The contributions made by ancient Hindu thought during the past century and a half have been considerable both in respect of quantity and quality. In one sense this is due to the impact of western modes of approach to the problems of life based on not so much an occidental philosophy but on the Christian conception of God’s relationship to man and creation. Though commerce was the first among the multiple character of the impact it was followed by conquest as a result of the discovery of the weakness of the Hindu structure already under disintegration thanks to the sapping of its social strength by the Islamic hybridization of life, language and culture. An extraordinary development quiet in keeping with the conquest formula came in the field of indological studies. Eminent and even good and great scholars of Britain and Germany and in a lesser degree in other lands began to discover close interrelationships in languages that apparently belonged to the different racial groups even. The interpretation to the west of the nature of the religious patterns of culture in the East as also the need to carry on the evangelical work of Christianising the east forced this development. The missionaries set to work on this dual role of messengers of the west to the east and of the east to the west. Thus it became very evident that religion from the west, like its more energetic predecessor was evangelical and proselytizing. The threat to Hindu culture and custom had become real. It was all the more necessary to meet this apparent menace. In the meantime, the young and the youthful minds of the east had become admirers of the novel western pattern, for more reasons than one: economical, psychological and social. Rulers got admirers and willing servants. English literature being the royal language became the language of the ‘cultured’ even as Persian fulfilled the role earlier.
It is in this historical perspective we have to consider the advances and studies made in Indological thought in this country. He indeed becomes a great man who could seize the opportunity to work for the reconciliation or adaptation of the western to eastern conditions. That this was indeed the tendency to zeit geist was apparent to anybody who was even normally aware of the times India was passing through. The synthesis if it could be had, a compromise if the former could not be had became inevitable.
The problem of the modern world was thus directly faced by the adoption of the adaptational theory of survival. Wedded to the Indian cultural consciousness the leading thinkers of India began to delve into the scriptural past, of the dateless Vedas and the Upanishads and the Brahmanas, and the tantras, so as to discover anticipations of the modern theories in theology, philosophy, sciences and history. It is of course a natural psychological reaction to the west: and in so far as it was accepted and followed up with the faith it could make for Hindu survival it was all to the good. The linking of the present with the elemental primal past restored not merely dignity to the Indian thought and nature but also integrated it with its natural roots. An uprooted race was no more to be thought of.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of Brahmoism aimed at the reformation of Hindu life in pursuance of this aim of adaptation to the modern world. The synthesis was to be between the intellectual highest of the Upanishads and the Western Christian methods of religious life. The result was not a revolt but a reformation of the spirit of Hindu life in terms of upanishadic Brahmanic thought. It meant in one sense the discarding the large mass of ritualistic observances of the grand social ramifications of popular Hindu religion as found in the traditional setups of caste and marriage. This tendency was undoubtedly facilitated by the resurrection of the opposition between jnana and karma kandas of the Veda counselled by the great Advaita teachers like Sankaracharya, but amplifying the connotation of karma to include all observances not merely Vedic ritual. The jnana kanda so to speak of the ancients was sought to be reconciled with the karmakanda of the christian civilization. This is the incarnation of the eastern soul in the western body. Though it can be said that it proved to be a failure then, the more we see it now it seems to have been quite a success especially after the period of national struggle was over and the demand for the one world has become quite vocal and vociferous. It is a bold experiment. But at that time it moved none deeply. The emotional quality of the western body was unsuited to the eastern genius. It proved to be barren too.
A deep foundational or elemental quality of creativity had to be found. In the Advaita Vedanta and Tantra was found the possibility of such a creative foundation. Swami Vivekananda, the illustrious disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, whilst rejecting the social and sartorial adaptations of the west welcomed the daring scientific progress of the west which he wished to yoke to the Vedanta tantra of the east. The integration of Vedanta with science was facilitated very much for there was the same urge towards egalitarianism, political as well as economic, which was sustained by the intellectual monistic conception. The recognition of the individuals dignity and value, even in an ultimate sense as the pluralists hold, was assured but modified by the concept of the One Universal Spirit embracing and maintaining each in his own individuality – value. It is to this general line of development again we should turn to find the place of Mahatma Gandhi who turned to the Bhagavad Gita and the Isavasyopanishad to build the most epoch making conception of a spiritual world order based on peace, and fostered and sustained by the ethical idealism of non violence and truth. We can obviously see that this is the greatest flower of the Age. A definite challenge to the Western concepts of materialistic democracy and mechanisation of production was thus delivered. A new world based on non-violence and truth was not merely conceived but shown to be possible. The discovery of the dynamism of non-violent truth is the greatest single contribution made by Mahatma Gandhi to world civilization.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Arya Samaj was another major movement during the period. His was a more restricted endeavour. The monism of the Vedanta was to be subplanted by the monotheism of the Vedas. The hymns indeed already declare the source of polytheism lies in the monotheistic conception for the many powers of the One supreme appear really as many gods and goddesses. This defensive reaction against an arid and barren intellectual synthesis is not suited to the genius of Hinduism which ‘rather strangely’ entertains the many and the one in an inseparable unity – many are indeed the One and the One indeed is the many. This may conceivably be trans-intellectual intuition, but this is the basis of the Vedic Hymns and the seers of the Veda. The strenuous efforts to bring back to the western educated the meaning and the message of the Hymnal literature were matched only by the scholarship of the great savant. The Hindu considers the Veda to be ‘The Knowledge’ not merely the beginnings of knowledge as the western savants were trying to make out. Truth that is universal is the content of the Veda. In another sense Arya Samaj was a reaction against Brahmoism in so far as it went to a deeper level of unity than the merely intellectual abstractions and universals.
It must be remembered that about this same period a world wide movement was inaugurated by Theosophic leaders – namely Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott, which felt in Aryanism the possible branch of that universal movement in India. It proved an abortive attempt. But we know the theosophy tried to bring about a splendid synthesis between the ethos and cultures of the several races and religions and though it has at the beginning resulted in a loose syncretism it had begun gradually arriving at a broad cultural harmony between the several branches of the human race. Hindu thought received a cordial reception in foreign lands. We know that the writings of the some of the most famous writers in the west had taken sincerest interest in the cultural traditions of the east and especially of India, and their numbers are increasing every day. The restoration of the mystical tradition to its true universal character owes not a little to the theosophic movement.
Western mystical tradition yearns after the same goal as the Eastern. But the diversity of traditional currents and usages, due obviously to the different kinds of challenges met with in the different parts of the globe, have kept them apart and prevented their being unified or becoming organic or complementary to each other. But it is not so much the integration of these two mystical traditions that is now a serious matter but the reconciliation of the organic growth of the world cultural unity which would embrace the east and the west. A deeper and more penetrating basis of spiritual unity has to be found at the back of the intellectual and the mythical-mystical uniformities or universals (the latter of which is found explained only on the basis of the universal unconscious). Inevitably the one world concept has to be understood either as the recognition of the intellectual monistic possibility or the expression of a deeper passion integral to some deep layer of human consciousness sustaining and supporting the racial divergences. Further it has now profounded a new dialectic, the dialectic of materialism and spiritualism. This is but the recurrence of the old dualism of Samkhyan metaphysics. But this dualism was resolved by Vedanta by making God the master of both the material and spiritual pluralities and conferring on both the unity of organic integration. But this lived in a precarious conception of marriage between matter and spirit under the ordinance of the Supreme Spirit such as karma and so on. Sri Aurobindo, who voices the return to the Vedic Hymns and the Brahmanas in their adhyatmika conception and interpretation only, offers a reconciliation, the most ambitious on record, between the two sets of categories of matter and spirit, unity and plurality, being and non-being, life and death, change and permanence, personality and impersonality, ignorance and knowledge, mortality and immortality and so on. So long as the individual is under the thraldom of matter and ignorance, the struggle between the two forces (or pluralities) of the Spirit would prevail. The transcendence over the ignorance by a direct revelation of the Transcendent by an Act of Grace would restore to both reality and truth. Matter then, would become real to spirit and spirit become real to matter. Matter will become to be recognised as really a power of Brahman and the spirit or soul would be recognised as equally a power of Brahman in evolutionary lines of progressive integration rather than an illusory involvement or real involvement to which it was condemned by Vedantas. All then would be realised as the illimitable Saccidananda. The above account is an over-simplification of the Aurobindonian theory but in a brief article such as the present one it could not but be put and especially in the single perspective, adopted here.
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, is another big contributor to the philosophy of our century. He has remarkably shown how the hard core of all religions personal experience has the supreme quality of catholic unity that provides the pivotal idea for unity in the world distraught. Charity in every sphere for all and ill will to none will reveal the One truth that manifests itself diversely. The east supplies the true catholic universal conceptions of religions with which the western highest intellectual flights of reason are compatible. It is true that certain modern Christian writers argue against the universal religion as conceived by the great seers of India, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Aurobindo and Dr.Radhakrishnan and theosophy. But ungrounded as their fear is on the one hand, it will prove inevitable that they must recognise that peculiarity and particularity whilst compatible as subsumed under the universal are anti-thetical if pursued as ultimate.
Thus during the past century and a half the progress of the Eastern religious thought shows a continuous effort to get the sanction of the soul of Indian culture as embedded in the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads and the Tantras and the Gita on the one hand and the rich contributions of Buddhism and Jainism on the other, for their adaptation to the world needs of the present moment.
We are in a wonderful period of creative unity.