The Form of Spirituality in Asia Is Transformed as Traditional Monarchical Patterns Fade

While Europe has had secular rulers for the most part, Asia has tended to fuse together the sacred and the secular traditionally in a number of lands.  With the weakening of the tradition of monarchical rule in Asia, there is naturally a question about what happens to the religious and spiritual traditions that were joined with them in this part of the world.  Sri Aurobindo examines briefly the changes in Turkey and Japan as somewhat illustrative of what can be expected.  His review, of course, took place during the early decades of the 20th Century primarily, so changes he discusses as possible are already accomplished facts in today’s world.

“At the two extremes of the Asiatic world in Japan and in Turkey the monarchy after the close of the war (n.b. 1st World War) still preserved something of its old sacrosanct character and its appeal to the sentiment of the race.  In Japan, still imperfectly democratised, the sentiment which surrounds the Mikado is visibly weakened, his prestige survives but his actual power is very limited, and the growth of democracy and socialism is bound to aid the weakening and limiting process and may well produce the same results as in Europe.  The Moslem Caliphate, originally the head of a theocratic democracy, was converted into a political institution by the rapid growth of a Moslem empire, now broken into pieces.  The Caliphate now abolished could only have survived as a purely religious headship and even in that character its unity was threatened by the rise of new spiritual and national movements in Persia, Arabia and Egypt.  But the one real and important fact in Asia of today is this that the whole active force of its future is centred not in priesthood or aristocracy, but, as it was formerly in Russia before the Revolution, in a newly-created intelligentsia, small at first in numbers, but increasing in energy and the settled will to arrive and bound to become exceedingly dynamic by reason of the inherited force of spirituality.  Asia may well preserve its ancient spirituality; even in its hour of greatest weakness it has been able to impose its prestige increasingly even on the positive European mind.  But whatever turn that spirituality takes, it will be determined by the mentality of this new intelligentsia and will certainly flow into other channels than the old ideas and symbols.  The old forms of Asiatic monarchy and theocracy seem therefore destined to disappear; at present there is no chance of their revival in new figures, although that may happen in the future.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 23, Forms of Government, pp. 198-199