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Modernity and Vedanta

In various intellectuals groups the concept of modernity has not found proper definition and explanation as a single accepted theory. We try to reduce the subject of universal dimension to a partial regional narrowness, as in trying to relate modernity to a particular nation state. It can't be reduced to 'Indian or American' modernity or as 'European Modernity'. Per force modernity acquires universal dimension, in so far as it is a higher evolved concept above regionalism and sectarianism.

In one of the leading national dailies of India, a scholar concluded his article (Modernity Is More Than Marketplace) as:

"...Rather it (the concept of modernity) hinges on a re-evaluation of attitudes, values, belief systems, and institutional arrangements by individual, groups or societies, in the light of development of knowledge."

One may pose a question here: what is the source of such attitudes, values, belief systems, and how to re-evaluate knowledge?

Modern evolutionary biologists say:

" The human genes are basically selfish. Universal love and welfare of whole human species are the concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense, if we depend only on genetic structure. Morality based on evolutionary progress is a myth. Human culture based on gene's law of universal ruthless selfishness builds a nasty society to live in. The genetic machine goes on producing such a biological human race where social structure of co-operation, generosity and selflessness is a dream."

Is there then no hope for the future of mankind?

The breakthrough is possible. It is possible because, unwittingly, the genes can be tempted to shed their selfishness by conscious and deliberate efforts to develop or foster value-system in ourselves. We may then understand what our selfish genes are up to and may have at least a chance to upset their designs. No species, other than human beings, has ever aspired to do such a thing to the genes!

The power to defy selfish tendencies, to find a deliberate and conscious way to cultivate and nurture pure disinterested altruism, comes from the innermost depth dimension of our own self, which Vedanta calls as Atman. Genes, biology, nature, money-name-fame, literacy, and modern science are not the sources of these values. Without reference to the concept of spirituality -universality of soul- as expounded in various Upanishads, the talk on modernity cannot be conclusive. The genetic trick/design prevents us even from accepting the statement that the source of values is "indwelling Atman".

Spiritual practice -Sadhana- helps us to understand the depth dimension of our mind. Various methods are available to bring forth our hidden abilities for immense human possibilities. Spiritual discipline also brings about necessary changes in our body and mind required to sustain newly acquired spiritual values and state of consciousness. Similarly, changes in the mind allow us to grasp the limitations of sense perceptions as the source of knowledge. To reach a higher realm of spiritual perception, in essence, should be taken as the essence of modernity.

Everyone is capable of organizing his/her life so as to get at least a glimpse of this truth. One may not realize it fully in one's lifetime, but even a partial realization makes one's faith and conviction firmer; the aspirant becomes fearless. One can then influence others, with newly acquired confidence and knowledge, to believe in the spiritual nature of human being, and to make requisite attempt for undertaking spiritual practice for the realization of spiritual truths.

In this process values are born. The generating factory of value-system is an experimental attempt in one's life to obtain spiritual knowledge of "divinity and universality of soul". The broadening of vision by altruism, compassion, concern for others, and selflessness culminates in universal love and total freedom. These are the milestones on the path of spiritual progress.

"Be and make", this is the key to spread the message and make the world a better place to live in, for us and for generations to come. Deliberate cultivation of values in one's own life first and then attempting "re-evaluation of attitudes, values, belief systems in the light of the development of (this) knowledge" will bring the needed uniformity and universality to the meaning of modernity.
c s shah
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