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Foundation of Indian Culture

Dr. Kavita Sharma
President of South Asian University & Advisory Council
  Religion has been one of the most dominant forces in India, since the beginning of time.  According to Sri Aurobindo and many scholars, the key to India’s culture and civilization lies in its spirituality.  A book was published by Sir John Woodroffe, a scholar and a critic, called India Civilized as an answer to the negative criticism of Indian culture by the English drama critic William Archer.  Sri Aurobindo was in broad agreement with Woodroffe so he used  the occasion  for reflections on Indian culture and civilization published as a series of articles on Indian Art, Architecture, History, Literature and Philosophy.  These have been compiled under the title The Foundations of Indian Culture.  Many of the issues discussed them are not only still relevant but continue to be debated and discussed.  The core issue is what is the key to Indian culture and how has it  manifested in all aspect of life in India.
Religion and Spirituality
To begin with, spirituality and religion need to be distinguished.  Also it is necessary to understand  what is meant by culture and civilization.   Religion can be defined as beliefs  pertaining  to or a set of beliefs concerning the supernatural, sacred or divine and the moral codes, practices and institutions associated with such belief or beliefs.  It is an organized system of beliefs that generally seeks to understand the purpose, meaning, goals and methods of spiritual things. It usually has an organized church an accepted text and a hierarchy of priests with powers over religious matters of the followers and, sometimes power and authority also in worldly matters.  In fact there has always been competition, rivalry and tension in most parts of the world between the church and the state which has not existed in India.
Spirituality, on the other hand, can mean various things to various people depending on their belief systems and cultural background.  It can be defined as devotion to metaphysical matters, as opposed to worldly things.  A broader definition pertains to activities which renew, uplift, comfort, heal and inspire both ourselves and those with whom we interact.  It can include a belief in supernatural powers. No particular religion is meant by spirituality.
In older times, human society had given a very important place to religion.  But there has always been a section of society  that has been the standard bearer of progressive movements which  has often revolted against the predominance of religion.  This is  because in several contexts some religions seen to oppose progress and side with  forces of obscurity, ignorance and oppression.  Consequently, a time comes when the oppressed  revolt to correct these errors and set the religions right. Thus paradoxically religion has needed human beings to guide and correct it rather than it correcting and guiding  them.  The reason for the failure of religion has been because it has confused the essential with the inessential and the extraneous and emphasized the latter.  It has adhered to dogmas, cults and codes that have caused inequities at their mildest and untold misery and even bloodshed at its worst.  More wars have been fought in the name of religion than in any other name.  Even today, it is the easiest tool to mobilize people to violence.
Culture and Civilization
The word culture comes from ‘cult’ which means worship, devotion, homage to a person or a thing.  ‘Cultivare’ or ‘Cultiva’ also means tilled land.  Hence the word culture encompasses tillage, rearing, improvement by mental or physical training and intellectual development.  Hence, culture at its most comprehensive, refers to the diverse creative activities of a people – literature, visual and performing arts; and to various forms of artistic self expression by the individual or by communities.  These activities give a sense of purpose to human existence and, at the same time, provide the reflective poise and spiritual energy so essential to the nurturing  of a ‘good society’.
Civilization comes from ‘civil’ or the Latin ‘civilis’ which means citizen.   Therefore, a civil society is community of citizen.  A civilization is the process of  making or becoming civilized.  It is  usually an advanced stage of social development.  Civil also means polite.  Hence to civilize is to form an enlightened and refined social order.  The culture of a people finds expression in a civil society.  Culture requires  expression, through aesthetics, intelligence and imagination.  Civilization is the practical and outward formulation of thought and creativity in social order.
Function of Knowledge
The development of a civilization takes place according to  the emphasis it places on the creation of knowledge and its diffusion in society.   In India, the idea of knowledge is different from that of the West.  This is because  the Western man has been granted and has treated it as a matter of  right to maintain and extend his dominion. Therefore, aim of the revival of knowledge during  the Renaissance and later who an effort according Kapil Kapoor  to bend nature to man’s purpose.  The goal of  life for the western man became to  achieve a life of comfort, something that had been promised to him by his God as a birthright. This explains the rise of sciences and the retreat of Christian ontology before the advancing empirical science.  It  rendered much of Christian dogma indefensible and led finally to the collapse of faith with drastic intellectual and spiritual consequences for the Western Christendom in the nineteenth century.
The question is what is the function of knowledge in the growth and development of a civilization?  What is its relationship with culture spirituality and religion.  How a civilization views knowledge and what are its purposes constitutes a view of life that shapes its growth, its value and its belief systems.
“Knowledge” in western  paradigm says Kapil Kapoor,  is exteriorized.  It is constituted in the empiricist mode, that is , it is based and acted upon according to observation and experiment and not merely on theory.  Hence, perceptions came through the senses and are stored outside the mind in the ‘texts’ that already have or acquire societal authority. The individual is the passive recipient of this knowledge  and its user. Its power consists in the control it exercises over the individual and pressurizes him to the conform.   And as  Western history shows, this “ organized “ knowledge has often proved destructive. The ostracization of scientists like Galileo or closer to us of Darwin is a case in point.  The knowledge so gained acquires great power that   rests in the authority of  the “ truth” it attains through societal and institutional support. At a given time in the Western history, there has always been a dominant “truth” of the time. This, Kapoor explains, is the consequence of the Hebraic monistic imperative – “man” in the humanist phase, then  “ language” then and now “science” and technology.   There is in the Western mind, a monistic imperative one dominant “truth” at one time. All human life works on dichotomies and polarities and the West posits that  between the dichotomies, only one can be dominantly  true. Of course, a synthesis through dialectic is also accepted but nevertheless there is one dominant truth.   This has to be cognized and   then adhered to. This imperative is driven by the uncompromising monism of the Hebraic world –view. In sum, the goal of knowledge is the gaining and exercise of “power”. The  consequences of such a philosophic vision are  not always happy.  In  more fundamental terms,  it led to the ‘fall’ by  partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  This  is tantamount to the loss of freedom . The formulation of ‘truth’ is essentially a linguistic construct but it is assigned ‘value or ‘truth’.  This assignment  does not /cannot come from experience, but from outside itself from  individuals who “know” completely ignoring the individual who seeks to know.   In this structure, the  individual has neither any role nor freedom  to evaluate for himself the validity of these categories of thought.  Any deviation or disagreement  subjects him to ostracization for daring to be at variance with the  societally exercised imposition of “belief”.
In the Indian thought system, the function and goal of knowledge was not to exercise of power over others but power over one self.  The highest aim was  moksa, or liberation of the self from its own limitations and constraints. The direction  governing  thought and its diffusion is exactly  the opposite of what pertains in the Western framework. It is from the individual to the social or the collective which forms a continuum; unlike the West, it does not come from the social to the individual in a relationship of rupture or tension. Therefore, while in the Western framework, knowledge is an exercise of power over the individual, to bind him and to fetter his mind to the dominant societally accepted idea in the Indian framework, knowledge or jnana, is an instrument of liberation of the individual not from just the superficial, external societal constraints of a collective code, but also from the very fundamental, inner, existential constraints of his own mind and self. This inner freedom is the  true freedom.  Thegoal of knowledge in the Indian tradition therefore is  very different – it is to promote the freedom of the individual.  This accounts for the plurality, multiplicity and diversity in thought, religion and  spirituality which extends to the arts and to the most mundane aspects of life.
Indian thought systems support a kind of pagan pluralism which to me is rather joyous and make plurality a ground reality of Indian intellectual life.  This points out Kapoor, contrasts sharply with Hebraic monism and monotheism. But Indian pluralism is not anarchic or chaotic.  There is a substratum of world view  emerges that paradoxically  leads to a certain synthesizing universalism which is closely related to and facilitated by this pagan pluralism. It also implies inclusive individualism, in which all are included as against the exclusive individualism of the nineteenth-century Europe.
Again, the Indian thought rests on cyclicity as against the Western linearity. This means that it  does not operate with the principle of  linear evolution and hence does not believe that progress necessarily takes place  with the passage of time.  Indian thought would postulate the opposite of linear progress.  The direction of human change is towards decay rather than progress suggesting the imperative of constantly struggling for perfection or goodness. It is a cyclical movement but not a meaningless  return to the point from where one started.  It is to be seen as a spiral where each cycle in only a  stage in further development and has the capacity to move both up and down.  This also explains why Indians are so skeptical about the concept of development.
            Further in the Indian civilization, there is no rigid demarcation between religion and philosophy.  At their best they   constantly make each other’s processes dynamic and together infuse the other aspects of human and natural life. The whole object and aim is the knowledge of the spirit, its experience and the right way of spiritual existence. So the question arises, what is the true  relationship between spirituality and religion. Sri Aurobindo would explain it as follows.
Religion is the first imperfect form of the spiritual impulse in the human mind.  For the spiritual impulse to take hold of life it becomes necessary to cast thought and action into the religious mold.  Thus, it was sought to fill every circumstances of life with religious sense.  This created a pervadingly religio-philosophic culture.
Religion is needed because man needs the support of each step lower in his stages of ascent.  He is helped by the scaffolding of dogma, worship, image, sign or form or some symbol.  Thus the image worship  is not the idolatory of a barbaric or undeveloped mind as it is projected  by the western critics of Indian culture and civilization.  Even the most ignorant know that the image is a symbol and support and can be kept aside when its use is over.  The progress can be from the saguna or from the form attributes to the formless and attribute less that is, nirguna.
The fundamental of all Indian religion is common to the highest human thinking anywhere.  The supreme truth of all is a Being or Existence beyond the mental and physical appearances familiar to us here.  Beyond mind, life and body is a Spirit and Self, that contains all that is finite and infinite and surpasses   all that is relative.  There is a Supreme Absolute, originating and supporting all that is transient, a One Eternal.  But this truth was not seized by the Indian mind merely as a philosophical speculation, theological dogma or abstraction.  It was perceived as a living spiritual truth, a Power or Entity could be sought by all according to their capacity in a thousand different ways.  The Infinite alone justifies the presence of the finite  and the finite does not have a completely  separate or independent existence from the infinite.  Life is not an illusion but a Divine play, a manifestation of the glory of the Infinite.  It is a means by which the soul grows in nature through countless forms and many lives to approach, touch, feel and unite itself through love and knowledge, faith and adoration to God.
However, this does not lead to either pantheism or polytheism as the west understands it.  The myriad gives freedom to reach the one through different paths according to one’s own inner nature or being and one’s own situation, that is swabhava and swadharma.  Far beyond the myriad is the universal, the supra-cosmic eternal.  In the Indian system there is no rigidity about the intellectual or theological conceptions about the Supreme Truth.  That is why there is an endless variety in Indian philosophy and religion which to the European mind seems bewildering, interminable, wearisome and useless.  India recognized authority of spiritual experience and knowledge, but recognized still more the need for variety of spiritual experience and knowledge if each individual had to journey on his own path.
The task of religion and spirituality was to mediate between God and Man, between the External and Infinite, the transient but persistent finite and the yet unexpressed Truth consciousness.  For this it had to lead the mind out of its ignorance through various paths.  Hence, although the spirit of Indian religion and culture has been persistently the same through a long period of time, its forms have undergone remarkable changes.  These are the result of a logical and inherent evolution an integral part of the  very process of man’s growth.  The second or post-vedic age was distinguished by great philosophies; copious, many-sided, thought provoking epic literature; beginnings of art and science; evolution of vigorous and complex society, formation of large kingdoms and empires; and by manifold formative activities of all kinds and great system of living and thinking.
Objections to Indian Spirituality
Several other charges  have also been made by European thinkers against Indian spirituality.  Sri Aurobindo in his rejoinder has answered each one of them.  The first  that  Indian spirituality  is mere speculation.  That is how they characterize the Upanishads, all the philosophies of Buddhism and other philosophical tracts.  But Indian philosophers would reject this altogether emphasizing that physical nature cannot be the only possible test in the scrutiny of truth. However, this does not mean that  Indian philosophy  led away from the study of nature.  Indians ranked first in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, surgery, and  branches of physical knowledge that were practiced in ancient times.  It, along with the Greeks, was the teacher of Arabs from whom Europe got the habit of scientific inquiry that formed the basis of modern science.  The two most striking examples in support of this claim are the decimal notation in mathematics and the perception that the earth is a moving body in astronomy.
A remarkable feature of the Indian mind was a close attention to the things of life, a disposition to observe salient facts, to systematize them and to then explore them to the extent that in each ingredient or fact a whole science has been founded. Therefore, it cannot be said that empiricism was rejected in India over intuition and faith.  Actually, all Indian spiritual pronouncements emphasize that truth has to be gained through observation and individual experiences.  Then the core has to be penetrated through an intuitive leap that breaks the boundaries and limitations of the merely rational.  This why it put forward the idea of the hierarchies of mind that Sri Aurobindo had explained and systematized.
However, it cannot be denied Indian science came to a halt around the thirteenth century.  A period of darkness ensued which prevented India from sharing in the vast modern development of scientific knowledge.  But this was not because the metaphysical tendency of the Indian mind was intolerant to the study of  physical nature.  It was a part of the general cessation of new intellectual activity.  Philosophy, too, ceased to develop around this time, the last efflorescence being of Tantra.
Another objection is that Indian culture is too other worldly and denies the claims of life in this world.  Sri Aurobindo responds by saying that this is a misrepresentation.  Indian culture does not deny   value to life, nor does it detach it from terrestrial interests and look to eternity while neglecting the requirements of the  moment.  The ancient civilization of India founded itself upon four human interests: first, ethical conduct and the right law of individual and social life;  second, material, economic and other aims and needs of the mind and body; third, desire and enjoyment  and lastly spiritual liberation.  Hence, the four pillars of life were Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.  The business of culture and social organization was to create conditions so that these four requirements of the individual could be satisfied in a suitable social organization.  This was certainly not an exclusively other worldly direction.  At the same time India has always regarded the material world as only an antechamber, convinced that within us was a Self that was great than the mental and vital and greater than the ego.  The eternal has always been regarded as both near and present.   The temporal being exists in the Eternal and man increasingly turns to it for transcendence.
Further, since the Indian mind is so concerned with the eternal and quite sure of the ephemeral nature of life,  it  has been accused of pessimism.  However, pessimism is a strand of thought found in all developed civilizations.  It is the sign of a culture that has already matured.  It is the product  of a mind that has lived and experienced much, plumbed the depths of  life and found it full of suffering.  It has  realized that joy and achievement are full of vanity and vexation of spirit, and that all newness is only ephemeral and transitory.  But pessimism is not exclusive to Indian culture.  It has been rampant in Europe and Europe has also had to concede  that all material achievements cannot  change the physical and ephemeral nature of life.  The whole body of existential literature, the Theatre of the Absurd in its different forms which followed the experience of the two world wars, are testimony to European pessimism.  Besides the ascetic notes of India are not more gloomy than certain kinds of European pessimism which not only could not find any joy or hope in the beyond but also shrank from death and dissolution of the body. The Calvinistic thought, the Oxford movement, the Victorian disillusionment all have strong element of pessimism.   Indian asceticism is not all a  mournful gospel of sorrow or painful mortification of the flesh in morbid penance.  It is also an effort to reach a higher joy and the absolute possession of the spirit. The aim of which is ‘ananda’ or bliss.
The concepts embodied in Indian philosophy are put into action in religion and so the two  are intimately interconnected.  Philosophy in India is not pure rational gymastic of speculative logic in the air, an ultra subtle process of thought spinning.  What is perceived intuitively  is organized into intellectual theory, and the interaction between religion and philosophy is nothing but an  ordering of the intuitive perception of all that is the soul, thought, the dynamic truth, and the heart  of feeling.   Indian religion is  Indian philosophy put into action and experience.
The Indian conception of life moves from a deep center to external lines leading to a  very different objective than the West.  It is not that it has ignored external life.  At one time in its intellectual history, from 100 BC to almost AD 600, the Indian mind, it appears, was deeply involved in empire-building, both of the terra firma and of the terra cognita. Few cultures can show such wide ranging structures and systems of ideas in almost all spheres of human as was witnessed in India during this long phase. This system building has left behind a great stock of ideas and has deeply impacted the Indian mind and made it naturally reflective and ideational. What the Indian mind does is to  look through form and force to search for the spirit in things everywhere.  The peculiarity of Indian will in life is that it does not feel satisfied or fulfilled unless it has found and lived in the truth of the spirit.  The Indian ideal of the world, Nature and existence is not merely a physical concept  but is also psychological and spiritual.  Thus Indian spirituality is very different from that of Europe but it does not mean that Indian culture does not concede reality to life, follows no material or vital aims and satisfactions or does not care for our actual human existence. While it looks beyond the world  human life in ancient Indian thought was never considered  a vile or unworthy existence.  It was accepted as the greatest gift and was greatly desirable.
Man in the Indian idea  was a spirit veiled in the works of energy, moving to self discovery and capable of Godhead.  He is a soul growing through Nature to conscious self-hood; he is a divinity and an eternal existence. The value of the Indian concept of life lies in the way it connects this distant perfection with the  normal living and present every day nature.  It is important to remember that India has felt the call of the senses like the Greece, Rome or contemporary Europe. It has also perceived the possibility of a materialistic life with all its attractions as is evident from the philosophy of the Charvakas.  But the materialistic and solely ‘this worldly’  could not fully take hold and become dominant at any time.  Even when a certain grandeur and greatness was perceived in this way of life,  a colossal egoistic indulgence solely in the  life of the mind and the senses was regarded in India  as the way of the asura or the rakshasa.
There is a conviction, almost universal, that another power claims man besides desire and self interest and self will, that is the power of the Dharma.  Dharma is at once a religious law of action and the deepest law of our nature.  It is not a creed, a cult or an ideal inspiring an ethical and social rule as the West perceives it.  It is the right law of functioning of our life in all its parts.  The tendency of man to seek for a just and perfect law of living finds its truth and justification in Dharma.  Viewed thus, everything has its dharma, its law of life imposed on it by its nature. This is called Swadharma which is a product of Swabhava or the  individual nature of man and his place in the social hierarchy.  For man, dharma is the conscious imposition of a rule of ideal living on all the parts of his being.  Dharma is fixed in its essence but still develops and evolves in our consciousness according to the situation, time and place.  It is not rigid.  It evolves and has its stages.  There are gradations of spiritual and ethical ascension in the search for the highest law of our nature.  Temperaments vary and social law has to make room for variety.  Rigidity would lead to loss.  The man of knowledge, the man of power, the productive and acquisitive man, the priest, scholar, poet, artist, scholar, artist, fighter, ruler, tiller of the soul, craftsman, labourer, servant, all cannot usefully have the same training.  They all cannot be shaped in the same pattern.  Nor can they all follow the same way of living.
Dharma is the Indian ideal of perfection for developing the mind and soul of man.  It compels him to grow in power and force to certain high or universal qualities to build the highest type of manhood.  The problem that Indian culture had to solve was of outward form for the practical development of its spirit and idea of life.  For this it developed, the idea of Chaturvarna or a fourfold social order which later got degraded and degenerated into the caste system with its gross inequities amounting at times to even inhuman conduct.  The caste system is a gross parody of the ideal of chaturvarna.
The great rule of this culture as an ideal was that the higher a man’s position and power, the larger the scope of his function and influence of his acts and example, the greater should be the call of  Dharma on him.
In order to evaluate a civilization or  a culture,  its  durable central motives, the abiding principle at its core must first be seen.  Indian culture recognizes the process of our being and our life is a growth and evolution of the spirit.  It sees the Eternal, Infinite and Supreme in all.  It sees it as the highest self of all and calls it God, the Permanent, the Real and it sees man as a soul and a power of this being called  God or by its various names in nature.
Therefore, although the Indian civilization reached the highest in material development, its key lies in its spirituality. As Sri Aurobindo points out, even in the darkest night of its ignorance, there has always been the insight in India, however, obscured it may appear at times that life cannot be viewed only in its externalities. It was a conviction that the physical can only be carried forward when it is in the right relation to the supra physical.
Essence of Indian Culture   
However, spirituality does not flourish in a void unsupported by the love for life in all its facets – aesthetic, material, physical, intellectual and others. As Sri Aurobindo points out, in India’s past can be seen a stupendous vitality, an inexhaustible power and joy of life, and the most prolific creativeness.  This led to the creation of  all kinds of  monuments, palaces, temples, public works, religious orders, communities and societies, laws and codes, spiritual  psychic and physical sciences, systems of Yoga, politics and administration, arts spiritual and worldly, trades, industries and crafts.
Apart from vitality the other power of the Indian  spirit was a strong intellectuality.  Its chief impulse was Dharma and Shastra, order and arrangement.  It was this immense vitality and intellectuality that also widened her spirituality.  Spirituality cannot flourish in an impoverished soil.  It is the Buddhist and the illusionist denial of life that has impacted and stayed with the European  in its characterization of India.  But this is only one of the several tendencies because the Indian mind is not only spiritual and ethical but also intellectual and artistic.  It encompasses both self abnegation, dependence and submission as also self assertion, independence and mastery.
Just like vitality and intellectuality in India, the spiritual tendency also is not just concerned with the abstract.  It  too underlines the multiplicities of thought and richness of life.  This can be seen  in the classical age of Sanskrit culture.  It was marked by refinement of scholarship, science, art, literature, politics, sociology and order in the mundane life.  Its achievements were not only aesthetic, but also emotional and sensuous, even sensual.  But behind it all lay the spiritual life.  The post classical age saw the attempt to lift up the whole lower life and impress upon it the values of the spirit.  Puranic and Tantric systems came into being and later the religions of bhakti became widespread.  Vaishnavism tried to harmonize the aesthetic, the emotional and the sensuous and place them before the service of the spiritual.
Spirituality in India  is not  considered a remote metaphysical mind that has a tendency to dream rather than act.  While metaphysical tendency was always a strong element in the Indian mentality,  it did not prevent action.  Rather it lay behind every reconstruction  of ideas and society.  The belief was that every action  must start from a spiritual basis.
Impact of West
 Over a time, rigidities set into  the great past of Indian  culture and life that brought about a degeneration and a degradation.  At this time, India met the West.  As Sri Aurobindo explains for a time it seemed that its world would slowly decompose and perish.  But actually a churning took placed forcing India to have a re look at itself.    Thus gradually  it turned into an ascending movement.
Europeans, struck by the general metaphysical bent of Indian mind, religious idealism and other worldliness seemed to think that this was all that there was to it.  Hence, they did not see it as apt for life and for a time Indians echoed this view.  They internalized it as their own opinion and spoke with pride of their metaphysics, literature  and religion but in everything else, they were content to be imitators and learners.  They  forgot their achievements in the material world.  They also forgot  that there were not only  powers behind the universe that could not be comprehended  but also  in man of which he was normally unaware.  Man was capable of  exceeding himself and becoming himself more entirely and profoundly than he was.  India was also very conscious of the spirit and aware that reality was  multilayered.   It met the challenge of comprehending this Reality and man’s relation to it daringly to bravely to declare  that man could attain ranges of life beyond our familiar life if he trained his will and knowledge.  He could become the spirit, a god and become one with God, with Brahman.
The question arises what really happened when the Indian mind met the occidental mind.  That which was compatible with India’s ideals in the area of knowledge, ideas and powers, became part of a new statement of life.  This was inevitable and is a phenomenon that has happened repeatedly in history.  However, as Sri Aurobindo points out,where there is mechanical imitation,  subordination and servitude, the inactive or weaker culture perishes.  Therefore, European ideals cannot be accepted in the name of modernity alone.  They are accepted because they are human, present fruitful points of view and are important for the future development of mankind.  If we isolate ourselves, we do not grow mentally, vitally and physically.  In every individualized existence, there is a double action.  One, there is a self development from within and second, there are impacts from outside which have to be accommodated according to one’s own individuality to make them supportive of self growth and self power.  These two are not mutually exclusive.  Nor does the second harm the first unless the inner genius is too weak to deal with the outside world.  Outside influences can stimulate a vigorous and healthy being and force its development.
Ancient Indian culture lived intensely from within enriched by internal exchange and variation.  But at no point of time did it exclude external influence.  Its strength was selective assimilation, subordination and transformation of external elements.  It thus changed eternal influences and harmonized them into the spirit of her own culture without being in any way overwhelmed.  Similarly, India could not stay aloof from the European invasion and its impact upon its own culture.  The modern world is  European, dominated by the European mind and the Western civilization.  Thus the great governing ideas and problems of the modern world have to be dealt with.  The Indian mind cannot ignore them.  It can only assert itself successfully  by meeting these problems and finding solutions in harmony with its own ideals and spirit.
India’s central conception is that of the Eternal, the spirit encased in matter, evolving on the material plane by rebirth of the individual up the scale of being till it enters the realm of ideas of conscious morality and dharma.  Since the spiritual motive is central Indian ideas  have never spread throughout Asia  without the use of  physical force.  But how are the two to be reconciled and harmonized?
Perhaps one answer can be found in Sri Aurobindo’s analysis in The Human Cycle .   He says  that humanity advances through three stages.  The first is a period of conflict and competition.  This continues to be dominant because even when material conflicts are mitigated, cultural struggles came into prominence.  The second step is the stage of concert and the third and last is marked by a spirit of sacrifice in which because all is known as the one Self, in which each gives himself for the good of others.
In the contemporary world, even the second stage of concert has not been reached.  A compelling oneness has been forced by scientific inventions and modern circumstances.  This, however, must bring with it mental, cultural and psychological consequences.  At first it will probably accentuate rather than diminish conflict in many directions.  It will enhance political and economic struggle and also hasten a cultural struggle.  On the other hand, it may also bring to the fore an underlying oneness.
The question is, what is the future direction of humanity.  Is it to be founded on a culture solely based upon reason and science as the West has posited  and civilization is just man’s endeavour to find light and support in a rationalized knowledge and a rationalized way of life.  Or is it to be based on the idea  of a soul embodied in Nature as India has put forward seeking to know and find itself and enlarge it consciousness to arrive at a greater way of existence – progress in spirit and grow into the full light of self. The question really goes back to a world view and value system.  The third stage of an integral spirit of oneness is yet not in sight.
Any civilization presents a mixed and anomalous appearance and can be interpreted with hostility to present a dismal picture of barbarism.  India developed the spiritual mind working on the  powers of man and exceeding them.  It found value in  the intuitive reason, the philosophical harmony of the Dharma informed by the religious spirit and  the sense of the eternal and the infinite.  But a rationalist would condemn Indian philosophy as too abstruse and philosophical.  He would object to it  as too metaphysical and ennervating, that kills the personality, weakens will power by imbuing human beings with a world view and life with pessimistic  ascetic and emphasized values of  Karma and reincarnation.   While this is not a correct assessment of Indian civilization,  the immense decline in India cannot be denied or overlooked.  At the same time, it can be safely asserted that even at its worst, its spirit was not dead.  It reemerged as it was jolted by a contact with  Europe and there has been a new confidence since independence which will gradually accelerate of course through struggles – trials in which we will all be participating.


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