The need for a new Indic School of Thought

During the Eurocolonial period, Indian history and civilization were distorted to fit European perceptions. A new school of thought is needed that will see Asian history and tradition with Asian eyes and thought, beginning with India.

by David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)

Background: Clash of Civilizations

A clash of civilizations is occurring throughout in the world today, a war of cultures at various levels in both our personal and public lives. This clash is partly due to rising historical and cultural awareness on the part of newly independent countries, beginning with India. One civilization, the Western-European-American is currently predominant and is strongly, if not rudely, trying to eliminate or subordinate the rest. Yet western civilization is spreading itself not so much by force, as in the colonial era, but by subtle new forms of social manipulation. These include control of the media and news information networks, control of the entertainment industry, domination of commercial markets, continued missionary aggressiveness by western religions, and – as important but sometimes overlooked – control of educational institutions and curriculums worldwide.

This control of education has resulted in a Western-European-American view of history and culture in textbooks and information sources in most countries, including India. Naturally, people educated according to western values will function as part of western culture, whatever may be the actual country of their birth. They will experience an alienation from their native culture that they have not really been raised in. They easily become a fifth column for the westernization of their culture, which also means its denigration or, at best, its commercialization. An authentic Indian or Indic perspective, a worldview coming out of the culture of India and its particular values and perceptions, is hardly to be found, even in India. The western school of thought is taught in India, not any Indic or Indian school of thought.

Indic School of Thought

What is the Indic school of thought, one might ask? It is not at all something new or unknown. It is the great spiritual, philosophical, scientific, artistic and cultural traditions of the subcontinent that are among the largest and oldest in the world. It is the emphasis on dharma, on karma, on pluralism and synthesis, on yoga sadhana and moksha. It is not only the tradition of ancient sages from the Vedas and Upanishads to Buddhist and Yoga traditions but also modern teachers like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. It is not only the vast literature of Sanskrit but also that of the regional languages and dialects of the subcontinent, most of which have older literary traditions than the languages of Europe like English.

All major cultural debates are now framed according to western values and perceptions, and so they will naturally serve to uphold them. The important issues of Indic civilization today are framed according to the principles or biases of the western school of thought. These include what Indian civilization is, when India as a nation first arose, what the real history of India is, how to reform Indian society, and how India should develop in order to have its rightful place in the future world. As the debate is defined according to the approach and values of western civilization, India does not always fare well, and India as its own independent source of civilization is seldom acknowledged. India is judged as if it should be like another USA, Britain or Germany, which it can never be, nor should be. This only makes Indians feel inferior or wrong.

The western school of thought has denigrated or overlooked the Indic school, particularly in the Indian context. For example, the Indic school has its own history sources through the Vedas, Puranas and various historical texts (Itihasas) that are quite massive, detailed and have much internal consistency, but in writing the history of India, the western school does not give these any place. They are dismissed as at best mythology and at worst fraud. Instead, it defines the history of India according to outside influences, as a series of invasions and borrowings mainly from the west, from cultures the West knows better and has more affinity with, which makes India seem dependent upon the West in order to advance its civilization again today.

The western school of thought negates the relevance of the traditions of India. This is not simply because the Indic tradition is wrong, unsophisticated or irrelevant. It is because western civilization is hegemonic, if not predatory in nature, and such ideas help promote its spread. Its information about India contains a built in poison. It is meant to undermine the culture of the region and subordinate it to the West, however objective, scientific or modern its approach may appear to be.

When India as a nation arose is defined by the western school as 1947, the year of independence. It founders were Nehru and Gandhi, who inherited a united region from the British, before which India was just a confused mass of local kingdoms with no national consistency. On the other hand, according to the Indic school, India or Bharat as a country arose in the Vedic era as the type of dharmic/yogic culture that has been the main characteristic of Indian civilization through history. This spiritual or yogic orientation can be found in the cultures of all the regions of India from Tamil Nadu to the Himalayas, pervading even in the folk art and folk songs of all regions.

Western Distortions and the Indian Response

In the western school of thought, an Aryan invasion or migration is used to determine how ancient Vedic civilization took root in India, as if it were an alien force of intruding barbarians. In the Indic school of thought, the whole idea of an Aryan Invasion/Migration is a sign of ignorance. The Indic tradition arose from the rishi tradition of the Vedic-Sarasvati culture and related cultures, reflected in the continuity of Vedic literature from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, Buddhist and Jain literature, and the Puranas which all reflect the same principles, peoples and dynasties of kings.

In these current cultural debates, therefore, an overriding greater debate is ignored— that between the western and the Indic schools of thought. The western style media and academia tries to see what is authentic in Indian civilization and finds it to be wanting, reducing it to little more than caste or superstition. This is not surprising as the Indic tradition has a different focus and values than does the western tradition. Similarly, from the standpoint of the Indic tradition, we must question western civilization itself. Is the western school of thought enlightened? Is it appropriate for India? Can it understand the unique civilization of the subcontinent?

The Indic school itself is often highly critical of the western school. For example, when asked what he thought about western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi replied, “It would be a good idea.” What he meant was, from the standpoint of the spiritual traditions of India, western civilization with its materialism, aggression and dogmatism was not highly evolved. Sri Aurobindo wrote on the limitations of western civilization, while appreciating it in certain areas.

‘Secular Missionaries’

The West similarly tries to control any debate on cultural ethics, under slogans of democracy and human rights, which are only used to intimidate weak nations and conveniently ignored relative to stronger or wealthier nations like China or Saudi Arabia. Organizations operating under the cover of human rights are among the most aggressively alienating influences today. They function like 'secular missionaries', ignoring victims of terrorism like the Hindus, while defending the 'rights' of terrorist organizations against security forces that are forced to take action against them. Meanwhile, it is the West that is selling the weapons and profiting by terrorism and civil strife throughout the world, and many terrorist groups were originally trained by the West, as in Afghanistan.

Such groups highlight social inequalities in India, while ignoring the colonial history of both genocide and cultural destruction. The same charges of cultural backwardness have been used throughout the colonial era to undermine the native traditions of Africa, Asia and America, and to justify religious conversion and political domination, which is their real aim. Sometimes native intellectuals are taken in by these western approaches to social issues, not realizing that they are just promoting the colonial agenda of world domination in a more covert form.

New Rules of Debate

Therefore, it is not enough to simply debate issues of culture, politics, or history in the existing forums in order to promote a more Indian or Hindu view. We must question the very process itself and its basis, the perspective or values behind the school of thought in which the debate occurs. What India needs is the creation of a new Indic school of thought that is dynamic and assertive in the modern global context— one that can challenge western civilization not merely in regard to the details of history or culture, but also relative to fundamental principles of life, humanity and consciousness. This requires a revival or renaissance in the Indic tradition and its great spiritual systems of Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Jainism, and also in its political, artistic and scientific traditions. Modern science and technology can arguably be more humanely employed according to Indic or Dharmic values, than according to western religious exclusivism or its commercial greed.

The world today needs a critique of civilization from an Indic or Dharmic perspective, a view on capitalism, socialism, communism, Christianity and Islam from a tradition that is much older, deeper and closer to the spirit in both man and nature. These western ideologies are failing to address the spiritual needs of humanity and are incapable of creating a world order that transcends dogmatism or exclusivism.

Those of us who are part of the Indic school of thought should emphasize such a greater debate and not get caught in the details of issues already formulated according to the biases of western civilization. This debate should examine the right structure for society and the real forward direction for history and evolution. We must raise fundamental questions. Is the current western materialistic view of history valid at all, or are there spiritual forces at work in the world that go beyond all these? Can we understand our history through outer approaches like archaeology, linguistics or genetics, or is a higher consciousness or more intuitive view required as well? Are the records of our ancient sages to be rejected so lightly, whenever we think they don’t agree with our views?

The real issue of the Vedas, India’s oldest tradition, is not how these texts might fit into the current model of history as promoted by the western school of thought, tracing the development of civilization through outer material advances. It is how the existence of such an ancient tradition of rishis, knowers of cosmic consciousness, shows a higher spiritual humanity from which we have arisen and whose legacy we can reclaim.

Need for a New School of Thought

India needs a different type of scholarship, an Indic school of thought that has its own values, traditions and methods of reaching conclusions. Those of us who follow the Indian civilization should develop this Indic school in its own right, and not merely try to justify our views in terms of the western or European school of thought, which has a hostile and alien foundation and history.

I recently raised a call for an intellectual Kshatriya in India – a new class of warrior intellectuals to defend India and its great pluralistic traditions from the onslaught of western exclusivist approaches, whether religious, economic or political. This call requires further and more fundamentally the creation of such a new Indic school of thought. Such a new Indic school of thought is not just philosophies of liberation or yoga, but Indic, Hindu and Dharmic approaches to ecology, to the global marketplace, to health, to science, to the status of women, to religious freedom, in short to all the main issues in society today. And it should also look beyond these issues, which are often the issues of the western school, to yet broader concerns. How can we integrate humanity with nature and its underlying cosmic intelligence? How can we reclaim our spiritual heritage as a species that the great yogis have pointed out for us?

Such a new Indic school of thought requires new institutions to promote and embody it, or new Vedic schools. This will arise not through Indology departments in western style universities but through a new type of institution with its own funding and curriculum, free from manipulation by the vested interested and ideologies of the western school and its religious, commercial and political biases.

New Kinds of Institutions

The problem is that Indian academic institutions were created by the western school and reflect its values. To try to gain credibility for Indic thought in the context of European institutions, like some well meaning Hindus are attempting, may be a helpful side strategy but misses this main point. Western universities have their own agendas that they will not readily give up. They will not change simply because a few well intentioned people and groups give them money and sponsor positions to project a more 'sympathetic' picture of India and her civilization. Like a sea that salts every river that flows into it, existing trends and interests will force the people coming into them to conform to the dominant Eurocentric values that pervade these institutions. Otherwise, they cannot survive academically.

The western school is inherently incapable of grasping the Indic school, or even the Indic way of looking at issues. It is not on single issues that we need to make headway but on promoting the Indic tradition as a complete school of thought in itself, not as a mere side subject of Indological study in the context of current western defined academia. We must look back to such Indic models as Naimisha, Takshashila, Nalanda or Mithila, not only to institutions but also to the Gurukula approach and its more intimate and spiritual form of learning.

I urge the young people and the scholars of India to take up this cause. Do not try to define India in the context of civilization as defined by the West. Rather look to the great traditions of India that have their own deeper roots and use it to critique western civilization and discover its limitations. Rather than seeking to define and control India according to western perspectives, the West should look to India for guidance on the deeper issues of culture and spirituality. Indians in turn should assert their own greater traditions and not simply imitate the West or seek to justify Indian civilization from a western perspective. True scholars of the Indic tradition need not go to Harvard or Oxford seeking credibility, rather these institutions should come to them. That is little more than seeking to pander to the tastes of the old colonial masters, which is not about to end servility or restore ones pride!

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