Friday, April 20, 2018

What is Indian?

Since independence there has been a great deal of effort, exhortation and expenditure devoted towards Indianising something or the other: Indianising dress, language, industry, psychiatry and so on.

The content of an observation on variable material very much depends on the standpoint of the observer. I am a worker in the field of human interactions. The problems of harmony, disharmony, individual and collective, confront me in the actual attempts at rectification of the machinery involved, namely, the human body and mind, its parts and functions, forces and energies, fields of action and lines of effect, purpose and economy. Such is the necessary concern of my work. Accident of personal circumstance had driven me to the portals of a medical college. Over thirty years of contact showed me the limitations of the grossly mechanistic models of thought to which medical science or at least its practitioners confined themselves. The next years revealed to me the tragedy of medical practice, not only holding on to this model, but cherishing it with suicidal delight, long after the merely mechanistic model of thought was being, literally, blown beyond the sky. The socio-economic factors in this game of self-inflicted blindness require separate consideration.

I was forced to look into the question of what is Indian, firstly by my clients, who by and large, related themselves and their sufferings to some Indian scriptural sanctions, and by the brand of culturally-oriented psychiatric fashion of smuggling in the words Yoga, Indian, etc., and presenting the scriptures
as some sort of appendix to Freud, Jung, ECT. as hallmark of Indianisation. The patient uses or implies the words, Karma, Maya, Dharma, Guru etc., and the psychiatrist works scientifically on the place of Yoga on ECT, on the psychotherapeutic effects of Krishna on Arjuna, Yogic postures in Catatonia as different from Catatonic postures in Yoga, polygraphic concomitants of yogic states etc.

Nervous and mental diseases, 1900s, Wiki commons
In this interesting maze of possibilities in the use of the word, Indianisation, I was forced to search for tools necessary for my interactional use in daily work, not necessarily for absolute truths.

At an early stage in my search, I found that there was little resemblance between the strictly practical and experimental approaches of Krishna, Buddha, Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo, etc., and the bizarre medley of professional peddlers of Indian philosophy who profess to be propagating the teachings of the above persons. The thing that struck me was that none of the above were preoccupied with concepts of Indianising anything or anybody. They never set out to maintain or perpetuate any tradition, Indian or Western. They  meticulously used their bodies and their faculties to grow into a wider and greater harmony. They occasionally commented on their practice and its results, and help interested persons to personally verify for themselves and grow. For them, the scriptures were a platform from which to launch out into interactional growth, rather than umbrellas to shelter under, or costly mausoleums and glossy philosophies to be entombed in. To engage the body in its totality in verifying the beliefs one holds, and modify body and belief, and never to be obsessed with fossilising a tradition were the hallmarks of these few but formidable Indians I looked to for guidance. 

Abhyasa, practice, is the keynote to engage the body in implementing the beliefs it is given, and in this exercise to become aware of the detailed components in human action: the body and the 'I' which holds the belief, or aim or goal or purpose or pragna, allowing for an evolution of both to an ever elaborate expression of harmony. The evolutional nature of the manifest universe underlies the essence of the teachings of these forebears. Vivekananda called Yoga a means of speeding up the processes of human evolution.

Ramakrishna Mission Delhi , Public Domain
Krishna gives the law of all human knowledge: the body and its knower, the I; the knowledge of the interaction between these two is knowledge. All else flows from this dialectic nucleus. It does not require ages of tapasya to verify this basic law - but there it is. Can anyone know more of himself or the world around him except by what his body and its faculties bring to his awareness.

This is the foundation of all epistemology. Reciting the slokas with reverence and forgetting the implications in practice is the origin of much personal and social chaos.

Idam sariram khalu dharma sadhanam - verily, this body is the instrument of harmony. The instrumental nature of the body has been emphasised by those great experimenters, the Vedic and Upanishadic Rishis, and by the great line of Sufi saints. This instrument had to be personally cultivated and experienced. That the body is a burdensome appendage mysteriously thrust on us, and to be quickly rid of by the seeker of Mukti or liberation is a distortion that crept in at some stage, gaining respectability as a religious dogma.

That it is merely a more elaborate mansion for the dinosaur of yesterday is another popular view. The I and the body seen as a ceaselessly interacting dialectic unit in evolution - that is the implication of the Gita. The exhortations towards a long life and skill in action would appear meaningless if the body was merely regarded as a burdensome baggage, a mere caprice of nature. Too, there is a repeated reference to the necessity of rebirth of the 'I' in successive bodies before it reaches some state of perfection.

The 'I' first becomes manifest in the human body.

There can be, and there are numerous views and treatises on the implications of these statements - but what is truth for is that I exist; my body exists; I know nothing about myself or the world around except by the interaction of these two which constitute ME.

Even in a simple machine like a car, you can only learn its full possibilities by actually driving it. You can only learn while doing. Krishna states very simply, very clearly that your realise your full possibilities in the performance of your daily actions: He distinguishes between works done in consciousness of the 'I' within which are helpful, and acts outside of one's real self-awareness under the impulsion of uncontrolled instincts or equally strong conditioned responses derived from society. A distinction is made between Swadharma, Samanya Dharma, Sarva Dharma, etc., - a discussion of which is beside the point at issue, here.

The essence of the matter is the interaction between yourself and your body. In all action there are two results: that which happens to the thing you are working on, and that which is happening to you and your body during the course of action. You are acquainted with the results of a drunken driver driving his car, vaguely aware of the road, and thoroughly unaware of his own state. You can also visualise the state of affairs when a large body of drunks are in charge of making and enforcing rules of the road for safe driving!

At this point I can restate what I learnt from these Indian teachers. I AM. My Body is My First Instrument, vehicle and weapon. The growing awareness of the interaction between the two is knowledge. This awareness, realisation is gained by and during one's daily actions. The operation of this vehicle, to run harmoniously, requires to be learnt. Abhyasa or practice is the key. The dashboard is Dharma which is your perception of harmony or disharmony. And your attempts at rectification constitute steps. 

The concepts of truth: Here, the Upanishads elucidate the dialectic nature of truth. It is a progression from inaccuracy to greater accuracy. Sa is the truth, ta is untruth, yam is the integrated result in a higher truth, in a ceaseless evolution.

A is truth, U is untruth, M is truth - represented by the trisyllabic - AUM. It is good the Upanishads say this, because I see it in my own experience. Truth is not a mystery. It is said to be Sat, real. It is also said to be Ritam, harmony; and truth can never be for you other than what you and your body have realised in their interaction.

Adhara, and Adhikara, the concept of constitutional equipment of the person and his fitness for a particular task is another framework of reference for assessing a particular action. Thus a person may be a born genius for music, but in the absence of proper training and discipline in the subject  might be considered unfit, say, to be a teacher of music. An awareness of these factors might help in a more balanced judgement of the particular action of a particular person.

The recognition of compassion as the basic law of life. Now, this word compassion must be taken literally - Anukampa - to vibrate with, to resonate. The word, love, prema, occurs long, long after the time of the Upanishads and the Gita. The word prema has many other connotations, and is less evocative of the essential significance f the law of yagna, sacrifice, the law of resonance underlying all interaction without which this universe is unthinkable. The awareness of this property is what makes one essentially human. It is the energy behind all action. All our organs are mechanisms for mediating this law of compassion. Whether the immense energies which the law of compassion opens to you lead you to a chaotic or harmonious interaction is your headache and starting point of inquiry. The more egoistic and constricted your personality, the more restricted your senses, the less compassionate you are likely to be, ad the smaller is the amount of energy available to you, and the more miserable and destructive you become.

Compassion is not pity which is the painted front of a parasitic ego which makes virtue of necessity - the necessity of giving up what it cannot digest.

Desha, Kala, Patra - this is the most useful concept for effective social interaction. This is the call to be aware of the need to see that every action is appropriate to the place, time and person. Krishna, as portrayed in the Mahabharata is a perfect example of this awareness. For me, an Indian is one who recognises the basic truth that his whole knowledge of anything at all rests on the awareness of the world and of himself which his body and its faculties provide in their interaction with himself and the world around, and who systematically tries to enlarge his total self towards the evolution of a more harmonious being.

More catastrophic than the fission of the atom has been the fission that occurred between the I and Its Body, the inseparable dialectic unit. This artificial fission takes the I to an imaginary Heaven, and the Body through real Hell. Somewhere there is the saving link which can  only be forged out in the crucible of ontogenetic or phylogenetic processes as experienced by the individual.

Schumacher says to the effect that civilised man operates on the outside world with his limited capacities and unlimited technology and this he calls science. To deal with himself as a scientific instrument has not yet become fashionable. 

Whether Krishna or Buddha or I said something or not is not so important as what you say, and how you give substance to it, and if you have found it necessary to verify this in your daily life. If what you, or Krishna or an ancient X said is not felt as necessary for you, useful for you, personally verified by you, then it is what explains the irrationality of the world you complain of.

To be an Indian has little to do with philosophy, Eastern or Western, or being committed to the maintenance of any tradition or religion.

I and My Body is the foundation , the seed of all else.

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2 comments:

Sachin Baikar said...

Very informative and philosophical article 👍 Thanks for sharing 🙂

Gita Madhu said...

Thanks. These are the writings of my father.