In the Eastern tradition, philosophy is looked upon not simply as an academic exercise like economics, political science or sociology, but as a powerful tool for enlightenment, human welfare and inner spiritual growth. This implies that philosophy must deal frontally both with the outer problems afflicting the human race as well as the universal need for each individual to move upwards on the path of spiritual awareness. It is, therefore, a matter for satisfaction that the theme of this Twenty-First World Congress is Philosophy facing world problems.
The overwhelming phenomenon that we face as we travel onwards in time is the all pervasive globalisation that is taking place in almost every field of human endeavor. As we moved through the last century, which witnessed unparallel and unimagined progress; the cruelest mass killings in human history and the most outstanding breakthroughs in human welfare; the advent of weapons of unprecedented lethality and the creative probing into outer space, we find ourselves poised at a crucial crossroads in the long and tortuous history of the human race on Planet Earth. In our own lifetimes Time has telescoped, both for better and for worse. While scientific applications have raised living standards for millions beyond all expectations, the problems of humanity have also assumed global dimensions and millions still go hungry day after day. The persistence of nuclear testing and the disposal of nuclear wastes, the dangers of global warming and the grave damage to our biosphere, the malign underworld of drugs and human trafficking, the alarming spread of communicable diseases and terrorist violence are problems which the human race shares in common.
It is now quite clear that humanity is transiting into a new kind of society, a transition even more significant than the earlier ones from caves to the forests, from forests to nomadic, pastoral, industrial and then to the post industrial society. What we are now witnessing is the transition to a global society. The future is upon us almost before we realize that the past has disappeared and we find ourselves precariously poised in a present full of challenge and change. In order to deal effectively with the problems that confront humanity, philosophy must break out of narrow confines--academic, theological or any other--and embrace in its ambit the entire human condition. To my mind there are five major attributes that are required of the new philosophy at this crucial juncture in human history.
Firstly, we have not to accept that human beings throughout the world, regardless of their race or religion, nationality or economic status, gender or sexual orientation, constitute a single extended family. While geneticists have confirmed that this is literally true, the cruel reality is that down the long and tortuous corridors of time we have never acted as a harmonious world. In fact, conflict and polarization have been predominant themes in human history. Some of the greatest minds in the philosophical traditions in the world, specially the seers of the Upanishads, did indeed clearly formulate the concept of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the World as a Family, but this remains a glowing ideal rather than a reality. To be globally relevant, philosophy today has to be inclusive and cannot afford to leave out any segment of the human race. As the poet John Donne wrote four centuries ago "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; It tolls for thee."
The second attribute of a global philosophy will have to go even beyond the human race, and involve the entire planet. Environmental values have in the last few decades moved from the periphery to the center of human consciousness. In 1986 I attended a historic meeting in the sacred town of Assisi, hallowed with memory of the great St. Francis, where representatives of five great religious traditions prepared testimonies on Man and Nature known as the Assisi Declarations. …