For thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, per capita incomes of humanity were largely stagnant with only some small variations. Life expectancy was low.
Poverty, deprivation, and disease were widespread. During this period, many eminent spiritual leaders emerged who, among other things, called for help to the poor and charity in one form or another. There were efforts to do so by many followers of religious and spiritual traditions. But for the world as whole, poverty and deprivation persisted on a large scale. Spirituality to the extent it could be practised, even with most outstanding prophets, made only a small impact on the quality of life of humanity.
Some two hundred years ago, science and technology began to transform material conditions of the world. Between 1820 and 1998, per capita income of the world increased nearly ten times and for some countries, almost twenty times. This miracle of science and technology combined with social and political transformation achieved in several countries led to almost complete elimination of poverty and deprivation that so many spiritual leaders had called for but unsuccessfully. With continued progress in science and technology combined with enlightened socio-economic policies, we may well witness the end of poverty during this century.
But material prosperity along the current lines has also been associated with unfortunate consequences for mother Earth and the health of her children. The United States of America, the leader in this material progress, illustrates the tragedy. America is committed to a lifestyle that is highly likely to lead to serious global warming which is an existential threat to humanity. America has also promoted a hegemonistic approach to global affairs which while being better than the colonialism of Europe and conquests of middle-easterners, has also created an unbalanced world. American domination in international finance has created much instability around the world. Nuclear proliferation led by America has also created the ever-present threat of annihilation of the world.
Americans now illustrate well the dangers of this ‘materialism only’ philosophy. The people in America suffer from great stress, both physical and mental. They are looking for remedy and turning to Yoga in a big way. In 2016, it was estimated that some 36 million Americans did yoga, which was 50% larger than the figure in 2012. Yoga is about connecting the outer self with the inner self which is divine and yoga is the essence of spirituality. Once that connectivity takes place, noble ideas will flow from the inner self to the outer self and the scene will be set for spiritual evolution of humanity which as Sri Aurobindo articulated, is the purpose of human life. As Buddha proclaimed, connectivity with the inner spiritual world will enable effortless move towards right thought, right speech, right actions and other elements of the eightfold path towards a better life.
It is good that the US is taking steps towards combining outer engineering with inner engineering. But in this area, India has a vast pool of knowledge and America need not re-invent the wheel. India needs to articulate its vast reservoir of knowledge in inner science and engineering and work with the scientific temper of the US to create a new fusion between outer and inner engineering for the benefit of the world and the whole of humanity in the spirit of “sabka saath sabka vikas” (development of all, with all) with vikas defined as development in material as well as spiritual dimension.
In the words of Prime Minster Narendra Modi, “We can achieve the same level of development, prosperity and well-being without necessarily going down the path of reckless consumption. It doesn’t mean that economies will suffer; it will mean that our economies will take on a different character. For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature’s bounties as sacred. Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.”
This is India’s mission and the 21st century can become India’s century if India can deliver on this mission. India’s spiritual message for humanity has been articulated by eminent personalities such as Swami Vivekananda for centuries. But it had minor impact on the behaviour of humanity including India’s masses. This was probably because of India’s backwardness in outer engineering and economic prosperity. Now under the dynamic and enlightened leadership of Shri Narendra Modi, India is poised to combine material prosperity with spiritual prosperity. This is what will make the 21st century India’s century. Building on its spiritual strength, India will achieve material prosperity and combine it with inclusiveness which celebrates diversity, ecologically sustainable lifestyle, cleanliness and integrity in national and international sphere. Humanity is on the cusp of a quantum jump in evolution. Divinity and spirituality will be the key additional (additional to material science and engineering) instruments for that process. Indo-American co-operation, despite some concerns about the priorities of the current US political leadership, can play a vital role in combining outer engineering with inner engineering in a scientific manner and make a quantum jump in evolution of humanity.