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Monday, December 08, 2008

Sri Aurobindo argued that pacifism can do nothing to root out the causes of war or oppression

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When elites eschew defense: The case of India By Ed Kaitz

Profound thinkers like Aurobindo Ghose, India's greatest 20th century philosopher, argued that the "ascetic ideal" etched into Hindu identity became oppressively "top heavy" in India and smothered the more warlike themes in Hindu tradition and culture. In his Foundations of Indian Culture Aurobindo claimed:

"Still it is true that the ascetic ideal, which in the ancient vigor of our culture was the fine spire of life mounting into the eternal existence, became latterly its top-heavy dome and tended under the weight of its bare and imposing sublimity to crush the rest of the edifice."

Although Aurobindo's vision was of a harmonious and peaceful international community inspired by Hinduism's spiritual grace and maturity, he was quite impatient with what he called the "fanatics of pacifism" whose myopia threatened this lofty goal. Aurobindo understood, as pacifists like Gandhi did not, that the international community was still a menacing state of nature. Aggressive national actors were always ready to fill, as Thucydides said in Greece over 2 millennia ago, any potential vacuum including the one in India. Therefore, for the Hindu warrior warfare could be an elevating experience if the conflict safeguarded the "principle of right, justice, and law which shall be the basis of the harmony towards which the struggle ends."

Nationalists like Aurobindo, in other words, were not foolish enough to believe that Islamic armies, or armies from the West for that matter, wouldn't continue to take advantage of India's "top-heavy" orientation toward gentle, non-violent renunciation. A "handful" of British occupiers for example managed to turn much of India's northern provinces into an opium industry. From here British entrepreneurs derived the powerful narcotic that British troops eventually helped to cram into the veins of helpless Chinese addicts during the Opium Wars of the 1840s. Aurobindo argued that pacifism can do nothing to root out the causes of war or oppression. Indeed, he said, the non-violent approach may be responsible for extending the shelf-life of international conflict:

"It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is at its root must first disappear out of humanity. Much less will mere immobility and inertia unwilling to use or incapable of using any kind of resistance to evil abrogate the law."

Aurobindo and other nationalists recognized that traditions of renunciation in India together with the gentle wisdom contained in Buddhism, Jainism, and the inward-searching Upanishads had conditioned Hindu men to meet foreign aggression with passive resistance. This "top-heavy dome" of the spirit in other words had smothered the more aggressive and warlike features of the Hindu edifice. In fact, the roughly 4th century B.C. Bhagavad-Gita -- considered to be the "Hindu bible" -- highlights the spiritual adventures of Hinduism's greatest warrior in history, Arjuna. (Arjuna is something like a combination of Achilles and Socrates -- on steroids). In the Bhagavad-Gita, or "Song of God," Krishna - an incarnation of God - persuades Arjuna, through the lush philosophy characteristic of Hinduism's greatest thinkers that he should choose to fight when threatened by subjugation and injustice. In one famous passage Krishna tells Arjuna:

"Happy are the Kshatriyas (warriors) O Arjuna, for whom such a war comes of its own accord as an open door to heaven."

Indeed, of the four traditional castes in Hindu culture, the warrior caste, or Kshatryia, was created by God to be the "arms" or protectors of society. Their courageous protection and sacrifice allowed members of the other castes such as the Shudras (servants), Vaishyas (merchants), and Brahmins (priests) to accrue spiritual merit in the successive lives that would eventually result in the rediscovery of God as the ground of each person's entire being. God is telling Arjuna that to fulfill his caste obligations he should not shrink from battle. To be overrun by enemies would be to threaten the entire soul-making process at the heart of every individual Hindu's journey back to God.

The problem many modern Hindu nationalists noticed however is that those with the highest spiritual discipline and merit, the Brahmin priests, fulfilled their caste obligations by renouncing the same ties to nation and family that provided the bulwark against foreign invaders. By renouncing all earthly attachments -- including violence and anger -- in the pursuit of God those at the top of the Hindu hierarchy provided an example that was troublesome to the warrior's maintenance of national integrity. Simply put, it meant that the very existence of nationhood was an impediment to rediscovering God. This left India at the mercy of Western and Islamic civilizations, both of which had no problems combining religion and statecraft in the pursuit of their national interests...

Muslim and British conquerors met little resistance in a culture that had become, in Aurobindo's words, so spiritually top-heavy as to make any kind of violence a nauseating prospect... Nationalists like Aurobindo and Vivekenanda reminded Hindus however to evaluate for themselves the efficacy of pacifism. Weakness only invites invasion. Warrior energy, or rajas as the Hindus call it, is a normal and natural part of cultural survival... For Aurobindo, until that day arrives -- the day when we're all content enough to "stay with pleasure at home" -- a nation would be foolish to let its guard down in the name of "progress." 29 Comments on "When elites eschew defense: The case of India" About Us © American Thinker 2008 # Edward Kaitz, Lecturer University of San Francisco Philosophy Department 2130 Fulton Street San Francisco, CA 94117-1080(415) 422-5833 (415) 422-5356 Fax kaitzfam@yahoo.com Office: CA D6 Office Hours: W-F 7:30am-9:00am (World Fare)

1 comment:

  1. Whatever Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda may have said or advocated in relation to Spirituality and culture altogether, has as much relation to what American Thinker advocates altogether as being on the dark side of the moon or being entombed in a tightly sealed completely lightless black cube.

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