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The West Desperately Needs Eastern Wisdom

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

It is becoming increasingly clear that the current economic crisis is not going to be resolved soon. This is not an economic crisis alone but is a global crisis which has social, moral, ethical, environmental and cultural aspects also. The bitter truth is that without fundamental changes, Western capitalism cannot function any more. Why have Western capitalism and Globalization, its highest stage, landed themselves into such a pathetic situation? I feel the fundamental fault is in the western capitalist philosophy. It has practically ignored the Eastern experience in the fields of human and social development.

The Eastern experience in human and social development is much wider and deeper than the Western experience. However, because of the double problems of Western arrogance and Eastern inferiority complex, the whole world has been deprived of such an extremely useful experience.

There are some basic differences between the Eastern and Western philosophies.  The Eastern thought is more relative, but Western philosophy has a tendency toward absolutism. The difference can be very beautifully explained by two Punjabi words, Hi and Bhi. When one says “Main hi theek,” it means “I am the only one who is right.” However, when one says “Main bhi theek,” meaning “I am also right,” then it shows that for one person to be right, it does not mean that the other person has to be wrong. In other words, both can be right at the same time. This point is very well illustrated in the ancient Indian story of the blind men who went to see (experience) an elephant. When asked how the elephant looked, each one described the part which he felt. Therefore, the truth is multi-dimensional and your perception of truth depends upon the dimension to which you are exposed. Relativism leads to tolerance and Absolutism leads to intolerance.

Generally, absolutist thinking leads to a unilateral approach, while the relativist approach leads to a multilateral approach. The present unipolar world order is borne out of the unilateral approach. While the concept of a multipolar world is the result of a multilateral approach.

Eastern philosophy is more balanced, because it tries to address both material as well as spiritual aspects of life. Western philosophy is one-sided because it mainly emphasizes material aspects of life, and for all practical purposes, it ignores spiritual aspects of life.

Eastern philosophy emphasizes respect for nature and to live in harmony with nature. Western philosophy promotes the concept of conquering nature. However, man cannot conquer nature and the best thing one can do is to live in harmony with nature.

I realize that Christianity laid the foundation of Western civilization. However, the present consumerist culture has nothing to do with Christianity and it actually promotes the opposite values as were preached by Christianity. Christianity preached humility, austerity, moderation, dedication and forgiveness. The Western consumerist culture incites arrogance, extravagance, selfishness, greed and vengeance.

The question arises: who represents Eastern philosophy in the present context? I feel Sri Guru Granth Sahib represents the Zenith of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is not only the religious text of the Sikhs, but is a comprehensive philosophy of life. The message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is truly universal and it is equally relevant for both the East and the West. The message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is of love, tolerance, peaceful co-existence, universal concern and universal welfare.

In my book, Rise of the East, I have tried to explain why the East is rising. I feel that the main reason for the Rise of the East is the superiority of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. The emerging multipolar world order is based upon Eastern philosophy.

The Rise of the East is mainly manifesting in three major trends. They are:

–         Asia becoming the leading region of the world

–         China becoming the strongest country

–         Islam becoming the largest religion of the world

While the two trends, Rise of Asia and China, can be easily understood as parts of the Rise of the East; yet it may be difficult to comprehend the rise of Islam in the same manner. All of the three Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common origin. While Judaism and Christianity took a westward course, Islam mainly spread to the East. Therefore, for all practical purposes, Islam has become a part of the East.

My book Rise of the East does not intend to incite the East against the West, but is intended to bring them together to jointly face the problems and challenges which the world and mankind face today. It tries to attack the dual problems of Western arrogance and the Eastern inferiority complex. These problems are compounding and are leading to a vicious cycle which needs to be broken so that we can move forward toward a more peaceful, prosperous, fair and just world.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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