Swami Vivekananda, who articulated Hinduism for the modern age, had this to say:
“No amount of force, or government, or legislative cruelty will change the conditions of a race, but it is spiritual culture and ethical culture alone that can change wrong racial tendencies for the better … There is but one basis of well-being, social, political or spiritual – to know that I and my brother are one. This is true for all countries and all people”.
With these opening remarks, let us explore the role and responsibility of religions in the crisis of globalization.
In past centuries, globalization was largely understood in terms of nations, empires, conquests, and exploitation through colonisation. In the past fifty years or so, however, globalization has taken on the form of increased communications, increased trade, increased interdependencies, and increased division of labour. However, beneath all these “trappings of globalization”, the deeper challenges have remained.
What are those challenges?
1. Human beings have continued to remain divided
- in terms of class, creed, and race, nationality,
- in terms of the distance between human beings seen even in everyday urban life, and
- the lack of understanding between communities who follow different pathways to meet what are essentially the same needs.
2. Climate change and other environmental issues have assumed unmanageable proportions. Global warming has reached a critical level and, tragically, those who are affected the most are living in third-world countries. While developed economies need to restrain themselves, it will be difficult to suggest that third-world countries restrain themselves from rapid industrialization. Every human being in every land deserves adequate food, shelter, education, healthcare, security, and a decent standard of living.
3. Greed or coveting the wealth and resources of others who are less powerful in a globalised world means taking more that one’s fair share of the earth’s rapidly depleting resources. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed”. Thus, the root of our ecological disaster is a result of the greed and selfishness lying in the human heart.
Usually, the socio-political leaders aim at meeting the above challenges by an adjustment of external conditions. They believe that through science and technology alone society can alleviate the miseries of its people and promote their well being. They also try to introduce new social, economic, and political systems, enact laws, national and international, and make pacts and treaties among countries to meet these challenges. They prove to be inadequate as they do not go to the root of the human problems.
If we trace their origin, we find that they arise, in most cases, not exactly from man’s external condition, but from his inner moral weaknesses. Material progress, unsupported by moral ideals is insecure and deceptive. Wealth, prosperity and power prove to be a curse when not used for the benefit of the common good of humanity and if misdirected can also prove to be positively evil. Political or economic freedom, without a regulative mechanism, does more harm than good.
True religion or spirituality comes to our aid and offers a solution to all the problems and helps us to meet the challenges posed by rapid and indiscriminate globalization. But there must be spirit of harmony between different religions. They should be mutually inclusive to be truly effective in promoting a sane and peaceful global order. Despite the divergences of doctrines, beliefs, and practices, three fundamental truths form the common bases or background of all religions.
Firstly, all religions accept an Ideal Reality which answers man’s conception of perfection. This Ideal Reality or Supreme Being is pure spirit that transcends the realm of psycho-physical phenomena.
Secondly, all religions accept, directly or indirectly, an inherent relation between man and the Supreme Being and that relationship is in the realm of the pure spirit. Man is essentially a spiritual being. This is the keynote of a truly religious life.
Thirdly, the highest goal of human life and man’s ultimate self-fulfillment is in realization of this relation to that Supreme Being. All the other intermediate goals should progressively lead to this highest goal. Swami Vivekananda once said: “The history of civilization is the progressive reading of spirit into matter”
Thus, self-fulfillment lies in self-expansion. The more you feel your unity with others in spirit, the closer you come to the Supreme Being, who unites all individual souls as the Soul of all souls. The more you come closer to the Supreme Being, the deeper is your concern and relationship with your fellow creatures. Then only one can follow the precept: ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. To sum up, this spiritual outlook inspired by religion, transforms man’s inner life, remodels his dealings with others, and is therefore conducive to a sane world order, security and peace.
Hinduism, also known as the Sanatana Dharma, Eternal Religion offers a new way of looking at globalization.
In this vision of globalization, we do not begin top-down (i.e., from the perspective and interests of powerful nations and institutions), rather we begin bottom-up (i.e., from the needs and goals of individuals, families, and communities).
The primary unit of globalization from the Hindu viewpoint is the individual. Each individual is potentially divine. This implies that every other human being is also divine. In other words, we all share a common identity, a “oneness”, a solidarity with every other human being on the planet.
The next unit of globalization from the Hindu viewpoint is a strong family. It is the family that meets our basic need for connectedness with other human beings.
In Hinduism, this idea is expanded steadily until we see the “world as one family”, i.e., Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. i.e., just as we are deeply interconnected in a family, we are also deeply interconnected with every other human being in the world.
The third unit of globalization from the Hindu viewpoint is at the level of community and sculture. Hinduism not just accepts but encourages multiple pathways to God and multiple ways of seeing the highest truth. This idea of acceptance and not mere tolerance allows for diversity to thrive without losing the unifying elements.
Without this idea of mutual acceptance, there can be no true globalization.
Thus, the Hindu vision proposes a deep solidarity among human beings:
- A solidarity born of our individual and collective divinity, (the opposite being racial, class and national differences)
- A solidarity born of our interconnectedness and “family relations” as humans, (the opposite being alienation and anxiety)
- A solidarity born out of mutual acceptance of each other, and thereby the granting of freedom to each individual or group to find their own path to the Truth (the opposite being fanaticism and bigotry)
What is the role of any religion in this perspective?
It is responsibility of religion to truly affirm the individual. It is also the responsibility of religion to strengthen the family. And it is also the responsibility of each religion to free its own people from the shackles of dogma to pursue their path to the Truth.
We cannot and should not expect the state or the corporation to discharge this responsibility. Nor can we leave individuals or families adrift in a complex and changing world. The individual’s life is in the life of the whole, the individual’s happiness is in the happiness of the whole; apart from the whole, the individual’s existence is inconceivable – this is an eternal truth of all religions and is the bed-rock on which this universe is built.
Therefore, it is religion alone that must rise up to the task of constructing a sustainable globalization of the world.