Can Indian Thought Save the World?

‘Can Indian thought solve the world’s problems?’ This is the title to my panel discussion on Sunday at the South Asian Literature Festival. And by Indian I of course mean Vedic. So can it?

‘It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation is the ancient Hindu way. Here we have the attitude and spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together in to a single family.’ Said the historian Toynbee.

So those that believe are clearly many in number. I don’t mean the growth in Yoga and meditation as those in finance look for peace from the feeling of emptiness that only wealth brings, or that had we been detached from reward, there would not ever have been a credit crunch.

And for all the teachings by Indian ‘Gurus’ and Swamis at Harvard Business School to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, not one of them could halt the credit crunch with their trite comments passing for wisdom – all the while Deepak Chopra sells diamond encrusted ‘Om’s.

No, let us take something more important than ourselves, and money and finance. Let us take human rights. The last one thousand years in the West started with the Magna Carta, which laid down the human rights of the citizen over their ruler and ended in 1947 with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – after the bloodiest conflict in world history. When will we learn? Universal it says. Your cultural practices are no excuse. Your religion is no excuse. Universal Human Rights. The most translated document in human history.

But ask any student of Vedic literature and the will tell you we are all connected. We are one. In the 20th Century physicists proved that no two electrons anywhere in the universe can ever be at the same level of energy. And should you heat one, then every other electron in the universe would alter its state to hold this law true. As nuclear physicists look for the God particle, we already know it was discovered over 7,000 years ago in India – we are all connected. What better driver for a Universal Declaration of Human Rights than this. Asoka’s pillars around India remind us so too. We are all connected and that is from where we have rights and duties. So said Donne, ‘No man is an island, Entire of itself… Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.’

What of great ideas such as democracy, freedom? ‘We can’t equate democracy with Christianity because the largest democracy on earth is India, which is primarily Hindu. Democracy and freedom are not dependent on Christian beliefs.’ Said President Jimmy Carter. No, democracy and freedom are Vedic beliefs – some 5,000 years before the Greeks.

There is not a clash of civilisations, there is only one civilisation – the human civilisation, but of course some are further down the road of enlightened evolution and thinking than others. It is not the fault of Indian thinking that it was ahead of its time – it started earlier than the others after all – being the cradle of all civilisation. So he was not being patronising, but rather recognising this fact, when Mahatma Gandhi on being asked what he thought of European civilisation said, ‘I think it would be a very good idea’.

Returning to the literature festival – so it was then that one of my first books was dedicated, not to a family member or a friend, but ‘to my proud heritage’. The bigger problem is not whether Vedic thought can save the world – it has to- but that we do not listen to it and choose not to practice it. That will be the greatest human tragedy unless we desire to believe that our greatest days lie ahead of us.

Alpesh Patel

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