Essential features of Indian Civilization: Summary and Review

Summary of the talks

Shri Ganesh N Devy dwelt on two streams of thoughts.

  • Essential value of Indian civilization is rooted in the spiritual culture of India: Generosity, self-restraint, compassion (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)
  • Bhakti Movement, a spiritual reawakening movement spanning over several centuries all over india beginning in 12th century, was a reaffirmation of the ancient essential value of Indian civilization.
  • Theosophical Movement begun by Madam HP Blavatsky in 19th century was significant in this respect.
  • Publication by Darwin of his theory of organic evolution in his magnum opus, he Origin of Species, had profound impact on both the West and the East.

One result of Western colonisation of East and india : realisation that india,  and East in general, has had much longer and loftier culture and civilization

  • In the West Evolution theory originated two streams of thought : Faith stream and stream of science and reason.
  • In the faith stream emerged John Ruskin with his just social philosophy – Unto the Last – which influenced MK Gandhi.
  • Scientific Idea of evolution influenced Indian mystics, as Aurabindo Ghosh who postulated evolution of human consciousness towards divinity 
  • Archaeology and genetics research shows :
    • Vedic Aryans emigrating from the North into India post Indus Valley civilization
    • Genetics research shows emigration and dispersal of human population originating in Africa some 40,000 years ago.
    • Civilization proper (urban settlements) began post Holocene (11000 BCE), progressing from hunting gathering stage to pastoral phase followed by farm / agricultural settlement.
  • The British undermined that heritage value through English education and westernisation of india
  • India is a ancient land and people with multi ethnic, multi religious, multi lingual ethos.characterised by mutual tolerance and accommodation.
  • The contemporary socio-political trends in India towards narrow nationalistic amd majoritarianism is undermining the egalitarian and harmonious multiculturalism.

Shri Rajendra Chenni made the following observations

  • The term Indian civilization conveys a single or a singular idea. In the Indian context the term has to be a plural noun.
  • Indian civilization is a tapestry of many and divergent  ideas, view points, philosophies, folk cultures, and yet harmoniously coexistent through ages, revealing unity in diversity.
  • It is like a huge archeological site with many layers of vestiges of past history, not disjointed but revealing to the explorer a concatenated continuum of events and ideas.
  • Archeological approach to study the history of civilization is inadequate as it attempts to construct features of  past history by empirical means  but fails to relate those to the living, vibrant culture of the contemporary time as the outcome of the past.

Universe has no finality but diverse and ever progressive. Indian civilization evolved on the model of the universal pattern

  • There is no finality and hard and fast conclusions in the character of Indian ethos but exhibits  adaptive, progressive, open ended options for innovation and improvements. 
  • Example is the epic Mahabharata : was complied at different times and has many versions from different viewpoints and ideas. 
  • Contemporary Globalization is recent and has for its content and basis political market economy. In the far past far greater globalization thrived through exchange of ideas, philosophies and belief systems, besides international trade.
  • Rich cultures of Greece and India mutually influenced each other. Neoplatonism reveal distinctive touch of Vedantic thought.
  • Indian civilization accommodated diverse philosophies and streams of thought though often starkly different. Ontological philosophical system Co-existed with Lokayata – starkly materialistic system of thought as seen in 10th century Kannada literary history.
  • Philosophical wisdom is found even in folk culture  and among many rustic rural people who have no formal education,  and not restricted to elite echelon of learned scholars and poets.
  • In this tolerant coexistence of many streams of thought one can live and experience many or all of these, and be the richer for it.
  • The country is now facing disturbing political trends in the direction of intolerance, narrow nationalistic ideology and bigotry which, if not changed, is poised to undermine this priceless multi-cultural  heritage of India.

Review from the desk of the HLI Editors

Critical comments on following points pertaining to the lecture

  1. Relation culture bears to civilization
  2. Inadequacy of the assumptions of the Western idea of civilization and its history : speculative, fragmentary, unbridgeable gaps in the theoretical narrative and conclusions. 
  3. Adequacy of the Universal perspective of ancient Wisdom-Science – Wholistic, complete, coherent, logical and reasonable, verifiable.
  4. Examine such claims as Darwin influencing Indian mystics, history of civilization is post Holocene, etc.

Relation culture bears to civilization

Culture and civilization 

  • The term Civilization (civics-citizen, civitas-city) connotes the way people organize themselves in a systematic procedures of administration, production, commerce, trade and security that benefits the people as a whole as well as facilitates development of overall individual needs and aspirations. 
  • culture and civilization are an inseparable pair. 
  • Culture is the sum of knowledge,  experience gathered, and skills developed and accumulated, over millennia by a people through intellectual, scientific, aesthetic and spiritual development which  shape the outlook of the people on life and nature of reality..
  • This determine the nature and quality of a civilization : this can be illustrated by comparative study of civilizations – Eastern shaped by spiritual, philosophical and mystical ethos and the Western material and rational thought.
  • This was clearly implied by both the speakers in their talks.

Indian civilization being ancient – one of tolerance, inclusive, open-minded, multiethnic, multicultural – has been shaped by the moral and spiritual world-view of the Upanishads.

  •  Speakers said. indian culture is alive and vibrant among the common people of rural hinterland of india to this day in their folk-wisdom and culture.

Western idea of history of civilization:

  • Originated somewhere between 5000 to 3000 BCE
  • Evolved progressively from wandering primitive hunters and gatherers, using stone implements, graduating thence to migrant pastoral life, and finally into a settled communities with invention of agriculture and mechanization.
  • Evidence for tracing history of civilization for the West are : archeology, DNA sampling, interpretation of ancient texts.

HLI points out:

Western empirical methods and assumptions are inadequate to unravel true history 

Purely physical fossil / artifacts / DNA sampling are no indicators of evolution of moral, mental, intellectual, and spiritual development of past civilizations.

Higher ancient Wisdom-Science encompasses whole of Nature and Man in their spiritual, Manasic, and physical aspects has the complete history of cosmic and anthropological evolution

This is indicative of the fact that :

  • Intellectual, moral and spiritual development of Man are distinct streams which meet and become associated with the physical evolution
  • The three streams or dimensions  of evolution : Spiritual, Intellectual, and physical meet and mingle in man, making him a complex being.
  • The threefold evolution is teleological, ie., conscious, intelligent, and purposeful, ever tending to higher destiny of human perfection.
  • Modern science considers physical as the only  reality and rejects mental, psychic and spiritual aspects of man and nature.
  • Ancient wisdom postulates that there can be no Evolution without Involution : the spiritual first becomes involved in matter by a process of gradual descent through seven transformations from the most spiritual dimension to the grossest physical. This is involution.
  • After complete involution embodied spirit evolves out of matter to the primal pure state in addition to the vast experience garnered through immense cyclic periods of reincarnation and the law of cause and effects, called Karma.
  • 2 billion years elapsed since the beginning of the involutionary journey of spirit into forms, 300 million  years since the evolution of physical man, and 18 million years since the appearance of the thinking man on earth.
  • Complete universal and anthropological evolutionary history through rising and falling progressive cycles of human civilizations are preserved, known in the past, and given out according to cyclic and Karmic Law governing evolution of humanity

Are there proofs of the ancient theory ?

Yes. There are. These may be briefly stated; detail exposition being beyond the scope of the present paper. They are :

  • Found in all the ancient sacred literature recorded in symbols, glyphs and allegories – 
  • For example,  hieratic inscriptions in prehistoric monuments, in their ingenious geometrical, astronomical, features and arithmetical proportions; in the ancient literature as the Vedas, Zend Avesta, Egyptian, Chaldean. Mayan, Chinese and other ancient peoples.
  • Initiates of sacred science know it.
  • Intuitive and open minded scientists, such as, Alfred Wallace, Armand de Quatrefages, corroborate and testify to it.
  • For the first time in historical period ancient Knowledge in broad outline with proofs and their inherent reasonableness is given out in the Theosophical Movement of the modern era.

Further Reading:

Interested readers are invited to study the two monumental works on the ancient unified science of cosmology and anthropology :
The Secret Doctrine by Madam H.P.Blavatsky
Volume 1 : Cosmogenesis
Volume 2 : Antropogenesis

For a simpler comprehensive summary of the two foregoing volumes on the universal and anthropic evolution inquirers may refer to :

The Ocean of Theosophy, By Mr. W.Q. Judge

Questions or comments are welcome!

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