Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Imperatives of Progress

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

Another key factor which has to be kept in mind is that culture, like any other human organism, is also capable of evolution and progress. The cultural vision of a nation can undergo expansion and enlargement, constantly enriched by new insights from the succeeding generations of seers, prophets and thinkers from within itself or from a cross-cultural fertilization. This fact applies not only to art, science, philosophy and literature but also to religion and spirituality.

b

Spiritual experience and spiritual thought are also capable of progressive evolution in the form of new discoveries and revelations in the realm of the Spirit and new forms of creative self-expression and synthesis in spiritual thought. So the spiritual intuitions, revelations and discoveries of our modern seers like Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda are also as much a part of our priceless cultural heritage as the revelations of our past seers. This is something which the orthodox exponent of Indian culture still refuses to acknowledge. He is ready to accept a new spiritual teaching if it does not cross the boundaries of the ancient teaching. He is also ready to accept innovations within these boundaries. But when the new revelations go beyond the ancient revelations and enter into unexplored vistas of the Spirit, he becomes suspicious and protests and complains. But is it wise to set such limits to the possibilities of the spiritual quest which is a quest for the Infinite? As Sri Aurobindo points out in one of his letters:

“Truly, this shocked reverence for the past is a wonderful and fearful thing! After all the Divine is infinite and the unrolling of the Truth may be an infinite process . . . not a thing in a nutshell cracked and its contents exhausted once for all by the first seer or sage, while the others must religiously crack the nutshell all over again, each tremblingly fearful not to give the lie to the ‘past’ seers and sages (Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL), Vol. 26, On Himself, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, p.135).

Swami Vivekananda also said something similar in one of his lectures:

“Is God’s book closed? Or is it still a continuous revelation going on? The Bible, the Vedas, the Quran and all other sacred books are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded.  I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present but open ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past; enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutations to all the prophets of the past, great ones of the present and to all that are to come in the future (Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 2, Adwaita, Ashrama, Mayavathi, p. 374).

The above inspiring words of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda reveal the right attitude in dealing with the past and future of Indian Culture. Spirituality is the essence of our national genius: it is the “distinctive compe­tence” of our nation and the source of our national vitality. If the vitality of Western culture lies in its creative and progressive endeavour in secular sciences and the application of science to social progress, the vitality of Indian culture and civilization lies in its creative and progressive endeavour in spiritual science, thought and practice. The future of Indian civilization and culture depends on maintaining this creative and progressive attitude to our unique national genius and harnessing its potential for the progress and development of our own nation and humanity as a whole.

Advertisements

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.

d

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.

Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Inner Resources of A Nation

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

The need of the hour for India today is not a nostalgic dreaming of our past greatness but to think, dream and work for building a new and greater India of the future. But the future cannot be created in a vacuum; it has to be built out of the essence of the past. The power to shape the future has to be drawn from the roots of our national vitality and the spiritual and psychological resources of our nation.

In the ultimate analysis, the long-term viability and progress or the “sustainable development” of a nation depend not so much on its material, ecological or technological resources but primarily on its spiritual and psychological resources. And the greatest of the spiritual and psychological resources of a nation are its people. In the Indian view Man is primarily a spiritual and mental being, or in other words a soul and a mind, and only instrumentally a vital and physical being or a life and a body. In a similar way the essential and enduring part of a collective being like a nation is not its economics, politics or ecology which form its outer body but its Culture, which is the expression of its Mind and Soul. So the other important source of the spiritual and psychological resources of a nation is its cultural heritage.

c

But what exactly are the essential cultural resources of a nation? They are, basically, the unique temperament and genius of its mind and soul. They are not the outer forms of music, art, literature or architecture­ and so on, but the inner spirit, vision, insight and the spiritual, mental and moral attitude, ideal, temperament and the distinctive genius behind these forms that are the enduring and essential cultural resources of a nation. It is this inner spirit behind the outer forms of culture which every nation has to preserve from its past heritage and make it a foundation for its future evolution and progress. This does not mean that the exterior forms of culture have no value or significance. But a mere token preservation of the outer forms, without making any attempt to cultivate in the consciousness of the people a living understanding of the inner spirit of culture, does not have any creative value for the higher cultural life of the nation-—whatever may be its economic utility as “tourist attraction” or its entertainment value in catering to the superficial tastes of the masses. Even in tourism, if it has to become an instrument of culture and not, as it is now, a tool of commerce to fill the nation’s coffers with foreign exchange. The primary aim of cultural tourism has to be to awaken the tourist to the inner spirit of a culture and make the person aware of the fact that the exterior form has value only as an expression of this deeper spirit.

So just as the outer material and economic progress and well-being of a nation depend on a scientific preservation and harnessing of the material and biological resources of its ecological heritage, the internal evolution and progress of a nation depend on the enlightened preservation and harnessing of the spiritual and psychological resources of its human and cultural heritage.