Middle Path Scenario for Asia’s Future

A Spiritual Perspective

by Ac. Shambhushivananda Avt.

Summary of the paper presented at an international conference entitled “Global Transitions and Asia 2060: Climate, Political-Economy, and Identity” in November 2010 at Tamkang University. The objective of the conference was to explore Asia’s alternative futures given current conditions on the planet.

Each age manages the world in its own way with a certain level of consciousness and a moral compass –creating good and bad precedents for the future. We are left with dark ages or golden periods of human history depending on the pathways that we follow. Reforms, Renaissance and Revolutions are not uncommon in human history. The future of Asia too will depend on how its residents choose to envision and act. Our wisdom will lie in improving our individual and collective capabilities of leading the change in all three realms-physical, mental and spiritual. We can choose to remain complacent or decide to be pro-active in creating a world order which serves the highest good of the largest number of people – rather the greatest good of one and all including all the other species.

While thinking of Asia and its future, I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s [born in Bombay in 1865] well-known remark in the Ballad of East and West (1889): “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet”. It is worth quoting the refrain which opens, and closes, the poem in full:

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!


This has been quoted as saying that ‘it is indisputable that geographic points of the compass will never meet in this life, but that when two strong men [or equals] meet, the accidents of birth, whether of nationality, race, or family, do not matter at all – the Asian and the European are equals’. [1]

Upanishads – the old Indian scriptures have always spoken of the unity of human race and cosmic-fraternity irrespective of geographical differences. Hararme Pita’ Gaorii Ma’ta’ svadesha bhuvanatrayam. In the words of Shrii P. R. Sarkar “Supreme Consciousness is our father, Cosmic Operative Principle is our mother and the universe is our home. This universe is our common patrimony and we must utilize it as members of a joint family. The exploited and unexploited potentialities of the world do not belong to any particular person, nation or state. We are to utilize all the mundane and supra-mundane wealth accepting the principles of Cosmic Inheritance.” [2] Hence, the sooner we can forge out mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral alliances or even better , create an Asian Union based on equity for all and rule of law, the greater the chances of a bright future for all in Asia. This could be the greatest political and economic challenge of our times.

To simplify, I may start by saying that some of the key forces that are driving us towards different futures for Asia and the rest of the world include:

1. “peak-scenarios” of running out of almost everything such as peak oil, peak food, etc. [17 rare earth elements are depleting fast and we may face phosphate-famine in less than two decades];
2. cracks and fissures in the dominant world economic model that has thrived on “top-down trickle approach” ;
3. the “information-revolution” brought about by satellites and other technologies [fostering social-networking & raising expectations of the masses];
4. bio-technology & research on genetics; and
5. revolutionary innovations in green technology.

These and other developments and their ramifications can be viewed pessimistically or optimistically – as we choose. I am an optimist and believe in the Tantric notion that “What the cosmic mind has done to date will continue to be done by unit minds in slow and gradual steps.” [3] The power of the spirit lies beyond the vagaries of human mind and will ultimately lead us towards a brighter, abundant future. What has brought us good in life so far could again give us better and hopefully, the best in the future. However, no progress happens without clashes and cohesion and so a brighter future would also not happen without aggressive movements for renaissance and change, whether in Asia or elsewhere. The core issue of Asia’s social renaissance will be to establish and align with the Cosmic Ideal; place Dharma (universal welfare) as the guiding faculty behind knowledge; and, to act decisively to eliminate wide disparities prevalent in every walk of human life. If Asia ignores the call, its future too will fall short of fulfilling its limitless possibilities and it will also lose the opportunity to become an example or be a source of inspiration for others. The flag bearers of Asian renaissance will be those who go beyond rigidities in human thought and are able to embrace the unthinkable. The key lies in the quality of thought of Asian-Visionaries. Will they merely ditto the west? Will they merely dance to the tune of the traditions without reflecting on their cardinal worth? Will they muster courage and utilize their own creativity in order to address its challenges rather relying on “packaged-futures” from the occident? And, will they shake off the hesitation and forge out an unchartered path endowed with the wisdom of the past and the promises of the future?

The scientific achievements of the 20th century led primarily by the western world has brought us all closer in intimacy but the eastern mind set is still far from being in synchronicity with the western approach to life and beyond. We encounter two distinct deep-rooted psychologies in humans – nomadic and agrarian (rooted to land & river valleys). The former was a perfect solution for the times when 4 we had a little population and forests were abundant. Nomads walked lightly on the earth and kept the balance in nature. However, as the populations multiplied, nature became an externality that needed to be controlled and manipulated for the benefit of humans. The reformed “conquer the nature’ psychology finds its culmination in mass mobilization of human talent via large public or private multinational corporations. These corporations have no allegiance to any particular place and move out as soon as the local resources are exhausted. It has even reached to the point where we may be ready to abandon the earth and move on to other stars with the same human-centric mind set. Some of us on this earth are hard wired in to that psychology. On the other hand, old civilizations grew along river valleys. The primitive cultures in Asia had always learned to build their civilizations by sticking to their habitats and cultivating its resources while being mindful of the local inhabitants, their future generations and even the welfare of other species. Empires (manifestations of power!!) can be built with a “drive for conquest” mind-set but the civilizations (manifestations of culture!!) can be built only with an inter-generational perspective & “preserve the mother nature psychology”. Today, Asia is on the verge of going to its roots and shaking off its over dependence on imported colonial solutions to its problems which rarely have solved its unique problems in the long run. The west has, no doubt, greatly contributed towards world development with its analytical approach which however has now reached its limits (due to its exploitative mentality) and must now be balanced by synthetic solutions (which would care also for future generations & all life forms). Asian mindset was traditionally agrarian and by necessity, oriented to keep harmony with its environment (fellow beings, animals, & other flora and fauna). Asia now stands at a crossroads and longs to rediscover and redefine its cultural roots with the help of modern technological insights. Perhaps it is time to blend the oriental sublimity and occidental dynamicity into hybrid pathways for the future of Asia as well as the rest of the world. What is hoped from Asia is that it will draw from its wisdom of thousands of years of civilization and guide the future where arts and sciences are used for “service, blessedness and peace” and that its entrepreneurs will further the interests of all stakeholders and not just the providers of capital or labor.

I see three pathways on the future spectrum of Asia but from the spiritual world view, the middle path is the most likely scenario to unfold in the next fifty years.

First Scenario – “Tragedy of the Commons”

Matter-centered, self-centered and dogma centered pathway [4] – that closes options for all of humanity and leads to mass extinction of species. It is partially already occurring and not far-fetched. It could get accelerated as the population increases and demands on the eco-system multiply while the resource-base depletes quickly. Matter (Capitalism and Communism) and Dogma (Religious Fundamentalism) Centered Pathway is where the entire potentiality of the society is directed in just mere existential issues and the matter or dogma-centered philosophies dominate the collective psyche. Affluence amidst poverty becomes the common scene. Disparities abound and accelerate. Life styles remain unsustainable. Community or social consciousness is almost non-existent. Individualism reigns. Selfishness pervades and corruption goes unchecked. Lack of moral values remains the greatest challenge for social-polity. Rigidities of the world views become a stumbling block to any move towards a total renaissance.

Second Scenario – “Utopias of the Enlightened & the Wise”

Enlightened Idealist Utopian pathway[5] – that dreams of some enlightened leadership to take over our planet and with some magic wand inspire people to change their life styles, motivate the entrepreneurs to follow a value based model of socio-economics and ultimately build a world of self-sustaining communities. This idealist or neohumanist utopia –we can call it the “Paradise of the Commons” or “Dharma Rajya –Rule of Righteousness” assumes that everyone’s needs are met with equanimity. Life styles are sustainable and all species are respected and cared for.

Third Scenario – “The Middle Path: the only viable option for Asia”

The Middle Path[6] is ridden with conflicts, tensions and delivers only an incremental progress. It is the most pragmatic scenario where the “ignorance” in us will try to hold on to the easy path of ensuring its survival neglecting the interests of all others, including the other species unless forced by the circumstances (laws, politics, global tragedies etc). At the same time, the “enlightened” in us will goad us to re-engineer our habitats respecting the laws of nature & interest of all species. In redesigning the systems for collective human survival, we may discover the next phase of ethical revolution – a core value system that will spearhead humanity’s future cultural evolution – from static to the sentient state. The middle path scenario might be a conflictual one which brings into focus the tension between good and bad; between benevolent and malevolent options; between empowerment and growth models; between rural and urban; between agriculture and industry; between labor and capital or technology; between affluence and scarcity; between neohumanist and self-centered philosophy. Discovering the balance between physical and the transcendental is the hallmark of the middle-path. The logic of the middle path is rooted in the Buddhist and Tantric perspectives which recognize that humans are endowed with the best of best (drive for moksa) and the worst of worst (instinct for selfish-pleasure-kama) in them and only by pursuing the middle path can we tame the evil in us and encourage the movement towards the “enlightened” in us.[7] In some ways each one of us will always be different and unique; in other ways we are always similar and share our temperament & social conditioning with our subculture, religious affiliation or any group that we belong to or feel a close affinity to; and, in some ways we are all the same-universal-carrying the common human traits and evolutionary forces that shape humanity & its future, in general.

Within Asia, there are wide differences, diversities, disparities, commonalities & similarities. The “cultural creatives” of Asia are likely to display hybrid [8] mind-sets : Conformist – sticking to age-old traditions; Mutative – continuing to catch up in order to keep pace with the western growth model; and Sentient scenarios – integrating the best of the western tradition with the best of the Asian traditions. What is most likely to evolve is some variant of the middle path which would recognize the unity amidst diversity; hope amidst chaos; optimism amidst hopelessness; potential for affluence for the entire humanity in a world run by the scare of insecurities and pandemic fears. The middle path will replace the old three R’s (Reading,wRiting and aRithmatic with five new R’s viz. Reflective eco-friendly education; Redesign of Eco-friendly Habitats and Communities; Renewable Energy conversion to clean electricity; Regeneration of life forms via sequestering carbon and Recycling of all wastes – solid, liquid and gases. Cellennium’s HSP[9] & Sangkhlaburi Eco-Village Model [10] experience shows that it is feasible and can be a reality now.

Moving Towards Asian Integration

Asian Integration is fraught with numerous obstacles:

  1. Divergent political & national interests & lack of trust;
  2. Wide economic disparities & potentialities;
  3. Various religious belief systems, languages & cultural histories;
  4. Geographical separateness;
  5. Lack of unifying Asian sentiment among the people of Asia.
All these obstacles could be overcome over a period of time if we:
first, take steps to adopt local socio-economic programs which would ensure that purchasing power of the common people is enhanced consistently through a “bottom-up” approach ;
second, strengthen universal cardinal human values irrespective of different belief systems or religious sentiments;
third, emphasize reflective education, benevolent use of arts, science and technology, eco-friendly life styles & fostering Cosmic Ideals;
fourth, adopt national policy and put systems in place in order to establish regional self-sufficiency, as a priority ; minimize dependence on non-renewable resources of the planet, learn to manage the carbon-cycle and take decisive steps to recycle all wastes-solids, liquids and gases.
fifth, foster regional commerce, allow free movement of persons and goods and further regional cooperation and exchange of education, science, technology and arts.
And, as parity develops among all socio-economic zones within the region, take steps towards the formation of an Economic Asian Union where there is unobstructed movement of ideas, people, goods and services and there is a common universal currency.
The political Asian Union, like European Union could then succeed the stable Economic Asian Union. Hopefully, the Asian Union will be a prelude to the Earth Union with a World Government supported by self-reliant decentralized economic zones. The most important ingredient to foster peace, harmony and prosperity in Asia lies with the passion, devotion and dedication of Asian visionaries. If present leadership fails, the new generation will take up the challenge and build a new world with wisdom-based policies.
[1]Rudyard Kipling: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ballad_of_East_and_West
[2]Sarkar, P.R. (1993) Discourses on PROUT, A.M.Publications, Tiljala, Calcutta-India page 1-2
[3]Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji,(1956) Microcosm and Macrocosm, DMC Discourse, Monghyr,India
[4]Sesh Velamoor, (2010), Managing the Future (www.futurefoundation.org) & Hardin, Garrett (1968). “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Essay. Science, 162: 1243–1248.
[5]Paradise of the Commons has been alluded historically in Shrii Krs’na’s notion of Mahabharata and Canakya’s Golden period of Gupta Dynasty and mythologically in the notions of Rama-Rajya and Garden of Eden.
[6]On Madhyam Marga (Buddha’s Majhjhima Magga), in Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji,(1994) Discourses on Tantra, Vol 2 p. 236, Ananda Marga Publications, Tiljala, Calcutta-700039
[7]Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji,(June,1987) Four Dimensions of Micropsychic longings, Tiljala, Kolkata
[8]Papastergiadis, N. (1997). Tracing Hybridity in Theory. Debating Cultural Hybridity: Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism. Werbner, P. & Modood.,T. London, Zed Books: 257-281
[9]Dada Shambhushivananda , A Future model of Eco Villages , Gurukula Network, November,2010 www.gurukul.edu/newsletters
[10]Sangkhlaburi, www.neohumanistfoundation.org