Ten streams of social awareness which has shaped me as a person
Let me try here, to enumerate, without any attempt to be exhaustive, of at least ten streams which have merged into the stream of social awareness which has shaped me as a person.
(1) First I must identify in myself a strain of perceptionary habits which I can only call “the primal Vision” shared once by all so called primitive peoples of the world, and which I today associate with the tribal peoples of India – the Adivasis and the Girijans.
(2) At a second level, I find that I share in the Vedic consciousness – in my own feeble and imperfect way. I find the heart of the Vedic Consciousness in the concept of Yajna or Yoga, which to me is true Yoga,The concept of sacrifice is not to be moralistically or ritualistically misrepresented, though it has deep moral implications, and Yajna without ritual is to me inconceivable. The cosmic egg, the brahmanda needs to be held together, by Yajna or by a deep moving social rite of abandoning self – abandoning it by offering it to the source of all, to all humanity, and to all that exists. I find this Vedic rite consciousness central to my own Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.
3. At a third level, as an Indian living in the 20th century, I find in myself a layer that responds to cosmic Sakti. I have no objection if you want to relate it to the so called pre Aryan or Dravidian religion. Or you can associate it with Saivism. What matters for me is my own perception of myself as an energy configuration system, dependent upon and drawing from the whole complex of energy systems in the cosmos – the energy of sun and moon, of galaxies and planetary systems, of ocean tides and gravitational fields, of electromagnetic and other yet unidentified force fields. I do not claim that this layer is unrelated to the first and second layers. But Sakti is not a matter of the intellect. It is a question of being in tune – to be charged constantly from the enormously complex force-field that our universe is. And if I try conceptualise the universe merely as a mechanical system which is the object of my knowledge, I am bound to go wrong in my philosophical reasoning.
4. At a fourth level, I must recognise the Buddhist heritage as an important layer in my own identity. Not Buddhism as an intellectual system of four noble truths and the eightfold path, but Buddhism as true enlightenment (as distinct from the rational Enlightenment of the West), as trude freedom – freedom from Kama and Trsna from the myriad passions that unceasingly flail the self and drive it to and fro, from the innumerable false perceptions of the good in the external world towards which I am almost irresistibly drawn, only to find that, an attainment, all imagined good turns out to be but as or trash. I find something deep in me responding to the best in Madhyamika philosophy, especially to Nagarjuna who has convinced me that “it is neither this nor that”, that empirical reality is neither false nor true, that everything is caused by “conditioned co-origination”, though I would like to include the very concept of pratitya-samutpada as an imperfect conceptual hold on something which can never be held in the intellectual grasp. Of course I tend to assimilate this concept to my own Eastern Orthodox Christian maxim of holding the Kataphatic (affirmative) and the apophatic (negative) in dialectical tension. But the Buddha and philosophers like Nagarjuna have clarified my perception of freedom, including freedom from the desire for a final conceptual grasp of reality. The doctrines ofSunyata and the irrationality of the concept of causality are other great Buddhist contributions to my own perception.
May I be permitted to enter a caveat at this point, The contemporary Indian philosophical tradition suffers from its failure to take the unorthodox Indian systems seriously. And if the light shining from Gautama and Mahavira have nothing to contribute to my seeing my way. I will be so much the poorer as an Indian. Indian philosophy is largely in Orthodox Brahmin hands, and it is natural that they would have inherited a built-in prejudice against the unorthodox Indian ways of thought. But the liberation of Indian philosophy today demands emancipation from these prejudices and a willingness to learn from Nagarjuna just as much as from Sankara, from Mahavira just as much as from Ramanuja or Madhva.
After all, what single religion in history has had such impact on all of Asia as Buddhism? It is the one system of thought which led to “the Indianisation of China” and to the transformation of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea.
The title of an address by Dr. Hu Shih at the Tercentenary Celebration of Harvard University in 1936. See his independence, Convergence and Borrowing Cambridge, Mass, 1937, cited by Kenneth Ch’en. The Chinese Transformation of Budhism, Princeton, 1973, p. 3.
5. At the fifth level I find my own indebtedness to the Upanisadic – Vedantic perspective on reality. I find the quest for self-realisation by attaining to the one – in consciousness, beyond consciousness – as exhilarating and ennobling. And I mean more than a pedantic and dogmatic enslavement to the thought of one Lokacharya, be it Sankara, Ramanuja or Madhva, Ramakrishna or Pillai Lokacharya. It is a spiritual quest – not merely an intellectual enquiry. It is a discipline to become what one is.
But I want to pursue that quest in a manner not divorced from the compassion which the Buddha and the Christ have taught me. I do not want to separate my quest from my conviction that my fellow human beings should find food, shelter and clothing and be enabled to live a life worthy of human beings, in societies of peace and justice.
I will thus have to reinterpret the Upanisadic quest, in the light of my understanding of historical reality, which I cannot dismiss as mereVyavaharika and therefore as unrelated to the paramarthika. I know that our colonial imperialist past, and our neo-colonical-imperialist present are very much a part of the reality, whether Vyavaharika or paramarthika, to which I must relate myself and within which I must find my Indian-human identity today.
Therefore my commitment to the Upanisadic quest for unity must ever remain in dialectical tension with my social concern. And in relation to the latter point, none of the Lokacharyas, even Sri Aurobindo (is he formally a Lokacharya, not having written a Brahma Sutra – bhasya?), can be sufficient guide to understanding contemporary social reality and the way the quest for social justice impinges upon the quest for the One.
6. At the sixth level I perceive the early Greek impact on my Indian heritage. Already from the time of Ashoka, there seems to have been a free flow of ideas between the Greek and the Indian civilisations. The edicts of Asoka speak about his spiritual conquest of the “Greeks” in Bactria and Syria, Egypt and Macedonia. It is not idle to presume that the channels so opened for Buddhist monks and missionaries to travel to Central Asia, Europe and Africa were also used in reverse. The apocryphal Apollonius of Tyann reports the debate between Greek and Indian philosophers from a Greek rather than an Indian perspective. If Clement of Alexandria could speak of the Buddha. It is equally conceivable that Greek philosophy came to India through the Brahmins who are reported to be in Alexandria already in the first century, as well as by Greek travellers who visited the courts of Indian princes and conversed with Indian philosophers. I would even detect in this mutual intercourse which must have begun at least three or four centuries before our era, the beginnings of the common features we see in the Hellenic and the Indian traditions – common features like the disparagement of matter, the perception that the soul is a prisoner in the body, and the concept of the worlds that lie between our shadow world and the real world of the muktas, all these later developed in Greek Gnosticism.
I must recognise this early impact of Hellenic culture on the development of the Indian consciousness, for otherwise I would be in danger of presumptuously presuming that the Indian culture and philosophy developed in a total vacuum, untouched by so called foreign elements.
I shall not be diffident to recognise as the seventh element the impact of the semitic civilisation and religion on Indian culture throughout the centuries. And I am not speaking merely of Syrian Christianity in Kerala. I am speaking rather, of successive waves of Jewish Christian and Muslim traders, immigrants, missionaries and conquerors, who had an impact on India already before the coming of the Portughese, the Dutch and the British in modern times. And this Semitic impact was by no means confined to maritime India. The North-West was particularly inundated with these influences, and what is today Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Punjab, have been deeply influenced, first by numerically not large but a till powerful Jewish immigrants who fled the successive persecutions of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans in Palestine, and later the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem around 70 AD. The whole area from the Tigris to the Indus, once comprised in the State of Parthia, was deeply influenced by these jewish immigrants, in whose wake came also Christians, either fleeing persecution or as in the case of the Persian Christian missionaries, spreading the message of Christ. There were undoubtedly large Christian colonies in the whole of North West India as well as along the coast – right up to Madras. The lack of sufficient research leaves the field free for speculation, but both Ramanuja and Madhva give evidence of reacting to the Semitic impact – at least after the tenth century. Was the impact of Christianity and Islam on the Indian tradition purely negative? One would have to be very naive to think so. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries when the confrontation was between Hinduism and a militant Western Christian culture, the impact was never purely negative. And in the 8th to 15th centuries when Christian and Muslim cultures confronted India’s Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultures, the impact led to fruitful new constructions and insights in Indian philosophy. Our research om pre-moghul interactions between islamic civilization and Indian religions still remains quite sketchy.
8. I must briefly mention the Persian element as the eighth. We were very conscious of our debt to Persia in the 19th century. In the 20th we have come to forget it. The great leaders of the Indian Renaissance like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the cultural elite of his time had a thorough grounding in Persian civilisation and culture. Iranian mysticism and the dualism of light and darkness have deeply penetrated the Indian soil, and are today part of my heritage. I cannot out of any false pride, deny what I owe to the Persian.
9. The nineth element can only be briefly mentioned – precisely because it is so recent and so well recognized. This is modern western secular civilisation with its institutions, ideals, concepts, ways of thinking and gathering knowledge, its most decisive elements being critical rationality and the empirical philosophy. We have been so monumentally inundated with this strange way of thinking, so that we are not yet unable to sum on up enough critical objectivity to assess what has happened to us in this process, and how much we take the norms and standards of this civilization for granted. There are so many strands in this impact, and I shall not try to even to list them in the short space available here. I simply believe that we have a double task in relation to this most recent impact on our consciousness. On the one hand we have to master the techniques of critical rationality more adequately, in order to reassess all our old perceptions and received traditions. On the other hand, we have to develop sufficient critical distance and objectivity, in order to discern the respective strengths and weaknesses, possibilities and limitations, of critical rationality itself. Here we must learn from Dilthey and Heidegger, from Adorno and Horkheimer, from Gadamer and Habermas, but we must also bring our own non-western critique to bear upon critical rationality as a method.
10. The tenth element which I must recognise as part of my heritage as an Indian comes from the thought of Marx and Engels, Lenin and later Marxist theoreticians. Whether we recognise it or not, the impact of Marxism is there on the Indian Consciousness – in our aspirations for social justice, for the dignity of the worker, for a society without exploitation and oppression, and for socialism in general. Our conscious reactions to Marxism may have been largely conditioned by the media, as well as by the anti-Marxist predilections of most of our intelligentsia. The tragedy of the matter is that even professing members of the communist parties have only a nodding acquaintance with the basic contours of communist strategy, but no profound schooling in its ideological niceties. The marxist impact on our society needs to be recognised and reassessed; but perhaps a deeper initiation into the profound subtleties of Marxism both as a tool for socio-politico-economic analysis and as an ideological map for human action can help the Indian philosopher deeply rooted in our own traditions, to be both creative and communicative with the modern world.
I have listed these ten elements which I regard as basic to Indian identity and culture, in a some what random fashion. There may be other strands that I have failed to recognize. What I have listed could perhaps be regrouped in a different and more cogent pattern. This list is submitted only as a basic for discussion.
The main point however is this: only an Indian philosophy that has overcome the three alienations and takes fully in to account the various strands that go to make up our Indian culture and identity bids fair to make an impact on world philosophy.
Such an endeavour can hardly be a personal or individual effort. I know of no one who has in himself/herself the necessary equipment to cope wih the whole range. In the nature of the case endeavour has to take the form of a corporate or group effort, with intermittent mutual discussion, through several years of sustained toil.