India’s philosophical, spiritual traditions can give a new direction to global sustainable development

Instead of following the unsustainable growth example of the US and China, which is based on extreme greed and a very materialistic outlook, we should give the world a new direction of development where high technology is guided by spirituality, writes Anil K. Rajvanshi for South Asia Monitor

Anil K. Rajvanshi Oct 20, 2021
India’s philosophical, spiritual traditions

India has produced some of the greatest spiritual thoughts of mankind. The ancient spiritual thought was very scientific in nature and based on a deep inquiry of truth. The UpanishadsPatanjali Yoga SutrasBhagvad Gita, etc., are part of that great tradition.

 The ritualistic tradition of the Hindu religion came later on when the spirit of inquiry degenerated. This degeneration of thought, however, provided an impetus for the rejuvenation of India by the creation of new thinking in the form of BuddhismJainismSikhism, etc. It was as if the old spiritual thought was washed and made clean by these new developments.

 The degeneration of great thought took place when rulers started controlling people. Spiritual thought got converted into religion which allowed the rulers to control people and resources and the rituals and associated systems of the religion helped to increase this control.

 Rituals help to create fear which makes it easy to control a person. For example, the rituals like you have to pray so many times; have to give so much prasad (devotional offering made to a god, typically consisting of food) to the temple; wear this ring or the bracelet; give so much material to a pundit are all part of the mechanism to control the person. Fear is put in the minds of people that if you do not perform the rituals then a major calamity will fall on you. Fear is a powerful mechanism to control people. 

 Throughout the history of mankind, all “isms” are used to control the population, whether it is a religion or a system of governance. The authors of new thoughts did not control. It was their followers who used their ideas to create isms for control. They put fear either by physical or mental means. In the present scenario, the fear of pandemics also came in very handy to a lot of dictators and rulers to control the population. This fear creation (either real or fake) by rulers throughout history helps them to divide and rule.

 Seeking the truth, spirit of inquiry

 By nature, a very powerful brain will always seek the truth. The ultimate truth is beyond caste, creed, color, country, etc. Old rishis who developed India’s great spiritual thoughts were people endowed with very powerful brains who lived in a rich and beautiful country like India. Once their basic needs were satisfied, their minds soared to understand the universal truths. Thus Patanjali, and authors of UpanishadsGita, etc. were seekers of truth.

 The ancient Indian spiritual thought always encouraged a spirit of enquiry. The guru helped the disciple by pointing and guiding him/her to the goal; the disciple then followed it based on his degree of application. There was no control exercised, just the guidance. It is this spirit of inquiry and seeking truth that is presently missing in our society. Somehow it has to be inculcated in our children and young adults.

 India has always progressed economically, culturally, and emotionally when it pursued the path of spirituality and search for the truth.

 Thus it can be conjectured that the general prosperity in ancient India followed after a new spiritual thought came. The Mauryan empire, especially Ashoka, followed after Buddha; Harshvardhan’s empire was inspired by Adi ShankaracharyaChola dynasty and the rise of the great Hindu Kingdoms of Southeast Asia including Angor Wat, came after Sage Ramanuja

 This inspiration is visible in the wonderful architecture of the temples. I have always wondered about what forces shaped the lives of the workers who made the temples which took years to make – some even more than a hundred years. It was not simply a paid job but a part of great thought and a mission that inspired and guided the workers. This made them proud of their creation and allowed the flow of high-quality craftsmanship.

 In the recent past, the work of NASA space program followed this process. More than building the rockets it was the desire to win the space race against Russians and a greater desire to conquer space-the next frontier, that drove a lot of people to do wonderful work in NASA.

 Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts

 I also feel that the great thought of Mahatma Gandhi of non-violence and adherence to truth, which had fired the whole of India to win our independence, would have helped produce a great economic activity in the country if we had not followed the socialism route. After all, Gandhiji inspired industrialists like Birla, TataBajaj, etc. to help in the Independence movement and nation-building and I am sure they and other industrialists would have continued with even greater vigor in this task if they had been allowed the freedom to do so.

 Similarly, the desire in each Indian to help build the newly independent India was very strong, and when that desire did not get a proper outlet in the socialist structure then the enthusiasm slowly faded.

 This can have some lessons for the present dispensation. Instead of following the unsustainable growth example of the US and China, which is based on extreme greed and a very materialistic outlook, we should follow our great philosophical and spiritual traditions and give the world a new direction of development based on the mantra of “high technology guided by spirituality can produce sustainable development and happiness”.

 (The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at

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