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How the Principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Derived From Maha Upanishad Helps Foster Global Unity

How the Principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Derived From Maha Upanishad Helps Foster Global Unity

  • As we navigate through the complexities of the modern world, the principle behind the Sanskrit phrase offers a guiding light to fostering a world that breathes, thrives, and evolves as “one family.”

The Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” has been an imbibed and enduring understanding in the philosophical tapestry of Bharat. This principle, derived from the Maha Upanishad, traditionally translates to “the world is one family.” It captures the spirit of universal brotherhood and fraternity that forms part of the bedrock of ancient Hindu thought. It stems from the fundamental realization experienced with the dissolution of the one into the vast and indestructible ocean of universal consciousness as experienced and codified by many great rishis from Bharat. 

In the recent past, it has been used as a defensive tool and an ideological shield for India in various geopolitical, religious and academic forums, often as a rebuttal to allegations of human rights violations and accusations of Hinduphobia. However, the pervasive utility of this phrase as a defensive tool might be viewed as counterproductive. Adoption of this tenet might appear desirable, however, a nuanced exploration of this concept informed by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, reveals that the actualization of this principle cannot be imposed nor should be used often but must emerge organically. 

The intent here is to redirect our focus of this phrase from the broader global canvas to the microcosmic realm of individual existence. A shift in perception where “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” serves not only as a diplomatic aphorism but more importantly, as a guiding principle for individual growth and environmental preservation. 

Firstly, the concept of the world as one family should extend to all life forms — plants, animals, and even objects, encompassing the whole of the natural world. The world being one family implies a responsibility towards the environment its conservation and preservation of natural order. 

Secondly, the term should be applied to the intricate orchestra that is the human body. The body, in its harmonious interconnectedness, offers a profound analogy for “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” Exploration of the interconnectedness into the analogy of the body, mirroring the universe’s harmony in our physiological workings offers powerful insights. 

Consider the humble cell — the basic structural and functional unit of all organisms. Much like an isolated ant, a single cell behaves and functions in one particular way. However, when cells cluster together, forming tissues, organs, organ systems, and ultimately, an entire organism, their characteristics and behaviors transform dramatically. This shift in cellular behavior resonates with the transformation that an ant undergoes when it becomes a part of a colony. 

The complexity of this unity in diversity reflects the profound wisdom of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” It is a dance of individuality within a framework of common purpose, much like the cosmos itself — each star, planet, and galaxy playing its part in the grand cosmic ballet, but none functioning in isolation. It represents a vibrant system where the microcosm and macrocosm reflect and complement each other. Just as individual cells form tissues, organs, organ systems, and eventually an organism, nations coalesce to form the global family. 

However, much like the body’s discernment in maintaining its health by eliminating harmful elements, nations too must exercise prudence in their interactions, severing ties that threaten global peace. A mindful interconnectedness, rather than a mere confluence, is thus a crucial aspect of the term. This realization can aid in achieving mental clarity which can foster a healthy relationship among nations while avoiding the harmful effects of unnatural and forced and rhetorical unity. 

Recognizing this interconnectedness can bring about a sense of oneness with ourselves and the world around us. Such behavior is inherent in nature and the cosmos and is an essential part of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” It suggests that this principle, often invoked to foster global unity, also mandates discernment and discipline in sustaining that unity. Hence, the term is not a call for unconditional inclusivity but for a judicious interdependence that nurtures and protects the world family. 

The principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam indeed has profound implications when viewed in the context of interfaith dialogues. These discussions, in their truest sense, aim to bring about a confluence of understanding, acceptance, and respect among different faith traditions. The focus is to perceive the shared spiritual essence that binds all faiths together, akin to appreciating the interconnectedness of various body parts within a single organism.

However, this noble pursuit can become problematic if the drive for interconnectedness morphs into a desire to dominate or digest. Much like a malignant cell in a body that deviates from its normal function, grows uncontrollably, and disrupts the harmony of the whole system, a faith tradition that seeks to digest and dominate others disrupts the spiritual equilibrium. It corrupts the purity of the tree and deviates from its true spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and coexistence. It’s this discerning interconnectedness, that fosters unity without imposing uniformity, which truly resonates with its essence. 

Its application in the geopolitical sphere offers insightful perspectives on the functioning of international alliances like NATO and socio-political ideologies like Communism. While on the surface, they may appear to align with “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” a deeper examination reveals a divergence. 

In regards to NATO, the selective unity of the Western nations conceived at a time of threat from communism of a bygone era and its current continuation and imposition of this antiquated alliance against another faction of the world disrupts the essence of the family. 

Similarly, artificial uniformity imposed by Communism conflicts with the concept of a global family, which celebrates the diversity that is inherent in societies. Communism aims to create a classless society where wealth and power are distributed evenly. This aim might seem to resonate with the concept of “world as one family,” however it contradicts the principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which celebrates the diversity inherent in nature and human societies. A uniform, monolithic structure, as envisioned by communism, doesn’t account for this natural diversity and individuality. 

In essence, both these examples illustrate that any attempt to impose a particular 

ideology or system onto others, or to create an exclusive or artificial uniformity, diverges from the spirit of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” True to its essence, this principle invites us to recognize and respect the intrinsic diversity within the world family, fostering an environment that encourages each member to contribute to the whole, based on their unique capacities and potentials. As we navigate through this interconnected world, the principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” offers a guiding light toward an equitable, harmonious, and peaceful global society. 

The teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras provide a profound and nuanced understanding of unity and interconnectedness that can greatly inform our interpretation of the term in the current geopolitical context. At the heart of the Yoga Sutras is the concept of yoga, which fundamentally means unification — a union of the individual self with the universal consciousness. This union, however, is not one that can be imposed or hurried; it is a journey that must commence organically, initiated by the individual’s own realization and readiness. 

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The journey of yoga, signifying unification, cannot be rushed or imposed. This journey requires abhyasa (disciplined practice), vairagya (dispassion), tapas (austerity, self-discipline), self-study (Svadhyaya) and dissolution into Ishvara Pranidhana. This internal journey and a collective societal journey are necessary for the realization of the aspiration behind the term. These terms are used based on the same spiritual scriptures of the profound Hindu philosophy not to impose, but to explain the concepts. 

Applying this understanding to “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” reveals a deep truth: The global realization of this ideal cannot be rushed or forced. Despite the global discourse on equity, equality, human rights, and democracy, the materialization of these values in their true sense requires a collective preparedness that goes beyond mere rhetoric. The world, as it stands today, may not be entirely ready for this concept. The Kaliyuga, characterized by spiritual decline and material ascendancy and loss of agency does not provide fertile grounds for the realization of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. “

Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend that the term is not a goal to be forcibly achieved but a state of consciousness to be gradually realized. It requires a collective readiness and commitment to embody the principles of empathy, respect for diversity, and sustainable living. Only when each member of the global community is prepared to undertake this transformative journey, can the world truly become “one family.”

To conclude, the epoch of Kaliyuga, replete with its challenges, calls for a refined interpretation of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” It’s about seeing the world not just as a global village but as an interconnected organism where every part has its role to play. This shift in perspective from a geopolitical to a more personal and ecological viewpoint can be instrumental in addressing the ailments of our time and restoring harmony within us and around us. 

The journey towards a global family calls for a transformation of consciousness, characterized by discipline, introspection, and detachment from ego-driven desires. It’s this collective readiness and commitment, embodying the principles of empathy, respect for diversity, and sustainable living, that paves the way for the true realization of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. 

Thus, as we navigate through the complexities of our modern world, the principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” offers a guiding light, not as a goal to be forcibly achieved, but as a state of consciousness to be gradually realized, fostering a world that breathes, thrives, and evolves as “one family.”

This particular sholka from the Bhagavad Gita captures the essence of the term. “A true yogi observes Me in all beings and also sees every being in Me. Indeed, the self-realized person sees Me, the same supreme Bhagwan, everywhere.” 

Shashi Kusuma M.D. is a practicing Plastic surgeon in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL.  He is an active mender of the Hindu American Foundation and a co-founder of the Hindu American PAC of Florida. 

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  • I am so much happy to read this article. This is the true meaning of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. As you said it is more being used as a diplomatic aphorism. I wish more people read this article. The same is the story with Advaita, people do not understand the meaning of it, and keep on parroting “Brahma satyam jagat mithya ” whenever they find an excuse for not doing their Karma.

    Very good article, please write more.

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