A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche

In the concluding episode we examine some fundamental contrasts with the Western framework of Indology and offer a few guides to decolonise the Hindu psyche.
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche

Read the Earlier Episodes

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Bharatavarsha Must Consciously Reject the Western Model of Ideological Universalism and Accelerate Decolonisation
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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Decolonisation is a National Duty and a Hindu Civilisational Impertive
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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The Lost Access to the Hindu Societal Past
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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The New Indian Renaissance as a Guide to Decolonisation
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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The Deracinated Nehruvian Power Elite Derails the New Indian Renaissance
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche
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The Hindu System of Philosophical Inquiry Contrasted with the Western Intellectual Milieu
A Few Basic Guides for Decolonising the Hindu Psyche

WE SEE THE EXACT OPPOSITE climate in India. Our Rishis and saints did not establish any individual-centric schools. They gave us living traditions, which were the consequence of years of contemplation and a philosophical realization of changeless universal principles. These principles are Rta, Satya, and Dharma. Their practical application includes the whole of the Hindu ethical system or Dharmasastras. Some of the major ingredients of this ethical system are the triad of Yajña (sharing), Dāna (charity), Tapas (penance), and more generally, the ten traits that constitute Dharma as defined by Manu Maharshi:

dhṛtiḥ kṣamā damo'steyaṃ śaucaṃ indriyanigrahaḥ ।

dhīrvidyā satyaṃ akrodho daśakaṃ dharmalakṣaṇam । ।

Patience, forgiveness, self-restraint, non-stealing, hygiene, control of sense organs, courage, knowledge, truth, and non-anger constitute the ten traits of Dharma.

Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri provides a penetrating insight into this Indian philosophical tradition.

Indian culture gives immense importance to individual freedom. Differences of opinion exist among various schools of Indian philosophy on the subject of the nature of the relationship that exists between an individual, the Supreme Being and the material world. However, all these schools also universally recognize the fact that the individual, based on nature and temperament, is free to lead a life of his or her choosing. It is because of this that there is no scope for totalitarianism in Indian culture.The spiritual outlook that lies at the heart of Indian culture is the reason it’s still alive and flourishing in the world. It is also the reason every single facet of Indian culture—food, social mores, business ethics, philosophy, aesthetics, investigations into the nature of truth and beauty—holds a special distinction. Not only does Indian culture embody universal values, it has also infused its unique value system both at the level of the individual and the society. Indian culture is thus like Atman, the Self: timeless and imperishable. (Emphasis added)

D.V. Gundappa too, mirrors the same insight in his masterly contrast elucidating the Indian philosophical tradition with that of Western notions of liberalism.

… there is nothing peculiarly British or European in these ideas [of liberalism]. Their validity is universal. So far as India is concerned, the ideas are implicit in the Hindu concept of Dharma. […] Dharma is individual self-sustenance or one's being oneself… None can perform the Dharma of another. The eye cannot hear; the leg cannot taste… Liberty is opportunity for … self-fulfilment. Sva-tantra or liberty is a condition indispensable to Sva-dharma. It should be noted that, while the word liberty, denoting absence of restraint, is negative in its import, the word Sva-dharma (one's own duty prescribed by the principle of the general good) is positive. The notion of duty is implied and not explicit in liberty, while the notion of Sva-tantra (liberty) is implied and not explicit in Sva-dharma (duty). The relative emphasis in the two phrases is characteristic of the two scales of value. That liberty is incidental and ancillary to Dharma is the Hindu view… […] Self-fulfilment is not in solitude, but in and through society… Law or Nyaya is the working of Dharma. […] Dharma is thus charity or philanthropy, citizenship, or public spirit… The progress of the soul is from self-expression under the law of justice to self-dissolution in life universal--from Dharma to Moksha, from individualism to universalism, from life limited to life limitless. (Emphasis added)

Thus, the Hindu tradition holds that society and politics are just means to attain a more profound goal. We can paraphrase D.V. Gundappa’s brilliant analogy in this regard: a thirsty man needs water. A utensil is required to drink water. And so, the utensil acquires a value because of water. Likewise, worldly life acquires a value because it enables the attainment of the goal of reaching a higher world. And society and politics acquire value because of worldly life.

The fact that no Western philosophical canon or doctrine was able to produce such insights, once again, points to the same thing: the fundamental difference in outlook between the West and Bharatavarsha. The Sanatana philosophical core can easily assimilate and Hinduize even a messiah of exclusivity like Jesus Christ. The reverse is impossible.   

In this context, it is essential to examine two more fundamental points related to history.  

THE WEST UNDERSTOOD BHARATAVARSHA primarily through the Christian, colonial, materialist, and sociological prisms. Their understanding stemmed from a conqueror’s mindset. They never became honest participants of the same Hindu society and culture that they studied whilst living in it. Study, understanding, interpretation and analysis are words that have specific meanings. Thus, their studies and analyses of our culture, philosophy and traditions resemble nothing higher or are more meaningful than inert reports of an archeologist’s field study or a museum curator’s documentation. They had no feel for our culture, languages, and traditions. The most depraved proofs for this fact are the lucrative auction houses in the West like Sotheby’s that openly hawk the Murtis of our Devis and Devatas. This is a double crime. One, a majority of these Murtis are items that the West has plundered. Two, these auctions are ongoing felonies of cultural annihilation and a destruction of sanctity: your reverence is our tradable commodity. That all this is still being done without remorse shows the levels at which the phenomenon of cultural contrast operates on.

To cite an oft-repeated insight of Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh, Europeans discovered Sanskrit at the same time we discovered English. After 250 years, India has a thriving market for Indians writing in English. In contrast, how many works in Sanskrit has Europe or America produced during the same period?

But the situation is worse.

Four or five generations of Hindus have internalized the colonial and Christian West’s understanding of India and have been using those frameworks, methods and arguments in their own work in both fiction and non-fiction. This class of Hindus belongs to three broad categories.

The first is the genuine converts – the incurably colonized Hindus who sincerely believe that there was nothing good in India before the British civilized it.

The second class comprises opportunists. They are beneath contempt.

The third class consists of Hindus who genuinely work towards decolonization, especially in what is known as the “intellectual” realm. A good chunk of this class continues to use the aforementioned western frameworks in a mistaken and wasteful endeavour to somehow defend our own traditions. Some even chase the mirage of “beating them at their own game” forgetting the elementary fact that the West has set the rules of that game centuries ago. Contemporary indologists like Sheldon Pollock win the game repeatedly precisely for this reason. There is no neutral turf in the colonial game called Indology. However, it has assumed lethal and gargantuan proportions today compared to what it was during direct colonial rule. This is because generational armies of Hindus trained and indoctrinated in the Indology departments of America are playing it on behalf of their White masters such as Wendy Doniger, Paul Courtright, Steve Farmer, Sheldon Pollock, et al. It is worth recalling the memorable warning that P.V. Kane gave in 1953 in this regard:  

Conquerors rarely adopt the words of the language of the conquered. It is the conquered who adopt many words from their conqueror's language as we did when the Moslems or the British ruled over India. It is best to confess one's ignorance than put forward fantastic views about combinations of words from different dialects for producing Vedic words.

The second historical point: India’s experience with alien invasions and regimes dates back to nearly a millennium. The story of the all-round oppression of Hindus by these regimes is as prolonged and painful as it is well-known. Yet, throughout that period, not one alien philosophy or religion has managed to influence our philosophical core even one bit. The Hindu society still hasn’t perhaps realized that this is the unmatched strength that it has at its disposal and that it needs to rediscover it.  

FINALLY, DECOLONISATION CANNOT be taught through books or in classrooms. Those are crutches at best. Decolonisation is a civilizational endeavour in which the entire Hindu society should consciously participate. This quote drawn from Sita Ram Goel, gives a sample of the magnitude of the effort involved:

… in today's India it is not sufficient to be a Hindu by birth. Hindu society and culture are under attack from several quarters. One has to be a convinced and conscious Hindu to meet and survive that attack. One has to find one's roots in Sanatana Dharma. (Emphasis added)

Thus, decolonization is a function of both the immediate and the larger cultural and social atmosphere that incubates and nurtures it.

The stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance that I mentioned earlier had lived in an ambience that had not been fully colonized. A major aspect of their trailblazing work was to prevent the destruction of this ambience and to preserve its best elements.

Prof M. Hiriyanna for example, learned Sastras, Sanskrit, etc., in a traditional Gurukulam. His immediate surrounding was permeated by the Hindu cultural ambience. Such an atmosphere silently, invisibly imbibes us with lessons which we never forget. These are too subtle to be formally taught. A whole ecosystem works to create these kinds of stalwarts. That ecosystem has pretty much disappeared. Small wonder that we are no longer able to produce such luminaries.

There is an additional difficulty. Today we live almost in an exclusively materialistic world. American style capitalist materialism hasn’t spared any piece of the earth. The emphasis in such a system is a constant striving for wealth for its own sake. This also conditions the mind to view everything from this materialist lens, or at any rate, through the lens of hardcore utilitarianism.

Even in the 1970s, we had a familiar phrase: cultivating leisure.  Today, we have either endless work or mindless entertainment, but not leisure. Leisure is a precondition for the sort of cultural decolonization needed today. Leisure is the midwife of culture and gives it expression in different realms – art, music, poetry, literature, philosophy etc. We notice an earnest and philosophical side of leisure in this verse in Sri Krishnadevaraya’s classic, āmuktamālyada:

varṣārthamaṣṭau prayateta māsān

niśārthamardham divase yateta ।

vārdhakyahetorvayasā navena

paratrahetoriha janmanā ca ॥

To savour the rainy season, we must suffer for (the rest of the) eight months.
Thus, for (resting at) night, in the day, thus for old age, in youth, and
Thus to attain the Other World (Moksha) must we suffer in this world ||

In other words, the unbroken cultural and social continuity is both a necessary and sufficient condition for any meaningful attempt at decolonization. Studying how it had worked practically in the past and the lessons we can learn from it, looking back at our own childhood experiences, understanding how our own previous generations lived, a conscious cultivation of the serene and subtler aspects of life and above all, reading our past masters, especially our literary and artistic heritage is perhaps the best guide for decolonization.

We can conclude this essay series on an ironic note. This is what J.G. Herder, the 18th century German Indologist wrote:

“Do you not wish with me that instead of these endless religious books of the Vedas, Upavedas, and Upāṅgas, they should give us the more useful and more agreeable works of the Indians, and especially their best poetry of every kind? It is here that the mind and character of a nation is best brought to life before us, and I gladly admit that I have received a truer and “more real notion of the manner of thinking among the ancient Indians from this one Śakuntalā, than from their Upāṅgas and Upavedas.” (Emphasis added)

Series concluded.

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