Wednesday, June 27, 2007

India : On the quest of its destiny

Twice, in our long history, India was almost overwhelmed. Once by Islam. And then by Christianity. But India’s heritage has within it an inexhaustible power for self-renewal. It rises like a phoenix.

What has the future in store for India? I am not sure. The future is still hidden from us.

But is there a purpose in the life of nations, in the life of the universe? On this, we know even less. But a universe without a purpose makes everything meaningless. Today, we come to the end of our life without knowing why we have lived!

There is, however, one consolation: That we are only at the morn of human history. True, we have gained greater control over nature, but not over ourselves. When we see the great contrast between what science has been able to achieve and the crudeness, cruelty and vulgarity of our lives, as we live them, we are driven to despair. Carl Gustav Jung warns: Misguided development of the soul must lead to psychic mass destruction.”

Today, men face multiple threats—of climate change, pollution and a new flood. If we escape these calamities, we are threatened by another—the slow cooling of the planet.

Is mankind then doomed? It is still too early to say. The earth is no more than a place of sojourn in most religions. The Hindu says: We are here for a short stay and that we are to go back to where they came from—only to start a new cycle of birth and death. We Hindus are happier. Others fry in hell for eternity.

But there are other views. Darwin says: Life is evolving into higher and higher forms. The appearance of life, mind and consciousness, one after the other, has been the greatest miracle of nature. Many more such miracles are awaited. Man has a long long way to go.

Man is not final, says Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian mystic. Man is a transitional being, he says. Beyond him awaits the “divine race, the superman”, with super-consciousness. Aurobindo sees a progressive divination of the human race.

We are actors in this cosmic drama that is unfolding before us, not mere onlookers. The Gita says: Ceaseless action is the lot of man!

But the ways of the world differ. Europe has chosen one way, we Hindus have chosen another and the Muslims have their own way. Each has its merits. They must be left free to seek their different ends. We must not force on the world one way as the Christians and Muslims are trying to do. Why? Because their way is not perfect. They are full of absurdity.

Prof. Max Mueller, an authority on ancient India, says: “I do not deny that the manly vigour, the public spirit and the private virtue of the citizens of European states represent one side of the human destiny.” But surely, he says, “there is another side to our nature and possibly another destiny open to man.” And he points towards India—leading the meditative, reflective way.

The two ways are not hostile to each other. They are in fact complementary.

Life in India may be dreamy, unreal, impractical, Max Mueller concedes, but, he asserts, India may look upon European notions of life as short-sighted, fussy and in the end most impractical because it involves a sacrifice of life for the sake of life.

The most distinguishing feature of the Indian character is transcendence. The Indian mind is intuitive, bent on transcending the limits of empirical knowledge.

But not all is right with the way the West has chosen. Aurobindo calls the commercial civilisation of the West “monstrous and asuric” (demonic). That the way to the morsel will take us to fulfillment is a misplaced hope. An insatiable desire for increasing satisfaction is at the root of this tragedy, the very thing the Buddha identified as the root of human misery. But is this tragedy inexorable? Not necessarily. Because we all can be guided by reason.

Say Dr Radhakrishnan: “It is the good fortune of India that every time there is great spiritual confusion, exponents of authentic religious thought spring up to remind us Hindus of the fundamental truth of Indian culture.” Such was the case with Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Twice, in our long history, India was almost overwhelmed. Once by Islam. And then by Christianity. But India’s heritage has within it an inexhaustible power for self-renewal. It rises like a phoenix.

And its people, for long in their slumber, are wide awake today. In about sixty years, India has come to be recognised as a great power. It may even occupy the third place among the great powers in the not too distant future. But are we preparing for this day?

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