Dr. A. K. Merchant: In a world when COVID-19 has brought humanity to its knees and exposed the haughty posturing of many nation-states the lesson of its interconnectedness in combating the pandemic is in stark contrast to the situation four months ago. Despite many positive developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavily on the conscience of the human race. Impending systemic collapse, the crash of global economy and widespread suffering, indicative that this day of reckoning may pave the way to humanity’s long anticipated redemption. For, those who believe that there are spiritual forces operating beyond what gives rise to secular and pragmatic ideals, it is clear that eschatology and messianic hope are two sides of the same coin as depicted in the sacred scriptures of all religions. In figurative language the Sacred Scriptures provide explanations of situations such as one currently prevailing. Here is a selection for illustrative purposes:-
Hinduism: “Social status depends not upon your accomplishments, but in the ownership of property; wealth is now the source of virtue; passion and luxury are the sole bonds between spouses; falsity and lying are the conditions of success in life; sexuality is the sole source of human enjoyment; religion, a superficial and empty ritual, is confused with spirituality— Vishnu Purana
“Whenever there is decay of righteousness O! Bharatha / And a rise of unrighteousness then I manifest Myself for the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing Dharma, I am born from age to age.” Bhagavad-Gita 4:7
Buddhism: “At that period, brethren, there will arise in the world an Exalted One named Maitreya, Fully Awakened, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher for gods and men, an Exalted One, a Buddha, even as I am now. He, by himself, will thoroughly know and see, as it were face to face, this universe, with Its worlds of the spirits, Its Brahmas and Its Maras, and Its world of recluses and Brahmins, of princes and peoples, even as I now, by myself, thoroughly know and see them”— Digha Nikaya, 26.
Christianity: “Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, in the day of his fierce anger.” (Isaiah 13:13)
“Thou shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire…” (Ezek. 38:20)
“I shall shake the heavens and the earth….and the desire of all nations shall come… [and] fill this house with glory.” (Haggai 2:6-7)
Islam: “On the resurrection day the whole earth shall be but His handful and in His right hand shall the heavens be folded together…And there shall be a blast on the trumpet, and all who are in the Heavens, and all who are in the earth shall expire, save those whom God shall vouchsafe to live. Then there shall be another blast on it,… And the earth, shall shine with the light of her Lord, and the Book shall be set…and judgment shall be given between them with equity, and none shall be wronged: And every soul shall receive as it shall have wrought, for well knoweth He men’s actions.” Qur’an 39:68
Bahá’í Faith: “The world is in travail and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned toward waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly; its perversity will long continue, and when the appointed hour is come there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake…”
One of the phases of the judgment of God is portrayed as the utter destruction of completely commercialized and materialized civilization through collapse of its financial structure. This is true considering the plight of world economy since the spread of the global pandemic. It has caused massive downslide, estimated to be some USD 12 trillion already. The daily loss to the Indian economy is reported to be Rs. 32,000 crores (USD 455 million approximately). India will require a sum of Rs. 70 lakh crores (USD 1 trillion approximately) to revive its economy.
How is the world, India including, to move away from the current militant nationalism, rampant consumerism, and frivolous hedonism to a consciousness whereby the welfare of every segment of humanity takes centre-stage and launching the world economy on a positive trajectory, mindful of the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all. It is a truism, unconscionable quantities of wealth have been amassed and still being amassed, fueling the instability that is made worse by how income and opportunity are spread so unevenly both between nations and within nations. Why? However much such conditions are the outcome of history, they do not have to define the future, and even if current approaches to economic life that was imposed post World War II, its sustainability was always debated and discounted. There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples. Won’t the world leaders and all the wielders of authority, secular or religious, agree that there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources?
Today’s planetary dislocation caused by Coronavirus and the stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that are becoming more challenging with every passing day. Leaders, prominent thinkers, and commentators have begun to explore fundamental concepts and bold aspirations to challenge many of the assumptions that have shaped contemporary public discourse. For instance, that self-interest and consumerism far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. Judging the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others. However, at the same time they concur with the religious precepts that possession of wealth is not inherently distasteful or immoral. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; a wholesome pattern of life must be created.
Viewed from the perspective of today’s global community, new economic models are needed, shaped by insights that arise from a sympathetic understanding of shared experience, from viewing human beings in relation to others, and from recognition of the well-being the three protagonists that constitutes society namely—the individual, the institutions and the community.
The principle of the oneness of humanity must be wholeheartedly embraced by those in whose hands the responsibility for decision-making rests, and its related tenets. The concept of world citizenship must be propagated through educational systems, the media, and global agendas be they bilateral or multi-lateral. The United Nations Organization has often taken the lead, but the responses of sovereign nations who are its members have been woefully inadequate. To this end, COVID-19 must be seen as a jarring “Wake up call” and an important warning to nation-states not to go back to “Business as usual”. For, the forces of materialism promote quite a contrary line of thinking: that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement, which uses the language of justice and human rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed. The enervating influence of materialism has impacted every culture, social milieu and age-group. One has to be ever vigilant and refrain from wittingly or unwittingly absorbing the norms of a debased society and falling prey to the negative influences of social media.
Not only at the national, but also at the local level, the elected and appointed governors of human affairs should consider themselves responsible for the welfare of all humankind. Will they respond in the affirmative? Based on the unified vision, it will be necessary to create laws and institutions that are universal in both character and authority. Ultimately, the restructuring or transformation of the United Nations system will lead to the establishment of a world federation of nations with its own legislative, judicial and executive bodies. All of us must be anxiously concerned with the needs of the critical times we live in, and focus our deliberations on swiftly resolving the grave problems surrounding humankind. We shall certainly succeed by staying united and working collectively.
Whatever the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the weeks and months ahead, as a believer, I wish to join others like me, in offering prayers to the Almighty for the safety and good health of all who are battling the global pandemic. “May the promise of reunion in the eternal realms offer solace to those who have lost their loved ones.”