The Vison and Work of Indian Culture Past and the Future–M.S. Srinivasan

Key Perspectives: spiritual vision of life; great attempt of past India; mission of future India.

INDIAN Culture had a great vision of life and made an equally great attempt to realise its vision in the collective life of the community.  Its vision of human life and existence is the deepest, highest and greatest ever conceived by the human mind; its attempt to mould the collective life of the community according to its ideals is the noblest attempt ever made in the history of human civilisation.  The spiritual vision of our Vedic sages has still a living relevance for the future evolution of humanity.  To rediscover this vision, give it a new form suited to the conditions of the modern age and illumine the consciousness of humanity with its creative light are some of the future tasks of Indian Culture.  But in its attempt to realise its vision in the collective life of the ancient Indian Civilisation, it achieved only a limited and partial success.  Here comes the most important part of the future work and mission of Indian Culture.  We have to discover the cause of our past failures and find the right and corrective remedy in conception as well as in execution. This article is an attempt to trace the vision and work of Indian Culture from its past to the future—its spiritual vision of life and human development, its great attempt to shape the communal life according to its vision and ideal, the causes of its limited success and the greater vision which India has to rediscover and manifest in the future.

The Spiritual Vision of Life

It has been said over and over again that India is the land of “spirituality”.  But the word “spiritual” is nowadays used indiscriminately for anything and everything beyond or below the realm of science and reason, from mysticism, the occult and the paranormal, mental or moral idealism, religious and emotional fervour, to psychism of all kinds. So first of all we have to be clear about the meaning of the word “spirituality”.  Sri Aurobindo explains with a luminous and crystal-clear precision the meaning of spirituality contrasting it with what it is not:

“… it must therefore be emphasised that spirituality is not a high intellec­tuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience.  These things are of considerable value to mind and life, they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution,—the beginning of a spiritual realisa­tion, experience, change is not yet there. Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life, and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.”1

The important point to note in the above passage from Sri Aurobindo is that morality or religion is not spirituality.  They are part of the mental evolution of man or, in other words, they are the expressions of the aspiration of the higher mind of Man for the higher values of life.  But they are not able to bring any decisive transformation in the human consciousness and nature.  At best they are able to effect some refinement and purification of the external being of man and impose a precarious and forced control on his lower nature, but not able to change the root and source of his life and action.  We will not go into the reasons for this inability of the mind and the inherent limitations of the human mental consciousness.  But in general the approach of the human mind tends towards modification and control of the outer action and behaviour of Man through machinery and formula without making any attempt to discover and transform the root cause of his behaviour and action. This remains untouched and unchanged by the superficial refinement of the outer life brought in by the mental culture.

So what we need at present is to discover and release into human life a new power greater than mind which can deliver mind from its own limitation and transform life at its roots and not merely modify behaviour at the surface.  The Indian culture-as well as the spiritual and mystic traditions all over the world-assures us that such a power exists within each human being and it is the very nature and power of our own true, highest and universal self and spirit.  The individual life and mind are the expressive instruments of this spirit and all the energies in man and Nature and the universe are multiform expressions of its creative energy.  To discover, grow into and live in the consciousness of this one Spirit and Self in all and to make the individual and collective life a living image and manifest expression of the Spirit is the highest aim of Indian culture.  The spiritual and cultural history of India is a glorious story of the discovery of the Spirit and the great attempt to mould the individual and collective life in the light and power of the higher values of the Spirit.  This is the spiritual conception of life of the Indian culture which Sri Aurobindo describes succinctly as:

“India’s central conception is that of the Eternal, the Spirit here incased in matter, involved and immanent in it and evolving on the material plane by rebirth of the individual up the scale of being till in mental man it enters the world of ideas and realm of conscious morality, dharma. This achievement, this victory over unconscious matter develops its lines, enlarges its scope, elevates its levels until the increasing manifestation of the sattwic or spiritual portion of the vehicle of mind enables the individual mental being in man to identify himself with the pure spiritual consciousness beyond Mind.  India’s social system is built upon this conception, her philosophy formulates it; her religion is an aspiration to the spiritual consciousness and its fruits; her art and literature have the same upward look; her whole Dharma or law of being is founded upon it.  Progress she admits, but this spiritual progress, not the externally self-unfolding process of an always more and more prosperous and efficient material civilisation.  It is her founding of life upon this exalted conception and her urge towards the spiritual and the eternal that constitute the distinct value of her civilisation.  And it is her fidelity, with whatever human shortcomings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world.”2

The greatest achievement of the Indian culture, its most precious contribu­tion to humanity is this spiritual vision of life and the systematic development of the great Science of Yoga to realise this spiritual ideal in the consciousness and life of the individual.  The undying vitality of our Indian Civilisation lies in this unbroken tradition of spiritual quest, discovery and realisation which continues even upto this modern age exemplified in the realisations of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

The Indian Vision of Human Development

To realise this ideal in the individual and collective life, Indian culture evolved a scheme of human development based on the four aims of human life called in the Indian tradition as Purusharthas.  These aims are: fulfillment of the material and economic needs and interests, Artha; satisfaction of vital desires and enjoyment, Kama; mental, moral and cultural development or, in other words, development in the realm of “ideas and conscious morality”, Dharma; and finally, the realisation of the ultimate spiritual aim of life, Moksha, spiritual release and self-realisation. These aims correspond roughly to the physical, vital, mental and spiritual needs of the human being.  They form a system of shared values, accepted almost by all the sections of Hindu Culture.

Thus we can see that this culture is not otherworldly and ascetic as it is normally understood, especially in the West.  The legitimate needs and desires of man are not rejected but accepted and given their right place in an integrated evolutionary perspective.  Life is not denied, but used as a means and field of experience for the evolutionary progress of the soul. The needs and desires of each level of the human being have to be fulfilled before he can rise to a higher level.  The satisfaction of the natural needs and propensities of his physical, vital and mental being and the fulfillment of his duties and responsibilities are not denied in an ascetic spirit; they are accepted as indispensable parts of his evolutionary growth and development.

But Indian culture insists that there must be balance, restraint and discipline in whatever we do.  The fulfillment of the Artha-Kama needs and desires of the individual and community must not be allowed to degenerate into greed and lust.  Even in the satisfaction of the desires of the lower nature, or in the fulfillment of our social function there have to be the governing control of the enlightened reason and will and the uplifting guidance of some mental, moral, aesthetic and professional values or in other words the discipline of Dharma.  In all these stages of evolution, the individual and the community have to be constantly reminded that neither Artha nor Kama nor even Dharma is the ultimate aim of life but only a preparatory stage of progress towards the spiritual aim of Moksha.  This spiritual aim, its meaning and significance have to be constantly kept alive in the individual and communal mind so that they are permeated with the aspiration to realise this spiritual goal and, when they are ready and well-equipped, the higher spiritual values find a ready acceptance and self-expression in the society.  This is the Indian scheme of human development.

Now what are the “practical” implications of this Indian vision of human development to the modern society? How to apply this spiritual vision of life to its progress and development? In principle, the Indian vision of development demands an upward transference of the motives and aims of development from the physical and vital levels to the moral and spiritual levels, that is from the Artha-Kama motives and aims of economic development, vital enjoyment, social progress, political expansion and military strength to the Dharma-Moksha aims and motives which lead to the moral, cultural and spiritual evolution of the community.  This means the primary aim and motive of development should be the self-discovery of the spiritual self of Man in the individual and the collectivity and the progressive manifestation of its higher law and values of Unity and Harmony in the society.  In practice, this involves a conscious and planned effort towards a reallocation of the resources and the creative energies of nations for the realisation of these higher aims and the creation of a new social order based on these higher motives.  But we must remember here that this does not mean abandonment of the lower Artha-Kama motives but only a shifting of the priorities of development to higher levels of motives and values and subordina­tion of the lower to the higher aims.  For example, India and many of the developing countries of the world still need a lot of development in the economic, social and political sphere.  But even these lower aims can be better pursued if the development effort is inspired by the greater motives and aims of a higher level of consciousness.

This will be the decisive step towards the future.  But it is not enough. Our ancient Indian Civilisation made this great attempt but somewhere along the way the attempt broke down before it could take hold of the entire human life.  To prevent this collapse from recurring, we have to examine the cause of failure and rectify it and move on to a higher ideal which will lead to the fulfillment of the destined mission of the Indian Culture.  This mission is, in the words of Vivekananda, the work of “spiritualisation of the human race”.   It is this spiritual mission which must be the unifying ideal of our national endeavour.

Thus, an all-embracing spirituality which views human life and progress as an evolutionary pilgrimage to the spirit and not a life-negating asceticism is the essence of Indian Culture.  The ancient spiritual culture of India recognised the legitimate needs, desires and interests of the body, life and mind of man.  The satisfaction of these natural needs and desires, full development of the powers and potentialities of the physical, vital and mental being of man and the fulfillment of his social responsibilities, all these demands of nature and life and society were accepted, but only as preparatory stages of evolution towards the highest spiritual goal of life called in Indian terminology as Moksha which means freedom or liberation, freedom from ego and desire, an immense spiritual release and transcendence of the ego-self into the egoless, universal and infinite consciousness of the Spirit.  And as a result, a vast, universal and uplifting compassion which flows from a concrete experiential identity with the one indivisible Self and Spirit in all.  This discovery of a higher than mental life is the raison. d’être of Indian culture.

The Great Attempt of Past India

An intuitive spiritual vision requires a living and flexible insight into human life and nature to implement it faithfully in society.  Both these conditions were to a certain extent fulfilled in ancient Vedic India by the presence of the illumined spiritual personalities as the leaders of culture and society.  The Vedic ideal of the spiritual man is not that of a world-shunning ascetic but it is as Sri Aurobindo points out, an integral soul who was able to integrate spiritual consciousness with a full worldly life.  As Sri Aurobindo explains, the vedic conception of the spiritual man is, “one who has lived fully the life of man and found the word of the supra-intellectual, supramental, spiritual truth.  He has risen above these lower limitations and can view all things from above, but also he is in sympathy with their effort and can view them from within; he has the complete inner knowledge and the higher surpassing knowl­edge.  Therefore he can guide the world humanly as God guides it divinely, because like the Divine he is in the life of the world and yet above it.”3 In the Vedic India, the spiritual vision and ideals of the Rishis had a general pervading influence on the society.

The Rishi, in the ancient Vedic culture was an influential and respected figure in society who actively shaped its values and moulded its institutions.  Religion centred around the idea of sacrifice to the gods was the dominant motive-force which governed the life of even the common man.  There was a loose, flexible and mobile social structure translating as faithfully as possible and with an organic and intuitive spontaneity the original spiritual vision of the Rishis.  The other unique feature of the ancient Vedic culture is that this spiritual influence on the society came not only from the Rishi living in the forest and the ashram but also from the ruling kings many of whom were deep spiritual thinkers and accomplished Yogis.  In fact, it was pointed out by both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo that some of the great truths of Vedanta were discovered by Kshatriya Yogis like Pravahana Jaivali and Ajatashatru who were ruling monarchs.  As Swami Vivekananda says in one of his lectures:

“In various Upanishads we find that this Vedanta philosophy is not the outcome of meditation in the forests but the very best parts of it were thought out and expressed by brains which were busiest in the everyday affair of life… the people who discovered these truths of Vedanta were neither living in caves nor forests, nor following the ordinary vocations of life, but men who we have every reason to believe led the busiest lives, men who had to command armies, to sit on thrones and look to the welfare of millions-and all these in days of absolute monarchy. Yet they could find time to think out these thoughts, to realise them and to teach them to humanity… we cannot conceive of any man busier than an absolute monarch, a man who is ruling over millions of people, and yet, some of them were deep thinkers.”4

Sri Aurobindo in a significant remark in the footnote to his own statement that the man of knowledge or Brahmana cannot serve truth with freedom and perfection if he has not the qualities of the Kshatriya to open and conquer new kingdoms, says “That perhaps is why it was the Kshatriya bringing his courage, audacity, spirit of conquest into the fields of intuitive knowledge and spiritual experience who first discovered the great truths of Vedanta.”5

But the reign of the Yogi and the Rishi cannot last long.  The demands of the evolutionary cycles of Nature bring in other powers and faculties of human consciousness which have to be developed.  The reign of the spiritual and intuitive mind of the sage is soon replaced by the intellectual, ethical and religious mind of the thinker, scholar and the priest.  This was what happened in India.  The spiritual ideal of Moksha was still preserved but reserved only for the individual. And the collectivity for all practical purposes was governed by the ethico-religious and social ideal of Dharma, and regulated by the intellectual, ethical, religious mind of the interpreters of Dharma with all its characteristic imperfections like rigidity, dogmatism, tradition-bound conventionality.  So, naturally, in spite of a sincere effort to regulate society according to the religious and moral ideas of Dharma, the attempt ended in a rigid and stagnant society.  As usual, the immense difficulty of transforming the vital consciousness of man which is the source of his economic, social and political life proved too formidable for the moral and religious mind.

The Mission of Future India

Here comes the role of future India.  We must remember here that the ultimate goal of the Indian conception of life is a spiritual liberation and perfection, Moksha, and not a mental or moral perfection of Dharma.  And the original collective ideal of the Vedic sages is not merely Dharma-rajya but a spiritualised society conceived as a direct expression in human life of the four­fold powers of the creative Divinity in Man.  If, as the intuitive philosophers and spiritual masters of the world have repeatedly proclaimed, humanity is a single indivisible organic being and, as the ancient Vedic sages of India saw, the individual and collectivity are the equal self-expressions of an infinite eternal and universal Reality and Self, then the spiritual ideal of Moksha need not be reserved for a few exceptional individuals but becomes a definite possibility for the entire human race.  Ancient India discovered the secret of individual spiritual liberation, Moksha.  The future of India, to complete and fulfill her destined work and mission, has to discover the secret of collective spiritual liberation and perfection and a more integral individual spiritual liberation and perfection, not as an end in itself but as a means for the collective redemption of Mankind.  This is the real Mission of India, her yet unaccomplished work, her future destiny. As Sri Aurobindo indicates:

“It is perhaps for a future India, taking up and enlarging with a more complete aim, a more comprehensive experience, a more certain knowledge that shall reconcile life and the spirit, her ancient mission, to found the status and action of the collective being of man on the realisation of the deeper spiritual truth, the yet unrealised spiritual potentialities of our existence and so ensoul the life of her people as to make it the Lila of the greater Self in humanity , a conscious communal soul and body of the Virat, the universal spirit.”6

The Mission of Future India

The essential principle of the ancient Indian social endeavor in the post-vedic age is a spiritual vision of life, seen and conceived in a spiritual consciousness, trying to mould society through the instrumentation of a mental and moral force and a religio­philosophic culture.  This is undoubtedly a great attempt-the highest ever made and at a much higher level than the attempt of the modern pragmatic Western civilisation or even the more idealistic Graeco- Roman culture.  Its ideals and values are the highest ever conceived by human mind. Its diagnosis of the human malady and the solution it offered are right in their broad and essential principles.  Where then lies the cause of failure? It is in the nature of the transforming force applied on the society.  Though the diagnosis is right in its essence, the force of therapy applied is not sufficiently deep, powerful and precise to cure the malady at its roots.  Here comes the importance of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s spiritual vision of Transformation.  Sri Aurobindo has indicated very clearly and precisely the strategic trouble-spot which is the cause of the persistent failure of all human attempts at social transformation; it is the will of the vital ego in man obstinately clinging to its desire for egocentric enjoyment and possession.  The mental and moral force released by the religious, aesthetic, moral and intellectual cultures of the world is ultimately found to be too weak for the much more formidably stronger instincts and desires of the vital being in man which is the ruler of his behaviour and action in the individual and the economic, social and political life in the collectivity.  This is what finally happened to the ancient Indian attempt.  How to prevent this collapse again? According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the only solution is a life-trans­forming spirituality which brings down a supramental spiritual consciousness and power and its direct government over the mind, life and body of the individual and the collectivity, acting directly on them and transforming human life as a whole in all the levels of its being.

This means the creation of a full-fledged spiritual culture which will give a total spiritual direction and motivation to the whole of life and to every department of life—economics, society, politics, industry, commerce, education and culture.  This is probably the social ideal of the Vedic sages.  In the Vedic age there was a partial attempt to implement the ideal within the limitation of the human society at that age.  But in the post vedic age the integrality of the vedic vision is lost especially the collective dimension, is lost.  The ideal of spiritual perfection is reserved for the individual.  For the collectivity, the highest ideal conceived is the ideal of Dharma-rajya which is the state of a harmonious society in which each individual and collectivity live in total harmony with their own typal self-nature, swadharma and in doing so in spontaneous harmony with others and the whole.  Even this is only the theo­retical ideal in the minds of the thinkers.  For all practical purposes, what was attempted or sought to be achieved was a harmonious society regulated by the moral and religious ideals of Dharma embodied in the shastra.

So we cannot call the post-vedic Indian culture an entirely a “spiritual” culture.  It is a religio-philosophic culture pervaded at every point by a spiritual influence created by an unbroken tradition of spiritual seeking.  It is this all-pervading spiritual influence and the receptivity of the collective consciousness of the nation to this spiritual influence which constitute the uniqueness of Indian Culture.

But after the Vedic and Upanishadic period the spiritual influence mostly remained either outside or behind the society and in later times even turned away from the society rejecting it as an illusion, Maya, and never took direct’ control of life. But this direct control of life by the Spirit is precisely what must happen to realise the ideal of “spiritualisation of the human race” which is the integral vedic ideal rediscovered in our modern age by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.   The future India, to complete and fulfill her destined mission, has to move in this direction shown by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s vision.  The spiritual consciousness should no longer remain merely as a benign influence at the apex of the cultural mind of the community but has to spring up from every section of the society-in Economy, Polity, Culture, Labour-force and the Masses-and begin to directly govern life through the instrumentation of a spiritualised mind and vital force.  This means, as the Mother points out “to replace the mental government of the intelligence by the government of a spiritualised consciousness”7 The first step ­towards this ideal will be to create in every section of the society an elite core of leadership with an intuitive spiritual intelligence.

This in short is the work which India has to do for humanity. But first India has to make a sincere attempt to realise these ideals in her own collective life and prove to the world by some concrete results the economic, social and political viability of her cultural values.  For this a beginning has to be made in thought and culture to work out the developmental implications of Indian spiritual values to the modern society.  The image and the vision which were held before our people during the freedom movement is the image of the enslaved Mother India to be freed from the foreign rule.  The image and the vision which we who belong to modern India have to hold before us are the image and the vision of the glorified Mother India leading humanity to spiritual freedom, unity and per­fection.

(Published in Mother India)

References:

1.  Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Life Divine, vol.19, pp.857

2.  Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Foundations of Indian Culture, Vol.14, p.2-3

3.  Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Human Cycle, vol.15, pp.169

4.  Swami Vivekananda, Collected Works, vol.2, pp.292

5.  Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Synthesis of Yoga, p.720

6.  Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, vol.14, 336.

7.  The Mother, Collected Works, vol.13, p.274

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s