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Locating P. R. Sarkar

The following has been edited


It will be helpful first to grasp the outline of the talk. 



i. Shiva 

ii. Krs'n'a 

iii. Sarkar


i. Buddha 

ii. Sham'kara'carya 

iii. Caetanya Mahaíprabhu 

iv. Sarkar


i. Aurobindo 

ii. Gandhi 

iii. Nehru 

iv. Sarkar 




III. FOUR NEEDS i. Survival ii. Well-being iii. Identity iv. Freedom

IV. EPISTEMOLOGY i. Authority ii. Intuition iii. Reason iv. Senses v. Devotion

V. IDEOLOGY i. Material level ii. Mental level iii. Intuitional level iv. Superintuitional level vi. Cosmic level

VI. SOCIAL DYNAMICS i. Linear ii Cyclical iii. Transcendental


I'll try to skim through a number of points, all the time looking for the deeper structures, the deeper patterns, within Sarkar's thoughts.

As a point of entrance. I am from Hawaii. I am also from Islamabad, and I spent many years in Malayasia. So I try to locate Sarkar from many perspectives ? not only the Western perspective, but also the Islamic perspective and the perspective of the Chinese civilization.

It may be asked, Who is Sarkar? Where is he? Where do you put his thought within Chinese philosophy, within Islamic philosophy, within Western thought ? and also where do you locate Sarkar within Indian thought itself.

Now the simplest way to locate him within Indian thought is what I would call ëAncient scriptural languageí. The first person to begin society was Shiva, the one to unify the nation was Krs'n'a. And then Sarkar ? here he comes to unify the universe. That is the very deep pattern.

Perhaps a more idealistic version would be to place P. R. Sarkar within a different type of continuum. The first figure in that continuum would be the Buddha, whose role was a revolution against vipra and brahman thought. He wanted to move society away from priestly domination. Then Sham'kara'ca'rya said, That is fine and wonderful, we also have to bring society back to a spiritual orientation. So his was a revolt against Pharisaism. In contrast to that was Caetanya Maha'prabhu whose revolt was against Vedanta and idealism and in favour of devotion.

(My framework is not to give you one model but to constantly give five, ten, fifteen different ways of thinking.)

A third way is to locate Sarkar within recent Indian political history, political thought ? recent models of social progress. Let us start with Aurobindo. His main effort was to combine Hegelian dialectics with Indian spiritual thought. He said, There is spirit. The spirit can enter the nation state. That is a remarkable observation. Classical lndian thought is that spirit exists only within the individual. Aurobindo said that spirit can enter the nation state, ëand the third-world countries can rise.í

Now Gandhi comes along and says, That is wonderful, that is brilliant, but at the same time you have to add an economic dimension to the spiritual and independence-movement dimension. He called that a "self-reliance" model. His is a total self-reliance model. "Small is beautiful." Village weaving. Nehru comes along and says, That is wonderful. But India has a role to play within the global world economy, within global society. So he says that we need secular socialism and national modernization. He says that we need spiritual things but more important is the development of large-scale projects.

Now given this brief history, which of course it would take a year of classes to do justice do, what does Sarkar do? He says, we need the spiritual dimension, we need the self-reliance dimension, but we need it at small and large-scale levels. Gandhi is wonderful at the village level, but we need a national level too. I think that is where Sarkar is brilliant in economic thought. He links the small-scale with the large-scale. Very few people have been able to do that. We have modern capitalist projects, we have local projects. but to link the two has been the effort of the century in economic thinking. My sense is that few people have done that as well as Sarkar does in his theory.

So those are three different ways in which we can try to get a grasp of, to come close to what Sarkar is really up to.

What is he trying to say, how is he trying to say it? My view is that the way to do that is through comparison. You have to talk about how one person differs from another person. "Where do you locate this person?" You cannot have a person just standing alone somewhere in the universe.

So I have looked at Sarkar briefly from three perspectives of conceptualization. I would like to continue now by viewing him in terms of seven points of evaluation. These are quite a few more useful points on which to evaluate him, but for now I will confine myself to these seven. The sixth of the seven, relating to social progress, relating to Sarkar's social theory, I will particularly focus on. 

Any theory of society, any theory of economics has two dimensions. First, it has to speak of growth. And secondly, it has to speak of distribution.

Now, capitalism is obviously brilliant at growth. It can show us how to accumulate wealth, how to save, how to invest the savings. But. as everyone in this room knows, capitalism is very bad at distribution ? distribution in terms of equal opportunity of wealth, equal opportunity of access to wealth. Then come the socialists, who say, Growth is wonderful, but the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer ? somehow we have to get the money to the poor. There the socialists are excellent, but the problem there is that distribution without growth leads to stagnation, bankruptcy, inequality, etc. So we have both these stages. Very few people in economic thought and social thought have been able to link economic growth with economic distribution. How Sarkar does so is a long story which I think other speakers will touch on, or which we can discuss later.

The next thing we have to have is a theory of exploitation. There are spiritual writers who have a theory of the transcendental, and there are other writers who show how to accumulate wealth, but very few people have showed how the wealth is moved from the periphery to the centre ? that is, how the wealth is removed from the environment, how the wealth is removed from females, how the wealth is removed from older people, how the wealth is removed from the young. Here again I think Sarkar is brilliant. He has an outstanding theory of exploitation. It has economic dimensions; it has psychic dimensions; an intriguing part of the theory also explores the topic of spiritual exploitation.

Now the third way in which we will evaluate Sarkar is this: Imagine a two-by-two table, that is, four boxes. The box on the top left is labelled "survival". To the right of that is "wellbeing", the third one is "identity", the fourth one is "freedom". If you hold up those four ? survival, wellbeing, identity and freedom ? you can use them to look at economic and social models, that is, models of progress. The theory of progress in modern history is excellent in which dimensions ? Well, it is excellent at freedom. Capitalism means you can travel everywhere. But if, on the other hand, you have a wonderful self-reliant project that works up to the village level, it means that people will be fed, but there is no way you can go to Barcelona for the World Olympics. So in that sense capitalism has captured one of the dimensions. Now socialism has been excellent at two of the other dimensions. It is very good at survival and well-being. Everyone is fed and there is a general sense of everyone being fed. But as anyone who has lived in socialist countries will say, the freedom dimension is missing. The mobility ? I think everyone would like to be able to go where they want, when they want. You don't want to be stuck somewhere for economic reasons or social reasons.

And as regards identity, the best alternative has been localism. In recent thought. again Gandhi was excellent. In the U.S. and in Britain you have Schumacher. In Hawaii he have the Waianae Development Group, an indigenous peoplesí movement. They have been perfect at identity. They say capitalism removes you from the family, from the land. Once you are away from the land you have no sense of self. So that group is very successful in providing a sense of identity in terms of local culture. Also there is modicum of self-reliance. But there is no mobility.

Again, my sense is that PROUT manages to do all four. It has a sense of mobility. it gives you a sense of identity ? of local culture as well as of planetary culture. It is certainly concerned with survival needs ? Sarkar's whole theory is based on basic needs, on guaranteed minimums. At the same time that it speaks of maximum and minimum, it also has an incentive structure, it has mobility and it has freedom.

So in terms of those four dimensions, Sarkar moves out of the classical patterns. The Japanese also have been excellent at this. But I do not think they are able to capture the spiritual view of it. Look at the Japanese culture. They captured mobility, they have done well at survival, they have done well at well-being, but identity is missing. The present crisis in Japanese civilisation is, Who are we ? Are we people of this island ? Or are we part of a large community? Japan's effort in the IMF and the

World Bank exactly speaks to the crisis as to who they are

Next, Sarkar does very well at the epistemology level.

For example, he accepts science, he accepts the idea that, you can know the world through your senses ? though he does see science as relative. But the alternative groups don't accept science at all ? they would avoid it. Sarkar also has the reason and logic traditionally used by philosophy. He also has authority, in the sense that there is a structure of the universe, there is something to be believed in. And he also has intuition ? that is, you can know the universe, you can know consciousness. you can know God directly.

Look at his philosophy. Most thinkers from many traditions are either strong on science or strong on philosophy, or strong on authority, or strong on intuition. Very few have all four. That again is his excellence. But the fifth point is even better. Because after putting in place these four ways of knowing ? authority, intuition, reason, and the senses ? he points to a fifth dimension that he calls bhakti or devotion. Philosophy without the sense of love is useless.

My sense is that he is not talking about love as emotion. That would not be that interesting. I think that everyone thinks love is an emotion.

Epistemology address the question, How do we know we know ? It is easy to say, I believe this. I know this. The speaker knows, but how do you know you know what you know ? Again it is a philosophical discussion. Perhaps too abstract. But the main point is that few people have had logical diversity. There are many ways of thinking, and the world thinks there should be just one way of thinking. Sarkar has multiple ways of thinking, and he also says that love is a way to know the world. You can know something is true if you love it. That is a dramatic philosophical statement. I think that is the statement he is making.

The next point, before I come to the sixth, or linear-cyclical point, which I will focus on, is Sarkar's multiple sense of ontology. Most theoretical perspectives immediately after they are born say that there is only one way, the rest are wrong. For example, "Classical Occidental civilization is the model of truth and nothing else makes sense." You can't have a discussion with people like that ? "I am right, you are wrong." It is not enjoyable ! I think Sarkar's excellence is that he take a multiple view of reality. I have a sense that he is saying, There are many levels of reality. In that way you can discuss with someone. One person may be discussing from a material level, another from a mental level, an intuitional level, a superintuitional level, and occasionally people speak from a Cosmic level. The idea is to accept different voices. People have to be able to say that they are speaking from these different levels. I think Sarkar's theory allows that. Again that is quite dramatic. Of course it is very Indian also.

Sometimes we talk about which countries will be hardest to change. Many people thought that Russia would be hard to change, but Sarkar predicted an early transformation there. If a structure is too tight, it will break. The hardest structure to change are those that are malleable. Indian civilization manages to include everyone. In that sense Indian thinking is that everyone on the planet is an Indian. So that is why Sarkar's work might have the hardest time in India instead of the easiest time ? Indian civilization can encompass everything and not allow itself to become transformed. The other country which will have the hardest time will bo the USA. Again American culture is so universal that in fact everyone is American now. That is why people say Americans have no culture. But the truth is that we can't see the culture because it is everywhere. So that again I see PROUT having the hardest time in the USA, because the USA just consumes everything. The possibility for change is less.

Now the sixth point, which I would like to focus on in my last ten minutes, is social dynamics. A lot of my research has gone into this, including the present volume that is coming out, called Macro-Historians. What we tried to do in this book was to select philosophers from Chinese civilization ? mostly Shu Ma Chen and Chang Chu Cheng; from Islamic civilization ? Ibn Khadun; from Indian civilization Sarkar; and quite a few from the Western World, such as Sorokin and Auguste Compte. What are the main models of history, what are the deeper patterns perceived by these grand thinkers who have been influencing us for the last two or three thousand years? In my reading basically you get three types of pattern. And if you look at your own life, you will see those patterns too.

One of them is the pattern of line, that is, classical science. There is a movement of progress, a moving forward. That makes sense. You cannot shoot an arrow backwards. An arrow does not come back. Time moves on. That has been the model of the modem world since the fifteenth century. There is more efficiency, more wealth, things are clarified. But there are problems, too. One problem is that the model assumes that some people are ahead, some people are behind. Those who are ahead in the model argue that they are the vanguard of civilization, that those behind should be thrown into the dustbin of history. Herbert Spenser's theory of evolution was precisely that ? survival of the fittest. If you are poor, you deserve to be poor. Human genes will do better if you die. The rich only help the poor if it helps their own karma. Their help is altruism. That is the natural consequence of a model of progress which uses a line as the main shape.

Now what is another shape we can use ? The cakra, the cycle. There are seasons ? after spring comes summer, after summer fall, and after fall winter. That means everything has its own time. If the strong rise, one day they will fall. Shu Ma Cheng of Chinese civilization says that someone spiritual, a king, brings in a new dynasty. But over time people move away from learning and away from the Tao, and civilization collapses. And Ibn Khadum's theory is that people who have vigour and are willing to struggle will come into power. They move into the city. Over time in the City they become lazy, and the children after four generations will forget what the original people created, and then the civilization declines. After a hundred years, four generations, there are new outsiders, new people who are struggling to come in.

Of course he was talking about classical Arabic civilization. In our own context the question is, Who are the outsiders? Obviously the spiritual movements, the feminist movements and the ecological movements. They have a new model, they are struggling hard, they have a sense of unity. If you look to see who will change the world, it will be these three movements. But they won't be talking of nations, international relations, presidents and prime ministers. That I think is a part of the past. Those things are not a part of the new vision.

So the good thing about the cyclic theory is that we have a theory that includes everyone. It is a theory of rise and fall. If you are too great, one day you will fall. If you think you are too weak to take power today, one day you will rise. You have these two stages. But there is one dimension missing there ? obviously, the transcendental

So a social theory of progress may be linear ? that means things are moving forwards ? or cyclical ? that means there is a time for everything, there is a place for everything. That society goes in patterns is part of Sarkar's theory also. He has a theory of structure, a theory of a grand cycle, of history ? he has both the linear and the cyclical. But a third part, which he also has, is transcendental theory.

You have to have a theory of the role of consciousness within history. Some people say consciousness can go into the state. can go into the nation-state as Hegel did ? but people interpret this to support the view that God is supporting their nation. Mostly my view and other people's view is that God cannot enter the nation. Other people say that God and consciousness support certain people. Again that is a mistake. It will lead to racism, nationalism and all sorts of genocide.

What Sarkar brilliantly does is to show that consciousness is critical in human history. In a sense consciousness inspires people onwards, it inspires people beyond any cycle, beyond any linear forward movement of history. It is people who have had some glimmerings of higher consciousness who have a sense of purpose. That purpose exists at the individual level. So very few theoreticians have managed to unite the transcendental level with the linear and cyclic models. When someone has managed, the result is a theory of the spiritual at the linear level, a theory of forward progress in the spiritual sense, while simultaneously at the cyclic level every person has a time, every place has a time, things go in a cycle.

My argument again is that Sarkar has done this. I think that is why his work is important. And that is why, I think, this work is sometimes difficult to understand. We used to have theories that only included some part or parts of our understanding of materialism. idealism, transcendentalism. Very few theories have managed to deal with the material world, the idealistic world, the transcendental world ? all three ? and do it well, do it in a way that is logical, that makes sense to people and that people can get a sense of.

In summing up, the linear, cyclical and transcendental views, we should mention one important feature of the cyclical view ? that it does not throw away history. The modern linear view says that the people of the past, including even the spirituality, the religion, of ancient people, can be dismissed and disregarded. If you look at the rise of capitalism, it exploited so many indigenous people, but no matter, it is nevertheless right. So those people are consigned to the dustbin of history. The socialists claim to be different, but in writing history they do the same thing. But the cyclical view will honour the role of ancient societies in human history It will honour the role of ancient societies in human history. It will honour their living, honour their patterns.

But both models again suffer from the absence of the transcendental. You get progress, you get cycles, but the deeper meaning within individuals is lost. Sarkar restores this meaning.

And the seventh and last point of evaluation, on which Sarkar also does very well, revolves around the Greek word "kairos", meaning "right time". You may have spiritual time, time outside of time, cyclical time, quantitative time but do you have the right time? Sarkar's main argument is that now is the right time, the time of dramatic evolution. 

So what is Sarkar up to? He is not creating a different theory, he is creating a framework for new theories ? what in post-modern language is called a discourse, a new way of talking ? a new way, such that when people have to write their own theories, they will use that original theory as a frame of reference. So Sarkar's work is not just about a movement, a new politics, about social upliftment or about progress ? it is about creating a new cosmology, a new and deeper pattern in human history. 

That is my sense of what Sarkar is up to.