by Acarya Vedaprajinananda Avadhuta
One of the important factors in the development of any society is a proper social outlook. In the past, entire civilizations have weakened and crumbled simply because one class or group in the society considered another to be inferior and treated them as slaves. Today one of the greatest weaknesses of contemporary civilization is that there is no proper regard and mutual love amongst humans. Race is pitted against race, religion against religion, linguistic group against linguistic group. The divisions in human society are endless and are sapping the vital life out of our civilization.
Not only is there a lack of mutual respect among people, but humans have lost all esteem, appreciation and responsibility towards the animals and plants who share this planet with us. Our wanton destruction of the plant and animal life and our unthinking pollution of the air, earth, sea and space threaten to permanently damage the earth’s eco-system making it inhospitable for all forms of life.
In his earliest writings on this subject, P.R. Sarkar said that humans must think of themselves as part of one great family comprising all of humanity, rather than identifying with a particular race, religion, nationality or linguistic group. This type of social outlook he termed “universalism”. In 1982 he further elaborated on the method of attaining universalism in a series of discourses published in a book Liberation of Intellect: Neohumanism. In that book he noted that traditional humanism has not been capable of elevating humanity to the height of universalism and presented a reformulated humanism based on spirituality, and called it “Neohumanism.”
Neohumanism is derived from an understanding of the fundamental nature (dharma) of human beings. Human life has three aspects: physical, mental and spiritual. Regarding the physical aspect, the science of biology has already said much about the workings of the human body. However, the psycho-spiritual needs or humans have not been, up to now fully understood despite the efforts of psychologists and spiritual seekers.
The higher possibilities of human nature demand that the mind be free to expand and to flow towards the Supreme Consciousness (God). When this happens, a human being develops love (devotion) for the Supreme Consciousness and love for all other beings. This love for the Supreme Consciousness should be considered to be the most valuable treasure of humanity. Without it life becomes dry and meaningless.
Today, however, humanity does not have a proper philosophy of life and so the society which we have constructed is not in harmony with the inner longings of the human heart. Materialism pervades all parts of present day life and materialism is crushing the devotional sentiment in humans. As a result of this imbalance between the inner needs and outer realities we find much misery, depression and mental illness in society today.
The solution to this rectifying this imbalance is a philosophy which harmonizes the inner needs of humanity with the outer demands of the material world. In order to implement such a way of life we must know the ways in which the spiritual treasure (devotion) of humanity is threatened. There are three human sentiments which impede the expansion of the mind towards universalism.
When one is obsessed with one’s geographical land, this is called geo-sentiment. In the past, and even today, many people were concerned only with their own land or own country. Out of this love of their land they evolved other sub-sentiments such as geo-patriotism, geo-politics, geo-religion and geo-economics. Using geo-patriotism to stir the masses, politicians have goaded them into fighting many bloody wars. The colonialism of the past and the neo-colonialism of today is nothing but a form of geo-economics (“Let us develop our own country even if it creates misery and poverty in satellite states” is the slogan behind geo-economics).
Another sentiment which has harmed humanity is called socio-sentiment. Here people focus their attention on the particular social group to which they belong. It may be a national, linguistic, social or religious group. Although this sentiment is sometimes more expansive than geo-sentiment (if the particular social group happens to be very large), still it creates a group consciousness which comes into conflict with the sentiment of other groups. The religious wars of the past and even of the present were and are caused by this socio-sentiment.
Finally, the expansion of the human mind is blocked by another seemingly “good” sentiment that is, “humanism”. Love and respect for other human beings or “humanism” should be a noble sentiment uniting humanity and elevating the minds of everyone. However, ordinary humanism has some serious shortcomings. First of all, such humanism does not extend to plants and animals. People talk of “human rights” but continue to deny the rights of plants and animals to exist. Another defect of humanism is that, bereft of a strong spiritual background it often degenerates into pseudo-humanism. For example, many so-called developed nations give “foreign aid” to less developed countries in the name of humanism, but behind the scenes the multinational corporations of these same nations are extracting all the wealth out of the less developed nations, creating extensive misery for people and massive ecological destruction in their reckless pursuit of profits.
Shrii Sarkar has done more than describe the problems caused by these limited sentiments. He also presents the ways in which to overcome the sentiments which stand in the way of our developing universalistic consciousness. He says that geo-sentiments can only be countered when humans develop their faculty of rationality. Rational thinking is an extremely valuable tool which humans have at their disposal. Through proper study and use of the mind, humans can easily see through the geo-sentiments propagated by demagogues.
In this regard, Shril Sarkar emphasizes that mental analysis must not be checked by dogmas which he defines as ideas or belief systems which attempt to limit the field of human thinking. In some countries, for example, one may discuss economics only within the framework of a certain philosophy. This is a dogma, not very different from the religious dogmas of some countries where spiritual or social ideas can only be discussed within the bounds laid out by a particular religious faith. All dogmas, whether they are presented as religious, or even are claimed to be “scientific”, are dangerous for human welfare.
Regarding social sentiments, the best way to overcome them is by adhering to the principle of social equality (Sama Samaj Tattva). Amongst humans, two principle psychologies can be observed. Some people live only for their own selfish pleasure and never think of the needs or rights of others. A more lofty outlook is where people have a determination to move towards the supreme consciousness, and along the way they make a resolve to eliminate the social inequalities which divide humanity. Sarkar explains that the “endeavour to advance towards the ultimate reality by forming a society free from all inequalities with everyone of the human race moving in unison is called Sama Samaj Tattva.”
Thus, socio-sentiments can only be overcome with the spiritual outlook inherent in the Sama Samaj Tattva. The key to removing social inequalities is a “proto-spiritual mentality.” Proto-spiritual mentality is the attempt to focus the mind on a spiritual object (the Supreme Consciousness). When this kind of thought becomes the principle of human life then socio-sentiments can be easily surmounted. In order to overcome the defects of humanistic sentiments, first humans will have to accept that all creatures have existential value. That is, all creatures have a right to live in the world and develop according to their inherent nature. Humans will have to take steps to see that the habitats of animals and plants are not destroyed even if these plants and animals have no apparent utility value to humans. To fight against pseudo-humanism, we will have to be motivated by spirituality (movement of the mind towards the Supreme Consciousness). Humanism can not remain as an intellectual concept, rather it must be nourished by a flow of love. When one does spiritual practices, love for all beings arises within, and when this is expressed in individual and collective life, then spirituality becomes humanity’s mission and universalism is attained.
Shrii Sarkar maintains that Neohumanism is the solution to the world’s social problems and has described the ways in which present social, political and religious leaders have been trying to block the progress of humanity through dogmas, pseudo-humanism, pseudo spirituality and half-hearted and incomplete measures of reform. Despite the dismal record of present and past leaders, we should remain optimistic because once humanity accepts the cosmic consciousness as the goal of life and collectively move towards that goal, then we will overcome all obstacles, small and large.