Android app on Google Play


I.5. India at a Crossroads


Part I.5

India at a Crossroads



������ What is the secret of this great and enduring culture of India? The unique feature of Indian or Bharatiya culture is unity-in-multiplicity or what could be called �Vedic pluralism.� The oldest Indian text and perhaps the oldest book in the world, the Rigveda boldly proclaims: �That which is the One Truth the seers teach in many different ways (Rigveda I.164.46),� and �May noble aspirations come to us from every side (Rigveda I.89.1).�


The Indic view is that though Truth is One the paths are many. There is no need for any religious exclusivism or cultural uniformity. Many different religions and philosophies must exist relative to the different levels and temperaments of individuals. Even atheism has a place as one possible view of reality for the human mind. A free discussion and representation of all views is necessary to arrive at truth. Even errors and mistakes must be allowed in a free inquiry into truth. Truth can never be destroyed through scrutiny or examination. It is only behind closed doors or in fixed dogma that truth cannot stand.


Vedic pluralism, however, is not mere polytheism or separatism. It is a recognition of a unity that transcends name and form. The Hindu sense of the One is also that of the infinite. Its unity is of the universal, not of one thing as opposed to another, but as the one thing, like a single thread, that links all things together. Such a deep inner unity can embrace a multiple expression, just as the ocean can hold many waves and not get disturbed by them.


This bedrock of Indic pluralism gave rise to the many different sects of Hinduism, which remains the most diverse religious tradition in the world with its Vedic, Tantric, Shaivite, Shakta, Vaishnava and other sects both ancient and modern. It also provided the ground for Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh traditions, which themselves have much diversity. It spawned perhaps the greatest diversity of spiritual teachings in the entire world. It respects science and art as part of our spiritual quest, building a great material culture as well as wonderful temples. On its basis people in India could even come to appreciate the spiritual aspects of less tolerant religious groups who invaded them from across the border. Though still largely misunderstood in the West as polytheism or a worship of many Gods, this Bharatiya (Indic) pluralism reflects an open quest for truth and a free flowering of all true human potentials such as the world desperately needs today.


������ Unfortunately, over the first fifty years since independence India has not discovered its real roots or reclaimed its true soul as a civilization. Its intellectuals have mimicked western trends in thought, particularly Marxism, even after these have been discredited in the West, following them with an almost uncritical Hindu type of devotion. In an excessive pursuit of secularism they found it necessary to denigrate their own pluralistic traditions and favor foreign ideologies of religious or political exclusivism. They have forgotten their great modern sages like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo who projected futuristic views of the Indian tradition and instead adulate western thinkers devoid of any spiritual realization. They look at India with jaded eyes and find its salvation in foreign lands. While many westerners come to India seeking spiritual knowledge, Indian intellectuals look to the West with admiration, pursuing materialistic ideologies that have left them unable to understand their own more spiritual traditions. The result is that after fifty years of independence India has not truly awakened; though it may be stirring in its sleep.


������ We are now entering into a global age in which pluralism must be the foundation of world culture. We can no longer pretend that only one race, one culture or one religion alone is true. The dawning century is no longer a missionary and colonial era in which one group can be allowed hegemony in the world. It is a new age of dialogue and respect in which we learn to honor and cherish all the cultures of the world. This should start with the honoring of tribal cultures that are the custodians of the Earth and the wisdom of nature that we so quickly losing in this artificial age. It must include not just dominant western religions, but the great traditions of the East, like Hinduism and Buddhism, which have a firm foundation in tolerance and synthesis. We must learn to embrace all human beings and their cultures as part of one great family (Vasudhaiva kutumbakam). We can certainly have our differences but should respectfully allow others to be different as well. Let our differences be a cause for admiration and celebration, not for mistrust, hatred and a seeking to eliminate them.


������ The dharmic traditions of India emphasize an organic pluralism as the model for human development. Just as the human body is one but has different organs that perform various functions for the benefit of the whole, so human society is one in essence but diverse in function, with each person like each cell of the body playing a vital role. This is not a model of democratic uniformity. It recognizes that the male an the female, the young and the old, the artist, thinker, businessman, politician and yogi, with all their differences, all have their special place in society, which is enriched by their diversity.


Yet Bharatiya Pluralism is not a relativism of anything goes. Its foundation lies in universal values like ahimsa, not wishing harm to any other creature and not seeking to interfere with the natural order. It is a pluralism that reflects a respect for the sacred in all things. It is not a pluralism of hedonism or materialism like that of the West that is insensitive of the environment or of other cultures. It is a pluralism of the spirit, not simply of the body; a pluralism of spiritual teachings, not merely of material choices.


������ It is time for India once more to be a leader and an innovator in world culture, rather than a follower and imitator as at present. To accomplish this, India must discover its own voice and initiate its own action in the global forum. Sri Aurobindo once remarked that India�s real role was to be the guru among the nations of the world. At present it can hardly keep order within its own frontiers. The country is crushed by its own bureaucracy, though this grip is gradually loosening. Perhaps because of long foreign rule India developed a sense of apathy and resignation and a tolerance for oppression and inequality. This must go.


A new vitality and creativity is necessary for India that honors the spirit of the country�s venerable traditions but does not restrict itself to previous outdated forms. This requires a new generation of thinkers who are global in outlook but grounded in the spirituality of Yoga and Vedanta. Indic thinkers must return to their cultural wellsprings, not to stop there, but to create a new vision of the future. Out of the old Upanishads they need to envision new Upanishads.


������ Such a new India would combine science and spirituality in a global perspective, combining the wisdom of ancient rishis with that of modern creative thinkers. It would set forth a new spiritual or yogic science showing us how to realize the consciousness that is the foundation of the entire universe and the basis of universal law. It would develop our material potentials but for the greater glory of the Spirit, the Self of all beings. It would protect the earth which reaching into outer space. It would raise the downtrodden, not to convert people to a belief but to help all people realize their highest potential. Such an awakened India is crucial for world culture, which presently remains trapped between a destructive consumerism on one side and a rigid religious exclusivism on the other.


������ We can already see how such traditional Indian disciplines as Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta are gaining respect worldwide for their global vision. Such an Indic or Dharmic perspective should be added to religion, philosophy, science and medicine all over the world. The new India and the new generation of Indians should take up this task of world-making as their goal. The new world order of the computer and the information revolution gives the country a new chance in the global arena and offers a situation more favorable to its unique talents. But for this to occur India must stand up and speak out according to its real essence�which is as a spiritual superpower�regardless of whether this pleases everyone else in the world.


������ Today there is only one superpower in the world, the United States. But it is a superpower in the outer world only. Its wealth hides a spiritual poverty and growing psychological and social unrest. No technological superpower can properly guide the world in the planetary age. Only a spiritual superpower can do this. India has the potential to be the world�s spiritual superpower, but it requires a great labor to bring it forth. The question is whether the country and its leaders are willing to make the effort. This requires looking back to the inspiration of the great rishis and yogis of the region, not merely following current political and economic compulsions�but looking back only to go forward with a renewed sense of mission and power.


[1] In fact, the Marxist shrines in Bengal look like Hindu temples and Marxists use pictures and statues of their leaders just as Hindus do of their Gods and Goddesses.


Back to

Back to

Next �