Culture is the expression of the Mind and Soul of a Nation and the source of its true genius. A Nation can play its true role in the evolutionary progress of humanity only when it discovers its deeper Mind and Soul through an awakening of its cultural values and ideals. So, if India has to recover its greatness and fulfill its mission, there must be a widespread cultural awakening through education. However, culture should not become an instrument for promoting narrow-minded religious or cultural chauvinism. The culture of a Nation has to be understood in a global context of the evolutionary destiny of humanity as a whole. This article examines some of the basic concepts and attitudes, which have to be inculcated in the mind of the learner to create such a deep and broad understanding and appreciation of Indian Culture in a global perspective.
The Fundamentals of Indian Culture
What are the fundamental and unique features of Indian Culture? Sri Aurobindo says, Indian Culture
“Has been a spiritual, an inward-looking, religio-philosophic culture.” 1
Here are the three essential characteristics of Indian Culture, the meaning of which has to be conveyed to the student.
The Spiritual Genius of India
India is well-known all over the world as a land of religion, philosophy and spirituality. But not many has a clear perception of what is precisely the essence of Indian spirituality or the spiritual genius of India. We will not enter into any detailed discussion on the rich and many-sided vistas of Indian spirituality. But a student of Indian culture, must be awakened to the two most important and central aspects of Indian spirituality. The first one is the quest for a spiritual reality beyond Mind as the ultimate source of the Individual and the Universe and the highest goal of human life. Second is a scientific and experimental approach to the inner realization of this spiritual reality based on a deep understanding of psychology or a Science of Consciousness. This predominantly scientific, psychological approach to spiritual growth is the essence of India yoga which is nothing but Applied Psychology.
Thus, the essence of Indian spirituality is the systematic application of a spiritual psychology for psychological and spiritual development of the individual, culminating in an inner union or identity with an eternal and infinite Reality beyond mind.
The driving spirit behind the secular enterprise of the modern West is the application of an externalized science, technology and organization for the progress and perfection of the outer life of man. The driving spirit of the Indian spiritual enterprise is the application of an inward-looking Science of Consciousness for the progress and perfection of the inner being of humanity. But these two endeavours of the East and West are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. They have to complement each other and ultimately fuse into a synthesis, which leads humanity towards its integral perfection. This is the future evolutionary enterprise in which India’s mission is to awaken and manifest the crucial and life-giving spiritual dimension in the individual a well as the collectivity. So in imparting Indian Culture, even while emphasizing the unique spiritual genius of India and its importance for the future evolution of humanity, it must be placed in a global perspective, so that admiration for the spiritual greatness of India does not lead to any disdain of or sense of superiority over other cultures.
Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy: The Indian Equation
However, spirituality in ancient India, remained at the summit of the civilization, like a Sun in the sky, enveloping it like a luminous penumbra, infiltrating into the society in a more or less diluted form through religion and philosophy. But spirituality never took direct control of the society, sitting on thrones of power, life and action and ruling it, except perhaps for a brief period in the upanishadic age when most of the kings were yogis. So spirituality at the summits and religio-philosophic in the mass is the structure of Indian culture. But, in Indian Culture, Religion and Philosophy worked in tandem, mutually complementing each other, with religion illuminated by philosophy and the ideals of philosophy made dynamic and living by the disciplines and practice of religion. This brings us to some clarification regarding the terminology. Swami Vivekanada, makes no distinction between religion and spirituality and uses the term religion as the spiritual quest for the Divine. But Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between religion and spirituality and regards religion as the external forms of worship or expression like symbols or mythology. And spirituality, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the inner quest for an inner community with the divine Reality. This distinction has a practical validity because most people who belong to traditional religion do not go beyond external worship towards inner communion. Moreover Religion in ancient India is not entirely outward and external. Most of the fundamental ideals and practices of Indian spirituality like for example indwelling divinity, unity of the divine, timeless transcendence of the Absolute, many paths to the divine, meditation, paths of yoga are incorporated into the religious system and communicated to the masses through epics, mythology, symbols, religious discourses and wandering teachers. As a result a pervasive and enduring religious, philosophical and spiritual temper was implanted in the consciousness of Indian masses. Spirituality remained behind or at the top as a general inspiring influence.
It is perhaps for the future of India to create a truly and entirely spiritual civilization and culture. In this higher spiritual culture, spirituality or spiritual consciousness will remain no longer behind as an inspiration and influence, acting through the higher mind, or religion or philosophy, but takes direct control of every activity of the society, giving a total spiritual direction to life, with spiritually illumined leaders appearing not only in religion or culture, but also in politics, business, economics, media and the masses.
The Inwardness of Indian Mind
How to convey this idea of Indian spirituality to the student of Indian Culture or to an audience? Perhaps through the second characteristics “inward looking” or inwardness. Inwardness means to live from within outwards both individually and collectively. Individually it means not to live in the surface physical, vital or intellectual being but in inner subliminal, or spiritual mind or soul, which can intuitively see or feel or perceive the inner invisible realities behind the outer visible forms. Collectively it means to create a society based on psychologic and spiritual principles, which felicitates the inner psychological and spiritual development of the individual towards his spiritual destiny.
Every outer activity, even something mundane like economics, is the outer expression of some inner psychological needs or forces, and these psychological forces are in turn the expression of some cosmic and spiritual truth or forces. The Vedic social ideal is to make the whole collective life of man a conscious expression of these deeper and higher psychological, cosmic and spiritual forces. We may convey the idea of the spirit as the source and goal of this inwardness and spirituality as the quest for this deepest and innermost truth of the spirit in every activity of human life.
In ancient India, philosophy for the sage and seer is the intellectual expression of his spiritual experience. For others or for the collectivity, philosophy is a means for the intellectual being of the individual and the collectivity to receive, hold or assimilate the truth of the spirit as much as they can, with whatever limitations or imperfections. Religion in ancient India is the attempt to communicate the truth of the Spirit to the instinctive and emotional being of the masses through concrete symbols, images and legends. Through philosophy and religion, the spiritual truths discovered by sages through spiritual experience were made accessible to the intellectual and emotional being of the community or in other words, we may say light of the spirit descends into the intellect and emotions. This may lead to much dilution of the spiritual truth, but at the same there is a greater diffusion of the truth of the spirit into the masses.
Towards a Balanced Approach
However the student of Indian Culture should not be given the impression that ancient Indian Culture is a total success or something perfect or complete. It was a great attempt to create a civilization based on a spiritual vision. But the attempt was only a partial success with some glaring failures. It was a great success in religion, philosophy and culture. But in society and politics, the attempt broke-down and went astray somewhere in the middle. In society, Indian attempt achieved only what Sri Aurobindo describes as “half-aristocratic, half-theoretic feudalism” with the caste system as its last result. In politics and government the attempt to govern politics by dharma couldn’t be sustained after the epical age. As Sri Aurobindo describes this attempt to govern outer life by Dharma.
But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realization of the spirit within him is immensely greater than that which attends a spiritual self-expression through the things of the mind, religion, thought, art, literature, and while in these India reached extraordinary heights and largenesses, she could not in the outward life go beyond certain very partial realisations and very imperfect tentatives,—a general spiritualising symbolism, an infiltration of the greater aspiration, a certain cast given to the communal life, the creation of institutions favourable to the spiritual idea. Politics, society, economics are the natural field of the two first and grosser parts of human aim and conduct recognised in the Indian system, interest and hedonistic desire: Dharma, the higher law, has nowhere been brought more than partially into this outer side of life, and in politics to a very minimum extent; for the effort at governing political action by ethics is usually little more than a pretence.2
The main aim of the political thought of Ramayana and Mahabharatha is to uplift politics to a higher level by harnessing it to the yoke of Dharma or in other words, dharmic elevation of the political life of the community. But in later ages Dharmic aims were subordinated to the practical and economic interests, Artha. This Indian term Dharma is a pregnant concept with a multidimensional significance. But in general we may define Dharma as the values, ideals or ways of living derived from the higher laws of life or Nature, which leads to the higher evolution of humanity in the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual domains of consciousness.
So while it is necessary to highlight our past achievements, the student should also be given a very unbiased and objective assessment of our past failures. In fact our emphasis should be neither on our past achievements nor our failures but on the future work to be done by India. The factors or causes behind our achievements and failures have to be brought out in such a way that it gives a clear direction to the future work to be done.
So our aim in the education of Indian culture should be not to create a narrow-minded and sentimental patriot, but someone who is imbued with the essential spirit and genius of India but at the same time with a broad global outlook which can understand and appreciate the greatness in other cultures.
- Sri Aurobindo (1972), Collected Works Vol. 14, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, CWSA.42, Pg. 335.
- Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, SABCL, Vol.2 karmayogin, Pg.210.
- Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, SABCL, Vol.14, Foundations of Indian Culture Pg.335.
Courtesy: Vedic Waves