Monday, November 8, 2010

President Obama visits India!

My friend, Larry Rider, sent me quotes today from some of Obama's remarks in India. In light of Paramhansa Yogananda's oft quoted prediction that someday India and America would, together, lead the world into a new age of cooperation and balancing material with spiritual needs, I find some of the quotes rather remarkable.

But before I share them, the background for their appeal lies in a broader understanding of the needs of our rapidly changing planet.

When I think back to my childhood in the 1950's in a small town on the California coast (Pacific Grove - part of the now famous Monterey Peninsula), our lives seemed so quiet and insulated compared with today's clamoring diversity. But even then, the hints were there. For starters, Monterey was a fishing town comprised of many Sicilian descendents.

It had once been the capital of Alta California under Spanish rule and even briefly the capital of California when first a territory of the United States. As a boy I was aware that there still existed large tracts of land owned by blue-blooded, almost royal families who were descendents of the original Spanish land grants.

Spanish language, culture, cuisine, music, and dress were ubiquitous and proudly affirmed as part of our heritage. Indeed, our towns and streets were mostly Spanish named. The architecture, which I still to this day love so much, was the adobe buildings with the red-tiled roofs, geranium flower boxes, and the miniature courtyards offering greenery and respite from the dusty streets.

Pacific Grove, where I lived, had been founded as a Protestant church camp. But it had become a small town and had its own African-American quarter. Their church, which shook joyfully each Sunday with gospel music, was right up the street from my house. One of my boyhood friends went to church there every Sunday. We took turns going to one another's homes to play. No one - either in his family or mine - ever hinted that there should be anything different or awkward between us.

The residue of a former "Chinatown" was only blocks away, adjacent to the famous Cannery Row, among whose largely abandoned sardine factories, I played as a child. It had once bustled with the rich and mysterious color of the orient. As youngsters, we heard stories of opium dens and mah jong gambling establishments --all very appealing to our youthful imaginations.

On the weekends I played with the children of a family of Japanese descent who ran a dry-cleaning business and a grocery store. Their grandparents' home was filled with oriental paintings and furniture. I remember sitting quietly in the living room one day (while my friend went upstairs to speak with his grandmother) gazing at awe at the mysterious carvings, swords, and tapestry-like scenes of traditional Japan.

So, there it was, all around me. But I remained, as a child, insulated with my Irish-Catholic family and faith, with my Catholic school and parish church, and the many families who, surrounding it, comprised a kind of community. I could not have imagined the diversity we now know day-to-day in America and around the world.

Paramhansa Yogananda looked past the simple mixture of nationalities to the driving impulse of consciousness that brought them together. Yes, the promise of prosperity and freedom of America has been for two hundred or more years the engine driving this admixture. Fueled by rapid advances in science and commerce, together with heretofore seemingly inexhaustible natural resources around the world, the world has changed rapidly.

But what is missing is the heart and soul of an emerging world culture. We may have the power to change our lives and our world but not the yet the wisdom not to destroy it (and ourselves) in the process. Assimilation maybe a fact but it is not necessarily a harmonious one! What is needed is an expression of spirituality that matches our material might.

And that's where India comes in. India has nurtured and preserved an underlying spiritual revelation that matches the grand vision, both macroscopic and miscroscopic, that science offers to us. No other orthodox theology or tradition on the planet is so far reaching in its embrace as to be described more often as a philosophy than a religion.

I am not referring to India's culture, necessarily, as we encounter it in the 21st century. Nor yet even its strictly orthodox, Brahaminical theology, rituals, and deistic pantheon. I refer to what in a past higher age was self-described by India's rishis as "Sanaatan Dharma," or, the eternal religion.

This is not intended to be yet another sectarian boast. Rather, it is a revelation based on personal realization by "spiritual scientists" which are as real and as practical as the experiments of modern scientists. Sanaatan Dharma describes the universe as a manifestation of divine consciousness and the purpose of evolution as the creation of Self-awareness adequate to achieve this realization in a state of Oneness.

It is this grand vision of spiritual reality that offers humankind a concommitant spiritual version of a "unified field theory" that great scientists have sought for centuries.

So, back to President Obama! His statements are naturally politically, economically and technology oriented, but behind these is an acknowledgement of a central role that India has to play and for a special relationship in that role to America.

Here then are some of his statements that, in their essential recognition at least, echo the words of Paramhansa Yogananda several decades ago:

Obama hailed Mahatma Gandhi, who used peaceful non-violence to help India gain its independence, and he noted Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King and the non-violent resistance that typified the American civil rights movement: Obama spoke revealingly of this by saying:

"I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared and inspired with America and the world," the president said.

Obama lauded India's rise on the world stage, saying "India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged."

He envisions, he said, U.S.-Indian relations as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

He said India has overcome critics who say the country was too poor, vast and diverse to succeed, citing its Green Revolution, investments in science and technology.

Obama praised India's democratic institutions: its free electoral system, independent judiciary, the rule of law, and free press. He said India and the United States have a unique link because they are democracies and free-market economies. "When Indians vote, the whole world watches. Thousands of political parties. Hundreds of thousands of polling centers. Millions of candidates and poll workers, and 700 million voters. There's nothing like it on the planet.

Blessings, Hriman