The bourgeois and the Samurai – Sri Aurobindo


The Bourgeois and the Samurai

Two oriental nations have come powerfully under the influence

of Western ideas and felt the impact of European civilization

during the nineteenth century, India and Japan. The results have

been very different. The smaller nation has become one of the

mightiest Powers in the modern world, the larger in spite of

far greater potential strength, a more original culture, a more

ancient and splendid past and a far higher mission in the world,

remains a weak, distracted, subject & famine-stricken people

politically, economically, morally & intellectually dependent on

the foreigner and unable to realise its great possibilities. It is

commonly said that this is because Japan has assimilated Western

Science and organization and even in many respects excelled

its teachers; India has failed in this all-important task of assimilation.

If we go a step farther back and insist on asking why this

is so, we shall be told it is because Japan has “reformed” herself

and got rid of ideas & institutions unsuited to modern times;

while India clings obstinately to so much that is outworn and

effete. Even ifwewaive aside the questionwhether the old Indian

ideals are unfit to survive or whether all our institutions are

really bad in themselves or unadaptable to modern conditions,

still the explanation itself has to be explained. Why has Japan

so admirably transformed herself? why has the attempt at transformation

in India been a failure? The solution of problems of

this kind has to be sought not in abstractions, not in machinery,

but in men. It is the spirit in man which moulds his fate; it is the

spirit of a nation which determines its history

Describe the type of human character which prevails in a nation

during a given period of its life under given conditions, and

it is possible to predict in outline what the general history of

1092 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

the nation must be during that period. In Japan the dominant

Japanese type had been moulded by the shaping processes of an

admirable culture and when theWestern impact came, Japan remained

faithful to her ancient spirit; she merely took over certain

forms of European social & political organization necessary to

complete her culture under modern conditions and poured into

these forms the old potent dynamic spirit of Japan, the spirit of

the Samurai. It is the Samurai type which has been dominant

in that country during the nineteenth century. In India the mass

of the nation has remained dormant; European culture has had

upon it a powerful disintegrating and destructive influence, but

has been powerless to reconstruct or revivify. But in the upper

strata a new type has been evolved to serve the necessities and

interests of the foreign rulers, a type which is not Indian, but

foreign—and in almost all our social, political, educational,

literary & religious activities the spirit of this new & foreign

graft has predominated & determined the extent & quality of

our progress. This type is the bourgeois. In India, the bourgeois,

in Japan, the Samurai; in this single difference is comprised

the whole contrasted histories of the two nations during the

nineteenth century.

What is the bourgeois? For the word is unknown in India,

though the thing is so prominent. The bourgeois is the average

contented middle class citizen who is in all countries much

the same in his fundamental character & habits of thought,

in spite of pronounced racial differences in temperament &

self-expression. He is a man of facile sentiments and skindeep

personality; generally “enlightened” but not inconveniently illuminated.

In love with his life, his ease and above all things

his comforts, he prescribes the secure maintenance of these

precious possessions as the first indispensable condition of all

action in politics and society; whatever tends to disturb or destroy

them, he condemns as foolish, harebrained, dangerous or

fanatical, according to the degree of its intensity and is ready

to repress by any means in his power. In the conduct of public

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1093

movements he has an exaggerated worship for external order,

moderation and decorum and hates over-earnestness and overstrenuousness.

Not that he objects to plenty ofmild&innocuous

excitement; but it must be innocuous and calculated not to have

a disturbing effect on the things he most cherishes. He has ideals

and likes to talk of justice, liberty, reform, enlightenment and

all similar abstractions; he likes too to see them reigning and

progressing around him decorously and with their proper limitations.

Hewishes to have them maintained, if they already exist,

but in moderation and with moderation; if they do not exist, the

craving for them should be, in his opinion, a lively but still wellregulated

fire, not permitted to interfere with the safety, comfort

and decorum of life,—the means adopted towards acquiring

them should be alsomoderate and decorous and as far as may be

safe and comfortable. An occasional sacrifice of money, leisure

and other precious things for their sake, he is always ready

to meet; he has a keen zest for the reputation such sacrifices

bring him and still more for the comfortable sense of personal

righteousness which they foster. The bourgeois is the man of

good sense and enlightenment, the man of moderation, the man

of peace and orderliness, the man in every way “respectable”,

who is the mainstay of all well-ordered societies. As a private

man he is respectable; that is to say, his character is generally

good, and when his character is not, his reputation is; he is all

decorous in his virtues, decent in the indulgence of his vices or

at least in their concealment, often absolutely honest, almost

always as honest as an enlightened self-interest will permit. His

purse is well filled or at any rate not indecently empty; he is

a good earner, a conscientious worker, a thoroughly safe &

reliable citizen.1 But this admirable creature has his defects and

limitations. For great adventures, tremendous enterprises, lofty

achievements, the storm and stress of mighty&eventful periods

in national activity, he is unfit. These things are for the heroes, the

1 The following sentence was written in the top margin of the manuscript. Its place of

insertion was not marked, but it presumably was meant to be inserted here:

Of course there are exceptions, instances of successful & respected blackguardism,

but these are the small minority.

martyrs, the criminals, the enthusiasts, the degenerates, geniuses,

the men of exaggerated virtue, exaggerated ability, exaggerated

ideas. He enjoys the fruit of their work when it is done, but while

it is doing, he opposes and hinders more often than helps. For he

looks on great ideals as dreams and on vehement enthusiasms

as harebrained folly; he distrusts everything new & disturbing,

everything that has not been done before or is not sanctioned

by success & the accomplished fact; revolt is to him a madness

& revolution a nightmare. Fiery self-annihilating enthusiasm,

noble fanaticism, relentless & heroic pursuit of an object, the

original brain that brings what is distant & ungrasped into

the boundaries of reality, the dynamic Will and genius which

makes the impossible possible; these things he understands as

matters of history and honours them in the famous dead or

in those who have succeeded; but in living & yet striving men

they inspire him with distrust and repulsion. He will tell you

that these things are not to be found in the present generation;

but if confronted with the living originator, he will condemn

him as a learned idiot; face to face with the living hero, he

will decry him as a dangerous madman,—unless & until he

sees on the head of either the crown of success & assured

He values also the things of the mind in a leisurely comfortable

way as adorning and setting off his enlightened ease and

competence. A little art, a little poetry, a little religion, a little

scholarship, a little philosophy, all these are excellent ingredients

in life, and give an air of decorous refinement to his surroundings.

They must not be carried too far or interfere with the

great object of life which is to earn money, clothe and feed one’s

family, educate one’s sons to the high pitch of the B.A. degree

or the respectable eminence of the M.A., marry one’s daughters

decently, rank high in service or the professions, stand well in the

eye of general opinion and live & die decorously, creditably and

respectably. Anything disturbing to these high duties, anything

exaggerated, intense, unusual is not palatable to the bourgeois.

He shrugs his shoulders over it and brushes it aside with the one

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1095

word, “mad”, or eccentric.2

(Such is the bourgeois and it was the bourgeois of the mildest

& most inefficient type who reigned in India in the nineteenth

century. It was the bourgeois which University education tended,

perhaps sought to evolve; itwas the bourgeoiswhich the political

social conditions moulded and brought to the front. In India

the bourgeois; in Japan the Samurai, that one enormous difference

explains the difference in the histories of the two countries

during the second half of the last century.)3

It is undoubtedly this type which has dominated us in the

nineteenth century. Of course the really great names, those that

will live in history as creators & originators are men who went

beyond this type; either they belonged to, but exceeded it or

they departed from it. But the average, the determining type

was the bourgeois. In Senate & Syndicate, in Legislative Council

& District Board or Municipal Corporation, in Congress &

Conference, in the services & professions, even in literature &

scholarship, even in religion he was everywhere with his wellregulated

mind, his unambitious ideals, his snug little corner of

culture, his “education” and “enlightenment”, his comfortable

patriotism, his comfortable enlightenment, his easy solution of

the old problem how to serve both God&Mammon, yet offend

neither, his self-satisfaction, his decorous honesty, his smug respectability.

Society was made after his model, politics moulded

in his image, education confined within his limits, literature &

religion stamped with the seal of the bourgeois.

The bourgeois as a distinct & well-evolved entity is an entirely

modern product in India, he is the creation of British policy,

English education, Western civilization. Ancient India, mediaeval

India were not a favourable soil for his growth. The spirit

of ancient India was aristocratic; its thought & life moulded

2 The following sentence was written in the top margin of the manuscript. Its place of

insertion was not marked:

Such a type may give stability to a society; it cannot reform or revolutionize it. Such

a type may make the politics of a nation safe, decorous and reputable. It cannot make

that nation great or free.

3 Sri Aurobindo placed parenthesis marks on both sides of this paragraph after writing

it. He seems to have intended to move it elsewhere. – Ed.

1096 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

in the cast of a high & proud nobility, an extreme & lofty

strenuousness. The very best in thought, the very best in action,

the very best in character, the very best in literature & art, the

very best in religion and all the world well lost if only this very

best might be attained, such was the spirit of ancient India. The

Brahmin who devoted himself to poverty&crushed down every

desire in the wholehearted pursuit of knowledge&religious selfdiscipline;

the Kshatriya who, hurling his life joyously into the

shock of chivalrous battle, held life, wife, children, possessions,

ease, happiness as mere dust in the balance compared with honour&

the Kshatriya dharma, the preservation of self-respect, the

protection of the weak, the noble fulfilment of princely duty; the

Vaishya, who toiling all his life to amass riches, poured them out

as soon as amassed in self-forgetting philanthropy holding himself

the mere steward&not the possessor of his wealth; the Shudra

who gave himself up loyally to humble service, faithfully devoting

his life to his dharma, however low, in preference to selfadvancement&

ambition; these were the social ideals of the age.

The imagination of the Indian tended as has been well said

to the grand & enormous in thought and morals. The great

formative images of legend & literature to the likeness with

which his childhood was encouraged to develop & which his

manhood most cherished were of an extreme & lofty type. He

saw Harischundra give up all that life held precious & dear

rather than that his lips should utter a lie or his plighted word

be broken. He saw Prahlada buried under mountains, whelmed

in the seas, tortured by the poison of a thousand venomous

serpents, yet calmly true to his faith. He saw Buddha give up

his royal state, wealth, luxury, wife, child & parents so that

mankind might be saved. He saw Shivi hew the flesh from his

own limbs to save one small dove from the pursuing falcon;

Karna tear his own body with a smile for the joy of making a

gift; Duryodhan refuse to yield one inch of earth without noble

resistance & warlike struggle. He saw Sita face exile, hardship,

privation&danger in the eagerness ofwifely love&duty, Savitri

rescue by her devotion her husband back from the visible grip

of death. These were the classical Indian types. These were the

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1097

ideals into the mould of which the minds of men&women were

trained to grow. The sense-conquering thought of the philosopher,

the magnificent achievements of the hero, the stupendous

renunciations of the Sannyasin, [the] unbounded liberality of

the man of wealth, everything was exaggeration, extreme, filled

with an epic inspiration, a world-defying enthusiasm. The bourgeois

though he existed in the rough of course, as in all civilized

societies he must exist, had no real chance of evolution; on

such a height with so rare an atmosphere, he could not grow;

where such tempests of self-devotion blew habitually, his warm

comfortable personality could not expand.

The conditions of mediaeval India suited him little better,

—the continual clash of arms, the unceasing stir & splendour

& strenuousness of life, the fierceness of the struggle and the

magnificence of the achievement, the ceaseless tearing down

& building up which resulted from Mahomedan irruption and

the action & reaction of foreign & indigenous forces, formed

surroundings too restless & too flamboyant. Life under the

Moguls was splendid, rich & luxurious, but it was not safe

& comfortable. Magnificent possibilities were open to all men

whatever their birth or station but magnificent abilities and an

unshaken nerve&courage were needed to grasp them or to keep

what had been grasped. There was no demand for the stable &

easy virtues of the bourgeois. In the times of stress and anarchy

which accompanied the disintegration of mediaeval India, the

conditions were yet more unfavourable; character and morals

shared in the general disintegration, but ability & courage were

even more in demand than before and for the bourgeois there

was no place vacant. (The men who figured in the revolutions

in Bengal, the Deccan, the Punjab & the North were often,

like their European allies & antagonists, men of evil character,

self-seeking, unscrupulous & Machiavellian, but they were at

least men.) It was not till mediaeval India breathed its last in the

convulsions of 1857 that entirely new conditions reigned and an

entirely new culture prevailed with an undisputed sway wholly

favourable to the rapid development of the bourgeois type and

wholly discouraging to the development of any other.

1098 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

This emergence and domination of the bourgeois was a

rapid transformation, not unparalleled in history, for something

of the same kind seems to have happened in the provinces of

the Roman Empire under the Caesars, but astonishing in a people

whose past history & temperament had been so supremely

unPhilistine. That a society which had only a few decades ago

prostrated itself before the naked ascetic and the penniless Brahmin,

should now wear the monied man and the official as the

tilak on its forehead, was indeed a marvellous revolution. But

given the new conditions, nothing else could have happened.

British rule necessitated the growth of the bourgeois, British

policy fostered it, and the plant grew so swiftly because a forcinghouse

had been created for his rapid cultivation and the soil was

kept suitably shallow and the air made warm and humid for his

needs. It was as in the ancient world when the nations accepted

peace, civilisation and a common language at the cost of national

decay, the death of theirmanhood and final extinction or agelong

slavery. The Pax Britannica was his parent and an easy servitude

nursed him into maturity.

For the first need of the bourgeois is a guaranteed and perfect

security for his person, property and pursuits. Peace, comfort

and safety are the very breath of his nostrils. But he gravitates

to a peace for whose preservation he is not called on to wear

armour andwield the sword, a comfort he has not to purchase by

the discomfort of standing sentinel over his liberties, or a safety

his own alertness and courage must protect from the resurgence

of old dangers. The bourgeois in arms is not the true animal;

the purity of his breed is sullied by something of the virtues

and defects of the soldier. He must enjoy the fruits of peace

and security he has not earned, without responsibility for their

maintenance or fear of their loss. Such conditions he found in

almost unparallelled perfection in British India. He was asked

to stand as the head of a disarmed and dependent society, secured

from external disturbance & tied down to a rigid internal

tranquillity by the deprivation of all functions except those of

breadwinner and taxpayer and to vouch himself to the world by

a respectable but not remarkable education and achievement as

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1099

the visible proof of England’s civilising mission in India. Such

conditions were to the bourgeois as the moisture & warmth of

the hothouse to the orchid. He grew in them, rank & luxurious.

Then again, for his perfection and dominance, the society

he lives in must honour his peculiar qualities above all others

and the substantial rewards and covetable distinctions of life

[be] reserved for them chiefly or for them alone. The British rule

gave him this honour, showered on him these rewards & distinctions,

and Indian society, more & more moulded by British

ideas, followed as a society almost inevitably follows the lead

of the rulers. Under the new dispensation of Providence there

was no call for the high qualities of old, the Aryan or noble

virtues which, whatever else failed or perished, had persisted in

Indian character for thousands of years, since first the chariots

rolled on the hitherside of the Indus.What need for the Rajpoot’s

courage, the robust manhood, the noble pride of the Kshatriya,

when heroic and unselfish England claimed the right of shedding

her blood for the safety of the land? What room for the gifts of

large initiative, comprehensive foresight, wise aspiration which

make the statesman, when a Bentinck or a Mayo, a Dufferin or

a Curzon were ready & eager to take & keep the heavy burdens

of Government out of the hands of the children of the soil?

The princely spirit, the eagle’s vision, the lion’s heart, these were

things that might be buried away with the memories of the great

Indian rulers of the past. Happy India, civilised and cared for

by human seraphs from over the sea, had no farther need for

them. So from sheer inanition, from want of light, room and

air, the Kshatriya died out of the soil which had first produced

him and the bourgeois took his place. But if room was none

for the soldier & the statesman, little could be found for the

Brahmin, the sage or the Sannyasin. British rule had no need for

scholars, it wanted clerks; British policy welcomed the pedant

but feared, even when it honoured, the thinker, for the strong

mind might pierce through shows to the truth and the deep

thought teach the people to embrace great ideals and live and

die for them; British education flung contempt on the Sannyasin

as an idler and charlatan, and pointed with admiration to the

1100 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

strenous seeker for worldly goods and success as the finest work

of the creator. So Vyasa & Valmekie were forgotten for weavers

of idle tales and Smiles and Sir Arthur Helps took their place

as an instructor of youth, the gospel of Philistinism in its naked

crudeness was beaten into the minds of our children when most

malleable. Thus Ramdas was following Shivaji into the limbo of

the unreturning past. And if God had not meant otherwise for

our nation, the Sannyasin would have become an extinct type,

Yoga been classed among dead superstitions with witchcraft

& alchemy and Vedanta sent the way of Pythagoras & Plato.

Nor was the old Vaishya type needed by the new dispensation.

The Indian mechanician, engineer, architect, artist, craftsman

got notice of dismissal; for to develop the industrial life of the

country was no part of England’s business in India. As she had

taken the functions of government and war into her own hands,

so she would take that of production. Whatever India needed,

beneficent England with her generous system of free trade would

supply and the Indian might sit at ease under his palm tree or,

gladly singing, till his fields, rejoicing that Heaven had sent him

a ruling nation so greedy to do him good. What was wanted was

not Indian artisans or Indian captains of industry, but plenty of

small shopkeepers and big middlemen to help conquer & keep

India as a milch cow for British trade & British capital.

Thus all the great types which are nurtured on war, politics,

thought, spirituality, activity & enterprise, the outgrowths

of a vigorous and healthy national existence, the high fruits

of humanity who are the very energy of life to a community,

were discouraged and tended to disappear and in their place

there was an enormous demand for the bourgeois qualities. The

safe, respectable man, satisfied with ease and not ambitions of

command, content with contemporary repute and not hankering

after immortality, the superficial man who unable to think

profoundly could yet pose among his peers as intellectual, who

getting no true culture, wore a specious appearance of education,

who guiltless of a single true sacrifice for his country, yet bulked

large as a patriot, found an undisputed field open to him. The

rewards of life now depended on certain outward signs of merit

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1101

which were purely conventional. An University degree, knowledge

of English, possession of a post in Government service or

a professional diploma, a Government title, European clothes

or a sleek dress and appearance, a big house full of English

furniture, these were the badges by which Society recognized its

chosen. These signs were all purely conventional. The degree did

not necessarily denote a good education nor the knowledge of

English a wide culture or successful living into new ideas, nor

the Government post administrative capacity, nor the diploma

special fitness for the profession, nor the title any merit in the

holder, nor the big house or fine dress a mastery of the art of

social life, nor the English clothes, European grit, science and

enterprise. They were merely counters borrowed from Europe,

but universally taken, as they are not usually taken in Europe or

any living nation, as a sufficient substitute for the reality.Wealth,

success, and certain outward signs of a facile respectability had

become to our new civilised & refined society the supreme tests

of the man.

All these were conditions unusually favourable to a rank

luxuriance of the bourgeois type, which thrives upon superficiality

and lives by convention. The soil was suitably shallow,

the atmosphere sufficiently warm & humid. The circumstances

of our national life & the unique character of our education

hastened & perfected the growth. Both were characterized by

the false appearance of breadth covering an almost miraculous

superficiality. Our old Indian life was secluded, but lofty &

intense, like a pine-tree on the mountain-tops, like a tropical

island in unvisited seas; our new life parted with the loftiness &

intensity when it lost the isolation, but it boasted in vain of an

added breadth, for it was really more provincial & narrow than

the old, which had at least given room for the development of all

our human faculties. The news of the world’s life poured in on us

through the foreign telegrams&papers, we read English books,

we talked about economics and politics, science & history, enlightenment

&education, Rousseau,Mill, Bentham, Burke, and

used the language of a life that was not ours, in the vain belief

that so we became cosmopolitans and men of enlightenment.

1102 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

Yet all the time India was as much & more outside the great

life of the world than it was in the days of Mahomad Tughlak

or Bahadur Shah. The number of men in educated India who

had any vital conception or any real understanding & mastery

of the great currents of life, thought & motive which sway the

vast world outside, was always wonderfully small. It could not

be otherwise; for the life of that world was not our life, nor

was our life any part of the world’s, any more than the days

of a prisoner in a gaol or reformatory are part of the free activity

of society. The thunder of great wars, the grand collision

and struggle of world-moving ideas and mighty interests, the

swift & strong currents of scientific discovery and discussion,

the intellectual change & stir, the huge & feverish pulsation of

commercial competition from China to Peru, all this was to us

as the scenes in the street to a man watching from his prison

bars. We might take a deep & excited interest, we might almost

persuade ourselves by the vividness of our interest that we were

part of the scene, but if a voice within cried to us, “Out, out,

you too into the battle & the struggle and the joy & stir of this

great world’s life,” the cold iron of the window-bars and the

hard stone of the prison walls stood between. The jailer might

not jingle his keys obtrusively nor the warder flourish his baton,

but we knew well they were there. And we really believed in the

bland promise that if we conducted ourselves well, we should

some day get tickets of leave. We read & thought but did not

live what we read & thought. So our existence grew ever more

artificial and unreal. The fighter and the thinker in us dwindled

& the bourgeois flourished and grew.

Contentmentwith an artificial existence, the habit of playing

with counters as if they were true coin of life, made the old rich

flood of vitality, strong character, noble aspiration, excellent

achievement run ever shallower & thinner in our veins. So we

accepted and made the best of an ignoble ease.

Our education too had just the same pride in a false show of

breadth and the same confined and narrow scope. In our schools

& colleges we were set to remember many things, but learned

nothing. We had no real mastery of English literature, though

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1103

we read Milton & Burke and quoted Byron & Shelley, nor of

history though we talked about Magna Charta & Runnymede,

nor of philosophy though we could mispronounce the names of

most of theGerman philosophers, nor science thoughwe used its

name daily, nor even of our own thought & civilisation though

its discussion filled columns of our periodicals. We knew little

& knew it badly. And even we could not profit by the little we

knew for advance, for origination; even those who struggled to a

wider knowledge proved barren soil. The springs of originality

were fast growing atrophied by our unnatural existence. The

great men among us who strove to originate were the spiritual

children of an older time who still drew sap from the roots of our

ancient culture and had the energy of the Mogul times in their

blood. But their success was not commensurate with their genius

& with each generation these grew rarer & rarer. The sap soon

began to run dry, the energy to dwindle away. Worse than the

narrowness&inefficiency, was the unreality of our culture. Our

brains were as full of liberty as our lives were empty of it. We

read and talked somuch of political rights that we never somuch

as realized that we had none to call our own. The very sights &

sounds, the description of which formed the staple of our daily

reading, were such as most of us would at no time see or hear.

We learned science without observation of the objects of science,

words & not the things which they symbolised, literature by

rote, philosophy as a lesson to be got by heart, not as a guide

to truth or a light shed on existence. We read of and believed

in English economy, while we lived under Indian conditions,

and worshipped the free trade which was starving us to death

as a nation. We professed notions of equality, and separated

ourselves from the people, of democracy, and were the servants

of absolutism. We pattered off speeches & essays about social

reform, yet had no idea of the nature of a society. We looked to

sources of strength and inspiration we could not reach and left

those untapped which were ours by possession and inheritance.

We knew so little of life that we expected others who lived on

our service to prepare our freedom, so little of history that we

thought reform could precede liberty, so little of science that we

1104 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

believed an organism could be reshaped from outside. We were

ruled by shopkeepers and consented enthusiastically to think

of them as angels. We affected virtues we were given no opportunity

of assimilating and lost those our fathers had handed

down to us. All this in perfect good faith, in the full belief that

we were Europeanising ourselves, and moving rapidly toward

political, social, economical, moral, intellectual progress. The

consummation of our political progress was a Congress which

yearly passed resolutions it had no power to put in practice,

statesmen whose highest function was to ask questions which

need not even be answered, councillors who would have been

surprised if they had been consulted, politicians who did not

even know that a Right never lives until it has a Might to support

it. Socially we have initiated a feeble attempt to revivify the very

basis of our society by a few petty mechanical changes instead

of a spiritual renovation which could alone be equal to so high

a task; economically, we attained great success in destroying our

industries and enslaving ourselves to the British trader; morally,

we successfully compassed the disintegration of the old moral

ideas&habits and substituted for them a superficial respectability;

intellectually, we prided ourselves [on] the tricking out of our

minds in a few leavings, scraps and strays of European thought

at the sacrifice of an immense and eternal heritage. Never was

an education more remote from all that education truly denotes;

instead of giving the keys to the vastmass ofmodern knowledge,

or creating rich soil for the qualities that conquer circumstance

&survive, they made the mind swallow a heterogeneous jumble

of mainly useless information; trained a tame parrot to live in

a cage & talk of the joys of the forest. British rule, Britain’s

civilizing mission in India has been the record success in history

in the hypnosis of a nation. It persuaded us to live in a death

of the will & its activities, taking a series of hallucinations for

real things and creating in ourselves the condition of morbid

weakness the hypnotist desired, until the Master of a mightier

hypnosis laid His finger on India’s eyes and cried “Awake.”

Then only the spell was broken, the slumbering mind realised

itself and the dead soul lived again.

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1105

But the education which was poison to all true elements

of national strength and greatness, was meat & drink to the

bourgeois. The bourgeois delights in convention, because truth

is too hard a taskmaster and makes too severe a demand on

character, energy & intellect. He craves superficiality, a shallow

soil to grow in. For to attain depth requires time&energy which

would have to be unprofitably diverted from his chief business

of making his individual way in the world. He cannot give up

his life to his country, but if she will be grateful for a few of his

leisure hours, he will give in those limits ungrudging service &

preen himself on his public virtues. Prodigal charity would be

uncomfortable &unwise, but if he can earn applause by parting

with a fraction of his superfluities, he is always ready for the sacrifice.

Deep scholarship would unfit him for his part in life, but if

figuring in learned societies or writing a few articles and essays,

an occasional book guiltless of uncomfortable originality, or

a learned compilation prepared under his superintendence and

issued in his name will make him a man of letters, he will court

& prize that easily-earned reputation. The effort to remould

society and rebuild the nation is too huge and perilous a task for

a comfortable citizen, but he is quite prepared to condemn old

& inconvenient institutions & superstitions and lend his hand

to a few changes which will make social life more pleasant and

comfortable. Superficiality, unreality of thought & deed thus

became the stamp of all our activities.

Those who say that the new spirit in India which, before

nascent & concealed, started to conscious life in the Swadeshi

agitation and has taken Swadeshi, Swaraj and Self-help as its

motto, is nothing new but a natural development of the old, are

minds blinded by the habits of thought of the past century. The

new Nationalism is the very antithesis, the complete and vehement

negation of the old. The old movement sought to make a

wider circle of activity, freer living-room and a more comfortable

and eminent position for the bourgeois, to prolong the unnatural

& evil conditions of which the subject nations died under the

civilizing rule of Rome and which British rule has recreated for

India; the new seeks to replace the bourgeois by the Samurai

1106 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

and to shatter the prison house which the nineteenth century

made for our mother and build anew a palace for her glory, a

garden for her pleasure, a free domain for her freedom & her

pride. The old looked only to the power & interests of the educated,

enlightened middle class, and shrank from the ignorant,

the uneducated, the livers in the past, the outer unilluminated

barbarian, drawing aside the hem of its robes lest it should touch

impurity. The new overleaps every barrier; it calls to the clerk at

his counter, the trader in his shop, the peasant at his plough; it

summons the Brahmin from his temple and takes the hand [of]

the Chandala in his degradation; it seeks out the student in his

College, the schoolboy at his books, it touches the very child in

its mother’s arms&the secluded zenana has thrilled to its voice;

its eye searches the jungle for the Santal and travels the hills for

the wild tribes of the mountains. It cares nothing for age or sex

or caste or wealth or education or respectability; it mocks at the

talk of a stake in the country; it spurns aside the demand for a

property qualification or a certificate of literacy. It speaks to the

illiterate or the man in the street in such rude vigorous language

as he best understands, to youth & the enthusiast in accents of

poetry, in language of fire, to the thinker in the terms of philosophy

and logic, to the Hindu it repeats the name of Kali, to the

Mahomedan it spurs to action for the glory of Islam. It cries to

all to come forth, to help in God’s work&remake a nation, each

with what his creed or his culture, his strength, his manhood or

his genius can give to the new nationality. The only qualification

it asks for is a body made in the womb of an Indian mother, a

heart that can feel for India, a brain that can think and plan for

her greatness, a tongue that can adore her name or hands that

can fight in her quarrel. The old shunned sacrifice & suffering,

the new rushes to embrace it. The old gave a wide berth to the

jail and the rods & scourges of Power; the new walks straight

to meet them. The old shuddered at the idea of revolution; the

new is ready to set the whole country in turmoil for the sake of

an idea. The old bent the knee to Caesar and presented him a

list of grievances; the new leaves his presence or dragged back

to it, stands erect and defies him in the midst of his legions.

The Bourgeois and the Samurai 1107

The initial condition of recovering our liberty meant a peril

and a gigantic struggle from the very possibility of which we

averted our eyes in a panic of bourgeois terror. It was safer &

easier to cheat ourselves into believing in a contradiction and

living a lie. Yet nothing could be more fatal, more insidiously

destructive to the roots of manhood. It is far better to fall and

bleed for ever in a hopeless but unremitting struggle than to

drink of that draught of death and lethe. A people true to itself,

a race that hopes to live, will not comfort itself and sap its manhood

by the opiate of empty formulas and specious falsehoods;

it will prefer eternal suffering&disaster. For in truth, as our old

thinkers used always to insist, the whole universe stands; truth is

the root and condition of life and to believe a lie, to live in a lie, is

to deliver oneself to disease and death. The belief that a subject

nation can acquiesce in subjection and yet make true & vital

progress, growing to strength in its chains, is a lie. The idea that

mitigations of subjection constitute freedom or prepare a race

for freedom or that anything but the exercise of liberty fits man

for liberty, is another lie. The teaching that peace and security

are more important and vital to man than liberty is a third lie.

Yet all these lies and many others we believed in, hugged to

our hearts and made the law of our thoughts throughout the

nineteenth century. The result was stagnation, or a progress in

weakness and disintegration.

The doctrine that social & commercial progress must precede

or will of themselves bring about political strength &

liberty, is a fourth & very dangerous lie; for a nation is no

aggregate of separable functions, but a harmony of functions,

of which government and political arrangement is the oldest,

most central and most vital and determines the others.

Our only hope of resurgence was in some such great unsealing

of the eyes to theMaya in whichwe existed and the discovery

of some effective mantra, some strong spiritual impulse which

should have the power to renovate us from within. For good or

for evil the middle class now leads in India, and whatever saving

impulse comes to the nation, must come from the middle class,

whatever upward movement begins, it must initiate and lead.

1108 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908

But for that to happen the middle class must by a miracle be

transfigured and lifted above itself; the natural breeding ground

of the bourgeois, it must become the breeding ground of the

Samurai. It must cease in fact to be a middle class and turn

itself into an aristocracy, an aristocracy not of birth or landed

possessions, not of intellect, not of wealth and commercial enterprise,

but of character and action. India must recover her

faculty for self-sacrifice, courage and high aspiration. Such a

transformation is the work which has been set before itself by

the new Nationalism; this is at the back of all its enthusiasm,

audacity & turbulence and provides the explanation of all that

has shocked and alarmed the wise men and the elders in the

movement in Bengal. The new Nationalism is a creed, but it is

more than a creed; it is a method, but more than a method. The

new Nationalism is an attempt at a spiritual transformation of

the nineteenth century Indian; it is a notice of dismissal or at

least of suspension to the bourgeois and all his ideas and ways

and works, a call for men who will dare & do impossibilities,

the men of extremes, the men of faith, the prophets, the martyrs,

the crusaders, the [. . . ] & rebels, the desperate venturers and

reckless doers, the initiators of revolutions. It is the rebirth in

India of the Kshatriya, the Samurai.

CWSA vol 7  Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s