Dr. Karan Singh
uring its long history over thousands of years reaching back to the very dawn of civilization, India has received numerous currents of thought and ideas from outside. It has displayed a truly remarkable capacity to assimilate and adapt these, so as to give them a peculiarly Indian stamp and make them part of its own heritage.
The Rig Veda dictum, " Let noble thoughts come to us from
every side", illustrates well this attitude of creative acceptance.
Mahatma Gandhi also expressed the same thought when he said:
At the same time, India has been one of the very few nation in history to have become a major source of disseminating ideas throughout the world, not only to its neighbouring countries, but also to the distant lands of South-East Asia, including China and Japan, where the influence of Indian thought spread widely over the centuries. In more recent times the impact of Indian ideas upon the West has been growing, and in the last decade there has been a tremendous revival of interest in things Indian, not only among professional orientalists but among large sections of people, particularly the younger generation.
India's contribution to the world, as was to be expected from a civilization so enduring and multidimensional, has been of a many-faceted character. It covers, to mention just a few fields:
In these and other fields, too numerous to catalogue, the Indian mind has contributed to the sum total of human knowledge and attainment, in a manner of which few nations can boast. There are five seminal ideas that constitute what may be considered the essential corpus of this message.
he message is not the achievement of any single group. It is the multifaceted expression of a nation that has sustained for millenia the roots of its cultural heritage, drawing sustenance from hostile incursions and, even in its long periods of decay and subjugation, keeping alive the essential luminosity of the Indian spirit.
The unity of mankind
The first of these five concepts is that of the unity of mankind. Every country has developed a love for its own nationhood, but there are a few that have had the capacity to rise above the imposing mansion of nationalism and conceptualize the unity of mankind. It has been the Indian genius that, although it has accepted and reiterated nationalism in the modern sense, particularly after the great renaissance in the nineteenth century, its best minds have always held by the concept of mankind as a single family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
The relevance of this to the present human predicament is obvious. Indeed it is becoming clear that unless this concept gets translated fairly soon into an effective international structure, governing the political and economic life of this planet, mankind itself may well be in danger of extinction, unable to survive its own technological ingenuity.
The harmony of religions
The second great concept that India has developed through the ages is that of the harmony of religions. The yearning of the human for the divine, which is at the heart of the religious quest, has in practice often been translated into hideous strife between the followers of different religions, each convinced of the righteousness of its own cause.
India has also had its share of religious strife, but essentially the Indian cultural heritage has always recognised and accepted various paths to the Divine. As the Rig Veda has it, "Truth is one, the wise call it by many names".
Apart from Hinduism, which has always been the predominant religion of India, there are millions of Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews who have lived peacefully in this country for centuries. There are also famous shrines and pilgrimages sacred to all these religions, such as the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer which is probably the largest Muslim pilgrimage centre after Mecca itself.
This attitude of a positive acceptance of all religions as so many different paths to the same goal was eloquently restated in the present age, among others, by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda , Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Writing on the Unity of India, Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Christianity came to India in the first century after Christ, long before Europe knew much about it, and found a welcome and a home… The Jews came to India also about eighteen hundred years ago or more, and were welcomed. They still carry on their community life. The Zoroastrians also came to India, driven out of Persia, and made their home here, and have flourished ever since. The Muslims first came soon after the advent of Islam, and they found ready admittance and welcome, and full opportunities for propagating their faith. For centuries there was no conflict except on the frontiers; it was only when Muslims came as conquerors and raiders that there was conflict….."
Tolerating another religion is at best a negative approach, but accepting all religions positively and gladly is a peculiarly Indian contribution. Indeed this attitude provides, in fact, an acceptable and enlightened approach to ideological differences, an attempt to provide the necessary conceptual approach aimed at a new, unified humanity which would replace the present fractured and fragmented condition of the race.
The divinity of the individual
Flowing from the concept of the unity of mankind and the harmony of religions is the third aspect of the Indian message which reiterates the divinity and dignity of the individual. Indian society often appears to place so much emphasis upon social duty and status, that individual freedom seems to be at a discount. However, parallel to, and ultimately overriding these social stratifications, runs the basic concept of the divinity of the individual. Every human personality, in the Indian view, contains within it the seeds of spiritual growth and regeneration.
Howsoever, diverse the circumstances, howsoever hostile the environment, there is within the human psyche the unquenchable spark of divinity that must, sooner or later, be fanned into the blazing fire of spiritual realization. Today, when human dignity is at a discount with various collectivities imposing their domination over the individual in a hundred ways, this aspect of India's message is of no mean significance.
The fourth facet of India's message to the world flows from its unusual synthesising and syncretizing capacity. Against the rigid dichotomy between action in the world and withdrawn meditation, it places the great ideal of the Gita, where the way of works and the way of knowledge are fused in the crucible of dedication to the Divine. As against the cruel diarchy between matter and energy (which has only recently in the West been breached by Einstein and his successors) the Indian mind has postulated the essential oneness behind all existence. As the Isha Upanishad has it, "The same energy pulsates in the heart of the atom as in the depths of the farthest galaxy". As against the dogmatic confrontation between science and religion, there is the vision of both these great disciplines as two different approaches towards essentially the same truth, with one of them reaching outwards into the very essence of the human psyche.
This capacity to balance, to harmonise, to weld together disparate concepts and apparently contradictory movements, has been the hallmark of the greatest Indian minds. It carries within it the ideological seeds of a world civilization of the future which, ideally, will weld together the best out of national cultures into a glowing and harmonious synthesis.
Finally, in the context of our newly-achieved capacity to begin a tentative advance into the vastnesses of outer space, India has provided a scheme of cosmic values which is startling in its contemporary relevance. The concept, for example, of vast aeons of time, through which the human race passes (four ages of Yugas totalling 4.32 million years, each adding up to only a single day of Brahma) more closely approximates the age of this earth than any other scheme of classical calculation. The concept of millions of galaxies (koti koti brahamanda), once considered to be merely an absurd flight of fancy, is now beginning to come alive as the boundless universe unfolds before our startled gaze. The vision of the cosmic dance of Siva, where millions of galaxies spring into being every moment, and millions are extinguished in the unending cycle of eternity, is only now beginning to reflect the knowledge that we are receiving from our initial probings into the universe around us.
We, who are children of the past and future, of the earth and the heavens, of the light and the darkness, of the world and beyond it, within time and in eternity, yet have the capacity to comprehend our condition, to rise above our terrestrial limitations and, finally, to approach the incredible possibility of transcending the throbbing abyss of space and time itself.
This, in essence, is the message of India to the world and to herself.
(Excerpted from the first issue of NEW INDIA DIGEST No.1 for July-August, 1987)
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