By Arise India Forum

“I want all the cultures of the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” – M. K Gandhi

“But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life.  Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction.  However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different .“ – Alexander Solehnsitzyn at Harvard University, 1977

20 years of liberalized growth model has led to rapid economic growth in India, but not without bringing it with a share of problems – culturally, economically and environmentally as well.

Globalization has led to a near universalization of standards in economic, political and cultural life of a nation as vibrant and diverse as India.

However, the standards are overwhelmingly Western, and as time goes by – we only tend to see Western paradigms as been emphasized as universal and fit to follow – as if to relegate other non-industrial cultures of the East to a secondary status – fit or qualified only in parts to be digested and appropriated by the Western paradigms.

Its very easy to see examples of the above. Today, its almost pivotal intellectual achievement in India to be able to converse and communicate in English – as it has become a passport to economic opportunities in post-liberalized India. No one laments or gloats over the fact that probably more and more children and teenagers(and adults) are unable to complete a sentence in their native languages, without bringing in a bit of angrezi. Bollywood seems to relegated Indic traditions to the space of legends and myths – while celebrating every bit of Western appropriation..The only indicator of economic “development” and “progress” seems to be GDP growth and how far we go from our native traditions to their Western counterparts in mass consumerism.

The measures in politics, culture and economics proceeds on the assumption that Western paradigms are superior to the native ones, and every region of our planet should develop and mature according to the framework of the West. This irrational belief held by the West is re-in forced by their secular and religion intellectuals who believe that Western systems  of life are the best in theory and in practice the most attractive. The assumption is that only tyrannical governments and ill-informed public is preventing countries from adopting the West in a wholesale manner – and hence have to aided in their “development” by providing them “education”(by Western standards yet again). The subtle inference in all these cases is that the Western model is the best and more beneficial for everyone.

Facts challenge this subtle inference of Western systems being beneficial – the riots in Britain, the crumbling families in Europe(led by Nobel Prize giver Sweden), the increase in unwed mothers in US and Europe, the financial crisis, the sustainability factor  – all point to something very seriously wrong in the assumptions of West on development and progress. And yet these paradigms are increasingly being forced on other cultures via monetary, diplomatic and other policies.

In India, the assumptions made by West and their conclusions thereafter are actively held up and promoted (just like religious propaganda) by  so called secular intellectuals who take the leads in openly aping the West, and pride in maintaining cultural and intellectual inferiority. Although these “leaders” are increasingly being questioned, we need a intellectual framework to  take on the “myths” of the dominance of Western paradigms, and their role in shaping world history through “beneficial” influences.

Rajiv Malhotra’s recently released “Being Different”( takes the opening shot at these assumptions and myths that West has been propagating across different channels. The book is about how India is different from the West, and how Indic frameworks, concepts and perspectives of life can actually help in making the world a much better place. The book attempts to signify the Indic culture from the point of view of Indian intellectual tradition and its uniqueness in integrating diverse streams of humanity. How are the traditions of Indic civilization  different from those of the West, and what is the resulting worldview as result of synthesis of these traditions?

This differentiation gives a unique position to the Indic civilization, and presents it as a counterpart to the Western traditions rather than yield to its forced intellectual hegemony – and whose concepts can actually play a major role in integrating diversity, rather than trying to homogenize nations, traditions and concepts.

A Full integration of many faiths, including science is possible within the dharmic traditions of India,  which also offer a model for environmental sustainability. A stage is set for more informed debate between West and India – rather asymptomatic of current times, where dharmic traditions are supposed to make ground for Western ones – and one which Western homogeneity is supposed to dominate the world

Rajiv’s book indicates “Dharma” to indicate a family of spiritual traditions originating in India which are today manifested as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Dharmic traditions are then, a host of cultual and philosophical values/concepts which originally flowered in these native traditions.

The non-aggression of Dharmic traditions, and their extraordinary high level of tolerance is nothing more than the manifestation of a underlying unity between them at a philosophical level. Dharma, itself, however is complex to define, and the book attempts to define only some of its dimensions, while highlighting the failure of translations of dharma as “religion”, “path”, “law” and “ethics” as plainly misleading. “Being Different” holds that concepts of Dharma available in Sanskrit are non-translatable in English; for they encompass a diversity of lifestyle and views that have evolved over thousands of years.

Rajiv contrasts this with the Foundational concepts of the West; which hey says; are fundamentally rooted in Judeo-Christian historical revelations, and Greek reason. The resulting cultural construct as a result is a synthetic entity; which is dynamic – yet inherently unstable and leads restless expansionist projects in every domain(political, cultural and economic) – which has had devastating impacts on the Westerners and non-Westerners themselves. Dharmic civilizations are inherently stable due to underlying unity of philosophical principles.

“Being Different”, thus reverses the gaze on the West, and focuses on its problems(including arrogance) and blind spots, and how they have appeared as a result of their notions of divinity, cosmos and humanity – which are markedly different from that of India.  Western civilization has been subject to self-critique, but this one is different in the sense that it offers the critique from the perspective of dharma.

The book portrays dharmic traditions not as eclectic collection of disparate ideas, but as cultural force which has a unique ability to manage profound differences, engage creatively with various stakeholders(in philosophy and culture) and peacefully integrate the many different strands of humanity’s worldviews. These ideas are in contrast to Western assumptions, and these ideas are explored in depth in the book. Rajiv’s “Being Different” offers 4 major areas of distinction between Indic and Western civilization – these will be analyzed and explored in depth in subsequent blog posts –

  1. Embodied Knowing versus History-Centrism
  2. Integral Unity versus Synthetic Unity
  3. Anxiety over Chaos versus Comfort with complexity and Ambiguity
  4. Cultural Digestion versus Sanskrit non-translatable







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