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Hinduism - The Stream Of Indian Thought

( Originally Published 1916 )

THE time has come to present India to the West: India the contemned of the world but the Beloved of the Gods. The misunderstanding of India has been so colossal that it would be absurdly comic, if it were not so tragic. It may be that the attitude of the Hindus, reserved and proud to strangers, though frank and simple to their friends, has had something to do with the greatness of this misunderstanding. To the ignorant criticisms heaped upon them, they have taken somewhat the disdainful tone of the great Athenian philosopher who, when banished from Athens, calmly said, " It is not I who have lost the Athenians, but the Athenians who have lost me."

The age-long culture of India is not dependent upon the verdict of nations not in existence when she had formulated her philosophy, literature and life, on ideals living to-day for three hundred millions of people. It is because India now sees the nations of the West struggling in the grip of their own matter-mad-civilisation that she realises what she has to give to the world, and knows that in order to give it she must be understood as she has not been in the past. Because of her vision of the Oneness of all Humanity, she wishes to be understood by her brother races. She does not wish to hide her light under a bushel, but to set it upon a tower that it may give light to the world.

To understand India, one must realise in the first place that the key is religion, for the East is the Mother of Religions, and India is the heart of the East. From her altar-fires, sacredly kept and never allowed to die out through all the centuries, the flame of spirituality has been kindled in every other land.' Hinduism is the one religion which has never persecuted other faiths. India is the one land whose mission to other lands has been, ever and only, Peace, Wisdom, Love. As the Parsecs, fleeing from their land to India, brought their ever-burning sacred fire enclosed in a crystal globe, and before all else built a shrine for this symbol of their religion, so has India ever cherished in her heart as her most sacred possession, the consciousness that the essence of religion is to see God. And as the Nile, having its source in the Lake of the Gods, in its outward-flowing fertilises all Egypt's land, making Egypt indeed what it is, so the religious ideal of the Land of Bharat pours itself into the very life of the nation, permeating every atom of her existence, making life and religion one, as they are in no other nation on the face of the globe. The unity of India is the unity of a Oneness-of-Spiritual-Vision. From Kedarnath in the north to Rameshwar in the south, from Dwarka in the west to Puri in the east, pilgrims of all classes and all faiths meet from every part of India, and at these shrines, no caste, no sect exists. All are one before God.

India is a land of dreamers, and her great dream is of God. The West calls the East dreamers, and the East is proud of it. " All that we value most has come from the East," says Max Muller, and it is deeply true, for the things of most value are the great dreams of life. All the great poets and philosophers, great artists and scientists, great discoverers and nation-builders have been great dreamers. They are the true Karmis or workers of the world. There was once a dreamer by the name of Joseph, whose brothers said, " Here comes the dreamer; let us sell him into Egypt." They sold him into Egypt. When famine came to the land and the brothers went down into Egypt to buy corn, there they found Joseph and he had the corn. India has the spiritual corn. Her granaries have ever been full, and she has given without stint to all the nations in the past. It may be that now the time has come to give as never before to the spiritually-faminestruck West. For the real cause of this war of Armageddon is a famine of spirituality.

Material and intellectual progress has been the goal of Western civilisation often at the expense of the ethical and spiritual. The West is not and never has been Christian. The keynote of Christianity is humility. The keynote of Western civilisation is egotism. The intellect has been used for the aggrandisement of material power rather than for the furtherance of spiritual life. So even in its own realm it has not reached the heights it did in the nations of old. In philosophy and poetry we still look to the glories of the past. The researches of scholars and archćologists constantly reveal the existence of lost arts and sciences, chemical secrets and architectural construction, which transcend anything of modern times. That which impresses one most in all these wonders of the past, compared with modern achievements, is the sense they give of something beyond this life. Modern wonders were built for man. Ancient wonders were built for God. That is the difference between the East and the West. " Asia is one," says Okakura Kakuzo, the poet-philosopher of Japan. " Love for the Ultimate and the Universal is the common thought-inheritance of every Asiatic race, enabling them to produce all the great religions of the world," distinguishing them from the peoples of Europe " who love to dwell on the Particular, and to search out the means, not the end of life." On the other hand, G. Lowes Dickinson, in his travels in the East, finds the antithesis to be, not between the East and the West, but between " India and the rest of the world." The harmony of these two ideas lies in the fact that India is the heart of the East, the fountain of Eastern wisdom, whose streams flow through Asia even unto the West, but whose waters are purest nearest the source.

The India of the past was larger than we think, and in the India of today may be found living interpretations of the perished religions of other lands that has puzzled the brains of scholars. India extended from the mouth of the Ganges to the source of the Nile. The Parsees in fleeing to India were only coming back to their own people. Their sacred fire is the same as the ancient Vedic fire. The beautiful Vedic hymn to the rising Sun as a symbol of Light and Life is still used as the sacred morning prayer by the Brahmins.

It is not so well known that Egypt was linked to India in the past, that the Puranas have a full description of the country and of the source of the Nile which was variously called Nila, Kali, Krishna, all having the same meaning of dark blue. The Puranas say: " The celebrated and holy river takes rise from the lake Amara in the region of the Holy-Land of the Soma-Giri, or the Mountains of the Moon." When the source of the Nile was discovered, or rediscovered in 1860, the explorer had with him a map of the region drawn from Puranic description, and he records in his Journal that he found the lake which he called Victoria Nyanza, still called by the natives " Lake Amara — the Lake of Immortality or the Lake of the Gods," and the mountains round about still called in the native tongue, " Mountains of the Moon." It is significant that the Lotus is the sacred and royal flower of both Egypt and India, that the ancient name of the Egyptian Horus, the Deliverer, is Hari, meaning " He who steals our sins." A study of the religious symbolism of the two countries gives overwhelming evidence of this very ancient link between the two lands, and a study of Indian thought would afford many a valuable clue to Egyptologists.

This, however, would necessitate a change in some dates of Indian history given by Western scholars. With all due respect to such savants, we may be allowed to suggest that the scholars of a people capable of producing the philosophy, science, laws, arts and literature of India may be better fitted to ascertain the dates of their own achievements, and to interpret their own culture, than foreign scholars who know little of the living customs, symbols and characteristics of the Indian people; and whose ignorance will, we fear, remain in its colossal grandeur so long as they are obsessed with the idea that ancient Hinduism is the only part of Indian life worth study, and that Hinduism today has in some unaccountable way stood still or degenerated.

Scholars have appreciated the India of the past. Max Muller has nobly said: " If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow — in some parts a very paradise on earth — I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of the choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India." But even Max Muller believed chiefly in the India of the past, and would never visit the India of to-day for fear of being disenchanted. I wish to present not only the India of the past,-but also the India of today; and I my-self say boldly that India of today is also a great India, in fact she is spiritually greater than the India of Vedic times. I shall leave it to my readers to judge whether the Hindus have really developed a system of thought and evolution in the right sense of the term, which if practised would vitally help the world.

Neither nations nor religions can stand still and live. A degenerate religion does not have the vitality that Hinduism has today. This idea of the static quality of Hinduism is one of the obsessions of the West. " Children observe no motion in the stars." Hinduism is and always has been dynamic. It is the dynamic quality of Indian ideals that has made " the glory of Asia something positive." It may not seem positive to the West, because it is not aggressive ; and positiveness and aggressiveness seem to be one in Western thought. It is a positiveness in harmony with that of Christ, but not with that of Western civilisation. India loves Christ. She does not love Christianity, for she sees very little relation between the two. Her ideal is an ideal of the heart, as was that of Jesus. " It lies," says the Japanese artist, " in that vibration of peace that beats in every heart; that harmony that brings together emperor and peasant; that sublime intuition of oneness which commands all sympathy, all courtesy to be its fruits, making Takakura, Emperor of Japan, remove his sleeping-robe on a winter's night because the frost lay cold on the hearts of the poor; or Taiso of Tang forego food because his people were feeling the pinch of famine. It lies in that worship of Freedom which casts around poverty the halo of greatness, and imposes his stern simplicity of apparel on the Indian Prince. It lies in the dream of renunciation that pictures the Boddhi-Satwa as refraining from Nirvana till the last atom of dust in the universe shall have passed in before to bliss. These things are the secret energy of the thought, the science, the poetry, and the art of Asia."

And these things are the glory of Hinduism. To know Hinduism is to know India. There are Mohammedans and Parsees and many other religious sects in India, but they are all more or less Hinduised. As a Western writer, Mr. Havell, has said: " It was the Aryan philosophy, which makes India one today, that synthesised all the foreign influences which every invader brought from outside, and moulded them to its own ideals." Hindu civilisation, although very complex, has always kept one distinct note — the note of spiritual culture, and it is because of this age-long spiritual culture, embodied in the daily life of the people, that they have been able to keep the fire of their ideals burning, through all changes, even to the present day. Their life-and-religion is an internal growth which they have gradually developed into a harmony within themselves; and those who have attempted to tread upon their paths have not converted the Hindus, but have to a very large extent developed their own ideals into a harmony with the Hindu ideal. The Hindus have been able to keep their own path not only for themselves; but for the rest of the world. Whatever they had they gave without stint. To give is the breath of life to the Oriental.

In the centuries before the Christian era, one might almost say as a preparation for that era, the stream of Indian thought began to flow with its greatest force throughout Asia and through Asia to the West. This was the era of the great universities of India, to which students came from all over the world; it was the era of the Buddhist missionaries sent out by the great Emperor Asoka. These were the two chief channels through which the gathered waters of Hindu philosophy and religion poured itself into other lands. Ceylon and the Islands of the South; Japan, China and the five Greek kingdoms of the West: Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene, Epirus, received this Hindu thought, and its doctrines and precepts were widely known in Palestine when Jesus Christ was born." Since the Christian era through the Byzantine Greek influence, through the schools of Alexandria, through the Arab conquest, it brought its art, philosophy, science and religion to Europe, which to-day have penetrated to the farthest West. What its vitality in India is may be seen in the words of the Maharajah of Cossimbar, President of the All-India Hindu Conference at Hardwar —

" No religion and its followers have had to pass through such ordeals as Hinduism and Hindus, and yet they have survived and are a living force. The thought, the philosophy, and the truths that permeate Hinduism, stamp it with immortality, and the intellect of Europe and America are being slowly won by Hindu thought. As in the past, so in the future, Hinduism will hold the torch of wisdom and knowledge aloft to lead and guide the whole world. Hinduism places truth beyond and above all things, it teaches reverence for high and low, so that we may walk through life with reverence and love. None have the monopoly of wisdom and faith; the sun shines for all, the wind sighs for all, and God is for all. I am reminded of that memorable sloka of the Gita which preaches the wonderful doctrine that ` Whosoever comes to Me, through whatever form, through that form I reach him; all men are struggling to reach Me through various paths, and all the paths are Mine.

This sloka contains the central idea of the Gita and the essence of Hinduism. All paths to God are One. All religions One. " All these are threaded upon Me as pearls upon a string."

The Hindus have really no such word as religion. The word has no synonym in Sanskrit.

Our word is Dharma. Dharma includes far more than religion. It is really the inner Law of Being, and applies to everything in the universe as well as man. Thus the dharma of fire is heat; the dharma of water is coolness; the dharma of honey is sweetness. The dharma of the warrior is to fight; the dharma of the scholar is to know; the dharma of the poet is to sing. Man's dharma, then, is his Ideal. It is the evolution of his character. Through this idea of dharma, the Hindu gradually has built up a complete system of spiritual culture. The Hindus have never separated life from religion or religion from life. The two are so intermingled that we may not know where one melts into the other. It is like the question whether the seed precedes the tree or the tree the seed.

The root of the word Dharma, is dhree, to hold; the root of the word religion is ligare, to bind. That which holds, holds by an inner law, what binds is an external bondage.

Therein lies the difference between the religion of culture and the religion of creed. Creed is something external; it is not internal. Culture is internal. So the dominant note of India is cultural, the dominant note of the West credal. And the West is reaping today the curses of creed. All departments of life, politics, religion, sociology, are held fast by credal dogma. Such a mind is more prone " to define and separate than to combine and integrate ; more able to analyse than to synthesise. It is more scientific than philosophical; more positive than imaginative." The Hindu mind is just the reverse. Its religion is synthetic, philosophical and imaginative. It recognises and emphasises the oneness of all life. Because of its credal civilisation what do we see in the West? Divisions of class ruling; individuality based on selfish ideals; patriotism grounded in selfish interests; industries pushed for one's own people, at the cost of others. Material progress in the West has undermined the bed-rock of co-operation in the human family; hence this present ruin and devastation.

I can never think for a moment that the life of Jesus was the life of a creed. The West has mutilated the teachings of Christ. We cannot understand Christ unless we take the spirit of Hindu-ism. A higher type of Christianity, a Christianity sprung from its very founder, could have a great following in India. Christ was a Prince of Sanyasins. If any one went there from the West with the Sanyasin ideal, it would be a momentous thing. Not that India would know anything new, but she would be encouraged to see that there was a brother race or nation in the West who was equally anxious to find the reality of things. The ideal of renunciation and sacrifice will always call sympathy from India.

" Behold the lilies of the field," said Jesus of Nazareth. Was it only a metaphor? There is a deep meaning of Life behind. Hindus conceived of this beautiful symbolism long ago. Christ was an Eastern. If he had taught in India, He would have said " the lilies of water," using the symbol of the lotus, as the religious Teachers of India have done for thousands of years. Flowers to a Hindu are sacred. Flowers he gathers to adorn the sanctuary. He throws flowers at the feet of his Lord, and he throws himself at the feet of his Lord. Both personal and social life is as the flower's growth. The Hindu's ideal is flexible ; its roots are deep in Nature and God. His is the large tolerance that recognises all as children of the one Mother. He invites the whole universe, for the universe is his kith and kin. He dreams of universal toleration. He wants the universal federation in which each nation will live as a great symbol to realise his own dream, yet to compare notes with the others.

Thousands of years ago there went forth an invitation from the Indian sky and forest to the nations of the world. Our fathers kindled a fire of sacrifice. They have kept it burning. One fuel after another has been poured into it, but it is the same fire. That fire we, their children, however feeble, hold before the world. Darkness prevails. It is that fire which the Hindus havé kept sacredly burning that alone can dispel this darkness—the sacred Fire of Spirituality.

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