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Journal of Human Values Some Thoughts on Indian Ethics for a Globalizing World

Victor A. van Bijlert Journal of Human Values 2000; 6; 145 DOI: 10.1177/097168580000600205 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Thoughts on Indian Ethics for a Globalizing World*


coming years people will live in an ever-globalizing world with possibilities and challenges that did not exist before. The contours of this new world are already with us—capital flow across the world with lightning speed; mass media events broadcast anywhere in the globe as if they happened next door; tests, food habits, consumer goods, cultural production and political ideas floating across the globe unhindered; the boundaries of nation states becoming more and more porous; and the Internet being a major source of rapid unbound communication. All sectors of the society are affected by this global society, the technological revolution. In this connection ethics becomes an increasingly important issue in global decision making. The author suggests some solutions on the basis of Indian culture.
In the

In the

coming years we will be living in an everglobalizing world with possibilities and challenges

that did not exist before. The contours of this new world are already with us: capital flows across the world with the speed of light; mass media show events around the globe as if they happened next door; tastes, food habits, consumer goods, cultural production and political ideas floating across the world unhindered; boundaries of nation states becoming more and more porous; the Internet being a major source of rapid unbound communication. Such is globalization and high modernity, daily poured out on us. Globalization
Victor A.

propelled by innovations in the field of ICT (information and communication technology). All sectors in society, from government to private, from industry to services, are affected by this global technological revolution. Because of its intensity and enormous impact, globalization poses global challenges in the sphere of ethics as well.
It is more and more the case that what is done or decided in one part of the world has its impact on others. In this connection ethics becomes an increasingly important issue in global decision making. Ethical problems also assume global aspects. In this article I will suggest some solutions on the basis of Indian culture.


Bijlert is at Leiden University, NIAS, Copenhagen.

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For many social analysts globalization is just Western hegemony lurking behind everything that happens in the world at present. This observation has gained some credence since world communism has fallen and we have reached the end of

history, according to Fukuyama, or we are going to face clashes between civilizations, according to Huntington. Both authors, whose writings have created international stir, regard the ultimate victory of Western values like liberal democracy and the market economy as the supreme goals of humanity. Fukuyama holds that

time. Huntington hopes the aspirations of nonWestern civilizations can be contained so that they will not pose a threat to the West. Both authors share a deep commitment to the idea that the West and its economic and political models are worth preserving and seem to be wedded to the idea that Western civilization is superior to everything else in the world.




There are other authors who sound less triumphalist notes about the West and its global impact. In 1997 Roger Burbach, Orlando Nunez and Boris Kagarlisky published a book called Globalization and its Discontents. In it they argue along with Fukuyama but from a different perspective:

liberal democracy may constitute the end point of mankinds ideological evolution, and as such constitute[s] the end of history. That

is, while earlier forms of government


characterized by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions.I

Huntington on the other hand proclaims:

If North America and Europe renew their moral life, build on their cultural commonality, and develop close forms of economic and political integration to supplement their security collaboration in NATO, they could generate a third Euroamerican phase of Western economic affluence and political influence. Meaningful political integration would... revive the power of the West in the eyes of the leaders of other civilizations.2 Neither of these authors is a prominent champion of globalization theories, nor do they interpret the phenomenon of globalization. And yet they write from the assumption that the impact of Western civilization has been global, at least for the time being. For Fukuyama the Western model will become the unchallenged standard for our

The decisive historic event of the late twentieth century is the collapse of communism and the triumph of Western capitalism.... The political playing field is now controlled by those espousing neo-liberalism and globalisation, the secular creeds of the dominant classes.


to the authors the result of this vic-

tory is not a blooming of democracy and general

affluence, but
a period in which capital is so powerful that its beneficiaries enjoy a grand banquet while the ever-increasing numbers of the worlds population are forced into poverty and misery. In this brave new world plagues and pestilences multiply while research and technology are harnessed by the rich and powerful in their 4 own interests.4

This prospect seems undesirable for ordinary people by any standards, and we would do well

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to consider the darker implications of globalization.

If present trends are anything to go by, the following scenario for the next few decades is very likely. Government and the public sectors will retreat; the national state as organizer of social solidarity may disappear;5 and violent crime will increase.6 This new global world order probably will have no major political centre of gravity but will consist in a complex structure of economic activity and political alliances, all devoted to shareholders interests. Large regions such as Europe and Asia will not lose their distinctive cultural features but their borders will become increasingly porous. Europe may have lost its inner borders but will close its outer borders to the influx of economic refugees from the so-called Third World. The ICT revolution will change our concepts of economics, politics, democracy, nationality
and civilization itself. Corporate business may take over functions formerly reserved for the state, such as social security, the police, prisons, the

The following remark by Bauman indicates the dominant note of his essay: With the freedom of mobility at its centre, the present-day polarization has many dimensions; the new centre puts a new gloss on the timehonoured distinctions between rich and poor, the nomads and the settled, the normal and the abnormal or those who breach the law.

army, tax-collecting, housing, infrastructure and education. In the Netherlands the social security system is already for a large part run by private firms that are supposed to compete with each other. The postal and telephone system has been privatized but the resultant company, also a private one, keeps the monopoly over the use of the physical infrastructure. Presently in the Netherlands there is a political debate going on about whether to stop further privatization. These aspects of globalization also form the subject of a powerful essay by the famous sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. He regards globalization primarily as so many new attempts by global elites to undisturbedly increase their financial assets, evade national controls, evade taxes and enjoy the spoils of a jet-setting life. Hurrying across the globe, physically as well as electronically, the global jet-setter holds an edge over the rest of the notso-rich-and-mobile population. The differences between the rich and poor are only getting worse.

Finally, we have the warning against so-called market fundamentalism issued by no less than George Soros in his latest book. In the context of globalizaticn as global capitalism, he contends that the global capitalist system is coming apart at the seams.8 He says: There is much talk about imposing market discipline, but if imposing market discipline means imposing instability, how much instability can society take?.... [M]aintaining stability in financial markets ought to be the objective of public policy.9 Market fundamentalists have transformed an axiomatic, value-neutral theory into an ideology, which has influenced political and business behavior in a powerful and
dangerous way.

Globalization as Politics of Difference

Not all the prospects of a globalized world are bleak. There are social theorists who have modified pessimistic views of globalization. The social anthropologist Friedman maintains: In recent years there has developed a relatively large literature dealing with globalization. Much of this... has centred on what... appeared to be an aspect of the hierarchical nature of imperialism, that is, the increasing hegemony of particular central cultures, the diffusion of American values, consumer goods

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and lifestyles.... [T]here was genuine fear, at least among the cultural elites, of the djfi americain and the hegemony of the Coca Cola culture. Today this theme has been developed... into a more complex understanding of cultural processes that span large regions of the globe. [G]lobalization refers both to the compression of the world and to the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole.&dquo;I

globalization is the global interconnectedness through the mass media and the electronic mediaradio, television and the Internet. Especially the latter joins where the capitalist aspect divides. The redemption from corporate capital or state power gone haywire will probably come from global
interconnected as it cuts across any barriers and borders. By means of this interconnectedness we will be able to critically follow every step taken by those in power. Thus, at least runs the promise of many Internet prophets. A good example of Internets subversive potential is the global public attention given to the
MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) proposed in camera by the WTO. The draft texts of this notorious agreement were kept secret by the original parties involved. But after somebody got hold of a copy, the MAI was put on the Internet for everyone to see. In this case the information revolution did foster transparency. The Internet may become an important locale where free exchange is possible without state or other forms of censorship being able to do much against it. It is hardly surprising that many national governments are less than enthusiastic about the free flow of information through the Internet and e-mail,

The famous social theorist of cultural studies Stuart Hall had this to say:
are living globalization, as we are living globalization. The destruction of centres, the dissemination of centres that is going on, opens

conversation between spaces.... I am arguing that globalization must never be read as a simple process of cultural homogenization ; it is always an articulation of the local, of the specific and the global. Therefore, there will always be specificities-of voices, of positioning, of identity, of cultural traditions, of histories, and these are the conditions of enunciation which enable us to speak.2

In other words, globalization shows us the world in all its variety and enables us to make our own choices. For Hall globalization is the ultimate opportunity to enter into multiple dialogues with everybody. Obviously, the modem mass media and electronic communications media help to establish this new open marketplace for the ex-

and want to keep controls on this flow on the plea of the need to fight crime or to protect citizens.

Globalization and Ethics

The positive sides of globalization should not blind us to some harsh facts. Even if we do not subscribe fully to the views of Baumann, Burbach, Nunez and Kagarlitsky, some very unpleasant phenomena do show themselves. The world of big global finance seems to continuously go out of control. The recent economic and political crises in Asia are only an instance of financial volatility destroying whole political systems and

change of ideas. The dark side of it all is the fact that the electronic goodies are available only to those who can afford them. Thus, we see two different aspects of globalization. The first is global capitalism, which extends wealth beyond imagination to the select few who know how to reach for it, while the castaways from the global grand banquet sink down in misery and despair. The other aspect of

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Indonesia stands the tragically (although present democratic changes in Indonesia are signs of hope). These crises prove the need for solid ethical leadership and values. Financial crises are complex events involving many people and institutions. Not that sound ethics are a safeguard against crises, but they surely help towards preventing them. It can be argued that the recent financial crises in the last analysis were caused by uncontrolled greed fuelled by globalization and ICT. Greed is not new and not caused by globalization. But globalization magnifies its impact on daily life. Excessive greed in a globalized mode will lead to global destruction, not only the destruction of the fabric of local societies, but the whole of the planetary environment. Excessive greed does not show its ugly face in global financial crises alone, but also reveals itself in the propagation of excessive consumerism with its concomitant permanent dissatisfaction. Consumerism will breed more consumerism upon the first easy satisfaction of desire. The real problem lies deeper, of course. Why do we seek satisfaction in the possession of outer objects? This is where ethics begin to play a significant role. After all, we are dealing with human actors and the choices they can make. One can choose to be an unthinking consumer, one can choose to be a thoughtful consumer, or no consumer at all. The same is true in the sphere of leadership. Those in a position of power can decide to use the power well or to abuse it or not use it at all. Such decisions are made in the consciousness of the individual powerholder, but they do affect many others.
out most

states in its wake. The one in

spirit. All human actions ultimately have their basis in consciousness. Broadly speaking, consciousness here means the whole of the human person, the feeling or am, the inner witness. Without this basic consciousness there is no thought and no sense of right and wrong and no agency. Human agency wills to bring into being the social structures, the technology and the financial institutions that are the engines of globalization. Hence, we can argue that the potential for taking other directions away from materialism also lies within human reach. The past 40,000 years have witnessed an enormous increase in human technological inventions, from the polished flintaxes down to present-day communications technology. The problem that was being addressed all this time was: how can we increase our bodily comfort through conscious manipulation of physical matter? The advances have been great, no doubt. Thoughtfully applied, technology is one of the greatest boons to mankind. And yet final satisfaction seems to ever elude us. We still need more material things. The question that is pertiis: to what end do we seek comfort, what is sufficient to satisfy genuine wants, and what is the ultimate meaning of our existence? After this never-ending hunt for material goods and instant satisfactions is it not time to pause and reflect? For centuries the religious and spiritual traditions in the world have presented to man ways to escape from the snares of wanton materialism. These traditions hold out before man vistas of spiritual growth, emphasizing being instead of possessing. They teach that the body of man should be properly fed and clothed, but that mans s destiny lies in the nurturing of the soul. This wisdom is also found in great abundance in Indian civilization, ancient as well as modem. One of the premises of Indian spirituality throughout the ages has been that man has the potential within him or herself to develop into a higher being. Indian
nent now

Consciousness and Ethics

The source from which human culture, moral consciousness and ethics spring is the human

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spirituality declares that it is mans destiny to be able to realize this divine potential and it claims to teach many practical methods to this end.3
Indian Spirituality: Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo
Modem Indian spirituality was greatly influenced by the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). He was a major exponent of modem Vedanta, an important Indian tradition of philosophy and spiritual discipline. Vivekananda transformed traditional Vedanta into an Indian philosophy of modernity with claims to universality. He also stirred up radical Indian nationalism. His teachings helped restore Indian self-confidence. Although he died almost a century ago, his ideas have not lost their relevance for the development of moral values. His ideas are at present being explored for new forms of ethics in India.4 Vivekananda taught what we would probably now call empowerment. 15

Least of all fundamentalism, which is now so rampant in the world. Rather, Vivekananda says: Religion is the greatest motive power for realising that infinite energy which is the birthright and nature of every man.8 Religion is realisation; not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming ... it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it
9 believes.&dquo;9 Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) is another major exponent of modem Vedantic spirituality. A political activist fighting British colonial rule in his early years, but a spiritual realizer at the same time, after 1910 Sri Aurobindo exclusively turned to deep meditation and extensive writing.2 In the life story of Aurobindo (as well as Vivekananda) one recognizes the empowering quality of realized practical Vedanta. Aurobindo wrote much about spiritual discipline, yoga and his own experiences in this realm. Time and again in his writings he testifies to divine human potential and their actualization. The following written in the early twenties is typical:

Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and his nature is both internal and external.... It is good and very grand to conquer external nature, but grander still to conquer our internal nature.6

Fundamentally an optimist, Vivekananda believed in the great potential of human beings. In ourselves rests the treasure of all true morality and prophetic visions of human civilization. Ethics is one of the preliminary steps towards a deeper realization of humanity. To quote the Swami once
Ethics itself is not the end, but the means to the end ... a morality, an ethical code, derived from religion and spirituality, has the whole of infinite man for its scope.&dquo; What do religion and spirituality mean here? Certainly not narrow sectarianism, nor fanaticism.

To convert our twilit or obscure physical mentality into ... supramental illumination, to build peace and a self-existent bliss where there is only a stress of transitory satisfactions besieged by physical pain and emotional suffering, to establish an infinite freedom in a world which presents itself as a group of mechanical necessities, to discover and realise the immortal life in a body subjected to death ... this is offered to us as the manifestation of God in Matter and the goal of Nature in her terrestrial evolu-

And in that

earlier book Aurobindo had asserted

Indian religion placed four necessities before human life. First, it imposed upon the mind a

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belief in a highest consciousness ... universal and transcendent of the universe .... Next it laid upon the individual life the need of selfpreparation by development and experience .... Thirdly, it provided ... a well-founded, well-

explored, many-branching and always enlarging way of knowledge and of spiritual or religious discipline. Lastly ... it provided an organisation of the individual and collective life, a framework of personal and social discipline and conduct ... by which ... [each] could move ... in his own limits and according to

nature. 22

Both Vivekananda and Aurobindo affirm that every human is able to aspire after spiritual ideals and will gain the power to ultimately make them a living reality. But to be successful at this requires the total transformation of our consciousness away from its material attachments into ever-

widening expansions.
Consciousness Ethics23

Spiritual realizations such as these form part of the sources of inspiration of ethics and empowerment for the next millennium. These realizations may become the basis for a new ethics of insight and heightened awareness rather than of mere dos and donts. This will be an ethics founded on human consciousness as the basis of human activity. Hence, it could be called consciousness ethics. Improving the quality of consciousness will be seen to be as important as improving the quality of the material conditions of life. New concepts of management and leadership will derive great benefit from Asian spiritual insights and visions. 14 Asian insights add a human dimension to the otherwise rather mechanical and sterile concepts of management in the West. Through training in consciousness ethics human beings

involved in any type of organization may become less motivated by materialism and more by a sense of belonging and wholeness. Perhaps totally new forms of enterprise may be tried out, which will be owned and run by the producers themselves so that there is no difference between shareholders and stakeholders. The responsibility of the advocates of this new ethics will be to show that improvements are possible and how they can be realized. 25 What could consciousness ethics encompass if it were developed from a Vedantic perspective?&dquo; I tentatively propose four major characteristics/ criteria. First, it is visionary in that it reveals hidden potentials in human consciousness, especially potentials that lead to improving the quality of life in a non-physical sense. Second, it strengthens our sense of beauty and stimulates creativity in all respects, including artistic creation. Third, it is disciplined by rationality and logic, and thus kept within the boundaries of empirical experiment. Fourth, it encourages respect for universal human dignity.27 The first characteristic distinguishes this ethics from purely instrumental and mechanical approaches to ethics in leadership and management of organizations. The first characteristic, as it were, promises the widening of the human horizon. The second characteristic deals with aesthetics. There is a human need to perceive beauty through art, even though this need often remains subliminal. The satisfaction of the aesthetic need should form an integral part of the consciousness ethics, especially as consciousness is directly involved in the perception of beauty. Moreover, one could maintain that the perception of beauty is an act of love and thus refines our sensibilities, including our moral sensibilities. Rationality on the other hand prevents spirituality from sinking into superstition and blind faith (a phenomenon regularly observed in the world of New Age spiritualities). If this new ethics has something genuine to offer, we may demand

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tangible results or at least we may demand not to be misled by unfounded claims. We have a right to understand how it works and what it can and what it cannot accomplish. Moreover, this ethics ought to be based on real experience, not on fantasy run wild. And last, this ethics and spirituality may never be discriminatory, racist or degrading in any other way. It is based on the dignity and equality of all human beings.
Globalization and Consciousness Ethics

global community, every effort at spiritual growth will have some effect on society and the world as a whole. To be fruitful this ethics needs living practitioners, real persons who realize and act accordingly and speak about their realizations. The other approach is to disseminate the idea of this ethics through all forms of mass media available, including the Internet. With the help of the globalizing media, the protagonists of this ethics must try to overcome political, ideological, economic, national and cultural barriers. By going global this ethics encourages people everywhere
to take their destinies in their
own hands and to think of alternatives to the economimaginatively ics of pathological greed, consumerism, gross inequality and irreparable damage to the environment. The difficult but deeply rewarding mission of consciousness ethics is to assist in the birth of a more just world. What ethics of consciousness advocates is a constant dialogue with the different cultures of the world, incorporating them into ever-expanding discourses of globalness.

What have we gained so far? Developing an ethics like the ethics of consciousness proposed here is one of the strategies to prevent globalization from becoming malignant. In order to accomplish this there are two approaches. First, the ethics of consciousness is a conscious effort at transcending the limitations of ones present personal existence. Since every person forms part of the


* Earlier versions of this article have been presented as papers at the following gatherings: International Symposium on Applied Ethics in Management, Management Centre for Human Values, IIM Calcutta, 20 February 1998;15th European Conference on Modem South Asia, Prague, September 1998; and 5th Euro-Asia International Research Seminar, University of Poitiers, Poitiers, France, 5 November 1998. On all these occasions the content of the paper was discussed. The insights thus received are acknowledged with gratitude. 1. F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

and its Discontents: The Rise of (London: Pluto Press, 1997), 1.

Postmodern Socialism

4. Ibid., 1. 5. Ibid., 144, 154. 6. Ibid., 22-23. 7. Z. Bauman, Globalization: The Human 8.

Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), 3. G. Soros, The Crisis of Global Capitalism [Open Society Endangered] (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), xi.

2. S.P.

(Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1992),xi. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon and Kagarlitsky, Globalization

Schuster, 1996), 308. 3. R. Burbach, O. Núñez and B.

9. Ibid., xvi. 10. Ibid., 43. 11. Jonathan Friedman, Global System, Globalization and the Parameters of Modernity, in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson, eds, Global Modernities (London : Sage Publications, 1995), 69-70. 12. D. Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds, Stuart Hall:

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Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1996), 407. This idea is found in Buddhism, Jainism and the spiritual philosophies that could be loosely identified as Vedanta. In fact, schools such as the old Sankhya, Nyaya, the Upanishads and Yoga have held similar views. Among others, by S.K. Chakraborty, Ethics in Management : Vedantic Perspectives (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995); ibid., Values and Ethics for Organisations: Theory and Practice (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998). See also R.C. Sekhar, Ethical Choices in Business (New Delhi: Response Books, 1997).



15. The term and concept of empowerment and its contemporary socio-political content were first developed by the Brazilian educationist and philosopher Paulo Freire (see his The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation [Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985]). Nowadays empowerment often designates a cluster of new, if somewhat fanciful, management theories. But I am using empowerment here in the sense of socio-political emancipation and the gaining of inner strength to accomplish this emancipation. 16. Swami Vivekananda, Jnana-Yoga: The Yoga of Knowledge (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1997 [fifth edition]), 12. 17. Ibid., 11. 18. Ibid., 15. 19. Ibid., 398-99. 20. See P. Heehs, The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India 1900-1910 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993), 61-75; A.B. Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram

22. Ibid., The Foundations of Indian Culture and the Renaissance in India (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1984), 124. 23. The term consciousness ethics was proposed by S.K. Chakraborty in an oral comment on an earlier and much smaller version of this article, which was presented at the symposium session of 2 1 st Century Ethics: Knowledge or Wisdom?, Management Centre for Human Values, IIM Calcutta, 19-21 February 1998. In his latest book Values and Ethics for Organisations [n. 14 above], ( 82-83) Chakraborty introduced the term theory of consciousness ethics. 24. Chakraborty, Values and Ethics for Organisations (n.
14 above), 20-26; D. Kimber, Sharing, Giving and Friendship—The Forgotten Factors of Business Relationships, Journal ofHuman Values, 1997,3(1),53-56; Erik van Praag, Spiritueel Leiderschap (Deventer:

Kluwer, 1996).
25. In this respect I do fundamentally disagree with neoliberal propaganda to the effect that society is an arena, a place where every individual has to continuously compete, because such is life and therefore all attempts to change society for the better must fail. 26. This does not mean that there are no other perspectives from which ethics of consciousness could be and probably will be developed. Nor that consciousness ethics is the only ethics worth the name. The perspective that is offered in this article is my own. It is based on my understanding of Indian culture. 27. V.A. van Bijlert, Raja Rammohan Roys Thought and its Relevance for Human Rights, in Abdullahi A. AnNaim, J.D. Gort, H. Jansen and H.M. Vroom, eds, Human Rights and Religious Values: An Uneasy Relationship? (Amsterdam: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 106-7.

[fourth edition]).
21. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine Aurobindo Ashram, 1973), 2.



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