How Western Materialism Erodes Hindu Ethics: An Early Caution by Pramatha Nath Bose

Pramatha Nath Bose, the father of Indian Geology was also a devout Sanatani. In this forgotten essay written in 1914, he warns how the Western world was assaulting and distorting the profound Hindu system of ethics.
How Western Materialism Erodes Hindu Ethics: An Early Caution by Pramatha Nath Bose


PRAMATHA NATH BOSE was the Iron Man of India in the literal sense. He is also known as the father of Indian geology and palaeontology, and one of his distinguished pupils, Sri B.P. Radhakrishna—another pioneering geologist—has written a heartfelt eulogy on this luminary.

Pramatha Nath Bose set up the first-ever soap factory in India and was the first scientist to discover Petroleum reserves in Assam. He seeded the Bengal Technical Institute, which is today known as the Jadhavpur University.

In 1903, Pramatha Nath Bose began surveying various parts of (undivided) Madhya Pradesh and Odisha and attained the pinnacle of his career: the discovery of iron ore deposits in the hills of Gorumahisani in the state of Mayurbhanj. He dashed off a letter to J.N. Tata about this monumental finding and thus pioneered the setting up of one of the world’s largest steel giants: the Tata Steel factory at Jamshedpur.

But there was a profounder side to Pramatha Nath Bose: he was a hero of the modern Indian Renaissance. At a young age, Bose was deeply influenced by stalwarts like Keshub Chandra Sen and was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore. Till the end of his life, Pramatha Bose held an abiding reverence for the Hindu civilizational ethos and was wedded to its traditions. To borrow a term from geology, he delighted lifelong, in savouring the inexhaustible reserves of its goldmine. The outcome was a four-volume magnum opus titled A History Of Hindu Civilisation During British Rule. The volumes remain eminently readable, still a valuable source-book documenting the lasting, deleterious impact of British rule on Hindu society, to put it mildly.

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How Western Materialism Erodes Hindu Ethics: An Early Caution by Pramatha Nath Bose

Almost till his death, Pramatha Nath Bose kept the edge of his pencil sharp by frequently writing on Hindu civilizational and cultural issues for various periodicals.

We have unearthed one such long form essay from his annals dealing with a fundamental facet of our civilization: Hindu ethics. Written in 1914, it is an eloquent commentary cum analysis of the disastrous transformation that Western materialism was bringing to the Hindu ethical and moral psyche conditioned by millennia of Sanatana philosophy and proven ways of leading a well-rounded life.

Starting with this, we will publish some excerpts from Pramath Nath Bose’s essay.

Read on!

Hindu Ethics Under Western Influence

I HAVE IN MY Epochs of Civilisation, endeavoured to show that the civilisations in which the material element prevails over the spiritual have been short-lived. The survival of a civilisation depends upon its attainment of equilibrium between the cosmic forces making for material progress and the non-cosmic forces leading to higher culture, especially ethical culture. The life of a civilisation after is has passed from one epoch to another depends upon the maintenance of that equilibrium.

The equilibrium is moving or dynamic. It is constantly disturbed by various causes, internal as well as external. The continuance of the life of a civilisation depends upon the restoration of the equilibrium after such disturbance, though not in the same position as before.

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How Western Materialism Erodes Hindu Ethics: An Early Caution by Pramatha Nath Bose

The Western contact has disturbed the equipoised condition of the Hindu civilisation ethically as in various other ways. Ever since the Hindu civilisation attained the highest stage, self-sacrificing benevolence has been held as the most estimable of all virtues. Benevolence not only towards all humans, but towards all other sentient creatures. It has been extolled alike by Hindus, Buddhists and Jainas. There is no virtue so insistently inculcated by them as that of altruism. The inculcation was not confined to the expressions of pious wishes and precepts. But there is abundant evidence to show that an earnest endeavour was made to realise them in life during the highest stage of Hindu civilisation. Since the close of that stage whenever Hindus have strayed away from those noble ethical and spirittual ideals of their forefathers, reformers like Ramananda, Nanak, Kabir and Chaitanya have tried to bring them back to those ideals.

Self-sacrificing benevolence being enjoined in the daily practices of the Hindus has become deeply ingrained in the normal Hindu constitution. Not a twig is to be cut for making a toothbrush without a propitiatory hymn to the Divinity of the Forest. The Bhuta Yajna is performed for the daily offering of food to all living beings including insects, moths, and other small creatures. The Mansha Yajna is performed by the daily feeding of a stranger.

The Hindu society today is gradually ignoring the responsibilities beyond the narrow family circle consisting only of wife and children, and Hindus are ceasing to recognise the claims of remoter relations, let alone strangers. The absence of amity, and of hospitality and individual charity is now becoming as pronounced a feature of our community as their existence was in days gone by.

As a set off against the diminution of individual charity and individual service, we are having corporate charity and corporate service to an extent we never had before. Philanthropy now is more discriminating, and distance being shortened by steam and electricity, public spirit has a much wider range. Suffering even in Europe or America stirs up a thrill of sympathy in the hearts of the benevolent among us. Institutions such as Charitable Societies, schools for the deaf and the dumb, asylums for orphans, and refuges for the distressed are a new feature in our community.

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How Western Materialism Erodes Hindu Ethics: An Early Caution by Pramatha Nath Bose

It should be noted, however, that being confined to large towns, they do not reach the mass of the people, and consequently, fail to promote and foster the goodwill which should subsist among all classes of the community. Then again, the sentiment of benevolence is not strengthened by organised charity to the extent it is by individual charity.

In the former case, the golden rule of charity: let not your left hand know what your right hand giveth, cannot be followed. Therefore, motives such as vanity and desire for fame came into play. Besides, in corporate charity, the altruistic impulse is strengthened in only a few noble-minded individuals who run the organisations. The great majority of the donors and subscribers are more or less apathetic.

To be continued

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