The Dignity of Man and the Brotherhood of Peoples

By Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

I have great pleasure in inaugurating this 26th International Congress of Orientalists. I welcome the delegates, especially those who have come from abroad to attend this Congress. It is a matter of great satisfaction to us that for the first time this Congress is meeting in Asia and in our capital in New Delhi.

Delhi itself offers to the investigators glimpses into past civilization. We may say that even a thousand years before Christ we had here, in this locality, Indraprastha on which today stands the Purana Qila (Old Fort). The city bears the impress of successive civilizations, especially those of the Yaudheyas, the Kushanas, the Moghuls and the British.

The Sections into which the Congress is divided, and the subjects to be discussed in those Sections, cover a vast field of civilizations which have grown up in Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Iran, Israel, West Asia and South East Asia. These civilizations made contributions which are now the heritage of all mankind. Though each of them had literary, artistic, philosophic and religious expressions, some of them became more prominent than others in the different cultures. Egypt developed geometry and established the calendar. Babylon laid the foundations of astronomy. India gave numerals and decimals to the world. Iran and Israel laid emphasis on the law of righteousness.

The values for which the cultures of these great lands have stood have also affected all civilizations, Greek and Roman, modern European and American. Even in periods when means of transport and communication had not been developed, oriental civilization penetrated into the West. Iran and Greece were in contact with each other, and many Indians found their way to Greece through this contact. Asoka's missions to the West, and Alexander's influence on Egypt, Iran and North West India, produced a cross-fertilization of cultures.

We have a story of the meeting of Socrates and an Indian visitor, reported by Aristoxenes and repeated by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History. When the Indian visitor found that Socrates was interested in the development of human personality, he said that there could not be fulfillment of human personality without adequate attention to the spiritual dimension of man. Consequently, secular humanism required to be sustained by spiritual wisdom.

We have again the report of a conversation between Alexander and Dandamis, reported by Palladius and translated into Latin by St. Ambrose in the fourth century AD. I just read an English translation of it published a few weeks ago. Alexander was greatly struck by the austerity of life and the majesty of philosophical wisdom of the Indian thinker. The Indian told Alexander that natural desires are quenched easily: thirst by water, hunger by food; but the craving for possessions is an artificial one. It goes on unceasingly and never is fully satisfied:

But, thirst being a natural desire, if you drink the water you thirst for, your desire for it ceases. Similarly, if feeling hungry, you receive the food you seek, your hunger comes to an end. If, then, man's appetite for gold were on the same natural level, no doubt his cupidity would cease as soon as he obtained what he wished for. But this is not the case. On the contrary, it always comes back, a passion never satiated, and so man's craving goes on without end, because it does not proceed from an inclination implanted by nature (S. V. Yankowski, The Brahman Episode, pp. 21-3).

Manu refers to the substance of this: "Desire is never satisfied by the enjoyment of the objects of desire; it grows more and more as does the fire to which fuel is added" (2:94).

Alexander abandoned the view that the non-Greek world was barbarian and its people fit only to be slaves. All men possessing wisdom and virtue are of one family. Plutarch says that Alexander brought together into one body all men everywhere, uniting and mixing, in one great loving cup as it were, men's lives, their characters, their marriages, their very habits of life. He looked upon the whole inhabited world as his fatherland. All good men are of one family; the only foreigners are the wicked. Alexander felt that it was his sacred mission to reconcile mankind. In Egypt, in Iran, in North West India, he felt the impact of the great civilizations of the East and looked upon them as worthy partners of the Hellenic civilization.

Shortly before his death Alexander held a banquet to celebrate the end of a great war and he invited to it 9,000 people -- Hellenes and non-Hellenes. At the end of it he prayed for peace, for the partnership of all peoples of the world to live in amity and concord. Homo-noia, of one mind -- the world should be based on a communion of minds and hearts.

It is the same task which is set before us today: that the world should get together with a heightened sense of the dignity of man and the brotherhood of peoples. In recent times, the study of oriental civilizations has accelerated this process. Sir William Jones, who was a Judge of the High Court in Calcutta in 1784, started a revolution in the study of oriental civilization. He was himself a student of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. He affirmed the affinity of many of the European languages with Sanskrit. The similarities of European languages and Sanskrit indicate the extent of the agreement reached by different peoples in the matter of economic organization, religious thought and social structure.

Professor Gordon Childe writes:

It would be absurd to suggest that any two tribes living, say, in Greece and India, and speaking quite unconnected dialects, on reaching the same level of development should have hit upon such similar words for "father," "fall," and "five" and inflected them in such similar ways as the Vedic Indians and the Homeric Greeks did in fact do. The primitive culture must be the stage of development reached by several peoples while living sufficiently close together to communicate.
-- The European Inheritance, 1: 84

These similarities suggest that the two peoples, the ancient Greeks and the Vedic Indians, must have been in communication with each other, though neither possessed any recollection of those times and they met as strangers when both areas became part of the Persian Empire.

Today all the peoples of the world form a close neighborhood, thanks to the inventions of science and the devices of technology. Transport and communication have resulted in the meeting of cultures, races and religions. The only attitude we can adopt in the present context is an attitude not of exclusiveness but of comprehension, not of intolerance but of understanding, not of hatred and fanaticism but of appreciation and assimilation of whatever is valuable.

Mankind has stemmed from one roof, though it is split up into different communities. It is now striving for the recovery of its basic unity and the reconciliation of different cultures. The history of the new world, of one world, promises to be rich in range and majestic in its scope; and we in this Congress can contribute effectively towards the achievement of this goal of humanity.

Many leading intellectuals of the world have been influenced by Indian thought, notably Schopenhauer, Paul Deussen and Keyserling in Germany, Professor Winternitz and Professor Lesny in Czechoslovakia, Emerson, Thoreau and Whittier in America, Sylvain Levi in France, Sherbatsky in the Soviet Union, Colebrooke, Cowell, Hodgson, MacDonell and Thomas in Britain and literary figures like Yeats and AE in Ireland. I am mentioning merely a few prominent names which occur to me now.

We are living in a period of disintegration of faith and growing disillusionment about the traditional values which have come down to us. All eras of transition are periods of disintegration and renewal. People nurtured in the spirit of science and ethical humanism are unwilling to accept anything on authority. So in many parts of the world people are giving up their traditional faith.

In this situation, the values for which this country has stood may be of some relevance. The Indian tradition asks us to accept nothing on trust or authority but to test everything by experience. Religion is direct encounter with the Supreme reality and insight into the mystery of things, into the meaning of existence. It is anubhava or samsparia (apprehension or perception) of the Divine. This is the state of awakening according to the Buddhists, of meta-noia or change of consciousness according to the Christians.

When once we possess this authentic spirit of religion, which we feel in the pulse of our being, we realize that those who have attained it form one spiritual kingdom. The experience is ineffable that the Supreme is incapable of being expressed in logical propositions or linguistic symbols. So its different stages are described as "the Transcendent Reality, the Deepest Self or the Cosmic Lord" -- brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate. The Transcendent is "God above all Gods" -- devati deva. We will discover Him in the depths of our being. So He is paramatman. He is also worshipped as the Lord of the World. There is the confrontation of I and Thou, God and the World. These varying accounts do not constitute conflicting descriptions, but express different orders of being of the Supreme.

Men may come from East and West, from this religion or that, but they are of the one family of God; the pathways we tread, the names we give, fade away into insignificance when we stand face to face in the glowing light of the Divine. When we touch the flame of the Divine, a generous hospitality to different creeds and forms arises. We always have reverence for the inaccessible core of another human being, the potential divinity that dwells wrapped up in another human soul. Naturally, such a religion requires us to recognize the potential spiritual possibilities of the human being and to discard the artificial distinctions which man-made institutions have inflicted on human beings, and the shackles of serfdom and helotry.

A truly religious man will spend his life in the service of the unfortunate, the unregenerate, the ignorant, the poor and the destitute. According to the Indian traditions -- Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh -- he who conquers himself is a greater conqueror than one who conquers in battle a thousand times a thousand men. The so-called stress on asceticism is not to be associated with a negative attitude. It is one of positive participation in the work of the world. If God is the Creator of the world, we participate to some extent in His nature. We are co-creators with the Divine. Our duty is not to escape from time but to establish our superiority to the tyranny of time. It is the concept of redeeming the world by men whose hearts are emancipated by love. World redemption -- sarva-mukti -- has been the consistent theme of Hindu and Buddhist religious classics. Both Hindu and Buddhist thought agree in asking us to overcome anger by love, evil by good, greed by liberty, falsehood by truth. A religion of this type is rational, ethical and spiritual and its essence is to be found in all human beings. Every human being has rational, ethical and spiritual sides. It is wrong to think that some people are rational and others spiritual.

Every religion has to live up to this high quality of spiritual adventure, or it will fade away. It is this religion that we require in the contemporary situation.

Today the world is eager for the development of a world community based on unity and harmony as distinct from unanimity and uniformity. We have to remember what the great teachers of the world have affirmed, that all men are brothers, and that their differences are not to be obliterated but are to be fostered and sustained by mutual understanding. We must learn from other peoples' beliefs and experiences. We have come to realize that conflicts between countries can no more be settled by wars, which are devastating in their character. There are no losers or winners, nor victors or vanquished, in modern war. The differences require to be reconciled in a large understanding of human depth and its varied expression. Through sheer political folly and fanatical zeal for our own view, we may bring about the end of the world. We must learn to be loyal to the whole human race. Exclusive loyalty to an individual nation or group or creed is not enough in the present world.

You, the explorers of the art, literature and thought of the world's varied cultures, you have a more decisive voice in shaping the minds and hearts of the people than even political leaders. Let us dedicate ourselves today -- in the spirit of scholarship which knows no frontiers and which, if genuine, breeds humility and tolerance -- to the task of building a new world, to ridding ourselves of every trace of hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism of every variety. Let us move forward to a great meeting where we respect every man, every race, every culture, every creed. The world craves for fellowship. The spirit of this land, from the time of the Rig Veda (X, 192) till today, asks us to move together to develop common ideals and purposes:

"Meet together, talk together:
May your minds comprehend alike:
Common be your action and achievement:
Common be your thoughts and intentions:
Common be the wishes of your hearts
So there may be thorough union among you."
  • (Reprinted from "Foreign Affairs Record" of the Government of India, January, 1964.)

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