How can we protect India’s culture from rampant westernization?
Short Answer: By an inside-out approach of intellectual introspection and spiritual regeneration.
Our culture is like our blood. Just as blood plays a crucial role in our physical functioning, cultural plays a crucial role in our social functioning. Just as we often notice our blood only when we start losing it due to a wound, we often notice our culture only when we start losing it due to an invading culture. Just as we may not even notice the loss of blood if the wound is subtle or internal, many people don’t even notice the loss of culture when the invading culture wounds subtly by changing their internal values. Just as we need an x-ray vision to recognize the reality and gravity of the loss of blood, people need an intellectual x-ray vision to recognize the reality and gravity of the loss of culture.
What is happening in India today is nothing short of cultural genocide: clinical and total suppression or annihilation of native religion, language, dress, food, customs and symbols. Unlike other forms of genocide, where the victims resist and retaliate, cultural genocide often transforms its intended victims into its intentional instruments through value-perverting media like ads, billboards and commercials. These media window-dresses and dubs this cultural genocide as progress. Consequently, people embrace as symbols of progress the trappings of the invading materialistic culture: the skimpy dresses, the gaudy trinkets, the noisy musicals, the smutty gossips, and the junky food. The Bhagavad-gita (16.8-9) points to this self-chosen tragedy when it outlines how the ungodly become misled into celebrating untrammeled materialism as welcome progress. Those thus misled neglect and reject as regressive outside-in approaches to cultural protection like moralizing or moral policing.
Just as the cultural genocide worked inside-out, the cultural revival needs to work inside-out. This inside-out approach begins with urging people to undertake an intellectual introspection of their identity and destiny. When materialism’s promises are subjected to this intellectual examination, its prognosis turns out to be inconsolably gloomy: we are dying bodies struggling in vain to satisfy our craving minds. This gloomy prognosis is becoming evident in the chilling statistics of depression, addiction, suicide, divorce and youth delinquency that inevitably haunt materialistic cultures.
A similar intellectual examination of Gita wisdom reveals a much brighter picture of our identity and destiny: we are everlasting souls with the potential for unfettered spiritual happiness. Our potential for happiness is tethered by unrestrained materialism and is unleashed by holistic living that gives due weightage to both our material and spiritual sides. This holistic living was integral to the devotional culture of ancient India. It served as a time-honored expressway for millions for millennia to activate and achieve their potential for inner happiness. Over time when people forgot this purpose of the devotional culture and became allured by the promises of materialism, then they started seeing the culture as restrictive and regressive.
But when Gita wisdom helps people grasp the purpose and potential of India’s devotional culture, then they start realizing that the culture that has sheltered and guides their ancestors for millennia is their indispensable and irreplaceable national legacy. This recognition inspires them to preserve that culture zealously – not just as a fossil from their national past, but as a freeway to their spiritual future.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, used this inside-out approach for not just regenerating devotional culture in India but also propagating it all over the world, inspiring thousands of Indians and non-Indians to adopt that culture for reclaiming their spiritual glory. His approach is a standing invitation for all of us to become similar intellectual and spiritual agents of cultural restoration.