Let us become cultured !

True happiness in this world is the right terrestrial aim of man and true happiness lies in the finding and maintenance of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body” – wrote Shri Aurobindo in his book The Foundations of Indian Culture. Culture is the harmonizing of the spirit, mind and body of the peoples of a nation and maintenance of such harmony in everyday living. It is common to hear youngsters declare that the ‘work culture’ of the Americans as an ideal unattainable in Indian context. The American civilization is basically in pursuit of materialistic abundance. India, even today, is predominantly, though perhaps half-heartedly, persistent with the spiritual elevation of man. To India, progress has always remained ‘spiritual progress’ as enumerated in her philosophy, religion, arts, literature and social systems. “And” as Sri Aurobindo remarks, “it is her fidelity, with whatever human short-comings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world.”

According to the Vedas, there are three basic qualities or “gunas” in every human being – ‘Tamas’, ‘Rajas’ and ‘Satva’ which reflect the animal, human and spiritual tendencies in man. While all three are present in all human beings, the dominance of one over the other two makes him/her barbaric, humane or saintly in outward expression. The law of struggle – survival of the fittest, rules the material man governed by ‘Tamo guna.’  The law of concert – unity of the intellectuals rules the men of ‘Rajo guna.’ And the law of acceptance – the path of least resistance rules the saintly men with Saatvic qualities.

Conflicts and competition has dominated our past, rule our present and are unlikely to disappear from our future, for conflict resides in the heart of man. While the spiritual legacy of India prompts her to directly uplift mankind by Saatvic principles, the highest and most desirable of qualities, such a quantum leap is outside the scope of humanity at large, which first needs to step out of the phase of conflicts to the phase of unity.

Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics wrote – “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not so easy.” Indeed we in India easily sacrifice and accept our fate – it has become our culture. But to sacrifice to the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way is what we desperately need to learn.

The drawback of Indian culture as it appears today, is the disharmony that has crept in the body, mind and spirit of the Indian people. While the body is seeking the materialistic abundance of the first stage, the mind is seeking intellectual satisfaction from the second stage, but the spirit has been imprisoned with ideals of sacrifice and tolerance. Needless to say following this principle of sacrifice contrary to the truth of one’s consciousness had resulted in self-destruction.  Now the ‘Tamasic’ qualities which had been subjucated by sheer conditioning, has over thrown the ‘satva’ of the common Indian man.

What is this supreme ideal that has been so badly misunderstood by the modern Indian? The ‘saatvic’ quality of sacrifice or path of least resistance and maximum acceptance, blossoms in man out of the realisation of the existence of only one ‘Self’. Imposing this supreme consciousness as a concept, into the conflicting minds of the Tamasic mass can bring no spiritual merits. Perhaps such spiritual enlightenment remains the prerogative of a few individual ‘perfected’ beings and not for the peoples of any society for some more time to come.

Perhaps the time has now come for the dream ideal ‘Satva’ to take a temporary back seat and allow ‘Rajas’ or ‘unity’ to step into the limelight. Are the intellectuals of India ready to respond to this call?

Quoting Sir John Woodroffe’s article “Is India Cultured?” Sri Aurobindo writes – “The culture which gives up its living separateness, the civilization which neglects an active self defence will be swallowed up and the nation which lived by it will lose its soul and perish. Each nation is a Shakti or power of evolving spirit in humanity and lives by the principle it embodies. India is the Bharata Shakti, the living energy of a great spiritual conception and fidelity to it is the very principle of her existence. For by its virtue alone she has been one of the immortal nations; this alone has been the secret of her amazing persistence and perpetual force of survival and revival.”

The word ‘modern’ has become synonymous with the word ‘western’ to most Indians. The technological advancements of the west have intoxicated the body and mind of the Indian, who has now relinquished his cultural identity to become a cheap imitation of the aspirations of an alien materialistic culture. The living separateness of our culture, our spirituality, has melted. The self-defense systems of tit-for-tat that we ape from the materialistic world is indeed destroying the soul of India. Fidelity to our spiritual concept of ‘unity amidst diversity’, which had remained the very principle of India’s existence, is now threatened by satanic forces of conflict and comparisons. India, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has survived the onslaught of many a foreign invasion by virtue of her fidelity to the ideal ‘God is one and all living things are embodiment of the same divine source’. While the time has come to relinquish a conditioned feeling of surrender from the hearts of the Indian mass, kindling a spirit of conflict goes against the very fundamental individualistic philosophy of India – our sense of unity.

Shri Aurobindo writes – “Change of forms there may and will be, but the novel formation must be a new self-expression or self-creation developed from within; it must be characteristic of the spirit and not servilely borrowed from the embodiments of an alien nature.” Is the concept of dhana or charity alien to the Indian mind? Or is the quality of shram-daan or service unknown to our seers? Do we treat our guests to ‘left-overs’ after satisfying our own needs? Why then have we forgotten these saatvic qualities and become materialistic caricatures aping western clothes, structures, food, fashion, language, thought and behavior? I wonder why certain classes of Indians (the majority I must confess) are hypnotized in all fields by foreign culture? Is it because they constantly see all the power, creation and activity on that side while India is surged with struggle, immobility and inefficiency?

How did India overcome the religious assault from Europe in the beginning of the 19th century? Historians attribute the revival of the Indian spirit to two events – the Theosophical movement and the appearance of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago. These two events showed the spiritual ideas for which India stands no longer on their defense but aggressive and invading the materialized mentality of the Occident. Today, the entire world has become a global village and there is no point in bartering unnecessary cheap imitations in the global market. If India’s singularity is to be sustained, her commitment to the elevation of the human spirit cannot be suppressed. But can we lead the world when our own inner selves are split with conflicting desires? By virtue of our centuries old culture India is the spiritual guru of the world and has to take the onus of responsibility on her shoulder by working on her Rajasic qualities of concert and unity, rather than the Tamasic qualities of strife and competition.

Many western ideas, liberty, equality, democracy and others have been admitted into Indian thought and will no doubt continue to enter her. But we should always Indianise the form of such thoughts with our inherent spirituality. Let us not borrow concepts of living, which shall remain alien to our nature. If conflict is permissable over a small piece of land to satisfy political ends, why do we shy away from open competition in every field of activity? If indeed the doctrine of survival of the fittest appeals to the Indian conscience, why does it not extend to our education, our industry, our work habits, our governance and every aspect of life of the common Indian?

Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1918 – “Is the harmony of the spirit, mind and body to found itself on the gross law of our physical nature, rationalised only or touched at most by an ineffectual spiritual glimmer, or is the dominant power of spirit to take the lead and force the lesser powers of the intellect, mind and body to a more exalted effort after a higher harmony, a victorious ever developing equipoise? India must defend herself by reshaping her cultural forms to express more powerfully, intimately and perfectly her ancient ideal.”  India chose the Rajasic quality of concert or unity – a commitment to uplift her downtrodden, to educate her illiterate, to empower her women, to grow wholistically as a nation. Let not this ancient Indian culture die because of the betrayal of some of her indifferent childern. Let us reaffirm our commitment to unite our body, mind and spirit to the cause of elevating the human spirit.

Horace Walpole said – “Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.” Let the intellectuals, the thinkers, the comedians take over and find ways to harmonise our bodily needs of materialistic abundance, our mental needs of intellectual unity and our spiritual needs to exhilarate the purpose of human life.

Written by Gita Krishna Raj  |  Published in infinithoughts in August 2003

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