Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for View, Indian View of Life

This post is a continuation of the ideas explored in yesteryday's post.

It has perhaps become fashionable to say in our globalizing times of the day that human experience is human experience after all, so how can it be much different anywhere. After all we have the same emotions, want the same things in life, and are motivated by similar drives...so what really is unique about any particular view of life? Life is life, everywhere. There may be some truth to this. But only some.

This tendency to generalize or universalize a certain view of life is one big reason why we are beginning to see what some have referred to as McDonaldization of the world. There is, in fact, a difference in different views of life based on the different views of what is a human being and what is the aim of human existence. We saw this in detail in earlier posts on Aim of Education, and Law of Graduality.

It could be argued that even if there is a particular Indian view of life, it doesn't really translate into the lived reality of present India for the most part. It may be further argued that the present Indian social-cultural mindset, for the most part, is occupied with a conception of life that emphasizes materialistic, utilitarian, mechanistic and rational view of life and universe. And there is some truth to this too. I think as a people we Indians, for the most part, have lost a sense of what is it that makes us Indian, and not Americans or French or Russian or something else. And this may be perhaps because we have tried to be everything to everyone - we have tried to assimilate the western view of life (which we have wrongly understood as "modern" way of life) so much so that we forgot our own view of life. And when the pendulum swings to the other side, we try so hard to get back to our "roots" in such rigid and narrow-minded ways that in the process deny value to everything that may not have its origin in the Indian culture.

A close and unbiased study of Indian thought reveals that Indian view of life is certainly not about a purely materialistic view nor is it about a life-denying spiritualistic view. It is actually a meaningful synthesis of both. The emphasis is not only on the spirit but also on the form because it is through form only that the spirit manifests or reveals itself. In Indian view, form becomes important because in the form dwells the spirit. So all Life, all experience actually become our means to gradually prepare ourselves for the path of the spirit. Indian spirituality, at its core, is not life-denying and, therefore, Indian view of life is just as valid today as it was in ancient times. But this is not a call to go back to the past. Please! You read the previous post, right? This is a call to know the past well so that a new future can be built.

I believe that even in modern times and in the present Indian scenario the validity or relevance of the Indian view of life is not a matter of question. The question is whether it is reflected in the way most Indians in present-day scenario view and understand life. I have to say that for the most part given the struggles of daily existence people don't know or care to know if there is an essential Indian conception of life. They go on with their lives on the assumption that people are people everywhere trying to meet the struggles of life and carrying on with their business. Who has the time to think through these deeper issues?

Generations of Indians, myself included, have grown up hearing that India is a spiritual country without knowing the first thing about what it means to be spiritual. Youngsters get plenty of messages from schools and colleges that all important modern contributions in the fields of philosophy, science, medicine, literature, art etc come from the West, though at one time in the ancient past India was a great country but what ancient Indians discovered back then is no longer relevant for present way of living. They are not encouraged to question any of this. And once they are out of colleges the struggle for daily bread and keeping up with the demands of middle-class lifestyles take care of any remaining aspiration they might have had to question the status quo or to look beyond the view of life they have experienced so far. So what view of life do you think these people would end up with? Certainly one that is materialistic, utilitarian and mechanistic - one that has now become the modern view of life everywhere.

But all hope is not lost yet. There still exist plenty of individuals in the midst of all this rationalistic modernity who aren't satisfied with what this view of life offers. They are searching for something more, something beyond, something that transcends this view of life. These are the ones that can be said to be aspiring for an Indian view of life - they may be living in India or elsewhere. These individuals and groups of individuals may not know that their view of life is termed as Indian view of life - it is the only conception of life, they feel, that has any true meaning and purpose. They don't deny the world of matter, but they see it in the right and bright light of the spirit. They don't shy away from the world of action, but they perform their work as an offering to the Divine in Nature which uses their work to fulfill the Divine purpose. They sing, paint, dance, teach, build houses, roads, clean houses and gutters, write poetry, wash dirty laundry, take care of children, cook meals for parties, do everything as a means for self-growth. These are the individuals who are living the Indian view of life - no matter which caste, group, nation, religion, they belong to. And if we think hard we can always find some individuals who may fit this description - in our families, in our neighborhoods, communities etc.

So Indian view of life is still alive here and there, though it is often hidden or pushed to the corners because of the overwhelming nature of the modern utilitarian view of life where everything and everyone exists to be fitted into the whole machinery of life. These people who don't fit well this utilitarian view of life are seen as misfits or a drag on the society or weirdos or as backward or traditional or un-progressive or what have you....many different names can be given to such people.

A spiritual modernism, not the rationalistic modernism, is the need of the hour. Indian view of life has the potential to give us that.

The question that now confronts those of us interested in Indian education is this - are we aware of what an Indian view of life may be about? Are we living our lives guided by this inner view of life? And are we in any way helping Indian learners develop an awareness and appreciation of this view of life?

And why is there a need for such questions, someone may rightly ask. Let us hear from Sister Nivedita, from her book "Hints on National Education in India" -
"A National Education is, first and foremost, an education in the national idealism...A national education must be made up of familiar elements. The ideals presented must always be first clothed in a form evolved by our own past. Our imagination must be first based on our own heroic literature. Our hope must be woven out of our history....Every outer ought to be a direct branching out from some inner. The mind that is fed from the beginning on foreign knowledge and ideas, not rooted and built upon the sense of intimacy, is like the waif brought up in the stranger's home. The waif may behave well and reward his benefactor but this is apt to be the fruit of an intellectual notion of duty, not because, loving him, he could not help it." (pp. 36-41)
The next post will build further upon what has been presented here.

Both images from www.dineshkhanna.com
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This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in the series.