading to the immortal being (Amritasyaisha setuhu), to live and move and have its Joy (ananda)in consciousness in the Many of the world. Those of tranquil mind realize within their souls the Being who manifests one essence in a multiplicity of forms (ekam rupam bahudha yah karoti).

 
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4. Revelation (adeshana) versus Realization (sadhana)

Revelation is divine communication to human beings through one Prophet. It is a condescension. It is believed to be the “highest possible degree of perfection.” It operates in three steps: (i) assertion, (ii) negation, (iii) re-assertion:

 

(i) assertion in the scripture;

(ii) negation of those opposed

(Apostle Paul says: “They did not honour him as God... Their senseless minds were darkened,” Rom. 1:21); and

(iii) reassertion in their suppression

(“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men,” Rom. 1:18)

 

The Taliban and their transoceanic mentors are carrying out the Revelation in their love of God. Being divine in origin, Revelation cannot be altered.

Realization (sadhana)is to visualize the harmony between man’s spirit and the divine spirit of the universe, in the living growth of nature. It is a sublime quest of the Infinite. It is a rising towards higher and nobler freedom of consciousness. In Realization man ascends into a luminous vision of perfection, while in Revelation he has to accede to imperatives. Realization is a caress of the heart to the world in the inner sky of consciousness, in the cidakasa(yadetad hridayam mama tadastu hridayam tava). There are no pagans, no infidels in sadhana or Realization.

While in Revelation Man is in the image of God, in Realization gods are in the image of Man. Revelation is steeped in theism which “suggested that man’s life on earth was significant only in so far as it affected his soul’s expectation of God’s mercy after death.”

The Indo-European attitude of mind as reflected in Classical Greek and Roman writers attaches primary importance to man. The humanists of the Renaissance were against the belittling of human life and asserted its intrinsic value. The basic mind-ground of Realization  (sadhana) is the greatness of human potentialities, the faring in the Grand of the universes (shariramadyam khalu dharma sadhanam). Realization is the ineffable serenity of Becoming, of which no predicate is possible.

 
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5. Commandments versus Transcendence

The Ten Commandments were spoken to Moses by God. Moses is the mouthpiece of God. The first commandment is an uncompromising prohibition of the worship of any deity other than God. It introduces intolerance. The supremacy of God vis-à-vis man minimizes the importance of human life, and makes human beings the helpless play-beings of God. They have to wage crusades and its likes. In the paradigm of Transcendence, each person is unique, who chooses, thinks and contemplates. Existence rises into transcendence. Man becomes man-in-the-universe, “crossing the limiting barriers of the individual, to become more than man” (Tagore). Brahman of the Upanishads is the subtle reality of all things that exist, the very “beingness” of all beings, including the human being. It is the ennobling of man (ud yanam te purusa, RV) as contradistinguished from his compliance with Commandments. Transcendence is seeking, while the Commandments demand unquestioning submission. Processes of enlightenment are replaced by regimentation. The Vaisesika-sutra 1.1.2 defines Dharma as the attainment of the cosmic and a-cosmic summum (yatobhyudaya-nihsreyasa­siddhihi sa dharmaha). It is man who apprehends God and becomes Brahman. Man becomes immense in the highest abiding Joy (Ananda). Life and the Supreme are one. Existence and transcendence harmonize in wisdom. Man is made responsible for his deeds or karma (punyo vai punyena karmana bhavati, Brh. 5.2.13). There is no word for the positive punyain Abrahamic religions but only for the negative word papa,“sin.”

 
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6. Absolute versus Relative

As Revelation is the truth made known to man by God, and as it is specially revealed in the history of the people nearest to him, Revelation is both absolute and the kingdom of God is the eternal kingdom. It has given rise to the mindset of the West that their kingdom is Absolute, and it is their imperative right to bring this “one river of truth” to all. The pageant of nature and history can derive its meaning only from them. This monocentrism is the foundation of the thoughts and actions of the Euro-American West to this day. Max Weber began his Essays on the Sociology of Religion with a statement of the uniqueness and universal importance of “Western” culture and civilization. The “inalienable rights and an indispensable moral responsibility” arising from the Revelation are responsible for the concept of “globalization.”

In the riverine cultures, time and place have a role to play. All becomes relative, multiformity is part of the cosmic interplay of forces. Thus we have yuga-dharma, or the Buddhist concept of interdependent origination (pratttya-samutpada). Humanity is an end, and never a means.

 
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7. Dogma versus Enlightenment

Dogma is to judge by the Scripture. The Westminster Confession clearly states: “The whole counsel of God ... man’s salvation, faith and life is expressly set down in scripture ... unto which nothing may be added.” There can be no other. It is a total denial of alterity. Alterity is paganism.

In the polycentric riverine religious traditions, the other is the outside of the inside, the dream space of interiorization. The outside is ever becoming the inside.

Important coordinates of Indic systems were:

 

Jijnasaor “the quest of illumination”;

Jijivisha or “the striving to live, the will to live,” and

Athato brahma-jijnasa: the desire to be illumined is human. Kurvann eveha karmani jijiviset satam samaha,“performing works one should wish to live a hundred years.” Life and the world are the integrity of the Brahman. All is the efflorescence of the pure lotus-­heart. Atman and Paramatman are the flowering of the human mind and the enrichment of man’s life. Striving, toiling and singing “take me across,” this shore and the other shore are one in the completeness that is in me. The Prajnaparamita-hridaya-sutra says: gate-gate para-gate para-sangate bodhi svaha. It is an effort to attain auto-consciousness in the blending of a vision (darsana)and a realization (sadhana):thus I remain the free author of my future. The Decalogue or Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone by God Himself and even with His finger (Deut. 4:13). There could be no variation, and none other, when God stepped in.

 
 
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8. Religious Citadels versus Cathedrals of Silence

Spiritual otherness in contradistinction to spiritual universality, exclusion versus inclusion, mark a basic difference in traditions crystallizing along rivers and those arising in arid zones. The natural end results of agricultural and pastoral mindscapes are counteractive. The banishment of a God by monocentric Marxism, led to an analysis of its dialectics. Prof. Ernest Gellner of the London School of Economics has pointed out that the logic of pastoralism is resistance to domination and imposing itself on others. The pastoral vocation to violence arises from the very nature of pastoralism. Consider a shepherd with his 200 odd sheep or goats. He can double his wealth by the simple device of bashing in the head of the neighbouring shepherd, who is endowed with a similar herd of flock. The attractiveness of doing so is incomparably greater than a similar act of aggression amongst neighbouring agriculturists. Seizing the land of another is worthwhile only if the land is scarce and one disposes of the labour to till it. Pastoralism is not labour-intensive, but defence-intensive. For cohesion it seeks a high Military and Political Participation Ratio (MPPR). The second important characteristic is a tendency towards a religio-martial aristocracy, expressed in transcendent terms of a Prophet. He provides the moral idiom to organic solidarity. Thirdly, the ideological equipment of religion is its outer bulwark. The outer bulwark protects the central citadel of the faith. These bulwarks, howsoever untenable in the modern world, cannot be abandoned, as the residual inner citadel alone would not be defensible.

On the other hand, in Indic tradition there are empty spaces, primeval forests with no walls or boundaries, constant interface with the varying aspects of the vast life of nature, and no absolute isolation. This gave rise to enlarging consciousness by growing into the surrounds, and harmony between man and nature. The Rigveda says that the wise found the bonds of being in non-being (sato bandhum asati niravindan hrdi pratisya kavayo manisa)in the famous nasadiyahymn (10.129). It is sunyatain Buddhism as “openness,” “non-substantiality,” “relativity.” Desires and fears, you and me exist and evolve in interrelationship. The enrichment of religious diversity can be assured only in the deepest awareness of existence, in an overbrimming potential of “openness,” e.g. in the Avatamsaka formulations of Fa-tsang, the Chinese guru of the seventh century.

 
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9. Human Rights versus Humane Values

Human rights, like “workers of the world unite,” are fast becoming an instrument of superpower domination. They emerge from a monocentric commitment to impose a sacred disorder. The Korean thinker Prof. Lee O-young, in his write-up on New Wave of the Twenty-First Century, minces no words: “We need an alternative to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which views humankind above and apart from Nature and ruling over it according to God’s design.” Human Rights is an Abrahamic formulation which seeks to buy the freshness of the air and the sparkle of water with a gun in hand. The Chief Seattle of the Dwamish tribe wrote to the President of the United States in 1854:

 

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.

Every shining needle, every sandy shore,

Every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect

Is holy in the memory and experience of my people.

 

The riverine cultures seek “Humane Values,” as distinguished from nebulous human values. Out of them will flow “human duties” and thence “human rights.” We need new moral maps, new mental models, without the intrusion of the “onward march of secularization” of Prof. Roland Robertson of the University of Pittsburg.

 
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10. Complementarity and Symbolic Hermeneutics

The nature and presuppositions of the interpretation of scriptures is technically known as hermeneutics, from the Greek god Hermes who is the messenger of the gods and the deity of boundaries. Interpretation conditions the beliefs of the audience. It can be the understanding of the linguistic forms in the conditions and time of its writing down of the scripture. This reflects the cultures and political sensitivity of a bygone and has to be accepted as belief or dogma. It is termed nitarthain Buddhist hermeneutics. It ceases to be creative, it is irrelevant to the Zeitgeist or Spirit of our Times, and preempts an intuitive leap. T. S. Eliot wrote an essay on Tradition and Individual Talent in 1919. He argued that a text has its afterlife independent of its author. There are profound connections of symbols with human life as a part of a living cosmos. The linguistic intent cannot be the sole norm of meaning, if the scripture has to live and be a part of life. A scripture has to become endowed with reflective consciousness in its encounter with new horizons, without becoming final and dictatorial. Textual and historical constraints have to be resolved in a hermeneutic flow of conceptual thinking and intuitive realization  (jnanaand vijnana). The Buddhist theory of two levels of meaning is nitartha, “explicit or self-evident meaning,” and neyartha,“implicit or interpretable meaning.” Candrakirti explains seven basic principles of interpretation which he terms saptalankara. From the planes or levels of literal or surface meaning to the ultimate meaning are the advancing stages of spiritual growth. The message has to be adapted to the needs and faculties of living beings. The meanings are a function of life and not of a scripture. The immaculate birth of Jesus Christ has pre-echoes in the nativity of the Buddha. Buddhism did not theologize it as a dogma. It was transcending existence, but did not disturb the actualities of life. It was to feel something of the highest value, away from the mercy of words. The hermeneutics of our century has to move on the bedrock of our being, and not be a petrifaction of scriptural authority.

 
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11. Frontiers versus Horizons

Frontiers create barriers in human understanding. An unchanging holy domain, rooted in the immutable word, in wordliness worked out in painstaking detail in rigid theological structures, breeds a closed sacrum, which has to be defended with all one’s might. Subject to the exigencies of power, it has to own aggressiveness and the vitality of violence.

Instead of frontiers, this century needs open horizons, where people are “sculptors of themselves,” to invoke the light and lyricism that lives in our life. As the great poetess of Kashmir Lallesvari says: “From the outward enter into the most inward part of thy being.” The beyond and the within has to be a flow:

 

Ramata jogi bahata pani

Hai is jag ki itni kahani

 
 
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12. How Long Shall We Seek Western Confirmation?

Prof. Perceival Spear of Cambridge University has said: “It was possible for a man to admire the West and to revere the East and to have European authority for both opinions.” What arrogance! The “unique” has to be replaced by “Universals” in the plural. We have to be the children of the horizons, or as the Atharvaveda (16.3.6) says, Samudro Asmi Vidharmana, “The Unbounded Ocean am I.”

 
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Theo-diversity and Humane values

 


Abrahamic


Indic



Bio-diversity to Theo-diversity


Desert


River


No Change, Vast Stretches


Flow > Change > Evolution



Banks / Maryada


Monocentrism


Polycentrism


Revelation  (adeshana)


Realization  (sadhana)


Man In the Image of God


Gods In the Image of Man


Theism


Humanism


Commandments via Prophetism


Existence to Transcendence


Absolute


Relative


Denial of Alterity (kufr, paganism)


Jijivisha, sanctity of all life, and jijnasa,constant knowing


Dogma


Enlightenment


Religious citadels


Cathedrals of Silence


Closed inner spaces


Seto Bandhumasati Nirvindan


Human Rights


Humane values > Human duties > Human rights


Complementarity and Symbolic Hermeneutics



Frontiers


Horizons


Western Confirmation


Inner Consciousness, Samudro Asmi Vidharmana

 
 
       
 
 
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