Some Trends and Possible Future Developments in Asia
by Come Carpentier de Gourdon on 10 Nov 2013 1 Comment

The boundaries of the Asian continent are ill-defined and often not naturally traced. Conventionally Asia begins at Istanbul and on the isthmus of Suez in the south but Russia can be said to be part of to it, as Gumilev argued and from that perspective Europe also belongs in it. Asia cannot hence be conceived without taking into account the hybrid concept of Eurasia. In the last few decades and even more so since the beginning of the 21st century one can observe at least five major trends and harbingers of the future common to the Asian continent.


1] Asia is rediscovering its historic, cultural and spiritual unity, partly as a result of the gradual fading of an often divisive colonial heritage, globalization and the modern communication and transportation technologies. The intense exchange of ideas, knowledge, artistic concepts and practices between south, central and east Asia during millennia is too well known to be recalled in detail here. Hinduism and Buddhism before Islam pervaded the continent from one end to another. Although it is too early to accept as definitive the apparent evidence that much of the population of early historic west Asia, central Asia and the Indian subcontinent shared the same genetic heritage (1) communications and trade between Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Iran and India are known to go back at least four thousand years. The penetration of Indian and Chinese cultures in what is justly known as Indochina and through the Malay archipelago as far as Australia is also very ancient and attested by multiple scientific findings, ethnographic, linguistic, artistic and epigraphic.


It is significant for instance that the Evenki (siberian) name “Shaman” that has become universally used is in fact the Samskrit Sramana (pali: samana) that was applied to monks of the Buddhist Sangha although it may have been in existence well before the time of the historical Buddha. In old Russian texts, the Indian Brahman is called Rahman, just as the arabic epithet for the Almighty. Tibet, Turkestan, Siberia, the sprawling archipelago known as “Insulindia” (where the former continent of Sunda extended), the China Sea and the Indian Ocean basin as well as the east African coastal region are areas where Indian, Chinese, Arabic, Persian and Turkic influences have overlapped during many centuries. While Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, Burmese Vietnamese, Cambodian and Japanese cities since possibly two thousand years hosted Indian, Malay, Sinhalese and in some cases Arabic, Iranian, Syro-Lebanese, Assyrian, Armenian, Jewish and central Asian merchants and priests, Sri Lanka as well as Indian and kingdoms and emporia, whether in Gujarat, Konkan, Bengal and the Deccan had their colonies of traders and scholars from west Asia, China and the Indochinese peninsula.


At the dawn of the Renaissance, Vasco de Gama found in Kerala a multi-religious, diverse and open society in which Eastern Orthodox Christians were numerous, prosperous and respected and where Hindu temples and ceremonies had a vaguely “Christian” flavour (due to Christianity’s Asian origins and Indo-European ingredients) according to his first impression. Later on, Jesuit missionaries sought to highlight (some say exploit) the common features between Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism to build syncretistic Asian rites and texts for the Roman Church in the East. The influence of Asian spiritualities on both the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian spiritual and civilizational features that shaped the West throughout the last two thousand years cannot be discounted either.


The cross-cultural fusion that took place across this vast area was facilitated by the fluid and variable nature of the political entities that held sway at various times. Empires and kingdoms waxed and waned and their borders moved according to the vagaries of history and the military fortunes of rulers. Central Asian dynasties ruled most of India and China for centuries, after Indian rulers had extended their power over large swathes of the trans-Himalayan highlands whereas others conquered much of what is now Indonesia. A loose architecture of economic, political and trade associations (a larger ASEAN of sorts) between the present nation-states could help revive that polycentric, plural multinational community.


The common concept of an immanent and transcendent law that “ecologically” regulates all things, Rita or Dharma in India, Tao in China, Asha and Daena in ancient Iran provides a foundation for devising political, economic and social institutions capable of co-existing peacefully without any of them necessarily assimilating the other in the absence of the aggressive, homogenizing expansionism which characterizes statist mercantilism, liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism.


2] Asian cultures are rediscovering the importance of their contribution to the formation of contemporary civilization in such diverse areas as physics, cosmology (2), political science (3), psychology, paleo-anthropology (4), botany and ecology, chemistry, medicine and surgery, mathematics (5), the plastic arts, music, philosophy and theology. The understanding of reality achieved in wisdom traditions such as Taoism, Samkhya, Vedanta, Tantra, Buddhist Madhyamika and Pramana Vartika (6) as well as in Islamic Marifa Asliya and Tasawwuf (Sunni and Shi’ite gnosis of the Falasifa and Sufis) is being revisited in a contemporary scientific perspective and is transforming the ways and conclusions of the “western” quest for knowledge as well as opening new vistas for technologies of the mind and body, from technologically aided telepathy and life-enhancing mental disciplines to non-local teleportation, anti-gravitational and electro-magnetic energy generation and propulsion, nano-technology, bio-engineering, cloud and calm computing (7), 3 D printing and the achievement of the Internet of Things which actualizes the very ancient Vedic and Buddhist image of a cosmic diamond matrix or web of holographic mirrors  in which all things exist potentially as co-dependent reflections of each other, ad infinitum.


The option of interpreting quantic reality through geometry as being made up of crystalline patterns instead of ever smaller and more elusive particles is now gaining acceptance (see note 3) but from a more mundane point of view it must be acknowledged that the discovery of the Higgs Boson as well as Einstein’s earlier findings owe much to the pioneering work of the great Indian scientist SN Bose whose name was given to the boson (8).


The rediscovery of the philosophical and religious heritage takes various forms across Asia. In China, Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism are attracting both devotees and students in many social strata with the encouragement of the State. In south east Asia, Buddhist and Muslim spiritual movements led by local scholars and mystics are multiplying and growing.


In officially secular India where hundreds of religious and spiritual communities co-exist, innumerable private organizations such as the Satya Sai Baba  and Baba Ramdev Divya Yoga Trusts, the Bocchasanansi Sri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the Art of Living Foundation, the Isha Foundation for the Inner Sciences,  the Vipassana World Fellowship, the Oneness Temple and University, the Sri Tirumala Tirupatu Devasthanams, the Sri Aurobindo Society, the Radha Soami Satsang,  the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Chinmaya Missions and institutions, several Sikh, Jain, Tibetan Buddhist, Christian, Bahai and Muslim organizations backed by as many diverse religions and communities build and sponsor schools, universities, cultural centres, hospitals, museums, places of worship, handicraft workshops and outlets, cooperatives, free food kitchens and charitable shelters all over the country and abroad. They represent the bewildering diversity of the country’s human geography and history by catering to the needs and interests of many different layers of the population, from the poorer masses to the most affluent and cosmopolitan classes and their ability to raise very large amounts of funds from voluntary contributions and to build state-of-the-art facilities of all kinds, often at record speed, appears far superior to the average efficacy of government mechanisms, testifying to the fact that despite the striking rise of consumerism and acquisitiveness, spirituality is still the most powerful force in India, even in cases when it is misused.


3] In parallel to these developments, Asia is obviously absorbing the globalised, mostly western techno-cultural heritage at an ever accelerating pace, together with its consumeristic preoccupations and inherent materialism or skepticism. After Japan, China has become the Asian champion of this process of assimilation which is meeting so far with more resistance in south Asia, partly because of enduring poverty, deeply entrenched socio-religious institutions and internal conflicts which delay or mitigate the introduction of “modernity”.


One is reminded at this point that both Mahatma Gandhi and the later Hippy Counter-Modernist, anti-technocratic movements drew much of their inspiration from ancient Asian schools of thought. Though Chinese Confucianism seems less reluctant to accommodate a technocratic ideology because of its concern for social welfare and pragmatism, it insists on the primacy of moral and spiritual values over commercial and utilitarian concerns and Taoism can be regarded as a form of “counter-culture” in the Chinese context which may be gaining followers again in the positivist climate of infrastructural and social engineering that pervades the nation.


The combination of rising prosperity, assimilation of sustainable and environmentally sound technologies, global influence and the revival of national and regional cultures could lead to a Renaissance of Asia’s civilizations, akin in spirit to the flowering of the pan-Asian Buddhistic syncretism in the early centuries of the common era which extended from Transoxiana to Japan and from Sri Lanka to Mongolia.


4] The corollary of Asia’s regained and increasing influence and relative sovereignty after centuries of subjection to the West is that old threats are being revived. China is facing instability in its western regions where central Asian civilizations don’t easily accept the PRC’s “Han” domination and are restless. There are also tensions in the China Sea in which other countries are concerned about renascent Middle Kingdom expansionism. India likewise is under the continuing shadow of the Afghan-Pakistani north west, anciently known as the home of the Takshakas, which was more than two thousand years the source of many, often destructive invasions. As we pointed out before, both India and China were ruled for centuries by invaders from the central Asian highlands and historical memories are long.


Additionally, the old western colonial powers, now aided or partly replaced by the United States are projecting their remaining power, institutional, ideological, financial, technocratic and cultural, and it may take one or two more generations to create enough “soft power” in Asia to replace or even out the intellectual hegemony of Ivy League Universities and their American and European associated academic meccas. While Japan has been for decades a global pole of science and technology innovation, China is beginning to compete with the USA and Europe as its researchers now file more patents than their American counterparts, but the rest of Asia is still far behind. Furthermore, old internal sectarian, religious and ethnic tensions are on the rise again, more so in west Asia and the Caucasus but increasingly in central Asia, west China, the ASEAN area and south Asia as well. If those tensions explode into open conflicts they could considerably delay or even reverse the growth and development of those Asian societies which require stability to increase their prosperity.


5] The outcome of those trends is that Asia is now not only aiming but also compelled to build international structures to support its regained prominence and carve out a place in the world whose last century institutions, beginning with the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and even the G-20, not to mention the Internet, reflect the hegemony of the Euro-American West in particular and of the Anglo-Saxon countries in particular.


The many new institutions that have emerged as a result of the geopolitical change include the ten-nation ASEAN which now has formed an association with China, Japan and South Korea, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Regional Forum, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC) and finally the BRICS which extends to four continents spanning the globe and expanding the old Russian geo-strategic concept of a Russia-India-China association in which Russia is well situated to play the role of a balancer and “honest broker” as well as providing a common axis of development that connects with Europe.


Implications of BRICS are more far reaching than was envisioned when it came into being as Brazil and China are now taking the lead to build an infrastructure for the Internet that would partly free it from effective US control (9). Sooner or later nations such as Iran, Korea (re-united or not), Japan, Turkey and Indonesia could become members of the BRICS association as a de facto new OECD.


It is hence possible for Asia, which gathers more than one half of humanity to build the core of global system that may soon replace the rapidly weakening Euro-American hegemony that lasted almost three centuries since a handful of western countries, in the wake of their rival ascents, effectively divided between them the rest of the planet.






1] Recent analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear DNAs on human remains belonging to the period between 2500 BC and 500 BC in the middle Euphrates valley have revealed the prevalence of haplogroups also found in large numbers in the Indus valley region and in the present-day India and Tibet. The L haplotypes detected in preserved Y chromosomes appear to have spread some thirty to twenty five millennia ago from the South Asian region though they have now practically disappeared in the current population of the Iraq-Syrian area. The research published in the Open Source Journal (PLoS ONE) ( on 28 September 2013), concludes that there were substantial population transfers between those two regions in a very remote past and this finding coincides with the abundant evidence of cultural and trading exchanges between Mesopotamian, Iranian, Anatolian and Harappan (South Asian) civilizations, recently increased by new discoveries in the prehistoric burial sites of the Jiroft area of Iran (specifically in Shahr e Sokhteh) and in Oman and Bahrein. Genetic similarities have also been detected with the Tokharian populations that dwelt in a large region of Eastern Central Asia in later centuries and played a significant role in the formation and evolution of Chinese culture.


2] The pioneer of many physical sciences, Nikola Tesla attested the great influence his dialogue with Swami Vivekananda had on his understanding of nature and several founding fathers of quantic physics and even of the nuclear reaction technology, including Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger and Julius Oppenheimer, were deeply inspired and even guided by Hindu, Taoist or Buddhist philosophical principles and symbols in their quest for the real nature of the physical world. The Hindu-Buddhist and Jain description of many vibrational planes of existence and inhabited worlds (lokas) preceded by several thousand years the contemporary scientific theory of m-branes and the multiverse that has been posited and is now being proved from the mapping of patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation as a result of the contributions of Feeney, Penrose, Gurzadyan, Mersini-Houghton, Holman and Perry. The theory of evolution also found a very early illustration in the Indian cosmological and mythological texts that describe a succession of ten avatars (descents) of Vishnu (“he that pervades all things”) which, from the fish to the superhuman or divine being embody the progression of living forms in a rising scale.


In ancient times, India’s understanding of certain physical laws and phenomena that have only been scientifically discovered or explained in the last hundred years was nothing short of astonishing. Aryabhata (c. 500 AD) calculated the diameter and circumference of the spherical earth and its rotation with commendable accuracy, the first Bhaskara defined time and space as infinite, Paramesvara spelt out a heliocentric cosmology and much before them, Sayana, one of the early commentators of the Rig Veda in the unknown past gave a fairly precise estimation of the speed of light, whether by chance or from an unknown source of information. Even more strikingly, Vedantic epistemology and various Buddhist metaphysical systems, although they quantified infinitesimal and immensely large units of measurement, only paralleled in the scientific literature of the last fifty years or so, describe the universe as being beyond time and space which they explain as illusory or purely subjective properties while the various Tantric schools, possibly inspired by the ritual geometric science of the Vedas represent the cosmos through geometric complex patterns known as yantras or mandalas.


One of the more exciting breakthroughs in physics is the amplituhedron depicted in an article of Quanta magazine (September 17, 2013) by Nathalie Wolchover as “a jewel like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particles interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality”.


This depiction reminds Indologists of the “jeweled net of Indra” alluded to in the Vedas and described in the Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra in a manner which for some modern day mathematicians corresponds to the structures known as Schottky groups and for physicists to non-periodic quasi-crystals such as the diamond (vajra) like hexagon in three dimensions, which exist in a third state of matter, neither periodic nor amorphous and can be used to “pave” space according to a symmetry of the order of five, contrary to the laws of classical geometry. Such geometric structures only recently discovered in crystallography may have been visualized in meditation by ancient seer-scientists in India.


The leader of the team that has developed the model based on amplituhedron, Nima Arkani Hamed points out that this new model replaces the traditional method using the Feynman diagrammes which requires infinitely complex calculations to account for particle interactions. It therefore opens the door to the achievement of the long-sought Unified Field Theory, the holy grail of science but even more profoundly it reveals that “…change arises from the nature of the object but it is not the object changing”. In that optic “particles only appear to exist” to the observer as epiphenomena resulting from those geometric interactions. “The object is basically timeless” (ibid.) as Taoism and Zen Buddhism teach. Physics can then free itself from the two imperatives of locality and unicity and merge with metaphysics. Intriguingly the model predicts the existence of a “master amplituhedron” endowed with an infinite number of facets, like a circle has an infinite number of sides, which could be seen as the saguna brahman of Vedanta, the cunya of the Buddhists and the Pleroma of Greek theologians.


More generally, the panbiotic cosmology of the major Asian civilizations, in which all creation is alive and endowed with some kind of sentience and intelligence, including even minerals, plants as well as planets, elements (such as fire, water, air et al.) is increasingly relevant to the emergent picture of nature according to the ecological perspective. The Indian scientist PC Bose conducted the first experiments to prove the sentient and animate life of plants, doubtlessly guided by his ancestral culture.


3] A scientific theory of governance, rooted in the observation and understanding of natural laws, was developed early in both India and China and evolved during centuries as illustrated by various texts in both regions. The analysis of the causes and effects of human behaviour, as a function of natural and social conditions can be noticed in several treatises and manuals and seems, judging from the Ramayana, the Panchatantra, the Hitopadesa and other Indian classics to be rooted in the study of animal societies, such as the monkeys in the Ramayana.


A wealth of observations relevant to the human condition has been collected over many years since the American primatologist Clarence Carpenter studied Indian rhesus macaques settled on the Cayo island near Puerto Rico. The formation of a hierarchy among clans, tribes and individuals of that species and the equation between solidarity, submission, dominance and aggression among its members is closely mirrored in human societies since their origins and remain essential factors even in our modern technocratic age. Thus, the existence of  local communities, castes, the periodic occurrence of conflict, the attainment and transmission of power and the mechanisms of governance or cybernetics can be explained by biological laws that were well understood in ancient societies and described in various Asian classical texts.


4] Although the accounts of mankind’s origins and chronology contained in the Puranas and other texts are still regarded as fictitious and irrational by most modern scientists, some researchers such a Michael Cremo have studied them without prejudice and hypothesized that they might reflect some unknown stages of our remote past. Some tantalizing material indices have been found, like the famous 3,75 million years “human” footprints discovered in Laetoli in Africa by eminent anthropologist Mary Leakey and various others, which may bear witness to the fact that humans, or their similar or even superior predecessors have been on this planet for as long as the Hindu  records attest.


5] Mathematics was independently developed very early in east, south and west Asia but the contribution of India is truly essential: the zero, the number Pi, “Arabic” numerals, algebra, the decimal and binary systems, the place value relation in numbers, the so-called Pythagorean theorem, the golden number and the “Fibonacci series”, calculus, algorithms all possibly have their origins in very ancient technical treatises dealing with astronomy, chronology, the calendar, the design of sacrificial altars, metrics, prosody and pure geometry, from the vedic Sulba Sastras to Pingala’s Chhandashastra, the Aryabhatiya and the works of Madhava and the medieval Kerala school of mathematics. The invention of mathematical games such as backgammon, chess, chaupar, goh and others also played a seminal role. This is now recognized by the foremost historians of mathematics such as George Ifrah.


6] Those diverse schools of knowledge represent visions and methods of exploring reality that are not mutually exclusive and that may be deemed complementary. Just as physics, biology and chemistry deal with different aspects or orders of the same reality that obey their own specific laws. Reality ultimately both encompasses and transcends all descriptions. Physics acknowledges it when it defines its models as elegant and useful representations that cannot lay claim to being absolutely true, accurate and comprehensive.


7] The presence of the allegories of both the web or net (jala, a noun also applying to water) and cloud (megha: a “net” of water droplets) in Indian philosophy and literature finds some elucidation in the contemporary reality of ICT in which cloud computing emerged, after the worldwide web or Internet out of the theory and practice of particle physics in the context of the CERN.


8] SN Bose played seminal role in the discovery of the “Boson Einstein condensate phenomenon” from 1924, and thereby in the emergence of quantic physics when his work led to the abandonment of the classical physics model based in the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution for subatomic particles, due to the effect of the uncertainty principle. Bose however has been largely forgotten even though one of the most significant developments in physics lately has been the confirmation of the existence of the elusive “Higgs Boson” or scalar particle which is held to lend mass to all those that have it.


9] The BRICS countries are laying out a 34 000 km long, 2 fibre pair, 12.8 Tbit capacity submarine cable that will connect Vladivostok in Russia, Shantou in China, Chennai in India, Cape Town in South Africa and Fortaleza in Brazil. It is expected to be operational by mid-2015 and independently Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, has declared her governments resolve to build an independent Internet infrastructure that will free the country from US surveillance and control. This is clearly a common goal of the BRICS countries which can lead to web-autonomy for Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Russia-centric EURASEC nations.


Select Bibliography:

Landmarks of Science in Early India, Michel Danino (PDF document,

Zero is Not The Only Story, P Priyadarshi, (India First Foundation, 2007)

Divine Proportion: Phi in Art, Nature and Science, P Hemenway (Springwood SA, 2008)

The Shorter Science and Civilisation: an abridgement of Joseph Needham’s Original Text, Colin Roman, Cambridge University Press (1980-95)


Based on the presentation made at the round table on “The Traditions and Future of Asian Civilizations – Politics, Economics and Religion” at the 11th World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations, Rhodes, October 2013

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top