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-- Dr. Deepa Majumdar, Associate Professor, Philosophy, Purdue University North Central, USA
Every nation has its native essence, its unique historical destiny as carved by this essence, and its unique trajectory towards this destiny. At any point in its history, the citizens of a nation will be existentially apart from their nation, for they each have a birth and a death existentially separate from the birth and ongoing life of the nation. Therefore no citizen can, rationally speaking, claim in essence to belong wholly to any particular nationality. Much as we may love India, no Indian citizen can claim to be essentially Indian. We are each essentially human, and incidentally, by circumstance of birth, citizens of India.
Nevertheless, citizens define their nations and contribute to its ever living history. To do this consciously is far more effective than to do this out of blind patriotism. Inasmuch as our colonial wound is yet to be fully healed, the temptation towards blind patriotism is great indeed – all the more, given the uniquely marvelous history of India. The solution lies not in avoiding patriotism, but in engaging in this love for nation in the most circumspect way possible, with our focus wholly on the heart of our ancient civilization. More than ever before, it is now that we need patriotism to fight the biggest temptation India has ever faced in her chequered history ... namely the temptation of mammon through the unguarded onslaught of capitalism. Since we may not yet be self-conscious enough to comprehend our own exceptionalism, to be articulated realistically and without egotism, we have no choice but to depend on the accolades heaped upon India by the intellectual giants of the western world, some of them from nations that were former colonizers.
Today, the greatest danger faced by a poor “third world” country, when confronted with westernization (understood as capitalism, science, and technology), is the terrible loss in wisdom (and the concomitant anguish) that comes as the inevitable price to be paid for the “benefit” of rank materialism. Whether or not a nation falls into this trap of materialism depends again on its inborn acumen and native telos. In the case of India, this immortal telos was declared by revered Swami Vivekananda to be entirely spiritual and mystical. We are, in essence, not militaristic. Nor are we, in essence, commercial. Our unique heritage, bequeathed by generations of sages, is that which mammon can never destroy, nor money ever purchase ... namely, divine wisdom with a total focus on attaining the mystical state of nirvanic enlightenment. Yes post-independent India has shown few signs of such spirituality. She has fallen far from the Gandhian ideals of non-violence and tolerance. She has surged towards capitalism with a ruthless greed. But what we see so far is perhaps only the short run. Before she turns around to her own native telos, like any other nation, India has to make her own mistakes. This makes it all the more imperative that we Indians remain keenly circumspect about our unique history.
It is in the light of this background that I appreciate all the more, Mr. Salil Gewali’s unique anthology of original quotations on India, collected painstakingly from some of the greatest intellectual giants from the west. Titled,‘Great minds on INDIA',this illustrated work, published by Academic Publications, is, I suggest, all the more welcome and necessary at this phase of India’s history. If we are to overcome not only external dangers like post-colonialism and capitalism, but also internal dangers like caste prejudices and the oppression of women ... if we are to fight the greatest danger of our times – namely the danger of rank cynicism ... we must return to the mystical pinnacle of our civilization to understand our uniqueness. For India stands alone among the nations of the world in having made the direct empirical experience of God realization the heart, hallmark, and principle acumen of her unique historical journey. Where others explored the arts and sciences, or wrote elaborate intellectual theologies, India charted the science of mysticism aimed at the direct, unequivocal realization of God. It is from this fountainhead of God inspired experience that Hindu wisdom draws its power.
In this work, Mr. Gewali includes quotations from credible intellectual giants like T. S. Eliot, A. Einstein, W. Heisenberg, J. R. Oppenheimer, F. M. Voltaire, Mark Twain, R.W. Emerson, and A. Schopenhauer, among others. All these quotations express awe for ancient Hindu wisdom, often seen as the cradle of European knowledge – that very knowledge that was foisted on India through colonialism. Some of these western intellectuals are humble enough to openly acknowledge the far greater maturity of Indian thought compared to European philosophy. Thus, if we have at one extreme, the poet T. S. Eliot saying, “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys,” then we have at the other extreme, the scientist A. Einstein saying, “We owe a lot to Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” Most important perhaps is the fact that there is no quarrel between ancient Indian philosophy and modern western science. In fact, as some western scientists quoted by Mr. Gewali have declared, Indian philosophy makes clearer the ideas of Physics. Thus we have the words of W. Heisenberg, “After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.” Of the ancient Indian texts, the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita have been singled out by the western intellectuals quoted by Mr. Gewali. Thus in the words of A. Schopenhauer, “In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life; and it will be the solace of my death. They are the product of the highest wisdom.”
As to why these western intellectuals express so much awe, notwithstanding their own great accomplishments, can perhaps best be explained in terms of the uncalculated method used by the ancient Hindu sages – a method quite the opposite of that used by western thinkers. Unlike the latter, who use mainly speculative discursive argumentation, the Hindu sages first experienced the loftiest experiences. Only after this direct proof, did they write. There is therefore in their accounts of the divine, an indelible and scintillating stamp of the authentic – a stamp so alluring that foreign intellectuals easily detect in this Hindu wisdom, the highest knowledge of God.
The great love for India, which Mr. Gewali bears, is evident in the care with which he has compiled this work. He has taken care not only to collect quotations on India by source, but to provide us also with valuable biographical information and pictures of the intellectual giants he cites.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Salil Gewali for this unique labor of love.