The Untapped Glory of India
(This article was written soon after the archaeological findings of an ancient city under water off the coast of Dwarka, India)
Once a poverty-stricken descendent of a once-prosperous clan went to a foreign land in search of better prospects in life. He struggled hard to succeed there. Meanwhile a resident of that foreign land heard about this person’s ancestral wealth, came to his family estate, found a vast treasure buried there and became a millionaire.
This allegory illustrates the state of modern Indians vis-a-vis Westerners. Indians are going to the West in search of greener pastures and are struggling to make it big amidst cut-throat competition in the corporate jungles there. But Westerners are coming to India to understand the Vedic philosophy and culture. And by studying, assimilating and adopting the Vedic principles, they are finding deep fulfillment in their lives.
What is it about India that is attracting so many Western people?
Let the Evidence Speak
The June 1, 2003, issue of The Week carried the cover story ‘The Legend of Dwarka’. The eleven-page article reported the archaeological discovery of a submerged city under the seabed off the coast of Dwarka in Gujarat. The team led by Dr S R Rao, one of India’s most respected archaeologists, discovered a well-fortified and planned township that extended for over half a mile from the shore. The harbor found in the submerged city is the earliest clear example throughout the world of natural rock being modified to serve the needs of a harbor. The findings of stone moulds, ancient pottery with inscriptions and especially a seal with the images of a bull, unicorn and goat engraved in an anticlockwise direction, as well as the general layout of the submerged city, constitute strong evidence that this city is indeed the Dwarka described in the ancient Vedic texts. Dr Rao, an emeritus scientist at the marine archaeology unit of the National Institute of Oceanography, writes in his book, The Lost City of Dwarka, about his undersea finds: “The discovery is an important landmark in the history of India. It has set to rest the doubts expressed by historians about the historicity of Mahabharata and the very existence of Dwarka city.”
The Glory of the Vedic Literature
When the Europeans first came across Vedic culture and literature, they were filled with amazement and admiration. Here are a few quotes of the early European scholars:
German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder said, ”The brahmins(the spiritual intelligentsia of India) have wonderful wisdom and strength to form their people in great degrees of gentleness, courtesy, temperance, and chastity. They have so effectively established their people in these virtues that in comparison, Europeans frequently appear as beastly, drunken or mad.”
The Prussian minister of education, Wilheim Von Humboldt, began published an extensive study of the Bhagavad-gita. He described the Bhagavad-gita as “the deepest and loftiest thing the world has to show.”
Many of the manuscripts of the famed composer Ludwig Von Beethoven contain fragments of selections from the Upanishads and the Gita.
The philosopher Georg Hegel compared the discovery of Sanskrit to the beholding of a new continent. He further eulogized the Indian subcontinent as the “starting-point for the whole Western world.”
Another famous German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, became completely enchanted by the Upanishads. Upon reading a translation into Latin, he called them “The production of the highest human wisdom” Considering the Upanishads to contain almost superhuman conceptions, Schopenhauer said , ”It is the most satisfying and elevated reading which is possible in the world; it has been solace in life and will be the solace of my death.”
Frenchman Voltaire, the quintessential Enlightenment thinker, became fascinated with Vedic culture. In 1775 he asserted. ”I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges: astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc.”
Diderot, the French philosopher and writer famed for his work on the encyclopedic, suggested in his article on India that “the sciences may be more ancient in India then in Egypt.”
Jules Michelet, the French historian known for his spirited seventeen-volume Histoire de France, felt certain that India was “the womb of the world.”
Subsequently the Vedic literature became obscured by biased scholarship. Many of these Indologists all conceived of themselves as “bearers of Christian light to ignorant and superstitious Indians”. Their religious convictions impelled them to study the Vedic literature, not open-mindedly to understand those texts on their own merit, but with the express objective of proving their inferiority to Christian theology. Although they superficially appreciated the Vedic literature, their overall presentation was intended to discredit those literature as incoherent and mythological. Consider the following statements of what are considered eminent Indologists:
- H. H. Wilson: As the first holder of Oxford’s Boden Chair for Sanskrit, H. H. Wilson delivered public lectures to promote his cause. He intended that the lectures “help candidates for a prize of two hundred pounds … for the best refutation of the Hindu religious system.” (“Horace Hayman Wilson,” Eminent Orientalists, pp. 71-72.)
- Max Muller: “The ancient religions of the world may have but served to prepare the way of Christ by helping through its very errors.” (Vivekenanda Rock Memorial Committee, India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, pp. 167-168.)
- Monier Monier-Williams: “It seems to me that our missionaries are already sufficiently convinced of the necessity of studying these works, and of making themselves conversant with the false creeds they have to fight against. How could an army of invaders have any chance of success in an enemy’s country without a knowledge of the position and strength of its fortresses, and without knowing how to turn the batteries they may capture against the foe?” (Sir Monier Monier-Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 10.)
This racial bias was present not just among the intellectuals, but also among the politicians, who funded the intellectuals. Consider the statement of the governor general marquis of Hastings wrote, “The Hindoo appears a being merely limited to mere animal functions, and even in them indifferent … with no higher intellect than a dog.” (R.C. Majumdar et al., eds., History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 10, p. 348.)
The biased scholarship was motivated not just by religious zeal, but also by political expediency. It was an essential part of the overall British political strategy to consolidate their hold of India. Since the Indians far outnumbered them, the shrewd British knew that they could rule India only with the cooperation of the Indians. And the easiest way to get that cooperation was by proving intellectually to the Indians that their own culture was pathetically inferior to what the British were offering them.
“The theories we like we call them facts and the facts we don’t like we call them theories.” This succinct remark of Felix Cohen summarizes the British approach to the study of India’s history and heritage.
The Tragedy of Modern India
The British no longer rule India politically, but the worldview they taught continues to rule the Indian intellect. Almost all Indians suffer from feelings of national inferiority resulting from prolonged foreign subjugation and the consequent economic under-development. As a knee-jerk reaction to this inferiority complex, most modern Indians tend to reject everything Indian as primitive and irrelevant. The deep-rooted Vedic culture is treated at best as an embarrassing anachronism and at worst as a serious impediment to progress. Many Indians proudly say, “Mera Bharat Mahan” (My India is great), but they do precious little to even inquire what it is that is great about India. With their words they declare the greatness of India, but through their actions they denigrate everything that is essentially Indian by adopting wholesale Western dress, lifestyle, culture, values and goals. Of course some Indians still appreciate the greatness of traditional India, but even they feel that ancient Indian culture and philosophy can do little to help modern India. “Give up traditional religious and spiritual values, advance in science and technology, develop economically and then India will be glorious.” Ideas like these have gained an unquestioning acceptance that can be compared only to what religious revelations commanded in times of yore. In the blind pursuit of materialism, the fact that citizens of nations with technological advancement and economic prosperity are battered by stress, depression, marital rupture, childhood delinquency, addiction and criminality just does not matter The fact that the Vedic literatures contain astoundingly accurate information on subjects as intricate and wide-ranging as embryology, medicine, psychology, architecture, cosmology, atomic physics, art, politics and warfare fails to prompt Indians to seriously examine their own inheritance.
The recent findings in Dwarka linking archeology and literature may mark the beginning of a new era in world history, an era of correcting the wrongs that have been perpetrated on India. If they lead to a systematic and unbiased study of India’s heritage, we may still arrive at a coherent picture of “the wonder that was India”. A proper understanding of her past glory will empower modern India to play her due role in the shaping of a future world. Or maybe the excitement over the findings will just fizzle out. India is too crippled by poverty to take up extensive archaeological explorations. So says the government. The political unsteadiness ensures that nothing else occupies the national mind for long. The bureaucratic delays throttle individual initiative. And most importantly few Indians have the courage to differ from the overwhelming superstition that economic development alone holds the key to India’s future.
The Power of One True Indian
There was one Indian, however, who dared to differ – His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, founder-acharya of ISKCON. When Srila Prabhupada visited Britain during one of his worldwide preaching tours, a reporter inquired about the purpose of his visit. Srila Prabhupada replied that the British plundered India of all her wealth, but they forgot to take India’s most precious jewel. Srila Prabhupada informed the nonplussed reporter that he had come to offer Britain that jewel – the timeless wisdom of the Vedic literature. Srila Prabhupada presented the essential Vedic conclusions with striking clarity and relevance. To a world striving for universal brotherhood, Srila Prabhupada poignantly pointed out that universal brotherhood was possible only when the people of the world accept the Universal Father, God. To individuals searching for inner fulfillment, Srila Prabhupada explained that the highest happiness can be experienced only when one lives in harmony with the will of God. To a world infatuated by technological advancement, Srila Prabhupada warned that when humanity individually, socially and globally neglects or rejects God, it courts total disaster.
Along with this revolutionary philosophy, Srila Prabhupada brought to the West a unique gift – a practical and joyful way of life, centered on selfless spiritual service to God and all His children. He also presented easy and effective mantra meditation techniques, which constituted the distilled essence of all Vedic methods for self-realization. Thousands of people, when they adopted the Vedic way of life as taught by Srila Prabhupada, experienced their lives transformed from confused despair to enlightened fulfillment. Addicts, who had been wrecked by the perverted pleasures offered by tobacco, alcohol and drugs, found themselves freed from the shackles of self-destructive behavior. Seekers, who had been disillusioned by the mindless pursuit of inane pleasures as espoused by modern society, found unlimited happiness streaming into their lives from the spiritual stratum. Intellectuals, searching for meaning and purpose to the cosmos and the life within it, discovered a body of knowledge that answered fully the deepest questions that humanity has ever pondered. Even scholars could not but appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s comprehensive, coherent, cogent and potent presentation of Vedic knowledge, especially his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, entitled Bhagavad Gita As It Is. “If truth is what works, as Pierce and the other pragmatists insist, there must be a kind of truth in the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, since those who follow its teaching display a joyful serenity usually missing in the bleak and strident lives of contemporary people.” This remark of Dr Elwin H Powell, Professor of Sociology, State University of New York, is typical of the critical acclaim that Bhagavad Gita As It Is has won among the world’s leading scholars. Srila Prabhupada spearheaded a cultural and spiritual revolution that continues to bring meaning and joy to the lives of millions all over the world even today. Thus the evidence that Srila Prabhupada has provided to testify to the glory of Vedic India is not just a few forms of dust dug out from some parts of the earth. His evidence is living and global: it is the vibrant lives of thousands of people, who have dedicated themselves to the selfless service of humanity and God.