India, my Love|Jan 7, 2008 12:00 PM| by:

History of India – Towards a New Approach

Of late, the study of history has become either a dry academic exercise or else mired in political controversies. What is not fully recognised is that a proper study of history can provide a deep insight into the unique genius of a nation and as a consequence, help in awakening this genius in the nation’s psyche.

India is well known as a land of religion and yoga and as a “spiritual” country. But to understand concretely what exactly constitutes the unique spiritual genius of India, we have to re-examine the history of India with a deeper perspective than the one provided by traditional text books on Indian history. In this series of articles, we try to trace the unfolding of the spiritual and cultural genius of India through history and her great attempt to build a civilisation based on the higher and inner laws of life, or in other words, to tell the story of the spiritual enterprise of India.

The Objective View of History – Its limitations

What is the purpose of studying Indian history? The most obvious or immediate answer which comes to mind is that we must know the historical facts of the birth, growth and achievement of the land, nation or civilization in which we are born. If we look at history from this angle, then the corresponding approach to the subject could be a scientific and dispassionate study or record of the flows of dates and events, personalities and dynasties, wars and conflicts, movements and revolutions and the many-sided achievements and failures of the civilization in various fields of life, like economics, society, politics, science and culture. This is, in general, the approach the modern scientific and secular mind has towards history. In this approach the primary emphasis is on the external, visible and the objective or material facts gathered from available sources like archaeology or literature. The deeper psychological and spiritual realities of man and life are either not accepted or given a secondary and subordinate place. This objective view of history tends to explain away every human or historical phenomenon in terms of material, economic, social or political factors. Even religion, which has its source in the spirit, is explained away in terms of purely external and environmental factors.

But the inadequacy of such an approach to human history is obvious. For a human organism is a self-conscious, mental, ideative and emotional being with a recurrent intuition into a spiritual reality beyond mind. So an exclusively or even predominantly objective approach to history cannot give a complete or adequate understanding of the growth and development of a terrestrial organism in whom the inner subjective and psychological being or consciousness has emerged as the governing element of evolution.

The second defect of the objective approach to history is that it is exclusively oriented towards the past. As a result, the word “history” has become almost synonymous with the past. But a study of human history which has no other aim than merely to record the events of the past is not likely to be very creative for a better understanding of the present or the future.

These limitations of the objective view of history create the need for a deeper and broader approach, or in other words, a more integral approach.

    The Integral Approach

Our new approach accepts the positive aspect of the objective approach to history – a firm grounding on facts, for history is the study of human life and cannot be abstract or conceptual like philosophy or science. History should provide a living sense of the human drama. So, whatever deeper psychological and spiritual truths we want to bring to history, have to be related to the available facts of the past assembled with patient and painstaking research by objective historians of the past and present.

The integral approach will attempt to provide a deeper, broader and completer picture of history by bringing in the factors which are missing or ignored or not understood in the objective view of history. To fill in this missing factor our approach will take into consideration the insights of religion, psychology, philosophy and spirituality, or in other words, the perceptions of spiritual thinkers and seers who had this deeper understanding of the shaping factors of history. These are as much objective “facts” in their own respective domains as the visible and objective facts in our material and earthly world. Those who can enter consciously into these higher realms or open their mind to them can see, feel or perceive these invisible forces as concretely as we see, feel or perceive material or earthly realities. There are beyond the rational and scientific mind, higher faculties which can perceive truths that are not known to science or reason.

Thus, our integral approach will be based on the following perception of spiritual seers, ancient and modern:

Our human history is not just a meaningless flow of events, but a purposive march towards a goal. It is His-story, the story of Man and his evolution towards a spiritual destiny.
The human individuals and collectivities are in their essence psychological or spiritual beings, or in other words, consciousness, evolving progressively through the inner and outer experiences of life, towards their spiritual goal.
The outer life of man is the expression of his inner being or consciousness. So behind the outer development of human life in the material, economics, social, political or cultural life, there is an inner psychological and spiritual growth of humanity.
A Nation, like the individual “has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind and a soul behind all these sign and powers for the sake of which they exist.” This soul or spirit of the Nation is one with the spirit of humanity and an integral part of the transcendent and universal spirit which governs the world.(1)
The soul or spirit of each Nation has a mission to fulfil in the evolutionary destiny of humanity and is endowed with a correspondingly unique genius or competence to fulfil this mission.
The Past, Present and Future form an indivisible whole. The Past prepares the Present and the Future is prepared in the Past and Present. The seeds of the Future are cast in the Past and “In the beginning is prepared the close.”(2)

When the history of a Nation or the world is viewed in the light of these perceptions it acquires an altogether different significance from that of the conventional approach to the subject. It becomes a fascinating study of human evolution spanning the past, present and future.

In this approach, the dates are the least important and therefore can be put in the Appendix. The story of dynasties are more important than dates because they help to bring out the pulse of life and human drama. More important than dates and dynasties are the events or movements which are part of the mainstream of human evolution and progress like, for instance, the French Revolution. Much more important than the economic, social and political events and movements are factors or activities which are part of the very essence of human evolution, which is in our approach Growth of Consciousness-like ideas, ideals and values and the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, religious and spiritual quest, and aspiration of humanity and their self-expression in human life. Beyond all these factors, the greatest and the most important are the pioneering individuals or as the eminent historian Arnold Toynbee said “Creative Minority” of individuals who initiate the change. For, in our approach, the Individual and not the collectivity is the prime mover of history, evolution and progress. The collectivity cannot progress by itself. It is only the Individual who can progress consciously and transmit his own progress to the collectivity and make it progress.

One of the major aims of our approach is to bring out the deeper and inner psychological and spiritual significances of outer events and phenomena of history. This gives an altogether different perspective to the way we view or judge events of history. Let us for example take myths and legend. The modern scientific and secular historian accepts the events or figures in myths and legends only if it is supported by objective evidence. So, there is much debate among modern historians on the historical reality of great spiritual personalities like Krishna and Christ and the legends which have grown around their lives and teachings. However, in our approach, the significance of legends and myths lies in the fact that they indicate in a symbolic form the psychological, cosmic and spiritual factors, forces, beings and events which govern or shape terrestrial and human history. So, in our approach, objective historicity of legendary heroes is of much less importance than the inner and outer impact of their life and thoughts and actions on the history, evolution and progress of humanity and earth. Krishna and Christ or the events associated with them like the Crucifixion, or Rasalila of Brindavan or the war of Kurukshetra in which Krishna was supposed to have delivered the great spiritual classic of India, Bhagavad Gita, may all very well be part of legend and have no objective historical reality. But the tremendous impact of Christ or Krishna and their legends on the spiritual and cultural history of India and the West is an undeniable fact.

The other important aspect of our approach to history is the future perspective. Study of history should not be consigned to the past; it must provide a creative insight towards a better understanding of the present and a foresight into the future. The study of history should show how “purpose of everything that happened in the past was to prepare what is taking place now, and everything that is taking place now is nothing but a preparation for the road towards the future;”(3) and also, point out how the manifest potentials of the past and present actualities give an indication of the unmanifest potentials of a nation and her future possibilities.

Significance of Indian History

We were discussing so far the basic principles of a new approach to the study of national history. The next question is what is the significance of this approach to the study of Indian history? Our approach to history has a much greater relevance to the study of Indian history because among all nations or civilizations, it is India who lived more intensely in the inner being, in her mind and soul, than in the outer life.

India is well-known all over the world as a land of religion and philosophy and great saints, sages and yogis. There is also a vague notion that India is a “spiritual” country. There is a deep truth behind these popular conceptions of India. But this truth is not fully understood. One of the main aims of Indian history is to bring out this deeper truth of Indian civilization and culture.

When we study Indian history carefully we will find two great attempts. First, at the top or the center, is the immemorial quest for a spiritual reality beyond Mind, and as a result, a variety of spiritual paths, experiments and discoveries, culminating in a predominantly spiritual vision of life. Indian civilization was founded by such spiritual explorers as the Vedic Rishis, whose experiences, vision and values determined the character of the civilization.

The other attempt is the outer expression of these inner discoveries through religion, philosophy and literature and the endeavour to create a society based not on the principles and motives of economics, sociology or politics but on psychological and spiritual principles. In other words, to create a social organization which felicitates the inner evolution of the individual towards his spiritual destiny.

The history of India has to bring out the unrolling of this spiritual genius of India, its achievements and failures and its future possibilities, the work and mission yet to be realized.

But, how does one trace this spiritual genius of India through its religion, philosophy, and yoga and also in its art and literature? For these are the more direct expressions of the spiritual genius of India. Herein comes the uniqueness and importance of our approach to Indian History. In almost all modern studies or books on Indian history the primary emphasis is on the political, economic and social history with the cultural history assuming a secondary place or treated superficially, stressing on the outer forms rather than on the inner spirit. Such an approach may be valid for the study of the history of western civilizations which aimed predominantly at progress, expansion and mastery over the outer life. But this externalized view would be inappropriate for eastern civilizations, especially Indian civilization, where the inner spiritual quest was the central occupation of not only of its religion and philosophy but also much of its social thought and practice. So in our approach to Indian history, the predominant focus will be on religion, philosophy, yoga, literature and art, especially the first three which will be treated in much greater depth and detail than in the traditional treatment of Indian history. An important aspect of this culture and genius of India is Psychology. For Yoga is nothing but practical psychology. So in our study of Indian history, Indian achievements and insights on psychology will be given as much importance as other activities of Indian culture like religion or philosophy. This doesn’t mean the economic, social and political history will be ignored or neglected. But this part of history which deals with the outer physical and vital life of the civilisation will be treated with a deeper look on its inner significance, in its relation to the inner life of the civilisation and as an expression of the inner being of the soul and mind of the Nation.

References :

1. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol.15, p.29
2. Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p.343
3. Mother, CWM, Vol.12, p.169

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