The Unity of Our Ideals by Martin and Devi


Puan Sri Datin Seri N. Saraswathy Devi (In collaboration with Glen T. Martin at the World Peace Thinkers and Writers Peace Meet, Kolkata, 27-31 Dec. 2015)

The theme of this conference is “Religions, Cultural Harmony and Peace.”  Our conference celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda whose lifetime vision might be summed up by this idea of “religions, cultural harmony and peace.”  In this paper, I want to investigate some of the implications of these concepts, and to show that these concepts, when understood through their true universality, necessarily point to the dimension of world law, a dimension also fundamental to this conference which is also hosting the 14th session of the Provisional World Parliament.

Swami Vivekananda attended the first World Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago and galvanized the audience with his speech.  He was there to represent Hinduism which he claimed was a religion not only of universal tolerance but one that accepted all the religions of the world as true.  He repudiated sectarianism, bigotry, and fanaticism and likened the religions to many rivers and streams that flowed all together into the single ocean that is God.

Like his fellow citizen from Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda understood that the universal depth of religion is not given to us from reason alone.  Reason can lead to a toleration of differences, to a concept of unity in diversity, but only “universal sympathy” and love, giving us true union with human beings, all of life, and the divine can lead us to experience the divine ocean into which all the rivers of the world’s religions are flowing.

How is it that today there is so much conflict among the world’s religions?  The answer lies in the spiritual maturity of their adherents.  Each religion is a river that can lead us to the divine ocean, but on the less mature levels of human development people still identify with their separate rivers rather than with the divine ocean. Adherents of all the world’s religions need to engage in the kinds of practices and meditations that lead to intellectual and spiritual maturity.  As part of these practices they need to envision the ocean toward which they have oriented their lives and to which their religion points.  Both Vivekananda and Tagore understood this principle.

Today, many psychologists, spiritual thinkers, and religious leaders have converged in their thinking about developmental stages in human maturity. Their common insights can point the way for religious adherents to grow toward a direct awareness of the divine ocean.  As young children we begin life in an egocentric stage.  We see the world and everything that happens in a self-centered way exclusively in terms of the “me.”  With the process of acculturation and growth, we move from the egocentric level into an ethnocentric stage of growth.  At the ethnocentric stage we see the world and everything that happens in terms of the culture, religion, or nation within which we have been formed and that supplies our cultural roots.

Perhaps this is where the majority of humanity remains today.  People the world over identify first with their native culture, religion or nation, and assume that their parochial point of view is somehow the correct or the true point of view.  They have confused the river flowing toward the sea with the sea.  They think that their God is fundamentally incommensurable with the Gods of all the other religions.  They fail to see that the process of growth and development leads from the river to the ocean, the divine ocean in which all are one.

The developmental stages recognized by psychologists, spiritual thinkers and religious leaders universally recognize that human maturity involves movement beyond the ethnocentric stage to a world-centric level of development.  At the world-centric level, we have become detached from the religion and culture of our childhood and recognize that all these rivers are flowing toward the same ocean.  We can now become not only tolerant of the diversity of religions and cultures on the Earth but can also recognize the integrity and validity of them all.  Both human reason and the capacity for “universal sympathy” lead us to this wider vision. We become World Citizens not merely citizens of some localized religion, culture, or nation.

There is a yet higher level of developmental growth perhaps represented by both Tagore and Vivekananda.  This level is often called the “integral” stage, or the stage of spiritual realization, of direct unity with the divine ocean.  Religious maturity begins to arise at the world-centric level and continues toward its fulfilment in the integral experience of living a life in union with the divine. This would appear to be the goal of history as well as individual human development. The telos of history and personal development is consciousness of the divine: God-consciousness.

Out of this kind of developmental model arises the unity of our human ideals.  Each of us is bound in time, moving from the past and into the future.  And humanity as a whole similarly moves from the past into a mysterious and unknown future.  Our ideals arise from this process and serve as a guide into that future.  Since the process of development is basically the same for all human beings, so the ideals that properly arise from that process are basically the same.  As developmentally oriented and forward moving creatures, we work in all aspects of our lives for the realization of our ideals.  They guide us into a broader and nobler and happier future. Vivekananda writes:

If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I am sure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand. Therefore, it is better to have an ideal. And this ideal we must hear about as much as we can, till it enters into our hearts, into our brains, into our very veins, until it tingles in every drop of our blood and permeates every pore of our body. (Complete Works, Vol 2, p. 154)

Cultural, religious, and moral ideals arise from the life-process of creatures who live in time and move from the past into the future. Ideals structure and animate that process.  They can lead us from identification with the river to a vision of the way in which all rivers converge in the ocean. They can lead us to develop into world-centric and Integral persons of maturity, integrity, and universality. As Vivekananda points out, ideals are not merely abstract goals but are themselves agents of development and transformation.  By eating, sleeping, and breathing our ideal we are transformed into the ideal, we become the reality that we have envisioned.

The ideal of cultural harmony arises from the same process that brings all the religions together like rivers that flow into the ocean. Cultures from all around the world give us a diversity of ways of living and thinking. Yet the more we understand the processes of development and maturing, the more we see that this diversity of ways of living and thinking points forward beyond an ethnocentric perspective to a world-centric perspective in which we see the immense similarities and many universal features of human cultural practices and perspectives. 

Human civilization gives rise to a unity of ideals that can join all persons together in a true unity in diversity of mutual understanding and respect.  As Tagore states, “When a man has this kind of unmediated perception of the world and can convey it, we observe a similarity between his vision and the vision of previous men; and this is not accidental. For all those who look candidly, see similarly” (Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. Dutta and Robinson, eds., p. 217).

The vision of all cultures as rivers and streams flowing toward the great ocean of human development and civilization on planet Earth is fundamentally the same in all those who have allowed the dynamics of human temporality and maturity to influence their ideals. The movement from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric to Integral perception generates authentic human ideals.  Cultural harmony, like the harmony of all the great religions, emerges as an ideal generated by this process.

As a person who has devoted herself to the law, both domestic and international, and who has come here to Kolkata as a delegate to the 14th session of the Provisional World Parliament, I can affirm that the same dynamic that applies to the understanding of religion and the understanding of culture applies as well to the concept of law.  Human developmental and civilizational growth generates an ideal for the law that is often called justice. And human developmental and civilizational growth also generates the ideals of world law and universal justice.

This is why the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, which forms the legitimating framework for the Provisional World Parliament, is so important and fundamental for the future of humanity. The Earth Constitution does not merely function as an arbitrary proposal for a certain kind of democratic world government.  Rather, it functions as a universal ideal for humanity. It functions as a vision that is implicit in the unity of religions and cultures, a vision of one world under enforceable democratically legislated laws that makes human dignity, equality, and justice a living reality for every person on Earth.

Without such an ideal made known and familiar to every nation and person, humanity is seriously hampered in its quest for a full civilizational maturity characterized by universal harmony and peace.  Without the Earth Constitution serving as a vision and ideal of where we must go if we want environmental sustainability, military disarmament, and universal protection of human rights, we continue to founder on the rocks and shoals of ethnocentric nationalism and false ideas concerning the absolute sovereignty of incommensurable territories.

The Preamble to the Earth Constitution bases its democratic world system on the principle of “unity in diversity,” which it correctly specifies as “the basis of a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination.”  Here we find the unity of our ideals articulated within a concrete constitutional proposal for a world of peace with justice. 

Just as we have seen the many rivers of the great world religions converge in the divine vision of the “transcendental unity of the religions;” and just as all the cultures of the world generate their visions of global civilizational harmony from the dynamics of human developmental and cultural maturity, so the Earth Constitution provides an essential element within the unity of these ideals.  It illuminates the dimension in which the unity of the religions and cultures can be articulated in the form of a democratic world legal system that can actualize peace, disarmament, environmental sustainability, and the protection of human rights.

For Swami Vivekananda, both intellect and love are necessary if we are to actualize the ideals inherent in our human project (Complete Works, Vol. 2, p. 307).  And this is true of the unity of all our ideals. Our ideals arise from the process of development toward human personal and civilizational maturity.  But these ideals require a fulfillment and completeness of not only reason but also of the love that animates our human desire to actualize these ideals.

Similarly the Constitution for the Federation of Earth functions as an ideal for both our reason and our love. Reason can envision the universal ethical dimension behind the Constitution demanding a world in which everyone is equal before the law and in which both peace and non-violent settlement of conflicts are demanded by law.  However, love, not only for justice, but for human beings everywhere and for future generations, also demands the status of the Earth Constitution as our civilizational ideal.  

As Swami Vivekananda asserts, if this ideal can enter into our hearts, our brains, our veins, and every drop of our blood, then its actualization will be assured, for the ideal, passionately embraced, transforms us, and can transform the ethical possibilities of civilization into the actualities of civilization.  It is the developmental unity of our ideals that gives us the harmony of the world’s religions, the civilizational harmony of all human cultures, and the constitutional harmony democratically legislated, enforceable world law.

Thank-you for your attention.