India, my Love|Aug 15, 2006 4:18 PM| by:

My Indian Heritage

Since Independence there has been a great deal of exhortation, effort and expenditure directed towards Indianising something or the other: Indianising dress, language, industry, psychiatry and so on.

The content of an observation on variable material depends very much on the standpoint of the observer. I am a worker in the field of human interactions. The problems of harmony, disharmony, individual and collective, confront me in actual attempts at the rectification of the machinery involved in their solution: the machinery, parts and functions, forces and energies, fields of action and lines of direction and effect, purpose and economy, such is the concern of my work. Accident of personal circumstances had driven me to the portals of a medical college. Over thirty years of contact showed to me the limitations of the grossly mechanistic models of thought and practice to which medical science or at least its practitioners seemed tethered. The next twenty years revealed to me the tragedy of medical practice, not only in holding on to this model but, in cherishing it with suicidal delight long, long after the merely mechanistic model was being blown literally beyond the sky by other sciences. The socio-economic factors in this game of self-inflicted blindness require separate consideration.

I was forced to look into the question of what is an Indian, firstly by my clients who directly or indirectly related themselves and their sufferings to some Indian Scriptural sayings, and by the currently popular, culture-oriented fashion of psychiatric concern smuggling in words – India, Yoga etc. – and presenting the whole of Indian Scriptures as some sort of psychotherapeutic appendix of Freud, Jung, Pavlov, ECT, and so on, as the hallmark of Indianisation. The patient uses or implies concepts like Karma, Maya, Dharma, God, Guru etc. and the psychiatrist works scientifically on the place of Yoga in Electro-Convulsive Therapy, on the psychotherapeutic effects of Krishna or on the neurotic, Yogic postures in Catatonia as different from Catatonic postures in Yoga – the definition of Yoga being as elastic as the grant given by the Indianising Foundation. (The reader may take a look at the poem, ‘Hunting of the Snark’, by Lewis Carrol, and then meet an Indian, desperately trying to Indianise himself! It may be tempting to define an Indian as one who is desperately trying to Indianise himself! Or better still, one who is frantically telling, exhorting, whipping and bribing every other Indian to Indianise himself!)

In this interesting maze of possibilities in the use of the word Indian, I was forced to search for tools necessary for my interactional use, not necessarily for absolute truths.

At an early stage of this search, I found that there was little resemblance between the strictly practical, personal, experimental and experiential approaches of Krishna, Buddha, Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharishi, Sri Aurobindo, and the bizarre medley of the professional pedlars of Indian Philosophy who profess to be propagating the teachings of the above persons. Once a Sufi happened to meet the Devil. The Devil was in a pose of utter relaxation, luxuriously lying down in a state of perfect rest and comfort. The Sufi wondered, and said, ‘Friend Devil, how is it that you are idling your time. You are usually a very busy fellow. Have you no work?’ The Devil replied: “Alas, it is too true. Since your dear disciples have taken on themselves the task of expounding and propagating your teachings to the four corners of the world, I find myself without a job, seeing that they have taken away all the burden of my work. It is very hard on me!” Well, the thing that struck me forcibly was that none of the above teachers were preoccupied with the business of Indianising anything or anybody. They meticulously used their bodies and their faculties to grow into a wider and greater harmony with the universe around and within. They never set out to create, maintain or perpetuate any tradition called, specifically, Indian. They occasionally commented on their experience and practice, and the results thereof, and opened the door to those who agreed to personally apprentice themselves and grow. For them the scriptural heritage was a platform to help to launch themselves into interactional growth, rather than an umbrella to shelter under or a costly mausoleum or a glossy philosophy to be entombed in. To engage the body in its totality in implementing the beliefs one holds and to modify body and belief to ever-newer and richer modes of expression, and never to be obsessed with fossilising a tradition were the hallmarks of the few but formidable Indians I looked to for guidance.

I venture to present a sample of the concepts that helped me. It is worthwhile noting that the words or concepts referred to are not nouns so much as verbs, ways of being and doing that act as catalysts operating on the body or person that opens himself to them.

A Guru or teacher covers the whole complex involved in the process of learning. There must be someone willing to learn, who is willing because he feels the need, acutely and seriously enough, to learn; the teacher who is both willing and equipped to teach the particular subject of learning; the content of the learning; and also, the material used as learning aids, of which time is a factor. When these factors constellate, the situation and process develop into what is known as the Guru-Sishya relationship. If the Sishya wanting to learn electricity hangs the picture of the professor of electro-magnetics in his room, and then goes on to sell crockery for seven days of the week and does not do one single experiment as per syllabus, and makes someone else sign the attendance register, and by threatening the Guru gets an engineering degree, or if he wants to learn about electricity and then apprentices himself to a barber – well, it is learning of a kind, but not the kind referred to here. If you want to learn swimming, and you have no time or need or inclination to dip your foot even accidentally in water, and you have no time to do that, because you are selling the pictures of the Guru, and you are expounding his teachings on swimming, and you are engaged in telling everyone how your swimming teacher is better than all the swimming teachers of the world, then you should know your true vocation.

Kshetra-Kshetrajna, the Body and I, this Body-I complex is the basis of knowledge. All else flows from this dialectic nucleus. It does not require ages of tapasya to verify this simple fact but there it is. Can anyone know more of himself or the world around except by what his body and its faculties bring to his awareness? This is the foundation of all epistemology. Reciting the sloka with reverence and expounding it to others without experiencing and expressing its implications is the foundation of chaos. Sariram khalu dharma sadhanam. Verily, this body is the instrument of harmony. The instrumental nature of the body has been emphasized by those great pioneers, the Vedic and Upanishadic Rishis and by the great line of the Sufi teachers. This instrument is to be used, studied and developed. That the body is a burdensome appendage mysteriously thrust on us and quickly to be got rid of by the seeker of Mukti, or that it is a gratuitous luxury to be condemned but enjoyed – these views are distortions that crept in at some stage, gaining respectability as religious dogma or as a mystical totem for the anthropologist’s delight. The I-Body complex as a ceaselessly interacting dialectic unit in evolution – that is the explicit observation of Krishna in the Gita, the essence of the Upanishads. Thus, its insistence on the necessity for a long life, for the ‘I’ to realise, to make real, its implications in the body as fully as possible in one life, and for the recurring appearance of the ‘I’, again and again till the evolutionary destiny of the I-Body complex stands revealed. The ‘I’ first becomes manifest in the human frame.

Skill in action is Yoga says Krishna. He also says that it is in the performance of your tasks that you will realise. Realise what? The essential knowledge, the knowledge of the interaction between yourself and your bodily instrument. Even in a simple machine like a car you can only learn its full possibilities by actually driving the car. You can only learn while doing. In all action there are two results – there is that which happens to the thing you are acting upon, and there is that which is happening to yourself and your body the actor in the process. Imagine a man driving his car to Madras to keep an appointment. Imagine him also as taking his eyes away from the dashboard, so to say from a constant awareness of what is happening to his own car. The car costs 50,000 rupees. So the driver has to pay some attention to the question of what is happening to his car irrespective of the appointment he has to keep in Madras. But the body has come to him gratis, free of charge. So he can do what he likes with it. He merrily crashes into other equally drunk vehicles, called persons, on the road, and writes a textbook on the psychology and philosophy of human conflict, wars, family quarrels and so on.

Your body is the latest, most complex vehicle gifted to you at birth. It is your best, most precious birthday gift. It has parts, powers, gears, brakes, carburettors and so on. It provides the support for the owner, called I. Adhyatmajnana means the knowledge of the body, the support of the Atma. Yet, by a sleight of hand all are driven to run after so-called search for and knowledge of the Atma which by definition requires no knowledge, and by this most mendacious interpretation, contrary to what Krishna explicitly states and implies, generations of Indian youth have identified the Indian Heritage as an impractical farce utterly unrelated to their daily life.

This bears repetition. This body is your first, your primary vehicle. Its driving needs to be learnt as much as the driving of any complex vehicle. You must know how to use your speech, your thoughts, your feelings, your sensations for navigating in the world around. The Buddha has made the most detailed study of the body in its totality and in infinitesimal detail.

The function called Upadrashta, the witness, is your dashboard. This function, can be developed, by abhyasa or practice. Looking at your own dashboard is the keynote of the Indian Heritage and of its exemplars. Looking at other’s dashboard is the basis of science.

The Indian Heritage drives me to bring the best out of myself.

Satyam, the concept of truth: That truth, Satyam, which also implies Ritam, Harmony, is a ceaseless process from truth to truth, and not a fossilised formulation is seen from the statement Ritena Ritamapahitham: this truth covered by that truth. Truth can never be for you other than what you and your body realize in their interaction to ever greater accuracy and harmony with the universe around. Is it a fault of the India Heritage if truth has become a moral value to be preached and advertised and rewarded in the office or market, rather than the very foundation of a healthy functioning.

The recognition of compassion as the basic law of life. Now, this word compassion must be taken literally – Anukampa – to vibrate with, to resonate. The word is quite different from pity, and love translated as prema, which word does not occur in the Gita, or the Upanishads as far as I know, and carries with it a flavour of the cinema-romance. Compassion is the universal law – the law of exchange of energies, the law of yajna or sacrifice, the law of resonance underlying all interaction without which this known universe is unthinkable. The awareness of this property is what makes it human. It is the energy behind all action. All the sense organs are mechanisms for mediating the law of compassion; the brain is a huge complex receiver, analyser, integrator and effector of this law of resonance. Whether the immense energies which the law of compassion makes available lead one to harmonious or chaotic action is the headache and starting point of inquiry. The more constricted one’s personality, the more restricted the senses, the less compassionate one is likely to be; and the smaller the amount of energy available, and the more miserable and destructive one becomes.

The concept of Desa, Kala, Patra, of place, time and person, offers a most useful frame of reference for determining the correctness or appropriateness of one’s actions. If a person who has lost his job or his wife were to drop in on you for comfort and you were to recite to him the second chapter of the Gita and tell him that all is an illusion and that job and wife are merely transient reactions of the external body, you would be well advised not to blame it on the Indian Heritage if your friend flings a brick at your head.

The concept of prajna – steady aim as guide to action – is a most potent factor for effective human action. A man without prajna is a rudderless boat, helplessly tossed on the ocean by every passing breeze, says Krishna. An aimless life is a worthless life says the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Prajna is a central concept of the Buddha – introduce purpose into a purposeless world, and quite a few of the Buddhist treatment techniques are based on this, and I have found it most helpful. If you cannot help wandering restlessly about the room in a state of anxiety, your picking up things in the room and arranging the room or sweeping the floor will cut your anxiety by half.

The concept of Adhara and Adhikara, of constitution and fitness: this is an aspect of personal and social functioning, neglect of which leads to much social and personal disorder. If one is a born genius in music it does not automatically give one the Adhikara to teach the piano if the fingers are twisted with arthritis. One of my acquaintances has a first class in mathematics, but is breaking down frequently at the post-graduate Institute where he just has not the Adhara to cope with the demands of the social milieu of the Institute and where he is without much support for his emotional dependence. His mathematical Adhikara would have borne better fruit as a teacher in a mofussil school.

The four major Varnas, translated crudely as hereditary castes, draw attention to the four major modes of human expression of effective personality. Despite the exposition by Yudhisthira in his reply to the Python, Nahusha, stating that Varna can only be determined or assigned to a person after he is about fourteen years of age and also after taking into account his response to the educative processes, can one attribute this aberration to a fundamental defect of the Indian Heritage? It might be advantageous to the doctors if they took note of this concept of constitutional propensities in relation to health and disease.

Jalpa, Vitanda, Vada – the three modes of discourse draw attention to the fact that there are those whose sole object in discussion is to prove themselves right at any cost, those whose sole object is to prove the other fellow wrong at any cost, and those who see discussion as a mutual enlightenment on a common subject. This awareness had helped me greatly in modifying my modes of inter-personal interaction.

Some patient study of the personality of Krishna in the Mahabharata might give us an insight into the type of personality that exemplifies the dynamism of our heritage. The Indian Heritage deals directly with the processes of the human being, his health and his evolutionary destiny. No wonder Krishna said He is the Mantra and the Medicine. The Buddha referred to himself as, first of all, a Physician.

The best way, the most effective way, to turn young people away from all this treasure is systematically to thrust this heritage in the form of moral pills by the very people who have distinguished themselves by demonstrating that the Indian Heritage or its exemplars have absolutely no meaning for them in their daily life. If Hiranyakashyapa had wanted his son, Prahlada, not to think of Narayana, he could well have taken a lesson from our elders and daily asked his son to remember Narayana, worship Narayana, and obey Narayana. He would have soon found Prahlada at the local nightclub for Rakshasas, quaffing alcohol and telling his buddies what an old bore of a father he has, and how loudly he talks of Narayana, even as he was putting a shady deal through, and getting up a lawsuit against his brother. But poor Hiranyakashyapa took his Indian Heritage too seriously and acted truly as he saw fit.

For me, an Indian is one who recognizes that his whole knowledge of anything rests on the awareness of the world around and within provided by his body and its faculties, in their interaction with the ‘I’ inside and the world outside, and who systematically and effectively uses himself maximally towards the evolution of a more harmonious form and function. In fact, he will be impelled to do. Whether he will be a passive victim of this pressure or a willing participant in this game remains to be seen.

More catastrophic than the fission of the atom has been the fission that occurred between the I and its Body, this inseparable dialectic unity. The ‘I’, then goes to the temple or heaven, and the ‘Body’ goes to the doctor or the devil. Somewhere there is the saving link that can only be worked out under the compulsion of ontogenetic or phylogenetic evolution experienced by an individual.

The late Schumacher says that a so-called civilized man operates on the outside world with his limited perceptions and unlimited technology, and this he calls science. To deal with one’s own body and self as a scientific instrument has not yet become fashionable, and that is exactly what all Indian Heritage is about.

Whether Krishna or Buddha or I said something or other is not so important as what you say, and how you give substance to what you say, and if you have found it necessary for navigating your vehicle.

To be an Indian is to be able to say ‘I’, and to take full responsibility for saying it, and to learn to make your complex body express what you say. Anyway, that is the foundation. That is the human being we talk about. My Indian Heritage makes me take one long look at the ‘I’-less textbooks of physiology and health which masquerade as the science of human health! Must you wonder at this state of mushrooming ill-health and insanity!

Indian Heritage is not a top-heavy pyramid encasing a venerable mummy, but is a dynamic launching ensemble for the conscious evolution of man to beyond man.

Indian Heritage is not just a museum of broken pots and arrow-heads of our ancestors, but is the log-book of those great voyagers of discovery and adventure on the ocean of life, who continue to live through us. The question is, are you a traveller, or are you a collector of glossy atlases?

This then, is My Indian Heritage which places Me squarely in the center of a bit of evolving Earth called My Body, and which ceaselessly impels us both to ever fresh adventures of the embodied Spirit to evermore glorious combinations of Form and Function.

Dr. N.C.Surya
(Dr. N.C. Surya was the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore. He later shifted to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.)

(Sourced from ‘The Heritage’, November 1985)

Tags: ,