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11TH WORLD PUBLIC FORUM DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATIONS, RHODES, OCTOBER 2013
Roundtable on "The Traditions and Future of Asian Civilizations -- Politics, Economics, and Religion"
The boundaries of the Asian continent are ill-defined and often not naturally traced. Conventionally Asia begins at Istanbul and on the isthmus of Suez in the South but Russia can be said to be part of it too, as Gumilev argued, and from that perspective Europe also belongs in it. Asia cannot hence be conceived without taking into account the hybrid concept of Eurasia.
In the last few decades and even more so since the beginning of the 21st century one can observe at least five major trends and harbingers of the future common to the Asian continent.
1. Asia is rediscovering its historic, cultural, and spiritual unity, partly as a result of the gradual fading of an often divisive colonial heritage, globalization, and the modern communication and transportation technologies. The intense exchange of ideas, knowledge, artistic concepts and practices between South, Central, and East Asia during millenia is too well known to be recalled in detail here. Hinduism and Buddhism before Islam pervaded the continent from one end to another. Although it is too early to accept as definitive the apparent evidence that much of the population of early historic West Asia, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent shared the same genetic heritage (1), communications and trade between Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Iran, and India are known to go back at least four thousand years. The penetration of Indian and Chinese cultures in what is justly known as Indochina and through the Malay archipelago as far as Australia is also very ancient and attested by multiple scientific findings, ethnographic, linguistic, artistic, and epigraphic.
It is significant for instance that the Evenki (Siberian) name "Shaman" that has become universally used is in fact the Samskrit Sramana (pali: samana) that was applied to monks of the Buddhist Sangha, although it may have been in existence well before the time of the historical Buddha. In old Russian texts, the Indian Brahman is called Rahman, just as the Arabic epithet for the Almighty. Tibet, Turkestan, Siberia, the sprawling archipelago known as "Insulindia" (where the former continent of Sunda extended), the China Sea, and the Indian Ocean basin as well as the East African coastal region are areas where Indian, Chinese, Arabic, Persian, and Turkic influences have overlapped during many centuries. While Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Japanese cities since possibly two thousand years hosted Indian, Malay, Sinhalese and in some cases Arabic, Iranian, Syro-Lebanese, Assyrian, Armenian, Jewish and Central Asian merchants and priests, Sri Lanka as well as Indian and kingdoms and emporia, whether in Gujarat, Konkan, Bengal, and the Deccan had their colonies of traders and scholars from West Asia, China, and the Indochinese peninsula.
At the dawn of the Renaissance, Vasco de Gama found in Kerala a multi-religious, diverse, and open society in which Eastern Orthodox Christians were numerous, prosperous, and respected and where Hindu temples and ceremonies had a vaguely "Christian" flavour (due to Christianity's Asian origins and Indo-European ingredients) according to his first impression. Later on, Jesuit missionaries sought to highlight (some say exploit) the common features between Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism to build syncretistic Asian rites and texts for the Roman Church in the East.
The influence of Asian spiritualities on both the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian spiritual and civilizational features that shaped the West throughout the last two thousand years cannot be discounted either.
The cross-cultural fusion that took place across this vast area was facilitated by the fluid and variable nature of the political entities that held sway at various times. Empires and kingdoms waxed and waned and their borders moved according to the vagaries of history and the military fortunes of rulers. Central Asian dynasties ruled most of India and China for centuries, after Indian rulers had extended their power over large swathes of the transhimalayan highlands, whereas others conquered much of what is now Indonesia. A loose architecture of economic, political, and trade associations (a larger ASEAN of sorts) between the present nation-states could help revive that polycentric, plural, multinational community. The common concept of an immanent and transcendent law that "ecologically" regulates all things, Rita or Dharma in India, Tao in China, Asha and Daena in ancient Iran, provides a foundation for devising political, economic, and social institutions capable of co-existing peacefully without any of them necessarily assimilating the other in the absence of the aggressive, homogenizing expansionism, which characterizes statist mercantilism, liberal capitalism, and Marxist socialism.
2. Asian cultures are rediscovering the importance of their contribution to the formation of contemporary civilization, in such diverse areas as physics, cosmology (2), political science (3), psychology, paleo-anthropology (4), botany and ecology, chemistry, medicine and surgery, mathematics (5), the plastic arts, music, philosophy, and theology. The understanding of reality achieved in wisdom traditions such as Taoism, Samkhya, Vedanta, Tantra, Buddhist Madhyamika, and Pramana Vartika (6), as well as in Islamic Marifa, Asliya, and Tasawwuf (Sunni and Shi'ite gnosis of the Falasifa and Sufis), is being revisited in a contemporary scientific perspective and is transforming the ways and conclusions of the "western" quest for knowledge as well as opening new vistas for technologies of the mind and body, from technologically aided telepathy and life-enhancing mental disciplines to non-local teleportation, anti-gravitational and electro-magnetic energy generation and propulsion, nano-technology, bio-engineering, cloud and calm computing (7), 3-D printing, and the achievement of the Internet of Things, which actualizes the very ancient Vedic and Buddhist image of a cosmic diamond matrix or web of holographic mirrors in which all things exist potentially as co-dependent reflections of each other, ad infinitum.
The option of interpreting quantic reality through geometry as being made up of crystalline patterns instead of ever smaller and more elusive particles is now gaining acceptance (see note 3) but from a more mundane point of view it must be acknowledged that the discovery of the Higgs Boson as well as Einstein's earlier findings owe much to the pioneering work of the great Indian scientist S N Bose whose name was given to the boson (8).
The rediscovery of the philosophical and religious heritage takes various forms across Asia. In China, Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are attracting both devotees and students in many social strata with the encouragement of the State. In South East Asia, Buddhist and Muslim spiritual movements led by local scholars and mystics are multiplying and growing.
In officially secular India, where hundreds of religious and spiritual communities co-exist, innumerable private organizations such as the Satya Sai Baba and Baba Ramdev Divya Yoga Trusts, the Bocchasanansi Sri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the Art of Living Foundation, the Isha Foundation for the Inner Sciences, the Vipassana World Fellowship, the Oneness Temple and University, the Sri Tirumala Tirupatu Devasthanams, the Sri Aurobindo Society, the Radha Soami Satsang, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, and Chinmaya Missions and institutions, several Sikh, Jain, Tibetan Buddhist, Christian, Bahai, and Muslim organizations backed by as many diverse religions and communities build and sponsor schools, universities, cultural centres, hospitals, museums, places of worship, handicraft workshops and outlets, cooperatives, free-food kitchens, and charitable shelters all over the country and abroad. They represent the bewildering diversity of the country's human geography and history by catering to the needs and interests of many different layers of the population, from the poorer masses to the most affluent and cosmopolitan classes and their ability to raise very large amounts of funds from voluntary contributions and to build state-of-the-art facilities of all kinds, often at record speed, appears far superior to the average efficacy of government mechanisms, testifying to the fact that, despite the striking rise of consumerism and acquisitiveness, spirituality is still the most powerful force in India, even in cases when it is misused.
3. In parallel to these developments, Asia is obviously absorbing the globalised, mostly western techno-cultural heritage at an ever-accelerating pace, together with its consumeristic preoccupations and inherent materialism or skepticism. After Japan, China has become the Asian champion of this process of assimilation, which is meeting so far with more resistance in South Asia, partly because of enduring poverty, deeply entrenched socio-religious institutions, and internal conflicts that delay or mitigate the introduction of "modernity". One is reminded at this point that both Mahatma Gandhi and the later Hippy Counter-Modernist, anti-technocratic movements drew much of their inspiration from ancient Asian schools of thought. Though Chinese Confucianism seems less reluctant to accommodate a technocratic ideology because of its concern for social welfare and pragmatism, it insists on the primacy of moral and spiritual values over commercial and utilitarian concerns and Taoism can be regarded as a form of "counter-culture" in the Chinese context which may be gaining followers again in the positivist climate of infrastructural and social engineering that pervades the nation.
Come Carpentier de Gourdon*
Source: opednews.com (Oct. 18, 2013)
* Come Carpentier is a French writer, traveller, editor, consultant and researcher born in the Canary Islands, who lives and works in India and in Europe (France, Italy.Switzerland), helping manage a private foundation and contributing to various journals and magazines. He has developed a theory to unify science and traditional wisdom systems under th name of "cosmosphy and psychosynthesis" and is a member of various academic and cultural institutions in Europe, America and Asia.
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