An identity beyond borders

3 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Amartya Sen in his internationally acclaimed book ‘Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny’ laments the ‘little boxes’ of identity to which people put themselves into and live in a world of single dimension of seclusion. 

The book which was seen as a foil to Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilization’ theory, no doubt, among others, underscored the ethnic complexity of politics especially those of Sen’s native country, India.

When I landed in the Madhya Pradesh city of Indore on the 24th of October to attend the 3rd International Conference on Dharma-Dhamma on religious harmony India was sitting on a simmering cauldron of ethno-religious tensions.

Two episodes resulting in the death of Muslims, one in the outskirts of Delhi another in Southern state of Karnataka, had seen nearly forty authors, including Nayantara Sahgal niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, returning their national literary awards, in a mark of protest against ‘rising intolerance’. They were soon to be followed by twelve filmmakers while the ethno-religious tensions continued to soar.

The timing of the conference, which was attended by disparate group of religious, academic and political personalities, would not have been any better.
Organized by the Government of Madhya Pradesh along with Sanchi University and India Foundation, the conference went on to underscore the need of India, if not, South Asia, to go beyond the parochial paradigms and adopt a broader perspective  on the concept of ‘identity’.

I am of the opinion that the Eastern philosophy, which was based on a holistic approach towards human kind as opposed to the ethno-religious compartmentalization of the western civilization, it yet to be fully exploited for the purpose of human integration and unity. 

During my presentation I attempted to bring home the point that there’s an urgent need to revert to the original eastern values in order to seek a balance between the security of identity and advancement of human civilization.

The eastern and western civilizations went on parallel paths in the past, detached from one another, unaffected by each other. However, global village of today makes this isolation an impossibility. The inventions of science and technology, the geo politics and modern economics have brought the two civilizations closer if not head-on.

The conference title – Dharma and Dhamma was an interesting one.

Etymology gives the Sanskrit meaning of the word Dharma, which is translated into Pali as Dhamma, as duty or the cosmic order or law. 

Speaking from a Buddhist point of view I opted to claim that the Dhamma of Buddha, which is translated into English as Buddhism or doctrine of Buddha, therefore can be interpreted as duties set out by Buddha. This means if every man or woman ventured to fulfill his or her duties, as espoused in Buddhism, the rights of all beings would have been protected. For instance starting from the first precept in five precepts, in which all beings have been guaranteed of their right to life, Buddhism ensures rights of all sentient beings. In some other instances Buddhism even goes beyond that and recommends the preservation of trees and therefore ecology as well thus reminding one of the modern day notion of environment rights. Concept wise Buddhism espouses obligations not only in action but in word and thoughts as well.

At an empirical level Buddhism, born in India, was an attempt to achieve a non-substantial and non-essential level. In Buddhism the liberator would be the person himself which is of unique and distinct from many religions. 

In the Asian context, the concept of God is expressed in relative terms. We seek to penetrate behind the limited knowledge which comes to us through sense perception and interpret the world by means of general ideas. Our philosophic thought finds an empirical basis for its conclusions by examination of given facts and constructs a theory of reality. This has a logical consistency and empirical validity which direct us to take our stand based on our own experience rather than the unknown. Buddha has described four Nobel truths, based on his personal experience and expounded the truth as he has discovered it.  

He described a very advanced philosophy based on an undivided wholeness of vingnanaya (consciousness) and nama-rupa which can be described as a name and a form perceived by a human being. According to Buddha these two are inseparable, interwoven and one feeds the other.  

In contrast, the modern science built upon the western civilization is a philosophy with absolute categories. Like absolute time, absolute space and absolute reality out there encouraging the conflicting nature of the dualism. The world based on the western development paradigm has three primary problems or issues at hand.

The first problem is that the man himself, though he is a part of the nature and taking steps to overcome the challenges and issues faced by nature through materialistic means or using science and technology alone.  

Buddhism and Hinduism in contrast look at nature on a self-control and sustainable model so that eastern people always lived in harmony with nature.
Secondly the western world encourages the dualism between individuals, societies, countries and regions based on various forms of divisions such as ethnicity, religion, colour etc  for harnessing the limited natural resources, placing the dynamic equilibrium of the eco system in grave danger. We may have already passed the tipping point of this dynamic equilibrium.

Thirdly people tend to find solutions based on their religious identities resulting wars between various ethnic groups, nations and regions. 

The crusade war was started in the first Millennium where the armies of Christians from the western world started war against the Muslim world. After a thousand year period same phenomena is observed but in a different perspective but the consequences are the same, witnessing many such conflicts due to different and diverse religious identities. 

Due to the imperfect condition or the mindset of the man there are many conflicts based on race and ethnicity throughout the world. 

Buddha gave a perfect solution to this chaotic state of affairs through Sathara Brahama Viharana or Sublime Attitudes or Abodes of Brahma namely Metta - loving kindness, Karuna - compassion, Mudita- sympathetic joy, Upekkha- equanimity. This is the spiritual path of Buddhism. For those who practice these four Viharas will be living in the noble way.

A society that practices those noble eastern principles will inherently be peaceful and its environment will be protected against the unlimited desires and needs of  mankind. Buddhism born in India remains a strong bond between India and Sri Lanka to date and will remain so and its high time the two countries built a spiritual bridge between the two nations. 
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