Keynote address at the international NHE Conference, Caracas, Venezuela, April 2014, by Dr. Shambhushivananda
Looking back, about 8000 million years ago (mya), this Earth was only a blazing ball of fire; 4000 mya, it consisted of molten lava and volcanoes; 340 mya life existed only in water; 223 mya land appeared as Gondwanaland; 70 mya birds and mammals appeared; one mya human beings appeared on the scene. We should not assume that we have come to the end of this evolutionary ladder. Through physical metamorphosis and psychic transmutations, we seem to continue to move on.
The last 15,000 years have seen the emergence of human civilization. Numerous thought currents have marked our history. It has been an impressive history both punctuated by great discoveries and inventions and marred by ugly wars and bloodshed. In just the past 500 hundred years, we saw the Copernican Revolution that established that Earth was not at the center of this solar system; 150 years ago came the Darwinian Revolution that told us that we are not angels but hairless apes; 100 years ago we had the Freudian Revolution that brought our preoccupation with the unconscious; and among others, in the last twenty years, neuro-scientists claim that we are in the midst of another frontier of knowledge about greater understanding of our own brain, the organ that may have caused the earlier revolutions to occur, and which also gave birth to all ideas including colonialism, imperialism, war, etc. And we continue our journey to explore other stars in search of extra-terrestrial life. Yet despite all advancements, we are a fractured society. We are bound in fear, hatred, violence and disparities, rooted in selfishness and goaded by vested interests.
Educators are faced with the challenge of helping to build a peaceful society. However, not long ago, Shri Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, a philosopher-seer of the 20th century living in a far-off Indian village, launched another revolution in thought that might well be called the ‘Sarkar-ian Revolution’. He proclaimed that our collective attainments and existence itself are on the brink of perishing if we fail to create ‘one universal human society’ on the strong moral fundaments of spiritual humanism and the practical guidelines of PROUT (the Progressive Utilization Theory), Neohumanism and Tantra-Yoga. During his brief visit to Caracas in 1979, he reminded us of the urgency to build an “exploitation-free peaceful society”.
Towards this end, he also propounded a pragmatic educational philosophy that will “empower good over evil, rationality over dogma, culture and dialogue over brute force and violence, truth over falsehood, and spirit over matter.” This system of education is called Neohumanist Education. Its primary goal is to nurture harmony (co-existence; live and let live), abundance (prosperity through alignment with nature and the use of green technologies), social and economic justice (minimizing disparities and preserving diversities), freedom (protecting individual and collective liberty; replacing vulnerabilities with resilient approaches), and sentient peace (balance of inner and outer ecology through sentient lifestyles).
PROUT (Progressive Utilization Theory), in a nutshell, is a new socio-economic-political philosophy that calls for all-round changes in our attitudes, lifestyles, socio-economic structures, public policies, leadership and education systems. Neohumanism is a philosophy and attitude of life based on universal love that helps us transcend narrow sentiments and embrace all animate and so-called inanimate forms of life as varied manifestations of Divine Spirit.
- Neohumanist education (NHE) is about expanding our awareness in order to free us from ill health and a stressful life; and moving towards a blissful life through a sentient life-style. It is more about reflecting upon our attitudes, living habits and world-view than striving towards mere political and economic power grabbing. This training needs to start with young children and be cultivated throughout one’s life.
- NHE is about a journey from scarcity to abundance for one and all including other species. It involves alignment with nature, using green technologies and using creativity to find solutions that utilize existing resources in most optimum ways for the good and happiness of all.
- NHE is about educating for creating enlightened leadership; liberation of human intellect and freedom from dogmas. It is about exposing the dogmas of science, rigidities of social systems and irrational world-views.
- NHE is about replacing local vulnerabilities with greater resilience in all walks of life. The discourse of PROUT-based education enhances the economic power of local communities and promotes regional self-reliance.
- NHE is about tackling the challenge of historical social injustices, recognizing and eliminating the wide disparities in all walks of life, and urgently moving towards minimizing inequalities especially in economic affairs. Diversity is healthy but disparities increase social tensions and inhibit the optimum utilization of human potentials and collective wealth of humanity.
Human existence is an ideological flow. It is a movement from crudity to subtlety, from imperfection towards perfection, from limited to unlimited, from unit to cosmic, from animality to divinity. An endeavor to control our instinctual tendencies and goad our mental faculties through reason, intellect and intuition towards universal welfare is the path of divinity.
In this long spiritual journey from human-minimitis to human-maximitis we may encounter many challenges or difficult choices that are called moral dilemmas. Moral dilemmas abound in our personal and collective social lives, irrespective of our area of work or profession. All of us, as parents, businesswomen, community leaders or whatever roles we are in, are faced with common daily decisions that have some moral component. Should I do it or shouldn’t I? Should I lie or tell the truth? Should I act now or wait? Should I support or oppose? We all face such questions in our minds. Some of our conscious choices affect just our near ones or ourselves while others may affect a million others. The gravity of a moral decision varies with the nature of the impact of the decision and where we stand on the evolutionary ladder. For a cat, to catch a mouse is an instinctual behavior and not a moral choice, but for a human, to raise and kill animals for meat may involve a moral choice. In these days of epidemic viruses and ecological disasters, the invisible link and interconnectedness of all life is becoming more and more obvious. Yet ignorance and fear make a mockery of human attainments. Ignorance and fear are the twin companions of violence-ridden troubled societies. Through dialogue based on facts and reason, genuine love and compassionate outlook, cosmic sentiment and applied rationality, we could transform the atmosphere of hatred and break the deadlock of aggression and frustration. Without compassionate dialogue, a display of ugly manifestations of human ego and vested interests will remain. Educationists can sow the seeds of this transformation. Learning must be for positive change and it must be rooted in love. This is the challenge for educators.
When we begin to make decisions based on the intrinsic impact of our decisions on ‘our’ and ‘other’s’ physical, mental and spiritual well being, it may be surmised that we have begun to tread the path of benevolence. The path of dharma is the path of righteousness and if we choose to recognize and follow it, the ‘immediate’ reward is likely to be transcendence into an evolutionary elevated mental status, and the ultimate reward, at the least, is an untainted experience of life divine, endowed with all its perks like deep inner peace and enjoyment of goodwill and friendship of all fellow creatures who are benefited by our ‘wise choices’. The Message of Spiritual Humanism as enunciated by Shrii P.R. Sarkar is thus loud and clear:
- we need to return to connectedness with our common spiritual roots which will drive away the menace of group or religious intolerance;
- we need to take our inner and outer ecology seriously so that we may continue to protect and preserve all bio-diversity of the planet;
- we need to reverse the trends of pseudo-culture and profit maximization that fuel consumerism, violence, addiction and apathy to our own welfare;
- we need to choose our leadership so that we may establish the primacy of service over self-interest, whether in politics, economy, religion, education, culture, science or the arts;
- we need to spread the call to remold the socio-economic-political framework so that sustainability initiatives can begin to bear fruits and multiply.
In a nutshell, we need to make a collective moral choice to accept those ideals which will nourish the interest of all rather than a select few. This alone is the cornerstone from which we can solve the moral dilemmas of modern times. Are we ready to confront our own greed, our own drive for power and control, our own jealousies and temptations, our ignorance and doubts? This moral dilemma is all-pervasive and speaks not only to the leaders of society but to each one of us who willingly or unwillingly ‘choose’ our lifestyles and our leaders. The call of our consciousness is to reflect and act with a “refined moral conscience” in mind. If we succeed in doing so, we may be laying the foundation of a new world. This gathering in a glorious setting in Venezuela seems an august beginning in this endeavor. It appears to me that our task is three fold:
- Choose, follow and propagate ideas that are in harmony with our divine nature.
- Continue to empower individuals who wish to follow these ideas in their personal life.
- Build institutions that are open to making moral strategic alliances for establishing and nurturing a progressive “one human society” based on prema (universal love) and prama (balanced development/dynamic collective equipoise).
Finally, towards these ends, we need to bridge the widening knowledge gap among people of all countries and continue to “strive for excellence” in order to hasten the creation of a world of abundance for all species; foster greater understanding and harmony among all beings; and ensure justice, freedom and peace for all.