Humanity: Today & Tomorrow|Jul 3, 2005 6:37 AM| by:

History and the Future – III

One of the major defects which pursues the study of history is the lack of a proper perspective. The subject is presented as a flow of dates, events and personalities of the past without any meaning or significance for the present or the future. No wonder most of the young and bright minds of our modern age find history not only dull and uninteresting but also irrelevant to the present or the future life.             

But when viewed in the right perspective as the story of the inner and outer evolution of human consciousness and life moving towards a glorious future perfection, history becomes one of the most enriching and illuminating field of education and knowledge. It can widen the horizons of the human mind, inspire hope and faith in human destiny and create a fertile soil for the flowering of the prophet and the visionary. This view of history is not altogether an unscientific proposition. Some of the best scientific minds of our modern age held a more or less similar view of terrestrial evolution. For example, eminent scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi who won Nobel Prize for isolating Vitamin C says, “My feeling is that living matter carries in itself a hitherto undefined principle, a tendency for perfecting itself. It may be that life owes its origin to this self-perfecting principle”.            

In this series we are presenting some perspectives on history, with an emphasis on the future, which can enrich the study of history and lead to a new way of looking at the past.

                                                                                           History as Philosophy

History said Napoleon is the only philosophy. It is perhaps natural and understandable for a great warrior and a man of action like Napoleon to exalt history over the abstractions of philosophy. But can the study of history, lead to philosophical insights?
History is normally considered as a mundane and secular subject which has nothing to do with deeper questions of life. Those who are interested in such truths turn to religion or philosophy, for these are the subjects or fields of knowledge which are supposed to deal with the ultimate meaning of life.

But what is not recognized is that History when it is studied in the light of a comprehensive spiritual vision like that of Sri Aurobindo’s, can provide a much more concrete and satisfying sense and field of quest into the higher aims of human evolution and development than religion or philosophy. Not all questions can be included in the study of history, but some important philosophical ideas like, for example, how we arrived on this planet or why we are here, where are we going, what is the significance of all this “sound and fury” of human life – such questions can be explored more concretely through history rather than through religion or philosophy.

For in our modern age, most of the organized religions of the world have strayed away from their spiritual source becoming instead rigid dogmas and lifeless rituals. They have nothing much to offer to a sincere and intelligent thinker questing for the ultimate meaning of life. When we come to philosophy, most of philosophical thinking is made of intellectual abstraction remote from the actual facts of life. Here comes the importance of history as a field for a higher quest, but it has to be studied in the light of a spiritual vision.

Unfortunately modern scientific mind still obstinately and dogmatically denies the spiritual dimension. Or, if it admits the spiritual it makes a rigid separation between the secular and spiritual and says keep your spiritual belief confined to your private and personal life and do not bring it into the secular and public life. But such an approach is not conducive to a holistic understanding of life.

For as the ancient sages saw clearly, and the modern scientific mind is beginning to see, life is a connected whole. Nature and life, in man or in the universe, from the highest spiritual to the lowest material dimension are an interconnected and indivisible unity. We cannot understand fully any part or activity of life, without a deep insight into the indivisible wholeness of life. This is because the nature of a part is determined by its relations with other parts and the whole. And the spiritual dimension is the very source of our being and life and the foundation of unity and wholeness of life. So we cannot hope to understand the deeper truths of a life science like history without also understanding the spiritual dimensions of man and life.
This brings us to another unique advantage of history as a philosophical quest. Among modern fields of knowledge history covers a broader spectrum of human life than other subjects and therefore can provide a more holistic understanding of human life. For in modern systems of knowledge, the emphasis is on narrow specialization, with each field of knowledge pouring over a small slice of nature or human life like, for example, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, sociology, politics or commerce. History to a certain extent escapes from this narrow specialization because it looks and studies the human life of the past as a whole and in all its various activities like its economics, politics, society and culture. Thus, history can provide a better understanding of human life. However, this is as yet a potential lying untapped and to tap it, we have to bring in certain factors or dimensions – psychological and spiritual dimensions, spiritual vision of life, human development perspective and futurism.