The Awakening of the East and its Impact on The Evolution of Society Throughout the World

James Joyce in his famous work Finnegan’s Wake, made the following observation:  “The silent cock shall crow at last.  The west shall shake the east awake.  Walk while ye have the night for morn, …”    Sri Aurobindo also notes that the force of the rise of the West during the Age of Reason has awakened the East, and it is not likely that the East will wind up following exactly the same cycle of development that pertained in Europe and America; rather, the cultural, economic and political background and systems of Asia will certainly be impacted, but will modify the results in unforeseen ways.  We may note the same cycle in the development of technology whereby developing countries have in some cases “leapfrogged” the West as new possibilities made older methods obsolete.  Cell phone technology has largely overpassed the need for land lines in developing lands, while Europe and America are still very much living off of embedded technology and thus, less adaptable as new tools arise.  In the sphere of societal development, it is likely that the Asiatic cultures, even if infected by Western materialism to some degree, will eventually work to find a balance that respects their traditional values while integrating the powers of modern life.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the West in its triumphant conquest of the world has awakened the slumbering East and has produced in its midst an increasing struggle between an imported Western individualism and the old conventional principle of society.  The latter is here rapidly, there slowly breaking down, but something quite different from Western individualism may very well take its place.  …  the signs are that the individualistic period in the East will be neither of long duration nor predominantly rationalistic and secularist in character.  If then the East, as the result of its awakening, follows its own bent and evolves a novel social tendency and culture, that is bound to have an enormous effect on the direction of the world’s civilisation; we can measure its probably influence by the profound results of the first reflux of the ideas even of the unawakened East upon Europe.  Whatever that effect may be, it will not be in favour of any re-ordering of society on the lines of the still current tendency towards a mechanical economism which has not ceased to dominate mind and life in the Occident.  The influence of the East is likely to be rather in the direction of subjectivism and practical spirituality, a greater opening of our physical existence to the realisation of ideals other than the strong but limited aims suggested by the life and the body in their own gross nature.”

The enormous interest in Yoga, Ayurveda, spirituality, Eastern religions, mindfulness practices of India, China, Tibet, Japan and other Asian cultures, that has arisen in the West over the last 75 years or more, makes it clear that a new paradigm, along the lines suggested by Sri Aurobindo, is in fact operative.


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 2, the Age of Individualism and Reason, pp. 23-24