We are in the midst of unprecedented times, with a raging pandemic setting off far-reaching disruptions and enforcing adjustment to a new normal. In consonance with changes everywhere, the learning exercise is moving from a straight line (learning first in schools and colleges and then applying that same learning throughout one’s work), to a continuum of lifelong learning (learning and application of that learning in several cycles of continuous personal evolution), necessitating a massive overhaul of the ecosystem around us. K-12 schools have to be enabled to create lifelong learners. Once they create lifelong learners, the learning curve is programmed to go from simply learn to learn, learn to unlearn, and learn to relearn, in a process that will go on for decades. Digital learning and virtual classrooms have become the new normal way of imparting education, likely to enlarge into dual mode combining both real and virtual classroom sessions. People are living longer, occasional threat of a pandemic notwithstanding; their professional lives are up against unexpected complexities. At least four or five career options, traversing through distinctly different jobs, are explored during the tenure of productive years. All of that would compel the need to learn on a continuum and learn on a continual basis, leading to challenging imperative of learning just in case, vis-à-vis learning just in time. Learning just in case is about learning everything one can, which could be potentially used in later situations. Learning just in time is about learning exactly what is required in differing contexts. To switch to that philosophy, one must be a lifelong learner. Absent knowing how to learn to learn, it is not possible to switch to learning in a just-in-time paradigm.
Individuals and nation states are withdrawing more and more into themselves in the present de-globalizing world. “People are divided racially, religiously, politically, economically, and this division is fragmentation. It is bringing about great chaos in the world. There is the spreading violence of man against man… This is what is happening; and the responsibility of the educator is really very great. He is concerned in all these schools to bring about a good human being who has a feeling of global relationship, who is not nationalistic, regional, separate, religiously clinging to the old dead traditions, which really have no value at all. The responsibility of the educator becomes more and more serious, more and more committed, more and more concerned with the education of his students”, opined J Krishnamurti long years ago. If the teacher and student lose their deep connect with nature, to the trees, to the rolling waves of the sea, each will certainly lose his relationship with humanity.
Humanism and a sense of fair play are clearly on the wane in the field of international relations. The 21stC was generally deemed to be an Asian century holding the promise of peace and prosperity but it is apparently descending into a spectre of Wolf Warriors arraying menacingly around territorial borders of countries. Years ago, political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously coined the phrase, “the end of history”, predicting the triumph of western liberal democracy post the decline of communism, but sometime later, swept by winds of change, he relapsed into a slow but sure recant. Fukuyama now envisions a grand decoupling – at first economic and then political – between the China model and liberal western democratic model with serious implications for global stability. India is beginning to discern the full implications of that prediction as China’s power-obsessed leadership finds it increasingly hard to resist the lure of a bygone era where the arbitrariness of a regime or quirkiness of an individual could alter the course of geopolitics or the destiny of a nation. China’s bellicose assertions and brazen encroachment beyond borders of neighbouring lands and waters stem from an autocratic hubris clearly set for a speedy implosion, as no construct built wholly on opacity, political illegitimacy and a thorough disregard for an ethical rule-based world order can withstand the human yearning for freedom and harmony. The liberal democratic order espoused by India accommodates diversity, dissent and non-conformity, freedom of thought and action; non-conformism and liberal ethos fuel the spirit and allow imagination a free rein. The result is spurt in creativity and blossoming of human ingenuity; whereas all such urges are mostly snuffed out by rigours of a totalitarian system mandating conformity and unfailing compliance.
The discovery that the universe had a beginning fourteen billion years ago has dramatically changed how we see our place in the cosmos. We now know that we are all part of a vast unfolding cosmic process that had a beginning, and that is apparently headed somewhere. We know we are going somewhere because the mysterious beginning of this process rung in with a monumental, creative leap from primordial nothingness to the dramatic emergence of energy and matter, and, with that, the beginning of time itself.
Around ten billion years later, the miracle of life emerged from seemingly dead matter. And then around four billion years thereafter, the biggest and most significant leap forward occurred with the emergence of mind. Developing the capacity to think, to conceive, to imagine, the universe became able to bear witness to itself.
We are on a moving train that is in a perpetual process of complexification. The universe comes to life and becomes conscious through us. Our brains have evolved a highly developed capacity for consciousness and deep interiority.
From both a spiritual and scientific perspective, we recognize this universal creative unfolding as a virtually infinite process of becoming, with no end in sight. We recognize this process is one unbroken, unfolding, interdependent, unimaginably complex happening that never ends and which perpetually reaches beyond itself, as a quest for the ultimate reality, the unity of existence beyond endless pluralities of manifestation. Science usually concerns real nature of the physical universe within space time causality. In its parallel quest for ultimate reality, physical sciences are crossing the barriers of physics, entering the domain of metaphysics.
Scientific materialism, dating from Newton, Descartes or Laplace, had been a study of matter with atoms as the building block, essentially separate from mind or subjective observations. From this standpoint, Max Planck thought, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature… Every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being”.
Consciousness is emerging as the indispensable factor in quantum physics and neurophysiology. Max Planck held that matter is derived from consciousness. Schrodinger said that consciousness is the real substratum of all matter and it is always singular. It has no location and uses brain as the receptor mechanism. The wave equation of Schrodinger represents a world of multidimensional reality and validates that the world is a projection of mind.
Explorations into mystery of the universe have become a spiritual passion with many. The traditional matter and matter, mind and creation and creator differentiation stands fused in a holistic background of all pervading consciousness contemplated in non-dualistic spirituality. Science could ultimately emerge as the science of consciousness in tune with the essence of spirituality. A journey towards such an exalted state of awareness as a liberating goal, may begin with making friends across various cultural and social borders as a part of the ‘spirituality of friendship’. In our wondrously interconnected world, spiritual growth in the present times is best measured not only within religious and national territories, but also between them. One of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity is when we have discovered the freedom, ease and ability to connect with those who think, believe, eat, clothe and live quite differently from us.
The strangest thing about the emotion called love, which ennobles those giving and receiving it, is that it is often born as a response to its polar opposite, hatred, the virulent and vicious cancer of the spirit. The medieval alchemists were widely believed to transmute base metals, like lead, into gold. The physical transmutation, however, was a metaphor used by alchemists to draw a veil over their real quest, which was to find the ‘elixir of life’, to make a substance called the ‘philosopher’s stone’, and transform our worldly devices and desires into the gold of spiritual enlightenment. Just a few of days back, my home town experienced a similar alchemy at work, transmuting leaden sentiments into altruistic gold, when a poor woman afflicted by hepatitis was in critical condition in a local hospital requiring liver transplant for survival, a pricey procedure way beyond the widowed woman’s affordability in spite of having a willing organ donor in her daughter. The daughter’s heart-wrenching appeal for help met with an overwhelming public response resulting in inflow of funds that in addition to covering the medical cost would provide a surplus for her future needs. The Greco-Christian term described this love as Agape, to distinguish it from romantic, familial or patriotic love. Agape is the love that celebrates the indivisible oneness of all humanity, regardless of religious, racial, gender and regional divides. This creedless, borderless love that springs spontaneously is the closest one can get to an intimation of that which is divine.
The making of friends across borders – of religion, culture, nation, caste, gender, race, class – enables one to enter into a unique, yet hospitable space of unfamiliarity, similar to entering a divine space, for the divine or depth dimension of reality is essentially unfamiliar and cannot easily be manipulated into convenient categories of thought and expression. This space may seem quaint or even disconcerting at first, but reassured by the presence and accompaniment of a friend, one begins to feel gradually and gently at home.
The common humanity shared by all cannot be contained or divided by the several artificially constructed boundaries created over time. The spirituality of cross-border friendship is based on the deeper reality of a common human identity and kinship. National and other forms of social borders are contrived and fluid, and unlikely to stand the test of time. Friendship triggers the erosion of artificial margins, and provides a fertile soil for promoting inclusiveness and goodwill as opposed to the disquieting power of divisiveness. These relationships not only enable our entry into another human world, but also call our own limited horizon of meaning and purpose into question. From such relations, mysterious and magical new worlds promise to emerge: of mutual understanding and productive ways of being and relating. There is a new freedom to relativize or question one’s own ways, and to recognize that other ways of being human are also legit. These relations also prompt a questioning of the violence that lies embedded in each other’s histories and social practices, providing an implicit opening for a mutual supplication of forgiveness for past excesses of each other’s forebears, and thereby consigning iniquities of the past to history’s dustbins. More positively, such close interactions enrich and embellish old customs with newer ways of expression and celebration, reconstructing a new world of social relationships based on reinterpretation of old identities. Immigration and exchange of people and ideas led to growth and enterprise around the globe across millennia. The human race did not attain its current modernity and sophistication by being insular. Insularity, fostering xenophobia and nativism, also degenerating into colourism, racism and casteism, translates into dumbing down of societies. By forging equations across the spectrum of communities and cultures, we realize the potential of becoming more human and integrated ourselves, offering ourselves as radiators of bonhomie and happiness.