Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
Indian culture has been from the beginning and has remained a spiritual, an inward-looking religio-philosophical culture. Everything else in it has derived from that one central and original peculiarity or has been in some way dependent on it or subordinate to it; even external life has been subjected to the inward look of the spirit. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, The Renaissance of India and Other Essays on Indian Culture, p. 108)
It is this inward-looking religio-philosophical culture which goes by the name of Hinduism. However, in modern times, both in India and abroad, it is under severe attack and is often branded as communal, narrow and reactionary.
Let us therefore take a close look at the true and deeper meaning of Hinduism; we will then be in a position to make a sound judgment and then follow it up by making the necessary corrections and remove all the misunderstandings, genuine and deliberate, that have recently cropped up.
In one of his letters, Sri Aurobindo writes:
…as for Hindu culture, it is not such a weak and fluffy thing as to be easily stamped out; it has lasted through something like 5 millenniums and is going to carry on much longer and has accumulated quite enough power to survive. (CWSA, Vol. 35, Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p. 208)
From where does this power to survive emanate? Wherein lies the secret strength that has enabled it to last so long and is even now considered by many enlightened persons both in India and abroad as a powerful instrument for the betterment of human life?
To understand this phenomenon of survival, let us cast a quick look at the history of civilizations and cultures. We see that all civilizations go through the cycle of birth, growth and death. As a matter of fact, most of the ancient civilizations have not survived and some have disappeared. This phenomenon has been explained succinctly by Sri Aurobindo in the following words:
A people, a great human collectivity, is in fact an organic living being with a collective or rather—for the word collective is too mechanical to be true to the inner reality—a common or communal soul, mind and body. The life of the society like the physical life of the individual human being passes through a cycle of birth, growth, youth, ripeness and decline, and if this last stage goes far enough without any arrest of its course towards decadence, it may perish,—even so all the older peoples and nations except India and China perished,—as a man dies of old age. But the collective being has too the capacity of renewing itself, of a recovery and a new cycle. For in each people there is a soul idea or life idea at work, less mortal than its body, and if this idea is itself sufficiently powerful, large and force-giving and the people sufficiently strong, vital and plastic in mind and temperament to combine stability with a constant enlargement or new application of the power of the soul idea or life idea in its being, it may pass through many such cycles before it comes to a final exhaustion. Moreover, the idea is itself only the principle of soul manifestation of the communal being and each communal soul again a manifestation and vehicle of the greater eternal spirit that expresses itself in Time and on earth is seeking, as it were, its own fullness in humanity through the vicissitudes of the human cycles. A people then which learns to live consciously not solely in its physical and outward life, not even only in that and the power of the life idea or soul idea that governs the changes of its development and is the key to its psychology and temperament, but in the soul and spirit behind, may not at all exhaust itself, may not end by disappearance or a dissolution or a fusion into others or have to give place to a new race and people, but having itself fused into its life many original smaller societies and attained to its maximum natural growth pass without death through many renascences. And even if at any time it appears to be on the point of absolute exhaustion and dissolution, it may recover by the force of the spirit and begin another and perhaps a more glorious cycle. The history of India has been that of the life of such a people. (CWSA, Vol. 20, pp 396-97, emphasis added)
Sometime in the middle of the 19th century, it seemed and was thought by many historians and observers that India was at the point of dissolution. The society was steeped in superstition, manacled by primitive customs, and it seemed that the sense of community had all but vanished. The country was facing a crisis of immense proportions.
The situation was similar to what India had faced earlier in the 14th century. At that time, the question was the continuity of India’s life – whether her separate identity in culture, social organization, religion and thought would be maintained or whether she would be merged in the expanding commonwealth of Islam. Then, India was saved by the spiritual revival of the 14th and 15th centuries.
This time, in the 19th century the question was different – it was not only about the continuance of the Hindu culture. Rather, the bigger problem facing India now was the confrontation of a superior, expanding and highly dynamic civilization with an old, static and as it appeared decaying culture. India was colonised by a civilization which was convinced not only of its own incomparable greatness, economic strength, and technological and scientific superiority but was moved by a firm belief that the form of life it represented was the final one to which all others must conform. Along with this there was another problem that confronted Indian culture – it was the relationship of Hinduism with Islam and the problem of their coexistence in the new circumstances under the domination of a people alien to both.
It was at this critical moment that the Indian renaissance began and this was essentially due to the manner in which Hinduism reacted to the foreign domination. This reaction, which first started in Bengal, spread to all other parts of the country and included all the fields of culture. The sole exception was in the political field; for, till the end of the nineteenth century, British rule was accepted as a beneficent development. Raja Rammohan Roy publicly thanked God for having placed India under the British rule. Prasanna Kumar Tagore declared: “If we were asked what government we would prefer, English or any other, we would one and all reply English by all means, even in preference to a Hindu government.”