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At the Feet of The Mother

VIII. NATIONALISM. East and West (XII)

The main difference between our country and Europe is this, our life is turned inward, Europe’s outward. We judge of good and evil, etc., from the point of motive, Europe judges it on the basis of action done. Knowing God as one who dwells within and who knows all that passes in our minds we seek Him in the soul, Europe looks upon Him as the King of the world and seeks and worships Him in the world outside. The heaven of Europe is in the material world; worldly riches, beauty, luxury are welcome and to be sought after; if they imagine any other heaven, that too is a reflection of these riches, beauty and luxury. Their God is akin to our Indra, who rules his world empire, sitting like an earthly monarch on a bejewelled throne, swollen by the hymns and prayers of a thousand flatterers. Our Shiva is the supreme among gods, yet he is but a beggar, out of his senses, uncaring and forgetful; our Krishna is a youth, fond of laughter, fun and love, it is in his nature to be playful. The God of Europe never laughs or plays, since His majesty is hurt by these activities, His godhead suffers. The extrovert attitude is at the back of it — signs of wealth are, for them, the support of splendour, they cannot see a thing unless they see the sign, they have no divine, no subtle vision, everything is material. Our Shiva is a beggar, but to the spiritual seeker he easily gives away all the wealth and wisdom of the three worlds; he is generous to a fault, but the wisdom beyond the reach of the wise is his inborn possession. Our loving, gay Krishna is the hero of the Kurukshetra, father of the worlds, friend and companion of the universe. India’s immense knowledge and subtle vision, unfettered divine vision pierces through the material veils and brings out the inner attitude, the true truth, the inner and subtle principles.

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The same order is observed about good and evil. We look at the inner attitude. There may lurk holy feeling behind an activity that we condemn, just as behind the outwardly good or sanctimonious conduct may lie hidden the self-seeking of a scoundrel; good and evil, joy and sorrow are subjective factors, the outer activity is but a veil. We know this; though for the sake of the social order we respect outward good and evil as evidence of the activity, but the inner attitude is what we really cherish. The renunciant, sannyāsin, who behaves like inert-mad-fiend, jaḍonmattapiśacabat, as beyond rules and conventions, duty or otherwise, beyond good and evil, such a one, who has risen above laws, we call the supreme person. The western intellect is unable to accept such a principle; he who behaves as inert it treats him as inert, he who behaves as if he is mad it treats him as off his head, he who behaves like a fiend, it treats him as a disgusting, lawless devil; for it has no subtle vision, and is unable to look at the inner attitude or truth.

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Bound to this outward view of things European scholars say that at no time was there democracy in India. In the Sanskrit language words to describe democracy are not found, those days there were no legislative bodies like the modern parliament, the absence of the outer signs of democracy denotes the absence of democracy. We too on our part have been content to accept as valid this western view. In our ancient Aryan rule there was no lack of democracy; its external instruments were no doubt insufficient, but the democratic attitude permeated the core of society and the government, and stood guard over the people’s welfare and progress. First, every village was run entirely on democratic lines, the villagers would come together and, on the basis of the general will and guided by the elderly and leading personalities provided for the administration of the village, and of society; this rural democracy was kept intact during Mughal rule, it vanished only the other day, under the oppression of the British government. Secondly, even in the small principalities, where there existed conditions favourable to a convention of the masses, this custom was in force. In Buddhist literature, in Greek records, in the Mahabharata there is abundant evidence in support of this. Thirdly, in the larger kingdoms, where it was impossible for these ingredients or external conditions to be available, the democratic attitude guided the monarchy. The subjects may not have a legislative body, but neither did the king have the least right to pass laws or modify the existing laws. The king was but the keeper of the codes, conventions and laws which the subjects were in the habit of observing. The Brahmins, like the lawyers and judges of today, would explain to the king these regulations admitted and observed by the subjects and they would record in writing the gradual changes which they had observed. The responsibility of governing was indeed the king’s, but that power was also severely limited by laws; other than these the king had to act in accordance with the wishes of his subjects, he would never do anything that might displease his subjects, this political practice was observed by all. If the king violated this rule, the subjects were no longer obliged to respect and follow him.

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The unification of the East and the West is the religion of today. But in this task of unification, if we consider the West as the foundation or the chief support we shall be making a grievous error. The East is the foundation, the chief support. The outer world is established in the inner, not vice versa. Respect and emotion, or inner attitude (bhāva), are the source of energy and activity, one has to be faithful to one’s inner attitude (bhāva) and sense of reverence, but one is not to be attached to the application of force and the external forms and means of activity. The occidentals are busy with the outward forms and means of democracy. But the external form is only for the purpose of expressing the inner attitude; it is this attitude that shapes the form, it is one’s reverence that creates the means or the instrument. The occidentals are so attached to the forms and instruments that they are unable to notice that in their external expressions the inner attitude and reverence are languishing. These days in the eastern countries the inner attitude and respect for democracy are becoming fast clearer and creating external means and building its outward forms, while in the western countries that feeling is getting dimmed, that respect is much attenuated. The East has set its face towards the dawn, moving towards the light — the West is moving back towards the dark night.

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The reason for this is the ill effects of democracy that follow from an attachment to its outward forms and instruments. So long, having created a government wholly favourable to democracy, America was fond of declaring that there was no other country which was equally free. But, in reality, the President and the executive officers, with the help of the Congress, rule despotically, and support the wrongs done by the rich, the injustice and the all-consuming greed, and they themselves grow fat by the abuse of power. The subjects are free only at the time of electing representatives, but even then the rich maintain their power through huge expenditure, and even later, by buying up the representatives of the people, they exploit and dominate arbitrarily. France is the birth-place of democracy and freedom, but the administrators and the police who had been created as instruments to run, according to the people’s wish, the departments, they have now turned into numerous miniature autocrats, of whom the people are afraid and tremble. Such a confusion has not taken place in England, it is true, but the other dangers of democracy have declared themselves there. Since the government and politics are determined by every change in the opinion of the fickle and half-educated electorate, the British race has lost its earlier political tact and is faced with danger from within and without. In order to maintain their interest and influence, the rulers, devoid of their sense of duty, by tempting or by trying to put fear into them or else misleading them, are perverting the mind of the people, adding to its fickle-mindedness and restlessness. Because of these factors some people who look upon democracy as an error are becoming sworn enemies of freedom, on the other hand, the number of anarchists, socialists and revolutionaries is going up. The conflict between these two groups is going on in England — in the sphere of politics; in America — in the conflict between workers and capitalists; in Germany — among ideological groups; in France — between the army and the navy; in Russia — between the police and the assassins; everywhere there is confusion, excitement, absence of peace.

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Such a consequence is inevitable for the extrovert outlook on life. For a while, swelled with rājasic forces, the asura grows powerful, great and glorious, then its inherent defects begin to come out, and everything breaks and dissolves. The country whose main principle of education is the value of inner attitude and reverence, willed and non-attached activity, only in such a country by its synthesis of the inner and the outer, the East and the West, can the social, economic and political problems find a satisfactory and practical solution. But we shall not be able to arrive at a solution if we follow western knowledge and education. We shall have to assimilate the West by standing firm on the basis of the principles of the East. The foundation within, the expression without. By adopting western instruments we shall be in danger, we have to create in keeping with our own nature and the eastern view of things.

(Dharma, No. 22, January, 1910)

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