Media Center Media Center

Speech by External Affairs Minister at the Launch of "George Yeo on Bonsai, Banyan and the Tao" (April 12, 2016)

April 12, 2016

His Excellency Mr. George Yeo,
His Excellency, Mr Lim Thuan Kuan, High Commissioner of Singapore to India,
My colleagues Shri P. Chidambaram, Shri NK Singh, Dr. Sugata Bose,

Distinguished guests, Ladies & Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to join you all this evening to launch an extraordinary book by an extraordinary man, someone India is proud to call its friend, Mr. George Yeo.

Today we celebrate not only a great mind, but also a great bond, the bond between India and Singapore.

I am particularly grateful for the presence of my distinguished colleagues, who have already given us much food for thought this evening.

George Yeo on the Bonsai, the Banyan and the Tao is a testament to the power of ideas. The notion of a philosopher-statesman is not an idea that one hears too often these days, but perhaps it is appropriate that it is Singapore, like the ancient city states of Greece, that has produced one for our times.

This collection of essays shows a deeply inquisitive mind, concerned with the primary task of building a sustainable political and social model for the modern world, but equally at home in our complex histories, the arts, culture and new forms of media. Mr. Yeo combines the discipline and depth of the scholar with the practicality of an administrator and the strategic vision of a statesman. I have no doubt that his book will be an invaluable resource, not only for those who seek to understand the success of Singapore, but to all those who are invested in the rise of Asia, the defining dynamic of our age.

For after all, it was in Singapore, under the towering figure of Lee Kwan Yew that the dream of a New Asian Century first became a reality. The transformation of Singapore from an impoverished colonial port to the ‘red dot’ that today emblazons the East is proof of what sustained and incorruptible commitment to development can achieve. Nations, east and west, look to Singapore for inspiration and emulation. It has created a nation of splendid diversity, while keeping the aspirations of the individual citizen’s growth at the centre of its aspirations. As Prime Minister Modi put it during his visit there last November, "Singapore is a nation that has become a metaphor for the reality of dreams.”

That metaphor has now gripped much of Asia like a fever. The pendulum, as Mr Yeo describes it, has begun to swing back to our side of the world. It only remains to be seen how quickly we can adapt to the future and make the Asian Century our own.

Excellencies, Friends,

In the Eastern imagination, Mr. Yeo’s characterizations of our environment and its nurture – particularly of the Banyan and the Bonsai - have a profound resonance. At its core, they highlight our deep and abiding connection to nature that we regard as sacred. But they also highlight the bonds within our communities, and the linkages beyond. I cannot but agree with his metaphor of civilization as a garden that needs to be continually tended. It is here that notion of balance or santulan is most important – depending on our particular conditions, we must allow for the Banyan tree to provide our citizens with shade and relief, prune it when it becomes too overwhelming, and at the same time, take care not to overdo our care. That balance is also irrevocably tied to the notion of justice or nyaya.

For me, the Banyan is a metaphor for providing a protective space for people to thrive, for a more tolerant and harmonious world. It harks back to Buddhism that spread its light from India to all of Asia and beyond. It is Buddhism’s inherent spirit of accommodation that has allowed the co-existence of so many cultures and religions under its protective shade. ‘Bonsai’ on the other hand, is a miniature version of a tree. And through the model of the city-State of Singapore, George Yeo tries to demonstrate what other diverse societies can achieve with concerted effort and a forward looking vision. ‘Tao’ is the intuitive knowledge of "life", the world and the way it works, something that Mr Yeo knows all too well. And the three concepts come together brilliantly in the 91 essays and lectures contained in the book.

Excellencies, Distinguished guests

In the Indian tradition, the pursuit of Dharma is key goal of human existence. Like the Tao, it illuminates a path – a way forward – amidst the gathering darkness. Our world today is consumed by violent conflicts, environmental degradation and deepening inequalities. We are sorely in need of reclaiming a common heritage and shared principles that will show us a path out of the turmoil that we have created.

Indeed, when India first suggested the restoration of Nalanda University, it was the thought of the revival of an ancient centre of learning that would bring together scholars and civilizations that animated its beginnings; where, to modify, the beautiful phrase of Mr. Yeo’s friend Wang Gungwu, the mandalas of the past and the future would overlap. We are honoured that a scholar-statesman from the East now leads this institution. In fact, in his book, Mr. Yeo speaks of the advice of his taijigong master, who on his departure from politics told him that perhaps it was time for him to be free – not to do less, but to do more! There is such wisdom hidden in the simplicity of those words. For India and for Nalanda University, we have no doubt what that ‘more’ means. For in his own words, Mr. Yeo describes Nalanda as ‘light to the world.’ He may as well have been quoting from the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, where it says tamasoma jyotirgamaya: from the darkness, lead us into light.

So, in Mr. George Yeo we have a man who lived and flourished at the crossroads of our civilizations; at the meeting point – between East and West, between our ancient heritage and our modern future. I have already mentioned his qualities as an able administrator, a scholar and a public intellectual. Now, through this collection of essays, he proves that he is a global citizen. He writes, and I quote: "The greatest danger in the age we live is technological development racing too far ahead of man’s moral development. We need men of goodwill coming together from all directions to reflect on the moral challenges of our times and help point the way forward. Nalanda can provide one such meeting place. I hope, Singapore, another.”

Friends, Singapore is already such a confluence. And under Mr. George Yeo’s stewardship, I am certain that Nalanda will also rise to redeem the promise of its glorious history.

I thank you all.



Post A Comment

  • Name *
    E-mail *
  • Write Your Comment *
  • Verification Code * Verification Code