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INTERFACE OF CULTURAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

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Freedom to Grow and Growing into One

Baidyanath Saraswati

Gandhi, the Greatest Need of the Time

This essay follows the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. It is written for those who are in sympathy with the spirit. That spirit is different from the one which blows about modern civilization.

This is not a theoretical paper. It is concerned with problems of human freedom and growth. It touches the context of modern civilization and tries to break the monopoly of ‘development’ ideology. It reflects India’s cultural identity without indulging in a general theory. It prepares the ground for a swadesi model of growth, bringing into focus the insight of that great genial master and mahatma*.

Such a model of growth is not easy to realize. Swadesi in today’s world is a practical impossibility. The problem is something like that of the fabled lion who having been brought about in the company of goats found it impossible to feel that he was a lion. But, then, to make swadesi operative is to make oneself free from the mental state of helplessness.

 

* The following pages contain long and large quotations, all from D.G. Tendulkar’s monumental work, Mahatma. Words like swaraj, swadesi, samabhava, aparigraha, etc. are used precisely in the Gandhian sense.

Technolatry, the Modern Paranoia

Gandhiji wrote his famous 30,000-word book, Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule, in 1909. The questions there dealt with have great relevance today, not only for India, but for the whole humanity. A ten-point summary of this Gita of the Kali Age, the modern age of darkness, is pertinent.

(1) There is no impassable barrier between East and West.

(2) There is no such thing as Western or European civilization, but there is a modern civilization which is purely material.

(3) The people of Europe, before they were touched by modern civilization, had much in common with the people of the East.

(4) It is not the British people who are ruling India, but it is modern civilization, through its very invention which has been claimed to be a triumph of civilization.

(5) Bombay, Calcutta, and the other cities of India are the real plague-spots.

(6) East and West can really meet when the West has thrown over board modern civilization, almost in its entirety. They can also seemingly meet when East has also adopted modern civilization, but that meeting would be an armed truce.

(7) It is impertinence for any man or anybody of men to begin or to contemplate reform of the whole world. To attempt to do so by means of highly artificial and speedy locomotion, is to attempt the impossible.

(8) Increase of material comforts, it may be generally laid down, does not in any way whatsoever conduce to moral growth.

(9) India’s salvation consists in unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years or so.

(10) There was true wisdom in the sages of old having so regulated society as to limit the material conditions of the people. Therein lies salvation. People live long under such conditions in comparative peace, much greater than Europe has enjoyed after having taken up modern activity, and I feel that every enlightened man may, if he chooses, learn this truth and act according to it.

Gandhiji was not an ivory-tower intellectual; he was a practical idealist. Hind Swaraj is not a concept book; it deals with practical questions in an original way. The fact that it is a product of his experiment with truth imparts it a certain universality that makes it all-time relevant.

Gandhiji severely condemned the railways, telegraphs, telephones, hospitals, lawyers, doctors and such others. He was unconcerned whether such a gigantic reformation that he was suggesting can be brought about to people who find their satisfaction from the mad rush of his time. He held the view that all of us who think likewise have to take the necessary step, and the rest, if we are in the right, must follow. "The theory is there; our practice will have to approach it as much as possible", he said.

What Gandhiji said at the turn of this century is self-evident by the close of the century. It is already apparent to the world that technologically advanced countries are obsessed by the demons of commercial selfishness. The fault is not of men but of the system.

The modern system of knowledge is based on the presupposition that man himself is at the centre of his own history and civilization. Today man’s greatest glory is described in terms of science and technology by virtue of which the modern man has achieved near complete conquest of nature. But, ironically, science, which prides itself in being autotelic, is controlled by technology and man, who boasts his conquest of nature, is reduced to a level of consumer.

Modern system tends to be holistic and universalistic. In determining the normative nature of ‘development’ its thrust is clearly toward uniformization, homogenization and globalization. It is unconcerned with the fact that there are other systems of knowledge and other models of growth. Taking itself as a universal frame of reference, it declares all other rationalities and all other world-views false. It claims that technologically-controlled economics and science-supported aspirations alone constitute the true model of ‘development’. In its own final analysis the modern system is infallible and the cosmologically-designed and morally-ordered pre-industrial societies are backward. The upshot is plain: all cultures must be reduced to a single pattern to practice technolatry to fall in line with the modern paranoic civilization.

Spinning Wheel, The Universal Pancea

Technolatry has an inherent faith that only in a technologically advanced society can the higher possibilities of man be fully realized. Unfortunately many eminent people of our time are wedded to this belief.

Tagore did not like Gandhiji’s command "Spin and Weave". He asked: "Is this the gospel of a new creative age? If large machinery constitutes a danger for the West, will not the small machines constitute a greater danger for us?"

Tagore’s noble word, evoked firm reply from Gandhiji. On October 13, 1921, he wrote in Young India:

To a people famishing and idle, the only acceptable forms in which God can dare appear is work and promise of food as wages. God created man to work for his good, and said that those who ate without work were thieves. Eighty per cent of India are compulsorily thieves half the year. Is it any wonder if India has become one vast prison? Hunger is the argument that is driving India to the spinning wheel. The call of the spinning wheel is the noblest of all. Because it is the call of love. And love is swaraj. Swaraj has no meaning for the millions, if they do not know how to employ their enforced idleness. The attainment of this swaraj is possible within a short time, and it is so possible only by the revival of the spinning wheel.

I do want growth, I do want self-determination, I do want freedom, but I want all these for the soul. I doubt if the steel age is an advance upon the flint age. I am indifferent. It is the evolution of the soul to which the intellect and all our faculties have to be devoted. I have no difficulty in imagining the possibility of a man armoured after the modern style making some lasting and new discovery for mankind, but I have less difficulty in imagining the possibility of a man having nothing but a bit of flint and a nail for lighting his path or his matchlock ever singing new hymns of praise and delivering to an aching world a message of peace and goodwill upon earth. A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognizing the dignity of labour.

I claim that in losing the spinning wheel we lost our left lung. We are, therefore, suffering from galloping consumption. The restoration of the wheel arrests the progress of the fell disease. There are certain things which all must do in all climes. There are certain things which all must do in certain climes. The spinning wheel is the thing which all must turn in the Indian clime for the transition stage at any rate and the vast majority must for all time.

It was over love of foreign cloth that ousted the wheel from its position of dignity. Therefore, I consider it a sin to wear foreign cloth. I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labour. It is sinful to eat the American wheat and let my neighbour the grain dealer starve for want of custom.

My modesty has prevented me from declaring from the house top that the message of non-cooperation, non-violence and swadeshi is a message to the world. It must fall flat, if it does not bear fruit in the soil where it has been delivered.

We must refuse to be lifted off our feet. A drowning man cannot save others, we must try to save ourselves. Indian nationalism is not exclusive, nor aggressive, nor destructive. India must learn to live before she can aspire to die for humanity. The mice which helplessly find themselves between the cat’s teeth, acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice.

May folk songs of pre-Independence India revolve around the spinning wheel. The metaphor can reach metaphysical heights, or can be plainly plaintive such as

My spinning wheel is multi-coloured

Inlaid with nails of gold,

O mother, I think of you

Whenever I see my spinning wheel

Burfi (sweets) sells in bazar;

Oh, bring me a small spinning wheel

That I may spin my cotton rolls of sorrow.

Two pieces of cloth are stiched into one,

Though we sulk and fume without,

Within we two are one

Flowers in garden bloom,

But hard are those to find

Who honour till the end of the ties of love.

This song aptly voice, the pangs of a prisoner of modern civilization, of a hanging trisanku, or of a fleeing Shiva unnerved by his own boon to Bhasmasur.

Swaraj, My Birth Right

At Gandhiji’s call I seek purna swaraj, complete self rule. I march with time with my ‘spinning wheel’. I respond to varying conditions and yet remain changeless within. I wish to grow in my own style, with reverence for all other lifestyles.

If God has created me in his own image I want to remain true to that self. My relationship to the universe, to all my fellow beings and to human society is derived from my relationship to God. I do not want this relationship to be controlled by Satan.

If my body is made up of earth, water, air, fire and sky, I want to grow freely in that beautiful order of the cosmos. My temporal existence is derived from and nourished by these elements of Nature. I do not want this human-cosmic relation to sever for any good.

As God’s man I am empowered to grow in a normal way. Constant growth is the law of life. As a cosmic being I have the right to live on earth, to bask in the radiant light and warmth of the sun, to be purified by the holy waters and to move and breathe fearlessly.

I do not want to live a whole life at one time. I want to be born again and again to be nourished in the womb of the Mother Earth.

I do not want to live on ‘bread alone’. I want to work for my food. I want to live the ‘bread of life’. I trust the God’s promise of food, vasordhara, the cosmic circulation of never-ending food.

I do not want to impersonate and replace God by the maya (demiurgic image) of creativity. I want to create with the powers of Cosmic Intelligence, the divine wisdom. I do not want to be the victim of my own creation.

I want swaraj in organizing the entire way of my life. ‘Swaraj is my birth right’.

Knowing the cosmic principle of One into Two into Many, I cannot be egocentric, or ethnocentric. Having made my own world as ‘open space’ I move up to grow into one.

As a self apart from the otherselves, I perform a cosmic act of union in terms of marriage, family, kinship and all such forms of human relation. I do experience the totality of the species with my own colour, caste and clan.

As a citizen of the earth I relate with all, without losing my self-identity. As a citizen of the heaven I get fully integrated with the ultimate, the One.

My human identity is enveloped by five sheaths or envelops: anandamaya kosa (beatific envelope), vigyanmaya kosa (noetic or intellectual envelope), manomaya kosa (mental envelope), pranamaya kosa (vital envelope) and annamaya kosa (vegetative envelope). These are hierarchical orders, the first and the highest is the beatific envelope. It is in this order of hierarchy that I wish to grow as a universal self.

I hold on to my swadesi world-view, without being disrespectful to other world-views.

I seek not to impose my ideas on others. Nor do I brook the spirit of superiority and dominance of destructive forces.

Swadesi, My Religion

Swaraj is loftier than God. The attainment of swaraj is closely linked with the advancement of swadesi. If swaraj is the deity, swadesi is the prayer. I cannot think of one without the other.

To get rid of economic and intellectual slavery I look upon swadesi as a rule of life.

Gandhiji gave a clarion call to boycott foreign goods and foreign system of education, saying:

It is inconsistent with truth to use articles about which, or about whose makers, there is a possibility of deception.

Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote.

I think of swadeshi not as a boycott movement undertaken by way of revenge. I conceive it as a religious principle to be followed by all.

There is a verse in the Gita which, freely rendered, means: masses follow the classes. It is easy to undo the evil if the thinking portion of the community were to take the swadeshi vow, even though it may for a time cause considerable inconvenience.

It has often been urged that India cannot adopt swadeshi in the economic life at any rate. Those who advance this objection do not look upon swadeshi as a rule of life. With them it is a more patriotic effort not to be made if it involved any self-denial. Swadeshi, as defined here, is a religious discipline to be undergone in utter disregard of the physical discomfort it may cause to individuals. Under its spell the deprivation of a pin or needle, because these are not manufactured in India, need cause no terror. A swadeshi will learn to do without hundreds of things which today he considers necessary. Moreover, those who dismiss swadeshi from their minds by arguing the impossible, forget that swadeshi, after all, is a goal to be reached by steady effort. Swadeshi is the only doctrine consistent with the law of humility and love.

My prayer, then, is: Let a thousand flowers blossom. Let every culture grow with the joy of fearlessness. Let it discover its own roots. Let it also discover a spiritual link, an unbreakable relationship with other cultures. Let it hasten slowly. Let it condemn technology. Let it reject modern technological thinking. Let it refuse measuring poverty in terms of technologically controlled economics. Let it refrain from making a fetish of literacy. Let it denounce secularism, resist tyranny. Let it protect itself from exploitation and fight in the open an honourable battle. Let it arm itself with the weapons of non-cooperation and non-violence. Let it learn to rule itself. Let it follow the ideal of democratic swaraj. Let the democracy of fear be replaced by the kingdom of God. Let every culture be firmly rooted in its swadharma, harbouring no ill-will for other religions.

For the realization of such blossoming, let a thousand swadesi models operate. Let each model be self-organizing, self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. Let each nation determine priorities in the development programme, according to its own resources and world-views.

To evolve a swadesi model a pancaseela-programme must begin:

(1) Redefining ‘development’ as a human project concerned with the fulfilment of higher human values, rather than a technologically controlled one-point affluence-serving programme,

(2) Rethinking universality in terms of the cosmological principle of "One into Two into Many", rather than the sociological pickle of "uniformization and homogenization",

(3) Restrengthening swadeshi with the eternal rule of life,

(4) Resanctifying human creativity and interpersonal relationship, and

(5) Rededicating oneself to the law of moral advancement with the minimum material.

The swadesi model of growth does not preclude a normal global interaction. It is an open system built on a dynamic principle of swaraj, freedom of culture, sambhava, equability of culture, and aparigraha, non-possession, all of which presuppose a change of heart, a change of attitude.

To conclude, I turn to Gandhiji: "I do not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all land to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave" (Young India, June 1, 1921).

 

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