When there is no tradition or culture of reflection in society, people act blindly and follow leaders who are also blind. Such an aimless, misdirected society of the ‘blind leading the blind’ endanger themselves and the world by acting disharmoniously with the natural order that sustains all life. ((Shrimad-Bhagavatam, 7.5.31.))
The wise have explained that one result is derived from the culture of knowledge and that a different result is obtained of the culture of ignorance. ((Ishopanishad, 10.))
These five thousand year old verses warn that a society lacking a culture of reflection is a danger to itself and the world. The texts make a causal link between a society in crisis and the absence of reflective thought. In this sense they are remarkable for their prescience of the current state of affairs.
Elsewhere in the Vedas its authors distinguish between a ‘culture of knowledge’ and a ‘culture of ignorance’. It seems that both ignorance and knowledge are central concepts in Vedic culture that deserve equal consideration. Vedic culture states its aim as the acquisition of knowledge that leads to wisdom or ‘realised knowledge’ through reflection. The question is whether modern society’s accumulation of knowledge has resulted in a culture of wisdom?
When Vedic authors see that the absence of reflection results in disharmonious action they give prominence to thinking over action. It is the quality of thinking and reflection that determines the quality of our actions. At first glance that may seem obvious, but in practice it isn’t the reality we live. Ours is a culture of action, with little time given to reflection. Of course we set goals, consider criteria, assess results and make adjustments where we must. While this may count in some sense as reflection, it often results in unexpected consequences, however knowledgeable or factual our choices.
Why then are we not more reflective? Even if we choose to reflect, do we have the ability or know-how for deep reflection? We wonder what role education can play in creating and fostering a culture of reflection? And what latent potential could be realised by adding reflection to our accumulated fund of knowledge?
The verse claims that a lack of reflection results in ‘disharmonious action with the natural order that sustains all life’. Vedic wisdom thinks of the natural order as a finely tuned integrative harmony. The implication is that one should consider the quality of one’s thought and actions and how they align to the underlying principles in nature that are conducive to life and collective wellbeing. It also implies consideration of the long-term. Our reading highlighted that the Vedic tradition doesn’t treat the concept of a ‘natural order’ as an abstraction, as we might do in Western thinking. The tradition suggests that linking the power of the mind, of consciousness, in reflection to these underlying principles helps us act in a way that provides a quality life that is sustainable in the long run.
Such a quality of action has considerable importance at a time when companies recognise the need for sustainable business practice and strive for corporate social responsibility. Of course companies are principally concerned with realising their business goals and targets and not with cultivating notions of ‘natural order’. And yet, there is a need to research ‘natural order’ and ‘sustaining all life’ so that they become practical and accessible principles for people, organisations and societies. Practical in a way that they can apply them as best practice in daily life. What kind of education and research would that be and who would do it?