What is Integral Unity?
To understand this concept, we turn to Rajiv Malhotra’s book ‘Being Different’, where he notes that “the dharmic conception of the integral unity of the cosmos supports a more stable and relaxed approach to multiplicity and variety“. Furthermore, he says (emphasis ours):
“..I wish to highlight the ties and bonds within the vast spectrum of dharma traditions that constitute what I am calling ‘the integral unity of dharma’. This unity is classically expressed in the Vedas, but it is not confined to schools that privilege the Vedas as authoritative. This relatedness among different schools differs from the ‘synthetic unity’ created by fusing together independent entities that must be reconciled. Instead, it is a kind of diversity springing precisely from the wholeness that grounds it. The common attributes discussed will serve as a basis for contrasting them with the Western traditions. … All schools of Vedanta agree that there is one Ultimate Reality that is Supreme Consciousness and that there is nothing independent of this reality. This Ultimate Reality is the raw material that turns itself into the universe…“..
It is worth noting that this property is not the same as ‘monotheism’ (far from it), and nor is it restricted to Advaitic thought, but is a common property of all Vedanta schools. In fact, Rajiv Malhotra goes even beyond, and shows that this unity is not restricted solely to Hinduism, but is found in dharma-centric traditions, stating “Jainism has deep roots in ancient India and exerted a strong influence for several centuries. Its worldview is different from those of other dharma traditions, though it shares the integral unity found in the Hindu and Buddhist schools.” It is also shown that non-dharmic systems (e.g. History-centric) do not possess integral unity, and the unity within such systems has to synthesized from multiple irreconcilable and independent entities.
Furthermore, he states that “This idea – integral unity, with the whole manifesting in the parts, and they in turn aspiring to unite with the whole – is reflected in all facets of dharmic systems, including in their philosophy, science, religion, ethics, spirituality, art, music, dance, education, literature, oral narratives, politics, marriage, economics and social structures.”
Thus, we see that even though the rulers and thought leaders of the Tamizh lands belonged to different dharma traditions including several Hindu Sampradayas, as well as Buddhist, and Jaina systems, their deepest thoughts, however diverse, were all naturally rooted in this unity of dharma that there is one ultimate reality that is truly independent.
Rajiv Malhotra identifies Bandhu as the “concept used to explain how the whole and the parts are held together in integral unity. All aspects of the world stem from a common ineffable source, and what we perceive as nature is but a pointer to a higher reality. There is interlinking among the various faces of this reality, such as sounds, numbers, colours and ideas, and this interlinking is bandhu…. All the arts and sciences are interrelated and may be seen as manifold ways in which human nature, itself an emanation of cosmic unity, expresses itself. One discipline contains and reflects the others. Delving deeply into any one of them eventually leads to similar integral principles and structures….even when certain disciplines and practices were destroyed, other disciplines encoding the same principles survived and helped revive the overall tradition.“
We can also understand ‘Bandhu’ from the writings of Prof. Subhash Kak (2006 Patanjali lecture, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth).
“The best way to understand India is through its art and the cosmology. Textbook narratives often overlook the synthesizing principles that represent the grammar of Indian culture, and they are much like the accounts of the six blind people who encountering an elephant describe it as wall, spear, snake, tree, rope, and fan, respectively. The three notions that underlie Indian culture are that of bandhu, paradox, and yajña. Bandhu is the binding between the outer and the inner that makes it possible to know, and this is the basis of the pervasive spirituality in India; paradox is the recognition that the bandhu must lie outside of rational system, leading to the distinction between the “higher” science of consciousness and the “lower,” rational objective science; yajña is transformation that the individual undergoes by participating in Vedic “ritual” or any other creative process.”
Furthermore, “Indian thought highlights the connections between these two worlds, and its art presents visions of the cosmos“.
Further reading: Tamizh science writer and commentator, Aravindan Neelakandan’s article on ‘Samanvaya‘ and mutual respect, which allows space for differences in India since times immemorial.