Partition of the mind

Partition of the mind

As we remember the fateful partition of India, it is timely to reflect on the concept of borders, and allied to that the notions of power and control. All borders begin with the mind and our own thinking needs to be closely re-examined.

The biggest partition the social sciences have drawn is that between man and nature. For a long time the West saw man as separate from and above nature. This fuelled the hunger for power and control. Now that partition is unsustainable.

The reality has always been that man is a part of nature and not at all separate from it. The other destructive idea is that man has dominion over nature. Again just look at climate change events like flooding, or wildfires - man is unable to control them even with the best technology. The scientist James Lovelock who recently died at the age of 103, showed through his Gaia theory how the earth is a large self-regulating ecosystem. It is interconnected and interdependent. These are concepts central to our profound philosophy of Dharma.

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When our thinking embraces nature and the environment as a whole system, harming nature is similar to harming us at the very same time. We knew this thousands of years ago and never encouraged the exploitation of nature or society. The specialisation of knowledge and expertise that is common today is also an extension of the desire of man to control knowledge and profit from it. That is why vaccine companies made astronomical profits while the world withered, and how energy companies are unwilling to sacrifice excess profits even when oil comes from natures efforts over tens of thousands of years. They are greedy and love to have wealth and power, even when their customers are suffering or dying. There is a deliberate separation between the wealthy and the exploited masses. This week oil executives in Britain refused to budge to help consumers lower their energy bills.

In Dharma, truth is science and it knows no boundaries or disciplines. The whole and the parts should not be separated but seen in context. The partition was a desire to separate India between castes and religions when in reality India had always been a complex whole, where borders were movable and negotiated between neighbours. Before the British came, India was not one country yet it was one of the richest nations in the world, at the epicentre of global trade. It managed to build harmony through trade and negotiation rather than weapons and segregation.

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At a practical level, the lesson from partition is to strive to understand truth in all its dimensions. When you go to study at university don’t forget to ask the interdisciplinary questions. The part is never separate from the whole. For many experts, the part has become the whole and they are unable to see beyond it. Even the power they derive from their knowledge and status is not acknowledged. In my discipline of finance, it is often empire by equations. People are actively disempowered by experts from criticising finance.

For example, if business is primarily about profit maximisation, who wins and loses from this equation? Has it got anything to do with class and power? How can we create businesses where everyone is a winner? What is the point of becoming rich when there is a surrounding desert of poverty? If nature is a resource, how come it is today attacking humanity?

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Encourage children to see the larger whole of life and not think that food is grown in supermarkets. Help them see the connection between mind, body and spirit which is partitioned in the school textbooks. In fact, spirit is completely demolished by education. Even if you choose to send them to private profit-making schools, help them to question teachers and see the link between culture and knowledge which has long been partitioned. Give them experiences of community and shared wisdom. Take them to experience wholeness through festivals and family gatherings, and listen to their questions and address their curiosity. Children can help us break our own partitions.

Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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