Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Strengthen our own bonds with our cultural roots

Bengaluru Today: June 11 Discourse on ‘The Supreme claim of the divine mother’ by Anuradha Chowdary from Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, Sri Aurobindo Complex, Cultural Hall, Sri Aurobindo Marg, J.P. Nagar I Phase, 6 p.m.

On the recognition of human rights

Nicholas Wolterstorff at The Immanent Frame - 15 hours ago
Samuel Moyn's essay, "Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights," makes an important contribution to our understanding of the history of the concept of human rights. I am a philosopher. Though I have a considerable interest in history, I am not a historian. Before reading Moyn's essay I knew nothing about the developments that he discusses. Discovering the depths of my ignorance might have left me feeling embarrassed and chagrined but for the fact that, as Moyn observes, almost none of his fellow active historians knew anything about these developments either. could I miss this excellent post?! Anyway, better late than never. The wit, sarcasam and humor of your post is fantastic, and totally on the point. But I have a serious point to make :) Yes, our culture is not weak that it can be so easily shaken by those ill-informed books, non-sensical portrayals in films etc. And I am totally with you on the positives that we should be working on (like not defacing our monuments, protecthing and preserving our heritage temples, encouraging and promoting classical art forms etc.). But I still feel that there is a need for a strong, well-informed, well-articulated defense. I say this because in present times the global discourse on global cultures is still very asymmetric. And culture as a soft power is commonly used for the purposes of international and foreign policy purposes. I am not saying this, many serious thinkers have been documenting this for quite a while now. Of course you would know that I am not speaking of the sort of misinformed and misapplied aggression that protestors of valentines day and those advocating covering up women etc. Every time a book that speaks of Shiv-lingam as phallus (and only that, and nothing else) is used as a textbook in a classroom in the US or anywhere else in the world, a seed for the misperception of Hinduism is planted in young minds right there ! And this is just one small example, there are many such things that happen on regular basis. It is such things that need to be challenged and challenged strongly.


  1. Beloo! I differentiate between the 'preserving' means of upholding culture and the 'destruction' means. A true response to an ill-informed book about our culture IS a well-informed one that gets written and widely circulated and NOT burning copies and filing cases to ban the book. What the latter does is ensure that THAT book gets more publicity and higher circulation than before, if not within this country outside the country.

    In other words, I would rather that we ignore these things, by way of not even referring to them, and concentrated on building a better understanding of our own culture among both our people as well as others. In that, what I mean is that we do tackle the arguments posited by these people but NOT in direct reference so as to be seen to be making a defense. To me, the idea of defending my culture against ill-informed people is to give too much stature to ill-informed nuts :)
  2. Totally with you on this point about not giving too much or any publicity to the ill-informed nuts. And also on the point about doing well informed critiques of controversial books. But my concern still remains that the nuts who oppose a certain book or film and demand their ban and pulping get more publicity in our asymmetric discourse than the well-researched critique. This makes the problem even worse. Ultimately I agree the best defense is to strengthen our own bonds with our cultural roots and encourage others to do the same through meaningful education. But unfortunately there is a lot of apathy, ignorance and indifference among the so-called educated Indians about their own roots.

Thanks Brian for bringing out this important point. Yes some Indians can be at times too defensive. I am not saying it is right or wrong, or it is needed or not, just making an observation. I like your example about "don't you dare criticise the family" :) But the truth remains that we have to recognize that there are many things we need to do right at home before blaming anyone else. At the same time we can't deny that there is a strong tendency, at least in some sections of the Indian society (as well as outside India), to put all the blame for what is not right in India on things such as "oh, those poor Indians" or "Indian cultural values" or "Indian traditions, customs, rituals, etc". This kind of lazy blame-game doesn't help anyone.

Isaac, the issues of caste hierarchy and attitudes toward women are really big issues, lengthy articles will be needed to cover some of the aspects regarding either of these. I am not denying that these problems aren't there, these are very much there. But there too, I would say that when trying to understand them we have to do a thorough analysis to see how such degradation happened and why.

Ergo, thanks for your comment. There were some parts to the original article I sent to the magazine which have been edited out for some reason (probably space). Some of what has been left out of this published piece, I believe, could have addressed some of the questions you bring up in your last paragraph. Here they are:
"What makes so many educated people jump to
this hasty conclusion of ‘blame the culture’ any time they see some problematic (for them) or socially deviant or even down-right criminal behaviour of some individuals or groups of people in the society?
"Could it be simply that these commentators
don’t want to take the time to study the problem in its many dimensions? Could it be that the popular understanding of the word ‘culture’ itself has become a rather superficial one, just like everything else in these times? Shouldn’t we be concerned about learning what a culture really is before we start finding
faults with it?
"The issues of discrimination and violence toward women are very serious problems deserving a much in-depth analysis of many complex factors including a study of historical and structural inequities in the society, social evolutionary patterns, human psychology, criminal psychology, law and order, criminal justice system, and many others aspects. That will be a dissertation in itself, left for some other time. For the purpose of present analysis, let us take a much simpler example.
"Why can’t Indians wait in a queue?
"Some Indians don’t value the purpose of waiting in queue when they have to get their work done, say, in a bank or a government office or anywhere else. Not only that, when there are many people waiting to get their work done, some of them may not hesitate to shove and push their way through. This is by no means a general or generalizable observation. But we have all seen such behaviour, haven’t we?
"At the same time we have all seen (or at least I have seen) plenty of Indians in various contexts — government offices,
banks, shopping malls, department stores, religious ceremonies, ashrams, charitable organizations, hospitals, doctors’ clinics, and many other situations — patiently waiting for their turn in queue. Not only that, we have perhaps all come across situations (or at least I have) when people have let
some total stranger stand before them in the queue because they were in a greater hurry or were senior citizens or had some other reason. Such kindness is also quite commonly seen in Indian collective settings.
"Both realities exist, simultaneously. Is one pattern a greater representative of Indian society or Indian culture than the other?
"Somehow in my observation, those who don’t prefer this queue business or those who go out of their turn in the queue are
generally those who feel they are entitled to some special preference. And this sense of entitlement can come because of some real or perceived social or economic status they have assigned to themselves. What leads to such a sense of
entitlement? This is a matter of individual/social behavioural psychology, not necessarily a characteristic of a culture.
"Another possible reason why some people don’t mind pushing or shoving to get their work done, at any cost, could be simply that they don’t want to wait or they don’t have time to wait for their turn. Or they may somewhat wrongly assume that only their time is precious, and other people waiting there have somehow more than 24 hours in a day. Or that only their work is important and others’ works don’t matter. What leads to such
misguided assumptions? This too is a matter of individual/social behavioural psychology, not necessarily a characteristic of a culture.
"Social behaviour is the result of many factors including but not limited to: individual and collective levels of literacy and general education in civic or collective life, the environment of upbringing, the sheer size of population (not to mention the mind-boggling diversity on all possible indicators that a census bureau can ever imagine), the extremely fast pace and mind-less nature of urbanization, the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the systems and organizations, and many others.
"But the larger issue here is how we understand a culture. Culture is not social behaviour, culture is something much, much deeper."
As for your point about Shankara's philosophy, I am not claiming that it is his philosophy or his spiritual realization that is to be blamed. It is only how the idea of "the outer world is an illusion" came to be perceived by the masses that led to the neglect of the outer body of the social-cultural life of people. Indian culture certainly went through a period of decay and decline (that's the nature of things, everywhere). Sri Aurobindo summarized it very well. According to him, India’s decline was prepared by three movements of retrogression:
"1. A sinking of that super-abundant vital energy and a fading of the joy of life and the joy of creation.
2. A rapid cessation of the old free intellectual activity, a slumber of the scientific and critical mind as well as the creative intuition; what remains becomes more and more a repetition of ill-understood fragments of past knowledge.
3. Spirituality remains but burns no longer with the large and clear flame of knowledge, but in intense jets and in a dispersed action which replaces the old magnificent synthesis and in which certain spiritual truths were emphasised to the neglect of others."
Taking point #3 above, whenever one spiritual truth (e.g. the phenomenal world appears as an Illusion of the real Brahman, or pursuit of Moksha being emphasized at the cost of all other human pursuits, spirituality that is life-denying instead of life-affirming) is emphasized neglecting other spiritual truths, the inner core of the culture will begin to suffer too.
Indian cultural truth, at its core has always been about integrating and synthesizing diverse truths, and about life-affirming spirituality that doesn't deny intellectual, material and all other pursuits of life. When we walk away from that we make room for decay to set in. And as for points 1 & 2 about the need for a strong vitality and critical intellect, thankfully things are beginning to shift in the positive direction in the last several decades, though there also we have a long way to go.

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