Difference between Indian and European culture


The whole root of difference between Indian and European

culture springs from the spiritual aim of Indian civilisation. It

is the turn which this aim imposes on all the rich and luxuriant

variety of its forms and rhythms that gives to it its unique

character. For even what it has in common with other cultures

gets from that turn a stamp of striking originality and solitary

greatness. A spiritual aspiration was the governing force of this

culture, its core of thought, its ruling passion. Not only did it

make spirituality the highest aim of life, but it even tried, as far

as that could be done in the past conditions of the human race, to

turn the whole of life towards spirituality. But since religion is in

the humanmind the first native, if imperfect form of the spiritual

impulse, the predominance of the spiritual idea, its endeavour to

take hold of life, necessitated a casting of thought and action into

the religious mould and a persistent filling of every circumstance

of life with the religious sense; it demanded a pervadingly religio-philosophic

culture. The highest spirituality indeed moves in a

free and wide air far above that lower stage of seeking which

is governed by religious form and dogma; it does not easily

bear their limitations and, even when it admits, it transcends

them; it lives in an experience which to the formal religious

mind is unintelligible. But man does not arrive immediately at

that highest inner elevation and, if it were demanded from him

at once, he would never arrive there. At first he needs lower

supports and stages of ascent; he asks for some scaffolding of

dogma, worship, image, sign, form, symbol, some indulgence

and permission of mixed half-natural motive on which he can

stand while he builds up in him the temple of the spirit. Only

when the temple is completed, can the supports be removed,

the scaffolding disappear. The religious culture which now goes

by the name of Hinduism not only fulfilled this purpose, but,

unlike certain credal religions, it knew its purpose. It gave itself

no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no

universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no

single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or

cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward

endeavour of the human spirit. An immense many-sided manystaged

provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it

had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the

eternal religion, san¯atana dharma. It is only if we have a just and

right appreciation of this sense and spirit of Indian religion that

we can come to an understanding of the true sense and spirit of

Indian culture.

Now just here is the first baffling difficulty over which the

European mind stumbles; for it finds itself unable to make out

what Hindu religion is. Where, it asks, is its soul? where is its

mind and fixed thought? where is the form of its body? How can

there be a religion which has no rigid dogmas demanding belief

on pain of eternal damnation, no theological postulates, even

no fixed theology, no credo distinguishing it from antagonistic

or rival religions? How can there be a religion which has no

papal head, no governing ecclesiastic body, no church, chapel

or congregational system, no binding religious form of any kind

obligatory on all its adherents, no one administration and discipline?

For the Hindu priests are mere ceremonial officiants

without any ecclesiastical authority or disciplinary powers and

the Pundits aremere interpreters of the Shastra, not the lawgivers

of the religion or its rulers. How again can Hinduism be called

a religion when it admits all beliefs, allowing even a kind of

high-reaching atheism and agnosticism and permits all possible

spiritual experiences, all kinds of religious adventures? The only

thing fixed, rigid, positive, clear is the social law, and even that

varies in different castes, regions, communities. The caste rules

and not the Church; but even the caste cannot punish a man for

his beliefs, ban heterodoxy or prevent his following a new revolutionary

doctrine or a new spiritual leader. If it excommunicates

Christian or Muslim, it is not for religious belief or practice, but

because they break with the social rule and order. It has been

asserted in consequence that there is no such thing as a Hindu

religion, but only a Hindu social system with a bundle of the

most disparate religious beliefs and institutions. The precious

dictum that Hinduism is a mass of folk-lore with an ineffective

coat of metaphysical daubing is perhaps the final judgment of

the superficial occidental mind on this matter.





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