History and the Future – II – M.S. Srinivasan

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.

Key Perspectives

Crystal Gaze, Vision of History, Seer-vision,

The Crystal Gaze

To connect history with the future may appear to many as an oxymoron. However in a holistic spiritual vision, past, present and future do not exist as isolated islands in time but form an indivisible and unbroken whole. And the intuitive vision of the seer can perceive the seeds of future in the past. As Sri Aurobindo describes in a beautiful muse:

“Time is a strong convention; future and present
were living in the past
They are one image that our wills complaisant
Into three schemes, have cast (1)

So to look at the past with the eye of the future is perhaps the most creative approach to history or in other words history has to be integrated with futurology. In fact, the most important ‘use’ of history is its potential for giving a perspective into the future A comprehensive ‘feel’ or understanding of the manifest actualities of the past and present can give an insight into the unmanifest possibilities of the future.

The Vision of History

When we examine the thought and lives of great visionaries of mankind who have shaped the evolution of human society we will find most of them had a deep insight into history. They have built their vision on the solid foundations of the past. It is precisely because of their deeper insight into the past, that they had a better understanding of the significance and drift of the present actualities, and are able to discern the future possibilities with a greater clarity of judgment, or in other words, clearer vision. Their vision and faith in the future are the result of intuition, imagination or reason, or all the three together working on the knowledge and experience of the past and present and penetrating into the future. As Sri Aurobindo, one of the greatest visionaries of our times, points out “Faith is the result of imagination working in the light of history; it takes its stand on reason and experience and aspires into the future from the firm ground of the past.”(2) This capacity for a proper ‘historical perspective’ which helps one to view the past, present and future in a meaningful and related whole is one of the important qualities which the right study of history can develop in the student. As John C.B. Webster says in his “Introduction to History”:

“Perspective, according to Webster’s dictionary is the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. The things which history provides perspective on are present things – structures, events, pressures which participants in history have to deal with every day. Current events are viewed against the background of the events which preceded and led to them, in order to discover how we got to where we are at present. By seeing the present against the background or in the context of the past, we will be able to distinguish between the passing fad or mere ripples on the surface of our present day life on the one hand, and the deeper, more profound and hence more significant currents which are affecting the world in which we live. This kind of perspective is particularly important for those who wish to make the future different from the present or past.”(3)

But what is not fully recognised is that this historical perspective is important not only for the student of history, but in every field of knowledge. For, as we have indicated earlier there is a rhythmic pattern in every movement of Nature, whether it is the progress of events in life or in the march of ideas in human mind. Thus, a careful study of the evolution of a system of knowledge in the right historical perspective can give a dynamic holistic overview of the trend and drift and pattern of ideas in the field, and also a glimpse of the possible direction in which it can or has to proceed. In each field of knowledge the student is taught and the subject is presented in such a way that the learner is able to see how the past prepares the present and the future. He has to be encouraged to apply his reason and intuition, faith, hope and imagination on the knowledge of past and present and extend it to build positive scenarios of the future. As the Mother explains:

“All studies, or in any case the greater part of studies consists in learning about the past, in the hope that it will give a better understanding of the present. But if you want to avoid the danger that the students may cling to the past and refuse to look into the future, you must take great care to explain to them that the purpose of everything that happened in the past was to prepare what is taking place now, and that everything that is taking place now is nothing but a preparation for the road towards the future, which is truly the most important thing for which we must prepare.”(4)

The Seer Vision

But the intuitions and speculations of the human mind can only be uncertain and tentative because human mind is not the power which decides the future destiny of humanity. The human mind, if it is intuitive, can at best, have only a glimpse of the future possibilities. But mind cannot have a clear and comprehensive vision of the future of humanity, emerging and future possibilities and the ultimate destiny of human evolution. To have such a total vision we have to rise beyond mind to the spiritual source of creation where the destiny of man and the world is determined by a transcendent and universal Power, Wisdom and Love.

Here comes the importance of insights and perceptions of spiritual thinkers and seers like Sri Aurobindo, Telhard-de-Chardin and St. Augustine. They have perceived the deeper meaning of history with faculties greater than reason. Among these spiritual thinkers, Sri Aurobindo, had the most comprehensive vision of human and terrestrial evolution and its ultimate destiny.

1.  Sri. Aurobindo SABCL, Vol.5, Collected Poems, P.51
2. Sri. Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol.1, Bande Mathram, P.290
3. John C. Webster, Introduction to History, P.21
4. The Mother, CWM, Vol.12, P.169.

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