To begin with, I would like to thank the organizers of today’s presentation, Bhavan’s College and its Cultural Centre, the World Centre for Humanist Studies (India), and the book publisher, Foundation for Humanization.
The book we are presenting is not a complete study of Indian history. It is a collection of brief notes that are just like pointers to remarkable Indian facts, events, personalities. Interested readers may look deeper by using those pointers to learn more.
However, being in India, I am sure that those present here know much more about these items than this writer.
The study chooses to highlight three decisive periods of Indian history. I characterised these as periods of Aryanisation, of Theocracy and of Colonialism. By period of “Aryanisation” I mean the rising influence of so-called Aryan people and culture associated to Vedic tradition. Much intellectual debate is still going on about all this, but what is historically certain is that there was a clear interaction between clashing diversities in the Indian subcontinent. By period of “Theocracy”, I mean the rising influence of Islam and the Mughal Empire. By period of “Colonialism,” closer to us in time, I mean the rising influence of Western colonial powers on the subcontinent.
Indian civilization went through significant transformations during those periods. It is difficult to pinpoint precise beginnings or ends of such periods, but we see their rise, their reaching a certain height and their decline. Moreover, the influences of an earlier period do not vanish overnight, to give room to the next period. On the contrary, each period builds on the earlier one.
Within those periods, we see the interaction of different cultures in different fields, whether social, political, religious, philosophical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc. The interactions were sometimes violent and sometimes peaceful. Those processes produced countless changes at all levels of society in those times. Some changes took place rather fast while others took a longer time to manifest.
In each period, the interaction took place in three phases. The first phase was one of a clear differentiation, many a times through confrontation, establishing the differences between the parties involved, entrenching each one in its own identity, and resisting the advance of the other.
The second stage was of complementation, in which all parties involved were mutually accepting, borrowing, or adopting elements from the other, sometimes by imposition, sometimes by imitation, convenience, etc.
The third and final stage is of a synthesis, in which the interaction has already modified the original identity of all parties involved. None of them remains what it used to be before the interactions started. The resulting society is a merge or blend of characteristics from all the parties. As time passes by, society has incorporated as its very own what was previously “alien”, or “odd”, what was part of the former foe or enemy. So much so, that common citizens mostly and usually ignore the origin of certain cultural traits, considering them natural and timeless, i.e. ahistorical.
The processes we mention are seen by this author as a “convergence of diversity”. Such is the process we are today witnessing across the whole world.
By “globalisation”, we understand as a biased process by which a dominant centre tries to impose a particular cultural model on the rest of the world. This is why I prefer to use the new word “worldisation”, in which the “convergence of diversity” takes place by multilateral influence thanks to growing interconnections and interrelations.
History shows that humanity built civilizations that initially rose and developed in relative isolation, with limited or no interaction – a stage of differentiation. In course of time, thanks to migrations, conquests, communications and transportation, those civilizations and their cultures increased their contacts, typically through war and trade – a stage of complementation. The pace of history began accelerating these interactions, thus creating more complex networks of interaction and integration. In present times, thanks to a similar acceleration in technology, the word is becoming a global network which is hardly at any point isolated from the others, with all the positive and negative effects this entails – we are living in the stage of planetary synthesis. As they say, the world is becoming one, and no civilization can claim an identity uninfluenced by others. This would be as impossible as claiming an individual personality completely devoid of social influence.
Now, throughout these processes, some individuals, movements, currents of thought, philosophies, etc. incarnated that led to growing interactions and mergers. In our book we highlight those which did that by building bridges among the diversities, promoting non-violence and understanding, non-discrimination, those that went beyond the official truths in search of higher truths and higher ‘goods’, those that promoted the advancement of happiness and freedom. Particularly, we highlight every instance in which human beings or human life was placed at the centre of all concerns. That is, when happiness and freedom of human beings were placed above all else.
Not necessarily do we endorse everything about them, and sometimes we find a blend of light and shadow in those instances. Perhaps we may say that everything in history is controversial and open to debate. But our point is only to rescue their positive contributions.
We are referring to individuals, groups, currents of thought and events that displayed one or more characteristics of what is called “the humanist attitude”. Such attitude is defined by 1) placing the human being as the central value and concern; 2) affirming the equality of all human beings; 3) acknowledging both personal and cultural diversity; tending towards developing knowledge beyond that accepted as absolute truth today; and 4) repudiating violence in all its forms.
This is the positive attitude highlighted by our Universalist Humanism, as expounded by Silo, the founder of the worldwide Humanist movement. Though the term Humanism is historically associated with the Italian Renaissance, our Humanism is not inspired in it, but in the contributions made by all cultures. Every culture had its “humanist moments” in which the humanist attitude – as we define it – pervaded its society in all fields. This is what we tried to identify in Indian civilization and highlight in this book.
The Humanist Movement was born in 1969 to help produce a positive transition from the present stage of social and personal crisis into a new and higher stage of humanity. The integration of humanity into one universal human nation lies in the future, inspiring the best feelings, thoughts and actions of humanists – whether they call themselves using this name or not.
It will not be – it should not be – one human nation in which one culture will prevail over the others and shape them all in its own image. No. It will be a convergence of diversities in which every culture will maintain its own characteristics. Diversity is here seen as wealth, and not as a defect.
Why did we choose to find these traits in Indian history and culture? We did it because the “humanist attitude” is the meeting point and the bridge among different cultures. Many traits generate differences and strife among people, so we cannot build union on their basis. We are already different in already established lines of demarcation such us western and eastern, developed and developing, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, god-fearing and god-deniers, leftist and rightist, capitalist and socialist, cricket and soccer players, etc.
In order to build the future universal human nation, we cannot wait until one party yields to the other – which is not just unfeasible but undesirable as well.
We can build communication and togetherness by banking and stressing on what constitutes a common denominator among diversities. And not just any common denominator, but one that makes every culture advance in the present as it has in the past, and will surely make them advance in the future. That is, the humanist attitude. This makes happiness and freedom advance, and the evidence of which is comparatively easy to find and acknowledge.
Every culture has expressed that humanist attitude in its own ways and according to times and circumstances, but the essential traits are clearly recognizable in its history. When we learn that, we come closer to that culture, no matter how different it may look on the surface.
And the same happens among individuals – in spite of their different languages, gender, creeds, political leanings, social status, habits, etc. We are referring to universal and deep values that transcend superficial differences.
Summarizing, this book pinpoints and underlines traits of Indian culture and history that show the humanist attitude at its best. To do that, the book shows a process of convergence of diversity in which that humanist attitude manifested in order to further that process. This makes Indian civilization universal, as it brings it closer to other peoples and cultures through similar humanist moments. With due consideration, India’s long history of convergence of diversity is a case study, resembling a similar process that, on a wider scale, is taking place in today’s world. May it be taken as a paradigm and as a source of inspiration.
The book is inconclusive, indeed, since the convergence of diversity is still going on, and the final stage – and a decisive one – is the ultimate convergence of India along with all other cultures into one universal human nation.
I trust that Indian civilization is playing and will play a significant role in this.
Finally, I thank you all for your kind attention. My best wishes to you all.
Some notes useful for introducing the author:
Architect Fernando A. Garcia (born in 1950 in Mar del Plata, Argentina) is a scholar and a social activist inspired by Silo’s work. Silo (penname of Mario Luis Rodríguez Cobos) is the founder of worldwide Humanist movement – a novel and influential current of thought and social action based on New Humanism (or Universalist Humanism).
Garcia has been devoted to his vocation since he took Silo as his spiritual guide back in 1970. This has taken him often to Asia, Europe and Latin America, where he travelled, resided and developed a wide range of activities.
As an activist of the Humanist Movement, he contributed to set up and provide orientation to working teams, organizations, publications, campaigns, mass media action and various other activities in many countries. These spanned the fields of social work, culture, ecology, human rights, and, generally speaking, voluntary work for a positive change in society and individuals.
He is vice-president of the Humanist Support Association based in Italy, and, in India, he is a long-standing collaborator of the Foundation for Humanization, and Humanscape magazine. His writing on India is the fruit of personal experience working amid an Indian culture and its people, matured through many years of work in urban and rural areas.
Besides his participation in conferences and seminars, Fernando Garcia is the author of diverse articles and essays. The present book introduces his works as sponsored by the World Centre of Humanist Studies (Moscow).
(Next presentation in Chennai and Delhi)