The term “enlightenment” is used by some philosopher and artist, in the 18th century in Europe and America. It started out of the renaissance and continued till the beginning of the 19th century. People of this Enlightenment era were convinced that they were emerging out, from centuries of darkness and ignorance into a new dawn, enlightened by reason, science, love and respect for humanity. Among the philosophical rationalist two prominent names Descartes and Spinoza can be included and among the political philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Marx can be included in this category. Due to the discoveries in the field of science of natural laws, self confidence also increased in the society which was also an equally important feature. For example: Newton discovered the Law of Gravity and Galileo discovered the movement of planets, the moons and the stars. This new found knowledge destroyed the fanatic and blind world of knowledge built by ignorant armies of religious preachers.
But Hindus used and preached Enlightened thousands of years before in the form of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam. From “vasudhā”, the earth; “ēva” = indeed is; and “kutumbakam”, family;) is a Sanskrit phrase that is often cited to assert that the whole world is one single family. The earliest reference to this phrase is found in the Hitopadesha, a collection of parables and is part of all the Hindu philosophies
Although the Enlightenment was more than a set of fixed idea but an attitude, a method of thought also. It was a desire to re-examine and questioned all popular ideas and values and to explore new ideas for the welfare of mankind. Although thinkers and intellectuals related with the notion of Enlightenment considered reason to be the most common source, influencing the thinking of the common men, but most of them believed that the average persons’ reason had been influenced or rather corrupted by the environmental influence and especially by the un-necessary influence and involvement of the church and other western religions, in the day to day life. Churches were considered the most corrupting of influences and held responsible by them that transcends or corrupts reason.
Nut Indians or Hindus have different message for humanity:
ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām | udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam ||
Discrimination saying “this one is a relative; this other one is a stranger” is for the mean-minded. For those who’re known as magnanimous, the entire world constitutes but a family.
The above verse is also found V.3.37 of Panchatantra (3rd century BCE), and in the 1.3.71 of Hitopadesha – (12th century CE).
The statement is not just about peace and harmony among the societies in the world, but also about a truth that somehow the whole world has to live together like a family. This is the reason why Hindus think that any power in the world, big or small cannot have its own way, disregarding others.
The Enlightened were those thinkers and intellectuals who had escaped religious influence- and those who had escaped the biased and prejudiced judgments of religion. It was only by the exercise of reason that the damaged caused by religion can be undone and one can discover or uncover the true nature that lies waiting to be revealed beneath the layer of prejudices and preferences. Although the thinkers and intellectuals who believed in Enlightenment were successful in convincing the people that the church was the principal institution which has enslaved and ruined them, but religious preachers, themselves fail to renounce the religion altogether fearing reprisal and losing of benefits. The shift was not from faith to non-belief but from faith to deism. Deists believed that the power who had created the universe, allowed it to function like a clock without divine intervention. Deists believed that human achievements and happiness should be aimed at this life only itself and not at the unknown life to come in future.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is a philosophy that nurtures and promotes an understanding that the whole world is one family. It is a philosophy that tries to cultivate an understanding that the whole of humanity is one family. It is a Hindu philosophy emanating from a spiritual understanding that the whole of humanity is made of one life energy. If the Parmatma (God) is one how then an Atma (Soul) can be different? If Atma is different how then can it ultimately be dissolved in the Parmatma? It is a Sanskrit phrase and spread and adopted by Hindus meaning that the whole earth is one family.
As mentioned earlier, the first word is made up of three Sanskrit words – Vasudha, Eva and Kutumbakam. Vasudha mean the earth, Eva means emphasizing and Kutumbakam means a family. It means that the whole earth is just one family. The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam originates from Hitopadesha. Hindu writers and scholars like Jaidev, Chanakya, Manu, Maharshi Ved Vyas, Goswami Tulsidas, etc., can be kept in this category.
The wave of changes that swept Europe, also influence the religion. The supremacy, power and prestige of church and the Pope was also questioned and challenged. People no longer believed in God’s blessings in human affairs. Prior to the Enlightenment principle and before the discovery of natural laws, people believed that event and thing that happened on this earth was the direct blessings of God. But when scientists and scholars like Marx, Charlse Darwin etc., established that it was not God but nature itself caused changes, man’s faith in God was declined and religious obligations were no longer the important concern of the people. People who believed in the Enlightenment focused only on man instead of paying any attention to God and the Church. Famous poet Alexander Pope wrote a beautiful couplet on the changing attitude of man, “Know then thyself presume not God to scan,”.
Marx believed that with the faith in Enlightenment and increased and changing knowledge would increase man’s production powers. Even machines were not merely tools of production but a powerful idea spreading Enlightenment which could transform the nature and defeat scarcity. Marx and Enlightenment thinkers supported the democratization of knowledge and importance of the spread of knowledge for the onward movement and progress of society. Knowledge should be used to wipe out ignorance and abolishing the class division. The spread of knowledge should encourage, creating a radical democracy, in which every one has an equal share of political and economic rights.
In the works of Karl Marx, some elements of Enlightenment, self realization, modernity, maturity of mind through reason and struggle towards freedom can be seen. He saw capitalism as an evil system of economic relations that exploited labor for individual profit and cut of man from productive labor through the individual ownership of means. He further believed that the bourgeois class and capitalism were a stage necessary in the movement for man’s self realization toward communism. Conflict between social and economics structure of capitalism helps the enlightenment belief of self realization, believed Marx. It is through creation of polycentric class concerns, with the use of human reasons in understanding the nature, causes and source of exploitation as private ownership of the means of production that the workers can create for themselves, free from all type of exploitations. In Marx’s concept of exploitation free world, there is no place for state and state powers and people are Enlightened to govern them. This is nothing but Hindu concept Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
The legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam defines in totality to guide the political and moral doctrines of modern society. All the branch of learning such as art, politics, moral values, literature, racial relations etc., is influenced by its effect. Enlightenment philosophers were the first and the most vocal ones to work for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and subsequently human rights. Before the arrival of such thinkers, in Europe, in social hierarchy men occupied positions by virtue of their birth. Enlightenment thinkers like J.S.Mill, Rousseau and Emmanuel Kant stressed the need for a change in the way people are governed. These ideas sowed the seeds of the idea of democracy in the United States, Western Europe and non-Islamic countries of Asia. Although Marxist thinkers denounced these democracies as “bourgeois democracies”, because the democracies rejected Marxism but they were successful democracies where ballot and not the bullet decided the power and delivered Enlightenment. .
Enlightenment also helped communism to grow. Marx wrote Communist Manifesto in 1840s which was adopted by many governments. Ironically Communism was responsible in crushing democracies and human right. Erstwhile USSR and some east European countries and China adopted communism. But baring China Communism failed every where. Even the disintegration of USSR and east European countries were the result of cruelty and violation of human rights in Communist rule.
Besides political ideologies and struggle for human rights, the Enlightenment thinkers were also responsible for big success in the field of psycho-analysis. For most of modern psycho-analytical theories, credit goes to Sigmund Freud. Though Freud, Nietzsche and Marx do not belong to the age of the Enlightenment but they tried and implement the Enlightenment legacy. But the contribution of Marx was unique as he advocated the right of common man.
Although Marx was a bitter critic of Hinduism, he very intelligently stole a number of ideas from Hinduism, Enlightenment is one such philosophy stolen by Marx from Hinduism. In Hinduism this philosophy is named as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Many of today’s self styled ‘Enlightened thinkers’ have actually have little regard for the others’ freedom of conscience and principal of autonomy that underpinned Enlightenment thought. Actually the concept of Enlightenment thought was very strongly advocated in Hinduism in the form of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.As mentioned, the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was first time discussed in “Hitopadesha” a collection of Sanskrit prose and verse, written by Narayan, in 12th century A.D.
In the name of Enlightenment, ‘the notable shifts in the recent history of world’ as numerous accounts put it, has certainly had its misuses, which use it from the pogrom to mindless consumerism. It now has a veritable army of self-styled activism. Militant secularists, new secular Atheists, human right champions, Non- Government Organizations, Environment Activists turned terrorists …each in turn draw justification from the intellectual emanations. And each in their turn will betray it.
But all these Enlightened, from the zealously anti-religious but zealously pro-science. Marx tried – albeit contested – to the Enlightened have been reversed, turned in on themselves. He pretended to follow scientific knowledge, but had become his faith even freedom itself, that integral Enlightenment impulse, has been recognized as the enemy of the people.
Enlightenment thoughts of Marx and others maintain, stand in contradiction to such oppressive, enervating tendencies. Our freedom of conscience to our freedom to decide how to live – which often lies ravaged. Lip service duly paid, he suggests some moderations. Marx’s confused and beguiled argument, smuggled under Enlightened grab, is not unique. We are not rational a relentlessly unreliable set of barely conscious interest, neither can we trust ourselves, nor can we be trusted. But Enlightenment cannot be separated from the social struggles underpinning its triumph at the end of the eightieth century, so its degeneration – the ‘destruction of reason’ as one thinker was to call it – cannot be separated from the history of bourgeois reaction that succeeded it.
M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford).
Feenberg and Leiss, The Essential Marcuse (Beacon).
J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (MIT).
Writings of the Young Marx on Politics and Philosophy, edited by L. Easton and K. Guddat (Doubleday).
Hitopadesha. Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse. According to the author of Hitopadesha, Narayana, the main purpose of creating the Hitopadesha is to instruct young minds the philosophy of life in an easy way so that they are able to grow into responsible adults. It is almost similar to the Panchatantra. The whole philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is an integral part of the Hindu Philosophy.
The Hindu, Chennai, India.