Yearly Archives: 2016


Culture & Economic Development – III The Task Ahead

This Indian vision of development has a living relevance for the future evolution of human society. For, as Sri Aurobindo points out, “…in the next great stage of human progress it is not a material but a spiritual, moral and psychical advance that has to be made…”2 The entire humanity in general and the affluent nations of the West in particular are now poised or even compelled to make such an evolutionary leap. It is now recognized by most of the economic and development experts that there are certain ecological limits to economic and material growth, Artha, and most of the affluent societies in the West are on the threshold of these limits. What the ancient Indian seers perceived from the point of view of moral and psychological considerations, modern economic and development thinkers are arriving through the ecological route.

But what is not equally recognized by these modern experts is that just as there is a limit imposed on the economic and material growth in the dimension of Artha by the ecology of the physical and biological dimensions of Nature—the Dharma of our material Mother—there is also a limit to the satisfaction of Kama, the desire for vital enjoyment, by the ecology of the subjective dimensions of Nature. Unchecked and indiscriminate indulgence of vital passions, Kama, whether by the individual, the collectivity or a civilization leads to the exhaustion of the vital energy of the human being and as a result loss of the creative force needed for higher evolution and progress.

The current critical situation in the ecological and energy front has created a wide­spread awareness and interest among the economic community in energy preservation and management. But in a predominantly materialistic civilization like ours, the focus is primarily on the material energies. The preservation and management of human creative energies which are more important or at least as important as material energies is not receiving as much attention.

So what is needed for the secure evolution of humanity and earth is to create an ecologically and psychologically sustainable society in which the spiritual, psychological and material resources and energies of humanity are intelligently preserved and harnessed for the safe and smooth progress of humanity towards its evolutionary destiny. In this task, Indian insights on development, which we have discussed so far, provide a good conceptual framework for contemplation and action.

M. S. Srinivasan


  1. Lester R. Brown, World Without Borders, Random House, New York, p. 339.
  2. Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL), Vol. 1—Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, p. 465.



Culture & Economic Development – II The Indian Paradigm

Economics in ancient India, contrary to popular conceptions, was given much importance in the thought and life of the people. The science of economics called ‘Vritta’ formed an important part of the royal curriculum; it was considered as essential for the material well-being of the people, as the Vedas for their spiritual well-being. Ancient Indian thinkers also recognized that the real source of economic prosperity of a nation is not its material resources but the entrepreneurial class—Vaishya. Mahabharata counsels the wise king to encourage the Vaishya because they are the source of production and trade.

The other feature of the ancient Indian economic system is that primary emphasis is not on consumption, acquisition and possession but on spending, sharing and giving. The ancient Indian thinkers are well aware of the fundamental law of wealth generation that wealth is gained not by hoarding but by spending. According to Mahabharata, to increase wealth it has to be spent like scattering seeds. Constant emphasis by the Smritis on dana or ‘giving’ as one of the duties or Dharma of the higher classes created a philanthropic spirit among wealthy and powerful sections of the society which tended to redistribute wealth in social and public welfare projects.

However, in the Indian vision of society, the highest motive and aim of social progress is not economic development or wealth maximization. The socio-economic ideal in ancient India is a progressive, socio-moral well-being of the community through an increasingly conscious manifestation of the moral Law, Dharma, in society. Economic or material prosperity ‘Artha’ and vital enjoyment ‘Kama’ are recognized by the Indian mind as two of the aims of life. But they are not considered the highest or the only goal of life. They are only preparatory stages for the mental, moral and aesthetic development of the individual and the community in the realm of Dharma. And for the individual, even Dharma is not the end but only a stage in his progressive evolution towards his ultimate spiritual consummation, Moksha. As Bhishma says in the Mahabharata: “Dharma, Artha and Kama are not ends in themselves, but are just means to an end, and that end is Moksha.”

One of the major defects of the modem development models patterned on the Western values is that their vision does not extend beyond the Artha–Kama dimensions of the society. Continuous enlargement and fulfilment of the Artha–Kama needs, motives and aims of human beings is considered as the only way to progress. So, economy and polity, especially the first one, have occupied an inordinately large portion of human society, overshadowing and suppressing other equally important organs of the society like culture. But the architects of Indian culture had a more ‘holistic’ vision of development. They aimed at a balanced and gradual development of all the four basic organs of the society, which in the Indian thought are Economy, Polity, Culture and Labour-force. However, the main emphasis is on Culture and Dharma. This is not peculiar to ancient Indian culture alone; it is a common feature of all the great and major ancient civilizations. The only difference is that while other ancient civilizations stressed on the intellectual, aesthetic and ethical dimensions of culture, Indian civilization emphasized on the spiritual and subordinated all other aspects of life to the dominant spiritual motive.

The Indian vision of development is in agreement with the modem development models that the first business of the governing organ of a collectivity is to create a sound, efficient and healthy economic, social and political organization for the fulfilment of the Artha–Kama needs of the people. Hence, economy, society and polity and the science of economics and politics, Vvitta and Dandaniti, occupied an important place in the educational, social and cultural life of ancient India. But ancient Indian thinkers recognized that to stop short and wallow contentedly or to indulge excessively in this stage would lead to a relapse into barbarism. Once the Artha–Kama needs of people are reasonably fulfilled, the governing organ of the society must turn its attention to the development of the higher dimension of the collectivity, to the socio-cultural, moral and spiritual evolution of the community, to the awakening and fulfilment of the Dharmic motives in the people which will elevate the collective consciousness of the community to a higher level of corporate life. In fact, from the beginning, all the four major organs of the society have to be simultaneously developed, though a predominant stress or priority attention to a particular organ of the society may be necessary at each stage of the collective evolution or for strengthening an organ which is underdeveloped.

M. S. Srinivasan


Culture & Economic Development – I The Economic Rhetoric

The modern age is characterized by the predominance of the economic motives, overshadowing other equal or even more important motives such as the intellectual, aesthetic and ethical motives of the higher mind of man, which shape the cultural life of the community. However, in the ancient civilizations, economic motives played a much less dominant part and were subordinated to the political and cultural motives. For the higher evolution of humanity in the future, we have to arrive at the right balance between economics and culture. This article examines this balance in the light of modern thought and Indian insights.

One of the oft-repeated arguments of the champions of secularism, thrown constantly against the exponents of the spirit of culture, is the economic factor of poverty, inequality, unemployment, etc. Its triumphant rhetoric is “What is the use of culture and its noble abstractions when more than half of the human population is below the poverty line or without a job?” This sort of rhetoric has an immediate emotional appeal for the unthinking sentimental part of our mind. Paradoxically, the important factor ignored in this economic argument is that the major causes of this economic poverty and inequality lie in the stunted growth of mankind in the spiritual, moral and cultural dimensions due to an excessive and lopsided emphasis on ‘economic development’.

Presently, humanity has sufficient material, scientific and technological resources to produce adequate quantity of food and wealth to eliminate poverty in the world. What it lacks is the moral and spiritual resources for the equitable distribution and sharing of wealth, and, more importantly, the sharing of the means of creating the wealth, which, in current times, is the power of technology. The economic argument is valid only if the economic problem is solely a problem of production. The real problem lies not in production of wealth or technological bottlenecks, but in the distribution and sharing of wealth and technology. An eminent environmental thinker Lester Brown writes in his well-known and influential book:

“Another central component in the existing ethic is a near exclusive emphasis on production and on the acquisition of wealth as an end in itself. A by-product of thousands of years of material scarcity, this must give way to a much greater emphasis on distribution and sharing. Poverty exists in the late twentieth century not because of a lack of technology to raise individual productivity above a minimum level, but because the diffusion of technology and wealth on a global scale has received little attention. Modern man has excelled at production but failed at distribution.”1

One may ask, “Is this not the ideal of the economic system of Marxist communism which collapsed recently?” The problem with Marxism is not with its ideals, but with its methods. Marxism is right in its emphasis on distributive justice. However, the method employed to realize this ideal in society is not on the right track. This problem of distribution cannot be solved solely by technology, management, organization, law or political compulsion, though all these things are needed and helpful. There has to be a cultural revolution in the economic and political community leading to a higher level of spiritual and moral awakening. This means a positive and living awakening to the unity and interdependence of human life and, as a result, elimination of greed and the urge for domination and exploitation, which are some of the major causes of economic and social inequality and poverty. A change in the moral and psychological poise and the lifestyles of the community from the consumptive and acquisitive mode of life to a sharing and giving mode of life is needed. But this inner psychological evolution can come only by a free growth from within the economic community and not through a regimented outer control of the economic system.

The second factor which the economic argument ignores is the close and mutual interdependence of culture and economy. Cultural progress and its new thought, values and ideals release a fresh wave of intellectual, moral and spiritual force, which has a positive and inspiring effect on the economic, social and political life of the community. When we examine the history of human civilization we can see that a cultural renaissance is always followed by economic prosperity, social progress and political stability. On the other hand, economic prosperity and political stability provide the leisure and free energy needed for cultural pursuits and as a result may bring with it a cultural renaissance. We are stressing on culture because it is a deeper and higher dimension of the collective life with a bearing on the moral and spiritual evolution of humanity and therefore of living relevance for the future evolution of Mankind. In this important issue the balance struck between these two sections of the society by ancient Indian culture may yield some useful insights.

M. S. Srinivasan


Three Paradigms of Human Development

In the future world, the most vital resource that will determine the success and greatness of a group will not be land or capital, not even technology or knowledge, but the quality of the ‘human capital’ and how effectively the leadership of a group is able to tap and release the innate potential in the individual and the community. This, in turn, depends on our conception of human being and its potentialities and development, or in other words our paradigm of human development. When we examine the history of humanity from the ancient to the modern age, we can clearly distinguish three major paradigms of human development. In this article, these three paradigms are discussed not in their historical order but in an evolutionary perspective.

First is the ‘professional development’ paradigm of the modern managerial mind. This approach to human development views the human being as a set of useful professional knowledge and skills; it aims at creating a ‘human resource development’ culture which helps individuals to constantly update and hone their professional knowledge and skills through continuous education, training and work opportunities and contribute to the bottom-line growth of the organization measured in terms of efficiency, productivity, profit and other corporate goals.

The second is the ‘Hellenic’ paradigm, which is the ideal of the ancient Greek culture. The Hellenic culture viewed the human being as an embodied mental being with rational, emotional, ethical and aesthetic faculties. The ideal of the Hellenic culture may be expressed in the formula of a sound Mind in a sound Body in a sound Community. A sound Mind in a sound Body means full and integral development of all the powers and faculties of the Mind and Body, living in perfect harmony with an emphasis on the rational and aesthetic faculties and a predominant stress on values like truth, beauty and goodness. A sound community is the result of a full and harmonious self-expression of all the faculties of a well-developed body and mind in all the dimensions of the communal life—economic, social, political and cultural. A sound community is not only prosperous, efficient and productive but also sensitive and open to the higher values, such as truth, beauty and goodness, and expresses these values in every activity of the communal life.

The third possibility is the integral spiritual paradigm or the ‘Vedic ideal of the Indian culture’. The Vedic vision accepts the Hellenic ideal but adds the spiritual dimension to it. The Vedic seers viewed Man as a fourfold being with a body, life, mind and soul. He is in essence a soul or spiritual being evolving towards self-realization in the divine consciousness. The body, life and mind are the instruments of the soul for self-expression and self-development. The Vedic ideal was expressed in the bold and robust language of a Vedic seer as ‘I enjoy both earth and heaven as a man enjoys his two wives’. The Vedic ideal has three aspects: first is the awakening and realization of the soul or spiritual being; second, a full and harmonious development of all the powers and faculties of all the fourfold being of man; third is to shape the fourfold being of man into perfect instruments for the progressive manifestation of the Divine Consciousness and its divine powers in the earthly life turning the earthly life into a chariot of the heavenly powers.

The Hellenic and the Vedic ideal may appear very high-pitched or utopian for the present condition of humanity, especially for a business organization. But they are the ideals of inner development, and we believe that they are the ‘ideals’ of the future evolution of humanity. To prepare for the future, or to use the modern management lingo, to be ‘proactive’, every community, organization or nation will have to make some beginning, take some tentative steps in the present towards this future ideal. We also believe that these ideals are not as utopian as they appear to be. They exist as potentialities, with all the inherent power for realization, in the collective consciousness of the civilizations which gave birth to them—the Hellenic ideal in the West and the Vedic in the Indian. They represent the cultural genius of India and the West. In the past they were more or less fully realized in a few exceptional individuals, for example, a Socrates in the West or a Vedic rishi in India. They are partially and very inadequately realized in the communal life, probably because the communal life of that past age was too primitive to realize the ideal. The present humanity is perhaps better poised and equipped to realize the ideal. But to do this, both India and the West or the leading nations of the world have to recover their essential cultural genius expressed in the Hellenic and Vedic ideals, add to them the new gains and ideals of modern evolution, reformulate them to suit the needs of the modern age and apply them to every activity of human life.

M. S. Srinivasan