east and west
Veera Skanda
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Truth and World

Most of the manifest aspects of a society descend from how it looks at truth and universe, its worldview. Thus understanding how the Indic and occidental worldviews see truth and its relevance to life is essential to understand where most of their other differences come from.

In Indic thought, truth is existential (the reality of existence) and existence is two-fold – essential and phenomenal/manifest, absolute and relative, what exists and how it is related to the world. Thus the knowledge of truth is two-fold, and the pursuit of these two forms is called para and apara – the other and the non-other from the perspective of the knower. Apara is the facet of truth faced towards the knower, and para is the facet that is absolute and faced away from knower or towards the object whose truth is sought.  The knower-known-knowing are distinct in the apara realm, where all the knowledge of phenomenal world is.

Bifurcation of truth in Indian knowledge is horizontal – it separates the frames of reality. And the various aspects of consciousness or reality in either frame are seen as complementary aspects that merge into a single continuum at the higher frame. Thus the transcendental reality in the backdrop rules out conflict of apparently contradicting aspects in the frame of phenomenal reality. In western knowledge, bifurcation of truth is vertical, into what is included and what is excluded from the scope of any aspect.

Implications – Institutions

Since the bifurcation of reality in Hindu knowledge system is horizontal, the opposing tendencies in human consciousness are sought to be reconciled by the social institutions.

In contrast the implication of occidental approach to bifurcate truth vertically results in a bifurcation of human society as insider and outsider. The dichotomy of tendencies in human consciousness reflects as opposing forces in the occidental institutions. For instance communism divides society into two groups with conflicting interests. Abrahamic religions divide society into believers and non-believers. Atheism divides the society into the same categories. Capitalism pretends not to, but actually does divide society into market and marketers. Secularism as a state policy happens to protect well organized religions, but not really traditions that are loosely defined, organized.

Left and Right

Left and Right, the two sides of consciousness representing synthesis and discrimination, are found as two opposing tendencies in the west – resulting in opposing groups in polity and as sustaining mutually conflicting institutions in the society – religion and anti-religion.

In India left and right never were conflicting thoughts – synthesis and discrimination are seen as complementary and are seen as the complementary and inseparable principles underlying creation called Prakasa and Vimarsa. Every institution religious or political, had well defined functions for both these principles. Thus left-right divide in the Indian context was meaningless. The English educated people in India floated this left and anti-left bunkum in the image of the western societies they knew, which is entirely irrelevant in India and has only harmed the vision and policy making with unnecessary terminology and reductionism. This had them attempt to solve problems that did not exist in the Hindu society, and actually end up create problems and dividing wedge between otherwise harmonious elements of the society.

Religion and Ir-religion

Theism and Atheism similarly have no real significance in the Hindu knowledge system. Each tradition contributes to and pursues several subjects some of which are theistic and some non-theistic. For instance the Mimamsa on one side involves rigorous analysis, epistemology, and universal principle of action and on the other side works with polytheistic ritual system. Nyaya system on one hand works with logic, argumentation, subject and object of reality and on the other hand proposes a causal principle Isvara. Thus the Hindu knowledge traditions do not believe in this bifurcation that west so vehemently engages in. There are definitely categories such as Isvara and Nireeswara, Astika and Nastika that have very specific meanings. But none of these goes into the lines of such vertical bifurcation as is seen in the canonical darsanas. Three out of six darsanas are Nireeswara (Mimamsa, Vaiseshika and Sankhya). While the six darsanas are Astika, there are Nastika darsanas like Bauddha and Jaina which are not really nireeswara intoto.

Thus what we find in the traditional Indian knowledge system is a well-organized matrix of ideas and not a bifurcation of schools on any single basis. And hence the traditions that sustain the pursuit of this knowledge system are also not really two-fold but manifold. The religious practices are limited to within traditions, with life outside these traditions belonging to a common substratum of non-theistic but righteousness-based principle – Dharma.

In contrast the occidental knowledge has a very strict line between religion and science, between theism and atheistic/rational thought. They create their own institutions of knowledge, which constantly compete for space in social life.

The words secular and communal have no relevance in Hindu society since the state remained agnostic to religion by policy and based itself in the dynamic principle of morality which applies to every person. None of the ideas really divide people or society as included or excluded. In the occidental thought there is need for an active state intervention to protect religion from atheistic tendencies and vice versa.