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Inaugural Address of His Excellency Shri. Balmiki Prasad Singh, Governor of Sikkim on the theme of Ethics and Science : What Should One Learn In The College? at a National Seminar organized by Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi on 14th February, 2012.
 
I am very happy to be in Jesus and Mary College this morning. This is for a variety of reasons. First, I have come here after a long lapse of time. It was in 1996 that the college authorities invited me to be the Chief Guest in one of their functions. I retain pleasant memories of that visit. Second, Jesus & Mary College is a shining example of theory and application in public domain of certain values. During the period of decline in our ageless civilization, it came to be considered appropriate to deny education to girls and certain other classes of people. This harmed us enormously. Fortunately, during the freedom struggle this was challenged resolutely. And today, education is a fundamental right of every child – boy and girl. Your college has served the cause of education of women enormously all these years for it provides quality education. I greet the Hon’ble Principal and her colleagues for rendering this great service.

Let me paraphrase for my discourse the theme of the Seminar as Ethics and Science: What should one learn in the college?

As I was coming to this college, I thought of the tension of modern education system. It is widely held that the University education aims at enabling its students the faculty to have his own opinion and judgments and eloquence in expressing them. It imparts in them ethical values of truth and compassion, of leading a life of mind and good health and more. There is, however, a pressing urgency of making the students skilled enough in order that they are employed in the market.

Reconciling these two different roles happily is the mark of a great educational institution. We have assembled here to discuss the first part of that role i.e. inculcation of ethical values among the students.


Ethics and Science
Time has come to educate the young minds about ethics. Ethical education may not necessarily be based on a particular religion. The main focus should be to make the future leaders and policy makers compassionate and tolerant, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality or religion. The challenge before us is how to bring about this transformation in the present educational system.

The educational system must evolve to meet the daunting challenges of the 21st century. It must nurture the heart as well as the mind to lay the foundation for compassion so that every individual utilizes his skills and ability not only for personal growth and advancement but also for good of the world.

In discussing interface between science, ethics and education, there is need to emphasize importance of rational approach. Lord Buddha’s prescriptions in this behalf are greatly relevant. Buddha attached greater importance to rational enquiry than perhaps any other religious leader in history. The Buddha says in a sutra: Monks and scholars should well analyse my words, like gold (to be tested through) melting, cutting and polishing, and then adopt them, but not for the sake of showing me respect. By this Buddha meant that even if a particular doctrine is set forth in scriptures, one must examine whether or not it meets the test of reasoning, if it conflicts with reasoning, or is at variance with new realities, it is no longer appropriate to assert its primacy and follow its dictates. This applies to Buddha’s sayings as well.

Religion has played a great role in building up of human beings and society. But in this age of science we cannot be called upon to accept incredible dogmas. Towards this, scholars need to reflect and bring to public notice stands taken in a scripture which have been scientifically proved as no longer valid. This approach may also apply to gender biases and caste and community prejudices.

A fundamental change in attitude is necessary. When we investigate certain descriptions as they exist in sacred texts and find that they do not correspond to reality, then we must accept the reality, and not the literal scriptural explanation.

The challenges of inter-dependent world demands a new vision. It is high time for scientists, educators and spiritual masters to come together to plan how contemplative practices can be adapted in the class rooms by means of an inter-disciplinary approach that includes expertise in education practices, applied and basic sciences, and the wisdom of life.

The general impression that the spirit of science is opposed to that of ethics and spirituality is both unfortunate and untrue. The basis of both science and spirituality is to construct a reasoned argument of nature and way of life.

It also needs to be appreciated that a knowledge–based world is an open world. When we talk of the fusion of science and ethics, we are not putting any limitations on the autonomy of either scientific or ethical endeavour. Any limitation on the objectivity and autonomy of science and any prescription for a singular path of ethical conduct would come in the way of progress and peace and thus could not be beneficial for the development of a harmonious world. The need is to work for the development of a more cohesive and inclusive worldview in which science and ethical are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

There are people who fear that an emphasis on values in education would push us back to an ancient era. These fears are unfounded. What is true is that religion and spirituality were developed by our ancestors much more than science. What characterizes the past century as well as the present is the phenomenal progress in science. The task of linking spirituality and values with the present day development in science and technology is essential for building a global peaceful order. For it is only through spirituality and ethical conduct that forces of greed, hatred, and despondency can be overcome. The world’s great civilizational traditions provide us wisdom which promote peace of mind and cultivation of qualities such as compassion and tolerance.

Education is a transformative experience. For good education we need good teachers. It is the duty of teachers to ensure that educational institutions become centres, both for attaining proficiency in science and the arts and also in the cultivation and enrichment of self-discipline and social and moral values.

The moot question is: can we combine the progress of science and technology with the progress of mind and spirit? We have to embrace science and technology for it represents the basic facts of life today. At the same time, we cannot be untrue to values of compassion and tolerance. Industrial progress and market economy need not lead to negation of our civilizational strengths.

Science will triumph over ignorance and superstitions. Similarly, ethics will prevail upon selfishness and fear. And it is only through the instrumentality of education that people and through them nation-states can be empowered to build a great future for humanity.

In the context of these perspectives, this seminar becomes important to discuss how ethics can be interwoven with education to bring compassion in the mind of people and promote sustainable development in the interest of saving the earth from man-made catastrophe. Education can and should play a significant role to propagate the knowledge of ethical conduct in the mind of future leaders.
What should one learn in College?

We rightfully take pride in our culture. For Indian culture which blossomed more than 5000 years ago, has given successive generation of Indians, a mindset, a value system and a way of life. This has been retained with remarkable continuity despite passage of time, repeated foreign invasions and enormous growth of population. It gives a unique Indian personality to every Indian and people of Indian origin today as it has done in the past.

By the year AD1 India was a highly developed culture. By that year, India had made remarkable progress in the realm of art, literature, dance and drama, poetry, economics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. These advances have been renewed

I hold that the biggest strength of any civilization lies in the fact whether it can successfully challenge its malpractices and remove its infirmities. The Indians have proved that strength by jettisoning evil practices like widow burning, untouchability and providing for education as a fundamental right of every child, boy or girl.

I am aware that Indian culture provides to our children values such as a simple living, family ties, tolerance for others point of view and spiritual quest and respect for ecology.

In my view four values that need to be given priority for meeting the challenges of 21st century are: (i) teachings of Mahatma Gandhi; (ii) adoption of the Bahudha approach; (iii) proficiency in Information and Communication Technology ; and (iv) Augmentation of Talent.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi more than others challenged with people’s cooperation, evil practices of our society and culture. As is well known, Bapu observed every Monday as day of silence. However, a large number of people, who came to seek his darshan and blessings on Monday, wanted him to give them some message. He used five fingers of his right hand to emphasise certain values that were required to be practiced by Indians for improving their society and polity. In doing so he followed the system of raising a finger and for his associate to announce what it stood for. These were as follows :-
(1)    One: Hindu-Muslim unity;
(2)    Two: abolition of untouchability;
(3)    Three: equality of women;
(4)    Four: non-consumption of liquor and opium; and
(5)    Five: Charkha

The five fingers were held together by wrist which stood for truth and non-violence. Bapu made all these values integral to India’s fight for freedom.

Bapu’s main message for everyone was to be associated with common people and yet to remain concerned with main challenges of life and society. This is best expressed in the age-old axiom : simple living and high thinking. I would like to explain this value system in some detail as practiced by Bapu.

In August 2010, I had the privilege of re-visiting Sevagram Ashram which was Bapu’s home between 1934-47. It may be recalled that Mahatma Gandhi on his return from South Africa set up the famous Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad in 1917. A few days before the launch of Salt Satyagraha on 12th March in 1930, Bapu mentioned to Ba that he was getting attached to Sabarmati Ashram which was in conflict with ideals of non-attachment. Ba immediately understood that Bapu would give up the Ashram and that they would be homeless again. On completion of the Salt march on 6th April, 1930, Ba and Bapu had no house of their own.

Seth Jamnalal Bajaj, a prominent disciple of Bapu, was deeply concerned and succeeded in persuading Bapu to set up an ashram at Wardha, where he owned a lot of land. Bapu visited the place and approved the site. He, however, put a condition that not more than Rupees five hundred should be spent on the construction of his hut and that it shall be built by materials only available locally. Adi Ashram was accordingly constructed. Bapu lived here for over ten years without electricity and on two simple vegetarian meals each day. This was Bapu and his way of practicing simple living and high thinking.

It was from Sevagram Ashram and living in this environment and with meager facilities that Gandhiji guided the course of Indian history that also made enormous impact on world events. One can understand its full import only by visiting this place.

The Bahudha Approach
The rise of terrorism and fundamentalism in recent times has brought about phenomenal changes in global politics. These unprecedented challenges call for a new approach.

I would like to call the approach I am suggesting Bahudhā.  This comes from my personal attachment to an attitude that has greatly contributed to the enrichment of harmonious life in India: ‘respect for another person’s view of truth with hope and belief that he or she may be right’. This is best expressed in the Rigvedic hymn that enjoins:

Ekam Sad Vipra Bahudhā  Vadanti

The Real is one, the learned speak of it variously

Etymologically speaking, the word Bahudhā is derived from the word bahu, and dha is suffixed to it to make it an adverb. So, what does Bahudhā mean? ‘Bahu’ denotes many ways or parts or forms or directions. It is used to express manifoldness, much, and repeatedly. When the word is used with the root kri, it means to make manifold or multiply. Bahudhā is also used as an expression of intermittent continuity in various time frames. It is used to express frequency, as in ‘time and again’. Bahudhā suggests an eternal reality or continuum, a dialogue of harmony, and peaceful living in society.

Pluralism could be the closest equivalent to Bahudhā in the English language. Pluralism has been described in various ways in history, sociology, and politics – cultural pluralism, political pluralism, and pluralistic societies. Pluralism has also been seen in the context of the co-existence of nation-state and ethnicity, equality and identity issues.

The Bahudhā approach does not believe in annexation or transgression of boundaries or assimilation of identities and propagation of a simplistic world view. It merely facilitates dialogue and thereby promotes understanding of the collective good. The realization of one’s own identity may sustain boundaries and yet, at the same time, understanding of other identities may help formulate a public policy of harmony. The Bahudhā approach is conscious of the fact that societies without boundaries are not possible.

The culture of Bahudhā is deeply rooted in the inculcation of a special attitude from an early age.  Dialogue requires a state of mind where one can strongly believe in one’s own way of looking at issues while simultaneously accommodating another’s point of view. It is this mental discipline that makes one willing to consider the validity of other person’s view point.

In short, the Bahudhā approach is both a celebration of diversity and an attitude of mind that respects another person’s point of view. Democracy and dialogue are central to this approach.

Diversity celebrates different religions, gods and goddesses and belief systems. It also promotes a feeling that the world would be a dull and over-uniform place if there was only one religion, one god, one language, one folklore and one folktale. The human species cannot be all of one belief or faith or system – humanity is diversity – something we too often forget.

The inculcation of attitude of mind inspired by the Bahudhā approach would mean that one hears others in a manner that is akin to our behavior with family members or with our neighbours. This could help us appreciate and even adopt good practices and value systems of others without diminishing our own.

Human nature will continue to be a balance of opposites: love and hatred, peace and violence, truth and falsehood, unselfishness and self-centredness, saintliness and sinfulness, and the spiritual and the physical. In fact, these opposite traits are closely connected to one another. The greatness of the human mind lies in building a system that is inclusive and judicious and one that ensures dialogue among persons, groups and nations. We must appreciate that if hatred can be taught in schools as well as outside so could be love and compassion. Towards this end, religion and spirituality, education and culture, and global political and economic institutions have major roles to play.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Revolution
Since the end of the last century, a significant civilizational encounter encompassing all aspects of our living is taking place. This is popularly known as the information and communications revolution. This revolution is rapidly transforming our ways of communication- which has become enormously fast-paced. It is integrating markets and trade. This has led not only to a sharing of products, but extended to cultural values and in dissemination of information and training. New approaches are on the anvil to raise productivity and tackle poverty.

The information and communication revolution has the momentum and dynamism to catalyze and sustain our development efforts. The roots of this renaissance, which are still unfolding, lie in the freedom movement that strengthened the forces of democracy and the rule of law, of equality and individual liberty.

Internet technology carries the promise of transcending social barriers in providing access to knowledge. In India, for ages, the higher levels of knowledge, popularly known as sacred knowledge, was a prerogative of the Brahminical class; this despite the fact that the entire society was integrated through the network of rituals that regulated birth, marriage and death ceremonies. Any denial of use of the Internet to the masses would perhaps conform to a similar practice where connectivity through mobile phones would be available to everyone but vital information that is the preserve of the Internet system would be confined to those belonging to a higher economic, social, and educational strata.

Thankfully, the present level of comfort in confining ICT to the middle class is finally being jettisoned. Accessibility to the Internet is increasing, and this has enabled a level playing field among different sections of the society. The wealth of information that the Internet promises is no longer the sole preserve of the upper strata. The task before us is to make ICT further available to the public so as to enable them to reap economic, educational and political gains.

In this context, we must remember that equal access to computers can only be totally successful if we are willing to tackle the larger problems of inequality of housing, education, and healthcare through concerted efforts in that direction. Towards this, India also needs to carry forward this new civilizational dialogue at the people's level.

Today, a new kind of knowledge is being produced and circulated, based on India's own traditional knowledge as well as the scientific achievements of the world. In understanding this phenomenon one ought to be also aware of the circumstances governing the kind of knowledge that the new generation of Indians is producing and circulating. Young Indians are trying to reach across cultural divides and understand languages, scientific methodologies, histories and faiths of those other than their own. New perspectives are being added and these are indeed enriching experiences.

The respect that a nation-state would command in the global community in the coming decades would be directly related to its strength in the field of modern knowledge. Fortunately, several Indian universities and science and technology centres are known for their excellence in the world. The number of renaissance men and women in the country is on the rise. They have courage, intellect and the ability to compete in the world and a significant number of these people have a strong desire to connect with the rest of their community and make a contribution towards building a strong and just India. Let more and more students join this revolution and imbibe these skills.

Augmentation of Talent
In this era of information communication technology and a globalized world, one ethical value that we must emphasize is to invest in augmenting the talent of every single Indian, boy or girl. The primarily responsibility lies on the young Indians and their families and on the Indian nation state. Once we do this, our future is secured as also place of honour  for India in the comity of nations.

No country or society can advance only with moral codes or religious rituals or a constitutional framework. It needs a set of talented individuals who can accomplish development in this competitive world in terms of country’s civilizational values and scientific and technological wherewithal.

It is not enough to be a good orator or popular at the polls. The government as well as institutions outside the government need people who have the ability to assess the situation through analysis, sense of reality and imagination. Talent, therefore, must not be understood merely in terms of academic or professional attainments. Integrity, honesty and commitment are vital.

We have to consciously cultivate an attitude of looking at talented persons at school, college, university and in society. Such persons must belong to different professions and strata of society. The Indian nation-state as well as our society must encourage them to play their due roles.

It is my belief that as long as Indian society and polity encourage creative minds in the literatures and arts, science and technology, and give primacy to democratic institutions, to inclusivity and justice, India's age-old cultural strength would continue to be renewed. In order to achieve this objective, we have to consciously and continuously work to make India a place as Rabindranath Tagore visualised 'where the mind is without fear and the head is held high'.


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