INTERFACE OF CULTURAL
Freedom to Grow and Growing into One
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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:
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).
©1996 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi