hindu traditional
The traditional Hindu view of history, has been formed after the pattern of cosmic processes. In nature, everything seems to follow a certain cyclic rhythm of emergence, disappearance, and re-emergence. The sun rises in the morning, sets at evening, but only to rise again the following dawn. Plants spring up from the womb of the earth, grow, and then decay, thus returning to where they came from, until they sprout once again from the soil. The seasons too follow a pattern of birth, death, and rebirth. The Indian mind has always thought of man as part of the cosmos and, therefore, subject to the law of cyclic return. History is ”a perpetual creation, perpetual preservation, perpetual destruction,” as we read in the Vishnu Purana (I, 7). The world emanates from, Brahm˜a into which it is reabsorbed, at the end of every kalpa and where it remains in a state of pure potency until it emanates again, thus initiating a new cycle. The world periods ( kalpas), and the subsequent periods of repose, form, consecutively, the days and the nights of Brahm˜a. (Gita, VIII, 17-20). This process of creation and dissolution, is without beginning and end. History is eternal, as is Brahm˜a, which is its source. Besides being cyclic and eternal, history contains also a principle of inevitable deterioration. The world periods are divided into Mah˜a-yugas and each Mah˜a-yuga is further divided into four yugas: Krit˜a-yuga, Tret˜a-yuga, Dv˜apara-yuga, and Kali-yuga, each deteriorating successively. The Krit˜a-yuga is the period of perfection both physical and moral. At the other end we have Kali-yuga, the age of universal misery, evil, and untruth. The present human race has been living in the Kali-yuga for the last 5063 years and will have to live through another 420,000 years, before it can see the end of this age of ever increasing decadence. The cyclic, eternal, and deteriorating nature of history has serious implications for man’s attitude towards life.

The Sense of Future
lord shiva
The past is only a springboard to the future. The future holds the promise of growth and maturation. It has in store the opportunities man needs, to unfold and realize his potentialities to the maximum. But man looks also beyond the future, beyond history, to a state, where he will be in eternal possession of the values realized in the course of his existence on earth. This hope is enshrined in the heart of individuals and peoples who have a genuine sense of history. But the cyclic view of time has among many other factors prevented the birth in India of a vision of the future, which does justice to the true aspirations of man. In a repetitive pattern of world cycles, there is no scope for real progress and maturation. The values of the present are not carried over into the future, since they are doomed to destruction in an eventual pralaya. All that man creates, therefore, is stamped with the sign of death. The new creation that follows, the night of Brahm`a , is not any the richer for the achievements of the past. Further, the end of each world period, being nothing more than a mere return to the beginning, nothing new, nothing original, ever appears in history. Such a view of the future is apt to beget a sense of the futility of all human endeavours. Moreover, the belief that history has no definitive end, takes all seriousness out of human existence. This is still accentuated by the accepted ideas regarding the transmigration of souls. The result is that, life is denuded of its uniqueness and the sense of tragedy. There is however, a current of thought in traditional Hinduism, which strikes one as the severest judgement passed by Indians themselves, on the cyclic view of history, namely, the belief in the possibility of redemption from the wheel of samsara. The profoundest longing of the Indian soul has always been to find salvation from the law of birth and rebirth. What else does this signify if not that Indians have nerve been able to reconcile themselves to the cyclic view of history? Unfortunately, the various ways of liberation (mukti) give hope of escape from the fetters of samsara only to the individual. The community as such is condemned to the everlasting misery of repeated existences.

Cult of the Past
Each community has its own collective memory and its own attitude towards ages gone by. And where this attitude is correct, past events and values are brought before the tribunal of the present, either to be accepted or rejected in the light of objectively valid standards. To return now to the Indian scene, the concept of time and history explained earlier contains in principle an ambivalence. It may lead one either to indifference or to the cult of the past: to indifference, because the unending creation and destruction of the universe makes the achievements of the past devoid of any real meaning, since nothing matures in the past to bear fruit in the present; to the cult of the past, since belief in the principle of deterioration implies the acceptance of the golden age. In reality, however, it is the latter attitude which has characterized the Indian mind even to the present day. There is much truth in the oft-repeated saying that India is a country where nothing is forgotten. The existence of a scrupulously faithful oral tradition, the tenacity with which millions of people, even today, cling to age-old customs and practices, and the tendency to attach more value to the past than is due: all this points to a certain nostalgia for the past. But one should also bear in mind that such an uncritical affirmation of the past is not a properly historical attitude. It is looked upon by many educated Hindus today -and rightly so -as characteristic of a people that has not yet come of age. Maturity demands that one opposes oneself to the past and transcends it, without however, sacrificing the genuine values realized in it.

The Doctrine of Karma
karma
There are also other factors in Indian thought, which go counter to the demands of commitment to the task of the present. The chief among them, is the idea of man, current in traditional Hinduism. Creative response to the call of the present is possible only if man has a sense of freedom. But philosophical speculation, in India, has always tended to belittle the relative autonomy of man and his capacity to determine and shape his own destiny. Man is born with the evil of karma, which determines his concrete mode of existence. His joys and sorrows are the inevitable fruits of the deeds of his past lives. Any revolt against his actual conditions of life, is doomed to failure. Enmeshed in karma, he can exercise his freedom only in trying to flee from the world, not in creating history. Furthermore, the reality itself of man and history seems to be called in question. The Indian mind has a native tendency to identify the real with the one, the immutable, the eternal, and the Absolute. The concrete individual who works, plans, and suffers belongs to the realm of the unreal, to the domain of universal ignorance ( avidya). Hehasno true being, no consistence in himself. The conclusion, therefore, forces itself upon us that, in her age-long search for truth, India has not been able to gain a view of man as person, as an incarnate spirit, capable of free and responsible action. Consequently, also she has no fully developed sense of society, which is born of interpersonal dialogue. The community as the subject and the agent of history, does not figure in the philosophical and religious thought of India. For these and other reasons the Indian attitude to history, has always been one of indifference and not of commitment.

The Tyranny of Ideology
The traditional spiritualistic conception of religion, as the way of liberation from the historical conditions of human existence, cannot inspire commitment to the creation of a better social order, within the pale of history. Besides, religion has, for long, been divorced from ethics (P.D. Devanandan, Christian Concern in Hinduism, p.46) This makes it possible for persons to be excessively scrupulous in religious matters and, at the same time, unconcerned about moral values, especially in social life. Similarly, undue stress on individual salvation, has eclipsed all ideas of collective salvation and of universal human solidarity. It has prevented the emergence of a truly social humanism, which alone could provide an adequate basis for a socialist society. We may also mention here the theocratic conception of the world, which views the existing social order as willed by the gods, and the attitude of fatalism and resignation, created by the belief in karma and samsara, all of which act as a brake on social revolution. Coming to the domain of ethics, we find again the same individualism, as was noticed at the level of religiosity. The stress is mainly on personal virtues, like austerity, self-control, detachment, and chastity, and, only marginally, on one’s social obligations (Swami Nikhilananda, in The Indian Mind, C. A. Moore (ed.) , Honolulu, pp. 238-240). Paradoxically, individualism in ethics grew within the framework of the collectivism of the joint family, caste, and village economy. The authoritarianism of these traditional structures, did not favour the development of personal responsibility and decision. At the level of social consciousness, there still exists the hierarchically ordered society, based on status rather than on function. Consequently, the social inequalities existing today, go unquestioned. No less entrenched in the minds of people, is parochialism. Loyalty to limited groups, like the family and the caste, takes precedence over loyalty to society as a community of persons. This has led some Indians to entertain the extreme view that “ the traditional Hindu mind is incapable of feeling a civic responsibility, wider secular loyalties, for any length of time, beyond its own kinship group” (A. B. Shah, in his introduction to Tradition and Modernity in India, A. B. Shah and C. R. M. Rao (ed.), Bombay, 1965, p . 11). Finally, the occupational stratification, inherent in caste, is at the root of the prevailing contempt for manual labour and the search for white collar jobs.

Taming the Divine
saraswatghiHinduism, too, has a hoary history of the domestication of the Divine. The Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda is probably the first attempt to legitimize the Varna system, where it is stated that the Brahmin emanated from the forehead of the primeval person, the Kshatriya from his arms, the Vaisya from his loins, and the Sudra from his feet. The entire Mahabharata was rewritten in the second century AD to suit the interests of the priestly class. The author of the Gita would make Krishna say, “The Varna system -that is my creation.” There is a remarkable myth in the Padma Purana, which shows how the highest Divinity was made to proclaim the supremacy of the Brahmins. There arose once a dispute among the gods as to who among the three deities -Brahm˜a, Siva, and Vishnu -was the God with his essence as goodness ( satva-guna) and, consequently, worthy of the highest worship. In order to ascertain the truth, the Brahmin sage, Bhrigu, was sent to the abode of the gods. Bhrigu first approached Brahm˜a who, apparently, ignored the visitor. This was proof enough for Bhrigu that Brahm˜a was not the supreme God, he being filled with the quality of valour ( rajo-guna). Then the visitor proceeded to the abode of Siva, who, busy as he was with lovemaking with Parvati, failed to notice the visitor. This convinced the latter that Siva was full of the quality of darkness ( tamo-guna) and therefore did not merit the highest worship. Finally, Bhrigu came to Vishnu’s abode, where he was found lying on his serpent bed with Lakshmi, his consort, holding his feet on her lap and caressing them gently with lotus hands. This infuriated the Brahmin who went up and stamped his feet on Vishnu’s chest. Lo and behold, Vishnu got up, bowed in reverence and spoke in honeyed words, “ I am fortunate today, O! Brahmin sage; I am fulfilled in every way, for the touch of your foot, upon my body, will be a blessing. May I be purified by the particles of dust from a Brahmin’s feet, particles which cause one to obtain all good fortune, fires to burn away whatever misfortune may arise, bridges over the shoreless ocean of rebirth.” This, for Bhrigu, was the ultimate proof that Vishnu was indeed the supreme God.

Cyclic Time
The traditional Hindu view of history has been formed after the pattern of cosmic processes. In nature, everything seems to follow a certain cyclic rhythm of emergence, disappearance, and re-emergence. The sun rises in the morning, sets at evening but only to rise again the following dawn. Plants spring up from the womb of the earth, grow, and then decay, thus returning from where they came from, until they sprout once again from the soil. The seasons too follow a pattern of birth death and rebirth. The Indian mind has always thought of man as part of the cosmos and therefore, subject to the law of cyclic return. History is “a perpetual creation, perpetual preservation, perpetual destruction,” as we read in the Vishnu Purana (I, 7). The world emanates from, into which it is reabsorbed at the end of every kalpa and where it remains in a stage of pure potency until it emanates again, thus initiating a new cycle. The world periods ( kalpas) and the subsequent periods of repose form consecutively the days and the nights of Brahm˜a. (Gita, VIII, 17-20). This process of creation and dissolution is without beginning and end. History is eternal, as is Brahm˜a, which is its source. Besides being cyclic and eternal, history contains also a principle of inevitable deterioration. The world periods are divided into Mahayugas and each Mahayuga is further divided into four yugas: Kritayuga, Tretayuga, Dvaparayuga, and Kaliyuga each deteriorating successively. The Kritayuga is the period of perfection both physical and moral. At the other end we have Kaliyuga, the age of universal misery, evil and untruth. The present human race has been living in the Kaliyuga for the last 5063 years and will have to live through another 420,000 years before it can see the end of this age of ever increasing decadence. The cyclic, eternal and deteriorating nature of history has serious implications for man’s attitude towards life.

Vision of the Future

Vision of the HumanThe past is only a springboard to the future. The future holds the promise of growth and maturation. It has in store the opportunities man needs to unfold and realize his potentialities to the maximum. But man looks also beyond the future, beyond history, to a state where he will be in eternal possession of the values realized in the course of his existence on earth. This hope is enshrined in the heart of individuals and peoples who have a genuine sense of history. But the cyclic view of time has among many other factors prevented the birth in India of a vision of the future, which does justice to the true aspirations of man. In a repetitive pattern of world cycles there is no scope for real progress and maturation. The values of the present are not carried over into the future since they are doomed to destruction in an eventual parlay. All that man creates therefore is stamped with the sign of death. The new creation that follows the night of Brahma is not any the richer for the achievements of the past. Further, the end of each world period being nothing more than a mere return to the beginning, nothing new nothing original, ever appears in history. Such a view of the future is apt to beget a sense of the futility of all human endeavours. Moreover, the belief that history has no definitive end takes all seriousness out of human existence. This is still accentuated by the accepted ideas regarding the transmigration of souls. The result is that life is denuded of its uniqueness and the sense of tragedy. There is however, a current of thought in traditional Hinduism which strikes one as the severest judgement passed by Indians themselves on the cyclic view of history, namely, the belief in the possibility of redemption from the wheel of samsara. The profoundest longing of the Indian soul has always been to find salvation from the law of birth and rebirth. What else does this signify if not that Indians have nerve been able to reconcile themselves to the cyclic view of history? Unfortunately, the various ways of liberation (mukti) give hope of escape from the fetters of samsara only to the individual. The community as such is condemned to the everlasting misery of repeated existences.

Vision of the Human

There are also other factors in Indian thought, which go counter to the demands of commitment to the task of the present. The chief among them is the idea of man current in traditional Hinduism. Creative response to the call of the present is possible only if man has a sense of freedom. But philosophical speculation in India has always tended to belittle the relative autonomy of man and his capacity to determine and shape his own destiny. Man is born with the evil of karma, which determines his concrete mode of existence. His joys and sorrows are the inevitable fruits of the deeds of his past lives. Any revolt against his actual conditions of life is doomed to failure. Enmeshed in karma, he can exercise his freedom only in trying to flee from the world, not in creating history. Furthermore, the reality itself of man and history seems to be called in question. The Indian mind has a native tendency to identify the real with the one, the immutable, the eternal, and the Absolute. The concrete individual who works, plans, and suffers belongs to the realm of the unreal, to the domain of universal ignorance (avidya). He has no true being, no consistence in himself. The conclusion therefore forces itself upon us that in her age-long search for truth India has not been able to gain a view of man as person, as an incarnate spirit capable of free and responsible action. Consequently also she has no fully developed sense of society which is born of interpersonal dialogue. The community as the subject and the agent of history does not figure in the philosophical and religious thought of India. For these and other reasons the Indian attitude to history has always been one of indifference and not of commitment.


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