Eric Hobsbawm, widely regarded as one of most brilliant historians of our age, made the following concluding statement in his book The New Century (London 2000): “... at the end of the century, I cannot look to the future with great optimism.” This was perhaps an understatement. Today, humanity is faced with several existential threats. The menace of nuclear holocaust so powerfully articulated in the “Russell-Einstein Manifesto” of 1955 remains valid today. The Manifesto said: “... the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might quite possibly put an end to the human race.” They correctly diagnosed that, “The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty” and “urged them (governments of the world) to find peaceful means for settlement of all matters of dispute between them.” Three scores and five years later, there has been no progress on peaceful settlement of disputes with very limited powers of the International Court of Justice and it is a miracle that nuclear holocaust has not happened though there were many near misses. In addition, a new threat has arisen through global warming. It is widely accepted that we may well face a rise of global temperatures by more than three degree Celsius by 2100 in which case, the rise of sea level and atmospheric changes will destroy the world as we know it. Since the risks are to the future generations, we seem to be disinclined to bear the costs today, even though at individual levels we will all vouch for our deep love and care for our children and grandchildren. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the dangers of global pandemics. Religious conflicts are assuming dangerous dimensions. On top of all these, there are rising tensions between great powers in the Middle- East, in South China Sea, in the Taiwan straits and in the Himalayas, which can lead to a new cold war or even hot wars with devastating consequences for the world.
The emerging dangers are manifestations of the inherent logic of the materialist civilisation of the last five hundred years with emphasis on science and technology as well as markets and democracy. That line of thinking cannot rescue mankind from the present dangers. It is only the divinity within us that can rescue us. It is from this point of view that the grand confluence organised by the Kanoria Foundation - where so many spiritual leaders are assembled - assumes significance. It is their collective wisdom that can show humanity the path to survival by curtailing obsession with national sovereignty, with self-centered materialism, with neglect of the future generations, with obsession with national prestige and baggage of history. However, the spiritual leaders also need to make a quantum jump from their focus on individual salvations to group salvations. As Sri Aurobindo so ably articulated, human evolution is about manifestation of divinity not only in individuals but also of the collective being. Pope Francis has taken admirable leadership in bringing to the attention of the world leaders and the public
the actions needed to tackle the problems of global warming. I hope and pray that the spiritual stalwarts attending the confluence will be able to guide the political leaders, the UN system and the public to develop global institutions which can provide global public goods so that evolution of mankind into superior creatures continues unabated. They need to demonstrate to the political leaders and the public that application of spiritual principles (which emphasises on divinity within) can bring about individual happiness as well as collective happiness. Regular practice of Yoga can help in realization of these attitudes for the public as well their leaders.
In that spirit, let me put forth my economic ideas which I have derived from my sadhana stretching over the last sixty years. I can argue with some conviction earned through my extensive work at World Bank, that with proper instruments and policies, all individuals and groups can achieve the five nectars (panchamrita) of prosperity, inclusiveness, sustainability, honesty and happiness. For achieving prosperity, we have much to learn from China which achieved nearly 10% annual growth in GDP over the last three decades. For achieving inclusiveness, we need to adopt the principles of sabka saath sabka vikash as practiced by the Modi government in India. For sustainability, we have to adopt the low carbon lifestyle and productions system which involves many changes in current habits but are beneficial for the health of the current generation as well as good for the environmental sanctity of this planet. Honesty and transparency can create a high trust society which will help prosperity as well as peace of mind. All these will lead to happiness of the individual as well as the groups.
Usually, economists are obsessed with conflicts and tradeoffs among the goals. However, I have found from my experience that these five goals can be mutually reinforcing. If inclusiveness means development of all human resources (irrespective of caste, class, religion or gender) it contributes to prosperity. If sustainability leads to development of largely plant-based diets, renewable energy, end of the love affair with the private automobile and reduced need for motorised mobility, it can help in ushering self-reliance and sustainable prosperity. Similarly, a society with high transparency and honesty will be a high-trust society with reduced transactions costs and increased returns on investments. These four features, prosperity, inclusiveness, sustainability and honesty, will lead to a happy society. In all these endeavors, practice of Yoga and internalization of spirituality will help greatly.
In creation of the new world order along these lines, spiritual leaders will play an important part and India, which has always emphasised on the importance of spirituality, will play a lead role. However, the new world order will not have any hegemons but will be a multi-polar equalitarian world. Economic logic of such a transition is clear. What we need is the political will and the spiritual leaders can do a lot to form that political will in their spheres of influence.
If we can have the much-needed confluence of spirituality with science and technology, the twenty-first century can be a glorious century.