THE West has chosen the path of ceaseless work, the East of contemplation and reflection. Of the Western man, Max Mueller had this to say: “His manly vigour, his public spirit, his private virtues represent one side of the human destiny.” But he concedes “there is another destiny open to man… neither active nor combative, nor acquisitive, but passive meditative, reflective. He points to India as the best example.
This reminds me of Shiva and his two sons-Ganapati and Kartikeya. Once Shiva asked the two of them to make a round of the universe in the shortest possible time. Kartikeya set about like a whirlwind and came back panting only to see Ganapati standing by the side of Shiva. Asked why he did not go round the universe, Ganapati said: “Because my father is the universe. I have taken a round of him.”
The West is like Kartikeya, exploring the outer world to know the truth. And India is like Ganapati, exploring the inner world to know the inner truth. Are they thus the inexorable and unalterable? No, they are complementary.
Life in India may be dreamy, impractical, unreal, says Max Mueller. But he concedes that India may look upon European notions of life as “short-sighted, fuzzy and in the end most impractical, because it involves a sacrifice of life for the sake of life.” That is why we should not give up our history for the history of the West. We should not go for the Western experience. It is an insatiable hunger for the material things which is driving the Western civilisation. Aurobindo called the Western civilisation “monstrous” and “asuric” (demonish).
It was said of the East that it was lethargic, that it was ridden with inertia. But look at the Chinese and Indian economies. They are already ahead of most of the Western countries. In 60 years they have given a rate of growth not ever reached by the West.
Let us look at their history. The Greek atomists drew a sharp line between spirit and matter. Matter, the Greeks understood as passive, dead particles, moving about in void. How they moved about was not clear to them. They attributed it to spiritual power. This was how the theory of dualism was born-of spirit and matter as constituting the world. Christians and Muslims adopted this theory and it became part of their belief till recently.
In the 17th Century, Rene Descartes, the French scientist, spoke of the division of mind and matter (body). This made scientists see the world as an assemblage of a huge machine of dead matter driven by a spiritual force. Such a view was endorsed by Newton. He made it the basis of classic physics. This view was held till the end of the 19th century. It was paralleled by the image of a monarchic god who ruled the world from above by imposing his law on nature. What was more, just as god was created to oversee everything the mind was separated to control the body, thus creating a conflict between mind and body.
The human body was itself broken up into several compartments. This very fragmented view of the world and the body was applied to humanity, thus creating the colour problem. This alienated western men from nature and their fellowmen.
The Cartesian world and the Newtonian world thus did great damage to the world. But they helped the growth of technology. In contrast the Eastern world was organic and a manifestation of the same reality.
Correspondingly, the Eastern image of the divine is not that of a ruler who directed the world from above but of a principle that controlled everything from within.
The 1945 atomic blast revealed that the atom consisted of sound, heat, light and motion. It showed how the East was right.
But these are not the only cases in which the Western men tied their destiny to false views for eternity. For instance, the way they (the Christians and Muslims) conceived their God. They made their God into a punishing God. Of course, they had their reasons: They wanted to put fear into the Christian and Muslim converts to prevent them from apostasy. Having made a punishing God it was difficult to make him into a lovable God as Krishna who played with the Gopis. The point is: If Allah and Jehovah are made into a Krishna, they will be laughed at. That is why they will for ever remain a punishing God. This was another tragic part of the Western civilisation.