Seminar on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), 16 - 17 January 2019
Welcome address by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF,

Prof Kapoor, Prof Bhat, Acting DG of the ICCR Ms Namarata, Hon’ble moderators and speakers, participants, distinguished audience, members of the media,

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you to this Seminar on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Eminent experts, thinkers, philosophers, academics and diplomats have gathered here to explore the richness of ancient Indian thinking and its contemporary relevance. The main objective of the Seminar is to explore how ancient Indian thinking rooted in cosmic unity and oneness, dharma and duty, can generate and provide ideas and concepts for dealing with modern day problems. This way, we hope to develop and Indian narrative on global issues, something that is needed if India has to find a place in the comity of nation.

The Seminar was inspired by the numerous speeches given by the Prime Minister in the last few years at important international fora where he outlined Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as a theme for international cooperation and peace. The recognition of June 21 as the International Yoga Day, and the recognition of Rig Veda as mankind’s heritage are huge steps forward in bringing a much-needed focus and global attention on what Indian thought has to offer to the modern turbulent world, torn by conflict and tensions.
The Vedas, the Upanishads, Brahmans and Arnakyas, epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Buddhist and Jain literature, and many other ancient works throw light on human nature, the relationship between human being and the environment, the nature of the world, the importance of morality, ethics, education, rights, and duties. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, representative of ancient Indian thought emphasizing oneness and unity in creation, is very relevant today.

Conflict and violence are endemic to today’s world, which is diverse, plural and heterogeneous. Materialism has overtaken us almost completely. Alienation and loneliness have assumed endemic proportions. Based on language, religion, and ethnic identities, several conflicts and wars are waging simultaneously. Terrorism has swept through most of the world. As the emergence of ISIS shows, young minds have been radicalized by extremists and violent ideologies. Environmental degradation and climate change are becoming existential threats.

Much of conflict and violence arises from the way people perceive each other. The duality of self-versus other is at the root of much of conflict and violence. A narrative which emphasises oneness and plurality is needed. The need for tolerance was never as acute as it is today. The prevailing negativity has to be fought with positive message arising out of adhyatimk or spiritual thinking. Morality and ethics have to be reemphasized. Indian thought, which emphasises harmony in diversity, is a rich repository of ideas which need to be tapped.

The prevalent theories of international relations, with origin in dualistic thought and philosophies of the West, emphasize the sinful nature of human being. Many of these theories are focused on the use of force and achieving domination over others. Exploitation of resources for selfish needs of the humans is a recurrent thing in western ideologies. The theories of realism, liberalism are basically about the use of force. It is being increasingly realised that such a narrow framework for international relations cannot promote peace. An alternative way is needed.

In 2015, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Mr. Abe of Japan launched Samvad, a forum which has brought together philosophers and practitioners on four occasions to delve into the philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism and generate ideas which would promote cooperation and respect for the environment.

The need of the hour is to identify precisely those concepts which can provide an alternate narrative. Ancient Indian concepts would also need to be presented in a vocabulary which is understandable to the contemporary mind. It is also necessary to engage with the dominant concepts of realism, liberalism, constructivism and other leading theories of international relations. The philosophical basis of these theories is narrow and negative. Such theories overplay conflict and competition and underplay cooperation, coexistence and harmony. Morality and ethics have no place in the leading theories of international relations. The situation must change.

Chinese scholars are trying to build international relations theory with Chinese characteristics based on ancient Chinese philosophy. Some years ago, encouraged by the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese experts began to look into the writings of Confucius, Xunzi and other philosophers of the Warring States and Spring and Autumn periods of Chinese history (4th to 7th centuries BC) when much of ancient Chinese philosophy originated. They examined ancient concepts of interstate relations and statecraft such as the concepts of ‘all under heaven’, ‘humane authority’, ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’, ‘hierarchy’ in international relations et cetera. One of the conclusions of this research was that international relations cannot be based on the concept of ‘equality’. The dominant power should be humane and its behaviour should be based on ‘morality’. Implicit in this characterization in the idea that the strong should make the norms, the weak should follow and implement them faithfully. Such is the world view of the ancient Chinese which the modern Chinese state is trying to adopt.

Can Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam be an alternative theory which treats the world as a family, respects plurality and emphasises harmony in diversity? Some people may find the idea of ‘harmony in diversity’ as being utopian? But what is the alternative? Is war and conflict and violence the end all of existence? Swami Vivekananda’s speeches and writings have numerous ideas for inculcating a positive, constructive and humane mindset in the youth. Thinkers in different parts of the country have pronounced similar ideas. India is very well placed to bring these ideas to light for wider circulation and consideration.

The task before Indian thinkers is to identify relevant ideas from the rich repository of ancient Indian thought, give them practical shape so that these can be applied. There is a need to harmonise the ancient Indian thought with contemporary thinking on the reality of the world as we see today.

The Seminar has been structured to explore the philosophical foundations of Indian thinking, its application to international relations and identifying the steps needed and how these ideas can enhance India’s soft power. It is hoped that it will mark the beginning of serious and concerted efforts amongst the Indian thinkers and practitioners to achieve this purpose. We hope that the institutions gathered here would take this effort forward is their own ways.

I am grateful to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Indian Council for Philosophical Research for their support and the organisation of the seminar. Their joining hands with the VIF in the Seminar is very important as it shows that different organisations are willing to come together to reflect on Indian thinking.

My colleague Dr Arpita Mitra has worked very hard over the last few months to give shape to this seminar. Ambassador Asoke Mukherjee has provided useful inputs for structuring the seminar. I would like to thank them both for their efforts.

Thank you.

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