Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Universal, Temporal and The Specific

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.

There are two aspects of Indian culture which we have to study carefully and understand thoroughly in order to harness fully its creative potential: first is the element of universality in its essential insights which gives it a global validity, and second is the element of uniqueness of its essential temperament and genius which distinguishes it from other cultures and is therefore of special importance to India. The founders of Indian culture were not ordinary people or mere intellectual thinkers but spiritual seers, Rishis, who lived in constant communion with a universal and eternal consciousness beyond Mind and observed and knew from it the deepest truth of Man, Life and Nature. They tried to build human society on the foundations of some universal spiritual and psychological principles which govern human life in the individual and the collectivity. The values and ideals of Indian culture are based on and evolved from these deeper spiritual discoveries of our Rishis.

But the orthodox exponent of Indian culture asks us to accept this fact on the basis of a blind belief in the greatness of our ancient Rishis and wants to revive the old ideals and values as they were without any remoulding and modification. Such a static and inert approach to Indian culture can never be progressive and creative. If the insights of our ancient Rishis are to be brought back to life and made creative for the present, they have to become our own insights. We have to rediscover them through spiritual experience, vision, intuition or reasoning and make them our own. And if these insights have to become live and creative for shaping the future, we have to re-examine their applica­bility to the contemporary and emerging society.

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The insights of our ancient Rishis may have a universal and eternal relevance, but the way and the form in which they were applied or expressed in ancient Indian society have only a limited and temporary validity. The master­-builders of Indian culture may have seen the truth of things in its essence and wholeness, but the evolutionary condition or consciousness of the society in which they lived may not have been ready or prepared to receive, express and manifest the entire truth they had experienced. That the Vedic sages were well aware of this fact is clear from their description of humanity as a year-old infant. They might have revealed only that much of truth which the infant humanity of their times was able to assimilate and express. So there could be a considerable dilution of the original insights of the Rishis when these insights took a final form in society―a partial step down from the spiritual truth experienced by the seer to the truth revealed or sought to be realised in society; then there was further dilution in the mental ideal through which it was expressed in thought; and again a still further degeneration in the process of practical compromises which the ideal had to make in order to acquire a vital or material form in society. So one of the first tasks in revitalising Indian Culture is to recover the original spiritual and psychological insights behind its past ideals and forms and re-examine their relevance and applicability to the present society. The other task is to examine how best these insights can be re-applied to the progress and evolution of modern society by giving them new and greater forms of self-expression suited to the present evolutionary conditions of humanity.

The other aspect of Indian culture is its uniqueness, its special temperament and genius which distinguishes it from other cultures. The main features of this uniqueness are an inborn spirituality and passion for the Infinite,  a scientific and pragmatic turn of mind in the field of religion and psychology―or, in other words, in the field of spiritual and psychological self-exploration and self­-development,―its tendency to create the exterior from within; its primary stress on inner progress; its repeated emphasis on renunciation and sacrifice as the means for this inner progress; and finally, the great respect it has for the spiritual person who has attained inner realisation. There are many others, but these are the major features of the special temperament and genius of Indian culture.  We have to understand deeply and with clarity these different aspects of our national temperament and genius; make them the basis of our motivational strategies and try to manifest them in every area of our national life.

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