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ON INDIA by Robert C Preddy

ON INDIA by Robert C Preddy

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Published by: dundun on Apr 09, 2008
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09/27/2012

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ON INDIA'S ANCIENT PAST
  by Robert C. Priddy
India's past is so ancient and has been so influential in the rise of civilisation andreligion, at least for almost everyone in the Old World, that most people can claim itactually to be the earliest part of our own odyssey.History has been called a review of the crimes and follies of mankind. One can learnfrom these trials and errors, as well as from the solutions enacted by great figures of India's past. There are also many lessons of true diplomacy and human wisdom to behad from the great ancient scripts, prose-poems, epics and revelationary scriptures of India. The prime example of Rama and his brothers in the Ramayana, and of Krishnaand the Pandavas in the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata and in SrimadBhagavatam are perhaps the most outstanding. Yet there is even more than this to belearned today!
Through Western Glasses Darkly
 To the West, knowledge of India comes primarily through newspapers, TV, novels, biographies and various types of foreign developmental or aid agency. Knowledgefrom all these sources is partial, distorted and tainted, the unconventional writer Chaudheri maintains, for "the world's knowledge about India today is obtainedoverwhelmingly at one remove from people belonging to the urban upper middle-class, who have become the heirs to British rule." As a class, their views and attitudesare predominantly those of the rulers and exploiters of the remaining nine-tenths."
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 The 'dual-accounting' tendency - one beautified account for public consumption andanother unadorned one for private reference - has also been explained by Chaudheri.According to him, a subtle kind of double-speak exists almost universally in India...on the one hand what one presents to foreigners and on the other an unspokenknowledge of certain realities shared by all those who know at least one major Indiantongue, but which is very seldom expressed by English-speakers or writers. Chaudherihimself obviously represents one break with the norm. This view of a kind of double-standard in recording the facts is supported by the existence of records of Indian lifewhich often present the harsher realities of India in a stark way, having been recordedin memoirs and other writings by those British who had mastered several Indianlanguages and spent their lives in the thick of life in the provinces as colonialadministrators, judges and so forth.
 
Among the contributions to world literature and culture of ancient India which standout as exceptional and influential in the formation of civilisation throughout theWestern world are the stories and tales that form the basis of a large part of the folk tale traditions of Europe, as well as many of those of the East Indies region. The hostof historical or imaginary figures well-know to Indian children are found in manystories world-wide that have adopted elements of the Indian tradition which havetravelled to them by various routes and have been transformed on the way. Gods anddemons of the Puranas appear as local heroes enacting the same original dramas inmany Middle-Eastern, European and Nordic folk tales, even turning into animals inAfrican stories.What can be won from knowing about India's past above all, perhaps, is not morehistorical learning or deep cultural knowledge, but the inspiration of a spirituality thatis so richly elevated, so intense, marvellous and even awesome as to reawaken andnurture a faith that we have lost. One can certainly assert that there is no dearth of sources! Even considering a few instances, such as that the Muslim invaders bridgedan entire river with palm-leaf books written in Sanskrit and the British fired the boilers of the Red Fort with invaluable manuscripts, there remains a truly vastliterature that has been handed down, often from time immemorial, in such subjects aswe call scripture, theology, philosophy, science, folk tales and much besides. Thisliterature provides insight into a world, or rather into worlds, that it is only peripherally meaningful to try to study by means of scientific dating or the literal and'objective' approach through bones and isolated artefacts. Instead we can get access tothe 'flesh and blood' of their daily thoughts and ambitions through countless accountsof the lives of divine saints and their followers, the actions of Devas and Devendras,and of events that took place even long before such matters were recorded throughwritten traditions or by synoptic poems. This can be rewarding and joyouslyexpansive of mind and soul... opening to the inner eye visions of undreamt-of  possibilities and solutions to the deepest perplexities of life.The mother of religion, the world's earliest spiritual teachings of the Vedic traditioncontains the most sublime and all-embracing of philosophies from dualisms (
 Dvaita
and
Visishtadvaita
) to the highest form of monism (Advaita), surpassing St.Thomas of Aquinas, Kant, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Hegel or any other Western philosopher asregards sophistication and unity of spiritual-intellectual insight. This is still almostentirely ignored by navel-gazing western thinkers, so that Hindu religion is still well beyond the understanding and religious experience of most non-Hindu theologians -Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim.During the struggle for liberation of India from British rule and also afteIndependence, the Indian national debate was frequently marked by zeal in raising
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Indian self-confidence through stories of national 'firsts'. These claims descendedfrom the sublime to the ridiculous while almost any invention was claimed bysomeone to have originally been Indian. Leading Indian reformers like DayanandaSarasvati, Keshab Sen, Vivekananda, Tagore and others had worked to dispel thisexaggerated chauvinism and to assert the undeniable lead of Western thought in areaslike science, social emancipation and political economy. Despite their influence, thereremained sufficient hyperbole to give room to scathing criticisms of it by enlightenedIndians, such as Nirad Chauderi.Indians in general have given little energy to 'marketing themselves' or polishing their 'image', having since Independence chosen the relative isolation of a non-aligned State protecting itself as best it could from the world market and intrusive foreigncompetitors. There are plenty of reasons why Indians have not used literature and themedia effectively to portray national virtues, ranging from lack of confidence in India proper by Westernised Indians, the disparity of races, languages and cultures that arecontained together as the Indian nation and perhaps the predominance of other more pressing concerns in this exploited and struggling sub-continent. The most tellingreason, I think, is the long-term loss of faith in traditional values and in theimportance of this Indian heritage to the world. The sublimity of India's spiritual lifewas lost in the myopia of the British and is yet to be discovered properly by their modern academicians or by those writers who supply the sophisticated yet hardlyelevated tastes of the English language book-buying public which craves exotica,excitement and literary invention rather than expressions of the still widespreadspirituality of India.
Scientific bias in dating the past
 There are those who claim that we are living at a time which has the most civilisedand advanced forms of society since human beings evolved. This view has long fittedlargely in with what the various sciences could substantiate about the past of mankindand with the basic (unproven) assumptions of the physicalistic scientific paradigm.Applied to the origin of human society, the scientific historical paradigm with itsDarwinist axiom implies, among other limiting assumptions, that civilisation is an end product of natural necessity - the herd instinct and need to adjust to changingenvironments for survival - and that the human being is an animal who happensthereby to have acquired a brain as a survival instrument . From this it naturallyappears to empiricists to follow logically that early human beings were more like beasts, and could not have been highly intelligent conscious spirits, quite possiblywith intuitive spiritual abilities possessed by few people nowadays.
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