We are told that the world is copying western values. What are the facts? The facts are otherwise.
Universal violence?this was how the history of man began. It was India, which set out to contain this violence in man.
True, Aryan India too was full of violence. But Aryans got together to establish peace. In the process, they created the Dharma Shastras, the first ethical codes.
But the rest of the world seethed in violence for centuries. ?Why are you living in this dangerous forest?? Confucius (6th c BC) asked an old woman. She replied: ?Because these wild animals are less dangerous than men!? Such was the state of the world.
Ethics was almost unknown to the Greeks, the most illustrious people of the west. They made their gods in their own image. Rome, as we have seen, was already a brutal society. The Romans made a gory display of their cruelty. The Assyrians were perhaps more brutal. ?An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth??this was the law of these lands. The only exception was the small Jewish community with their Ten Commandments.
It was at this that the ethical thoughts of India began to take shape. The Vedas and the Upanishads were the first to provide a new life. Then came Buddha and Mahavira, the true pathfinders. The Ramayana propagated the ideal man, the ideal wife, the ideal brother and the ideal servant. It was all about establishing ideal human relations. Rama was the very image of Dharma! The Mahabharata was treasure of moral maxims. It deals with state, society and men. These found their way to the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Thanks to Ashoka, the message of the Buddha was carried to the far corners of the world. According to Manu Samhita, neither birth nor age nor wealth, is the true measure of greatness. Then, what is the true measure of greatness? Knowledge and wisdom, it said.
It was at this time that the Greeks produced their greatest moral teacher?Scorates. But, by then, India was already at the highest level of its moral perception and practice.
Perhaps the invasion of India by Alexander, the Great (3rd c BC) was the beginning of a long relationship between India and Greece. Alexander stayed in India and made contact with Taxila and the sages of India. Pythagoras was in India for years.
But more significant and lasting than all these was the growth of India'sdidactic literature (fables) of an ethical nature. They spread to Persia, Middle East, Egypt and the Mediterranean countries.
Panchatantra was the most popular story of all. It taught ethics. It also entertained. It has been translated into almost all languages of the world, and is next only to the Bible in circulation. It held the world in a spell with its 200 versions. The Arabic version came out in 750 AD. Vishnu Sharman, its author, prescribed it as a Niti Shastra (The Way).
The Mirror of Princess?an English version of Panchatantra?was designed to instruct the royalty. It influenced Machiavelli, the Italian author of the Prince?a political treatise.
Through the centuries, the Panchatantra fables were modified, moralised and Christianised. Its attraction continued.
Sindbad was another great story designed to promote an ethical life. It took a psychological look at men and women. The Arabs turned it into an adventure story. Its original name was Siddhapathi. The Romans called it The Seven Sages of Rome and gave it back its ethical direction. Sindbad was so popular that 40 different versions of it, including an English version called The Seven Wise Masters, appeared in a short time.
Until the 16th century these tales remained more or less associated with India. Even when these were Christianised, the scenes of these stories remained largely Indian. In a way, these Indian fables were a continuation of the romance literature based on Alexander, the Great.
There are many other books of fables, perhaps less famous with an ethical content. For example, Hitopadesa, Buddhist Jhataka, Dhammapada, Dasakumara, Brihatkatha, Katha Sarit Sagara, Suka Saptahi, Brihatkatha Manjari, Vikramaditya tales and others.
On Katha Sarit Sagara, its English translator says of its author: ?His knowledge of human nature, the elegance of his style, the beauty and force of his descriptions and the wit and wisdom of his aphorisms are masterly.?
When Europe came into contact with India and it realised that India was no Christian country, the orthodox European Christians were reluctant to spread the ?heathen tales? of India among European Christians. But these stories were so popular that they had been adapted and absorbed into Christian sermons from an early age. The ?oriental? tales were used as parables for religious instruction.
Public preachings in those days were confined to Bishops. Two preaching orders?the Dominicans and the Franciscans?were created in the 13th century for this purpose. They made sermons very popular with illustrations from Indian fables. Later, the Bishops themselves invented such stories. But as these stories came to be more entertainment, they were banned in 1528. But their popularity continued. Thy remained part of European literature.