Culture is as undefinable as it is essential to the complete make up of a man. Why we associate culture with commerce here is primarily to explode some of those fallacies which are time-honoured. Our ancient people who had been practical and ‘commercial’ enough to make voyage to America on one side and Java and Sumatra on the other had determined certain ideals of their educational system. They conceived the highest form of education to be that which divorced one from all pursuit of wealth. In fact, to be educated or to give education with any intention of making money at all was considered dishonourable.
The Brahmins believed the truest form of culture to consist essentially in giving up wealth in the pursuit of ethics. The ideals of morality were conceived to be incompatible with the ideals that were of a more mundane nature.
Today all of us are attempting to save time like the miser who the least intention of utilizing it profitably. We must move faster so that we may be able to save time; we must work at breatk-neck speed fo which our energies are capable, so that we may be able to do something quickly.
We must make money so quickly that we lose all account of the millions that we make per minute. It is all a race against time, as it were. And yet, when we come to think of it, man in attempting to race with time has annihilated leisure. He has not succeeded in killing time; he has simply killed his own mastery of time.
What True Culture Is
It is possible to conceive of a cultured man as one who is well-dressed, as one who is polite and gentle. And yet, if we pursue these to the exclusion of other qualities, we find that gentleness might lead to mere sentimentality, that smartness of appearance might degenerate into dandyism, that the love of beautiful things has, more often than not, led to a delicacy of spirit too gentle for the roughness of life. It is a very superficial view to take, that culture is synonymous with good manners. Culture does not depend on the superficial way of living but on the sum total of typical characteristics of a people.
Like Opium Eaters
A similar distinction can be made between true and false pursuit of wealth. If the man of culture has objected to the pursuit of wealth, he has done so on the ground that it is very difficult to maintain a sense of proportion in the pursuit. And like the man who, in the beginning.
Feels that he will only take a little, just a little, of opium so that he may be able to ward off that nasty cold in the head gradually becomes a victim to it till the drug culture finally masters the man, so it a victim to it till the drug has objected to commerce and trade, it has been only with the feeling, which is unfortunately one too true, that in the pursuit of wealth man tends to forget all other considerations.
Appreciation of Varnasharma
The Hindu ideal of Varnashram presents a synthesis. In ancient bharat the social fabric was so divided, man’s life was so regulated that the system was a blessed contribution to Social Good, and not a bane as it is today in its fossilized condition.
The division of man’s life into parts, the first relating to education, the second dedicated to the pursuit of wealth, the third of meditation and the fourth and the last to social wellbeing up-lift, and the corresponding division of society into sections, give us certain definite ideals corresponding to which there is nothing to compare in human society as we find it to-day.
Here there is a planned economy, a system which may not completely fit into conditions of to-day but one that has behind it a rational idea. With the education and experience of life at his back, the individual next proceeded to a stage of meditation and contemplation on the problems of life where he correlated the ideals of culture implanted in him in the earlier part of his life and the practical experience subsequently gained.
Finally when the individual became truly cultured, it was not because he had wisdom but because he also had the experience; not because he knew himself but because he had come to know others as well.
And then there was nothing truly useful for him to do in life but to devote himself to a life of culture in the highest sense of the word and in the great commerce of life, to try to help those who were less fortunate than himself. By Sri Deekshita