Vedantic Humanism For Post-Darwin Humanity – Through The Eyes Of Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda declared the principle of Vedantic humanism at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago.
A recollection of his thoughts surrounding the yogic conception of evolution on his birth anniversary, today (12 January).
When Swami Vivekananda uttered, “Sisters and Brothers of America" at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, they declared Vedantic humanism to the world.
Vedantic humanism is fundamentally different from the humanist philosophies of the West in the sense that it is based on the fundamental unity of all existence which is also manifested in the oneness of humanity.
The West was then still struggling to come to terms with the idea of common unity of humanity. The discovery of humanity being but one branch in the grand tree of life as revealed by Charles Darwin, had yet again removed ‘man’, especially the white man, from the centre of the biological universe as well.
The West tried to retain its collective racial ego through Social Darwinism as the answer to biological Darwinism.
Not only the religious fundamentalists who rejected outright evolution but also the philosophers of the West, whether the conservatives or the radicals including the emerging Marxists, who embraced varying degrees of social Darwinism.
They speculated that the ‘less evolved’ state of the non-European races justified colonialism which either eliminates or elevates the 'lower races' through a very slow process of 'civilising' that happens, of course, under colonisation.
Even Marx and Engels basically advocated such a process.
Here, it should be stated that Charles Darwin himself was not very comfortable with the idea of social Darwinism. After Darwin, many leading social philosophers of the West, as well as those influenced by the West embraced Social Darwinism eagerly.
Swami Vivekananda is refreshingly different. Long before ‘intelligent design’ (ID) became the camouflage for creationism, Vivekananda refuted the ID argument. With Sankhya Darshana he knocked down the concept of creator:
The argument from design claims that intelligence precedes form; but if intelligence is the cause of anything, it itself is in its turn an effect. It is Maya. God creates us, and we create God, and this is Maya.
In a scathing attack on design and creator that actually anticipates Dawkins, Vivekananda states:
We have seen first of all that this cannot be proved, this idea of a Personal God creating the world; is there any child that can believe this today? Because a Kumbhakara (pot-maker) creates a Ghata (pot), therefore a God created the world! ... Has ever your Personal God, the Creator of the world to whom you cry all your life, helped you — is the next challenge from modern science. They will prove that any help you have had could have been got by your own exertions, and better still, you need not have spent your energy in that crying, you could have done it better without that weeping and crying. And we have seen that along with this idea of a Personal God comes tyranny and priestcraft. Tyranny and priestcraft have prevailed wherever this idea existed, and until the lie is knocked on the head, say the Buddhists, tyranny will not cease.
Lest anyone rushes to map priest craft to Brahmins because of the colonial-evangelical negative stereotypes, Swami Vivekananda warns:
You may do away with the Brahmin, but mark me, those who do so will put themselves in his place and will be worse, because the Brahmin has a certain amount of generosity in him, but these upstarts are always the worst of tyrannisers.
Then with Yoga and Advaita he could check Darwinism becoming Social Darwinism.
For him, the modern research will make "the evolution theory of the ancient Yogis … better understood", the yogic conception of evolution provides "a better explanation”. He correctly cautions that "sexual selection and survival of the fittest", which are terms used by evolutionists when taken into human realm could "furnish every oppressor with an argument to calm the qualms of conscience”.
In his explanation of the Yoga aphorisms of Patanjali, he contrasts the flawed social Darwinism with the inner evolution that Patanjali brings out:
Men are not lacking, who, posing as philosophers, want to kill out all wicked and incompetent persons (they are, of course, the only judges of competency) and thus preserve the human race! But the great ancient evolutionist, Patanjali, declares that the true secret of evolution is the manifestation of the perfection which is already in every being; that this perfection has been barred and the infinite tide behind is struggling to express itself.
To him "there is no reason to believe that competition is necessary to progress" rather "when knowledge breaks these bars, the god becomes manifest" as becoming god is the next step for humans.
Interestingly, in the writings of Swami Vivekananda conceptually (‘filling in’ as the cause of speciation) and more explicitly in Sri Aurobindo, a kind of premonition of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ – sudden bursts rather than gradualism in evolution.
The Western society, post-Darwin and till Holocaust, was drunk to saturation with the idea of eugenics and social-Darwinism. Those who were labelled invalids and hereditary criminals were barred from marriages and jailed. Sometimes they were forcefully made sterile. All these practices were justified in the name of science.
In India, the colonial government enacted the 'Criminal Tribes Acts' and branded entire communities as criminals based on birth. However, Swami Vivekananda rose against this tide and declared that human evolution is based on qualitatively different process.
It was only after the Nazi Holocaust and the horrors of mass killing of mentally challenged and physically challenged populations as well as elimination of the ethnic groups labelled as 'inferior' by Nazi State machine that the Western thinkers realised the immense folly of their upholding of social Darwinism.
As against these there have been voices in isolated isles of the West which spoke against social Darwinism, and interestingly invariably these voices had a Vedantic connection.
One such example is Pyotr Kropotkin. Kropotkin emphasised that not struggle but mutual cooperation is a strong process that shapes evolution.
His book Mutual Aid a Factor in Evolution was published in 1902. In 1900, he met Swami Vivekananda at Paris. Author P Mukherjee writes: "The core of these meetings, I would like to believe (and believe) is to explore the distinctiveness of different shades of opinion, however, diverse they are or they might look to be."
Swami Vivekananda's observation, that the evolution of non-human organic life and human evolution making an organically united yet a qualitatively different process is accepted by evolutionists today.
Even die-hard neo-Darwinian like Richard Dawkins speaks of human evolution as governed by memes and extended phenotypes unlike the other organisms where genes and selection pressures alone determine evolution.
This is a collective evolution. System biologists like V I Vernadsky speak of transition from biosphere to noosphere. Sri Aurobindo took forward the vision of Swami Vivekananda and spoke of supra-mental consciousness descending on the planet.
And this vision never favoured any specific race or culture but entire humanity. Both Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda recognised that all humanity owes its evolution to all humanity. In fact, Swami Vivekananda, rejecting the Aryan race theory, sharply reacted to those who spoke high of their 'Aryan' superiority or Aryans civilising the world thus:
If I am grateful to my white-skinned Aryan ancestor, I am far more so to my yellow-skinned Mongolian ancestor, and most so of all, to the black-skinned Negritoid!
So, what Swami Vivekananda set in motion on September 11 at Chicago is the continuing declaration of Vedantic humanist ideal which manifests itself when humanity liberates itself from the shackles of all artificial barriers it has built around it and realises that it is part of the great cosmic divinity that permeates and animates all existence.
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