UNDER WESTERN INFLUENCE, those of our countrymen who can afford it are doing their utmost to emulate Europe in their desire for material gratification and complicity of living. In the West, the perpetual rise in the standard of luxuries and sensual enjoyments has been attended by evil consequences of a serious character. But from the point of view of mere material progress, there has been a certain amount of good also. The multiplication of wants in the West has been partly the cause and partly the outcome of the immense accumulation of wealth and of the remarkable progress in mechanical invention.
In India, the spread of western luxuries without the previous accumulation of wealth or the preparation of mechanical talent and the development of industrial qualities cannot imply progress of any description. On the contrary, it connotes considerable degeneration. It is the spiritual and the ethical faculties which differentiate man from the lower animals and since our civilization attained its highest stage, the inner life has been more thought of than the outer, and spiritual and ethical development has been accorded a higher place than material progress. The West is just beginning to see this, and the latest Western philosophy is an echo of the Indian. The expansion of animal life which we are gaining is poor compensation for the contraction of the ethical and spiritual life from which we are suffering. The adoption of the Western materialist ideal by the Hindus is rather a climb-down than a lift up for them.
Some of our reformers are doing their very best to bring our society into line with the West. Any custom or practice which does not meet with Western approval is condemned and abandoned by them. They are endeavouring to cast Hindu Society into Western mould and to reform it past recognition. I would ask them to ponder whether the goal they are after would be conducive to the maintenance of the life of our civilization. As I am writing this, I have before me a description of the moral condition of one of the centres of Western civilisation:
This description recalls the condition of Rome before her downfall, when one Emperor “gave rewards to women who had many children, prohibited those who were under forty-five years of age and who had no children, from wearing jewels and riding in litters. Another: “ in view of the general avoidance of legal marriage and resort to concubinage with slaves was compelled to impose penalties upon the unmarried, when to be childless and therefore without the natural restraint of a family, was looked down upon as a singular felicity.”
We are unquestionably getting a broader outlook on life, but we should inquire whether it is not shallower than of yore. We are imbibing the modern idea of the Rights of Man, but we should ponder whether we are not at the same time, losing sight of the ancient idea of the Duties of Man. We are learning to take a brighter view of mundane life than the ancient philosophers, but we should consider whether much of the brightness is not the glamour of flimsy tinsel.
A Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, sums up all human virtues under three heads—benevolence, humility and economy (simplicity of living). Our Rishis and sages also have always emphasised the importance of these virtues.
As we have seen above, the influence of the Western environment is tending to weaken them seriously, if not to destroy them, and thereby jeopardise the harmony of Hindu civilisation. The preservation of its life depends upon the restoration of that harmony, which cannot be effected unless we resist the insidious encroachment of modern materialism and go back to our ancient ethical and spiritual ideals.
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