Interview with Dr. Roy about Indian culture: „Indian society is very much influenced by Buddhism“

von Ralf Ostner

Global Review had the pleasure and honour to have an interview with Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy about Indian culture and society. Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy is an Indian poet writing in English and Hindi. He has authored and edited more than a dozen books on English poetry, Hindi poetry, Indian English Poetry, Indian English Fiction, Peace Literature, Comparative Literature and English Language Teaching. He has contributed various research papers, poems, book reviews to different national and international journals, magazines and anthologies of repute. He has been honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award by Indian Institute of Oriental Heritage, Kolkata in 2015. He is an academic, and editor-in-chief of Ars Artium (http://www.arsartium.org/index.html), an international research journal of humanities and social sciences published from New Delhi. The Social, Cultural and Spiritual Dimensions of Modern Indian Poetry in English (2017) and Realm of Beauty and Truth: A Collection of Poems (2016) are his recently published books, besides Premanjali (2009), a collection of poems in Hindi, and The Melodies of Immortality (2012), an anthology of poetry in English.

 

Interview with Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy, President of World Association of Authors and Researchers, and editor-in-chief of Ars Artium

Global Review: Dr. Roy, Western development policy was long time influenced by the works of German sociologist Max Weber and particularly his famous book, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism (1916). According to Max Weber the work ethic of Protestantism, especially the predestination dogma of Calvinism promoted the emergence of capitalism, therefore it developed at the beginning mostly in Protestant cultures and states as the Anglo-Saxon, USA and Great Britain or Netherland. According to Max Weber, Catholicism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam were cultural obstacles for the development of capitalism, because they believed in fate, karma, had a lazy work attitude, would consume and not invest, etc. However today Confucian countries as China, South Korea and Vietnam or Hindu India are economic powerhouses and some experts even see now Confucianism in a total positive manner and declare it as success factor for China’s rise. Are cultural factors so important or political and economic factors more important or have all these religions and philosophies been weakened by secularization? How does Weber’s theory fit to the present development in India, China and Asia? And do you think in today’s India there are real cultural obstacles for the development of the country?

 

VKR: Religions and philosophies have their own stance and secularism has its own importance. We can’t keep any of them aside on the way of development of a vast multicultural country like India. Secularization does not weaken any religion or a nation; it paves the path of believing in pluralism and this way bringing all together for development of a nation. Religion is a personal thing; it should not be often generalized. People of the same faith have differences in their opinions. Practice of a religion for the sake of practice is good and it does not harm a nation in its development. If a religion is influenced by expansionism, it develops extremism that leads to all kinds of violence that we have read in history books and also hear time to time. Such a faith is overpowered by blind-faith. It lacks peace and without peace all round development is not possible.

A democracy can’t be imagined without secularism and pluralism. China is not a democracy and all other Asian countries are not democracies. India is a vast democracy and at the same time due to economic reforms democracy followed capitalism here. Yes, there are significant cultural obstacles for the development of India. Max Weber, in his studies, has described about caste system, dogmatic doctrines, feudal system, absence of capitalism due to some kind of belief system and many more issues about the social and cultural conditions of India in his popular book. These issues directly or indirectly affect development of India besides poverty, corruption, over population, unemployment, and lack of fixed political vision.

Global Review: In his famous work The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington designed 8 civilizational circles, Protestant, Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shintoist, Islam, etc. and declared that globalization brought back an identity policy by political leaders which were influenced by religion. As only the secularized upper and middle class enjoy “CNN culture”, the downtrodden and lower classes rely on religious identity policy and charismatic antiestablishment politicians give them a voice. He came to the conclusion that the “Christian West” would come in a clash of civilizations with Islam and Confucianism. Hinduism was no problem. Some people see the present situation with spreading Islamist fundamentalism and China as new competitor of the West as a proof that Huntington was right. Critics say that it is not a question of civilization, culture and religion, but of politics, that you have to distinguish between Islam an Islamism, that most conflicts occur within the so called civilization circle itself. What do you think of Huntington’s theory?

 

VKR: Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order is an expanded version of his article on foreign affairs. He discusses that the modern world crises are concerned with civilizations, cultures, religions and politics. When the whole world is well confirmed that the oldest Indian culture and religion always accept oneness of the humanity popularly known in a broader sense by a phrase “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam”, there are conflicts between other cultures and religions. Huntington says that the first ‘Gulf War’ was a clash of civilization and more is possible. There is difference between modernism and Western culture, and people throughout the world, except West, are more influenced by modernism than the Western culture. Surely, in the global context, identity is a great question for the Asians, Africans and some others where religions fill the gap. But when the politics is influenced by religious fundamentalism, it certainly causes clashes because religious fundamentalism is based on the theory of preserving cultural identity which lacks modernism. Though Huntington discusses about the influence of modern lifestyle by the believers of religious groups too, but the present global situation obstructs rise of universal culture due to politics. Cold war is its greatest enemy followed by pseudo nationalism.

 

Global Review: The West had many important philosophers—from the Greek Aristotle, Plato to modern thinkers as Machiavelli, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Popper to the present structuralists and postmodernists. How much influenced are Indian philosophers and the Indian elite by Western philosophers? Has India its own influential philosophers? Who are they and what are their main ideas and teachings?

 

VKR: Western philosophers are well known in India and their philosophies are studied here in all universities. Western education system was implemented in India during British rule but with scope of some questions.

When we talk about Indian philosophies and philosophers we begin with the Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda); Upanishads; four Upavedas: Dhanurveda, Gandharvaveda, Ayurveda and Arthashastra; six Vedangas: Shikshsa (phonetics, phonology), Chhandas (prosody), Vyakaran (grammar and linguistics), Nirukta (etymology), Kalpa (ritual) and Jyotisha (astrology and astronomy); and the rishis (sages), who are mentioned in them.

Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta are six systems of ancient Indian philosophy promulgated by Gautama, Kapila, Kanada, Patanjali, Jaimini, and Badarayana respectively, besides the philosophies of Buddhism, Jainism, Charvaka, and others.

The main ideas of Indian philosophy are about cosmology, metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, and religion. The dualist philosophy that everything originates from the self (purusha) and matter (prakriti); what is valid knowledge and how to attain it; how to attain salvation; and self-discipline are the basics of Indian philosophy. The concepts of atman (self or soul), karma, and moksha are in the core of Indian philosophy. We have the concept of one God, who is known Brahman or Para Brahman Parmeshwar or Paramatma (Supreme Soul or Supreme Divinity). The Sanskrit and Hindi word Aum/Om is a symbol of Brahman. The same, according to the philosophy of Saguna Brahman, is believed of having three forms – Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Mahesh/Shiva (the Destroyer) – these three forms are also known as the trimurti. There is a popular philosophy of Satyam (Truth), Shivam (Goodness, Auspicious), and Sundaram (Beauty). There are trigunas (three tendencies/qualities in Sankhya philosophy) – Sattva (goodness), Rajas (passion), and Tamas (darkness). Sat (Truth), chit (Consciousness), anand (Bliss) – Satchidanand, is another name of Brahman. These all preexisting ancient Indian concepts of three components gave way to the Western philosophers to use the term ‘trinity’.

Yoga is internationally known today and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the first Yoga philosophy. Valmiki is popularly known as Adikavi (first poet) who wrote the Ramayana and Veda Vyasa is credited with the Mahabharata, the longest epic of the world, and the Puranas besides other scriptures. Coming to the later age, almost every educated Indian knows about Adi Shankara, popularly known as Jagadguru Shankaracharya, the greatest exponent of the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy. Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) was a great philosopher whose books Arthashashtra and Chanakya Niti are the first books of political science and governance in the world. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi (Eight Chapters) is the oldest book of grammar that deals with many branches of linguistics. Ayurveda is the oldest kind of medicine used in India and Charak Samhita is the oldest medical book written by Charak. Sushruta was an ancient Indian physician. So as vast is India, so many geniuses it produced from ancient age to the present. It is not possible to name all of them here.  

Indians always remember Kabirdas, Tulsidas and so many other great saint-philosophers of regional languages. Here again we need to discuss about the concept of Brahman – the Supreme Reality – considered to be genderless, however, commonly used as male. There are two beliefs: Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is with attributes and He is believed to be incarnated in human forms in different ages for the welfare of humanity. Nirguna Brahman is without attributes and formless. Tulsidas favours the philosophy of Saguna Brahman, and Kabirdas favours the philosophy of Nirguna Brahman.

Coming to the philosophy of aesthetics, we always remember the sage Bharata Muni who wrote the book Natya Shastra and propounded the theory of rasa in drama which is his great contribution to literature. There are five schools of Indian aesthetics: Alankar, Riti, Dhwani, Vakrokti, and Auchitya. Abhinavgupta, Bhartrihari, Vamana, Anandavardhana, Kuntak, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and also Rabindranath Tagore are some of the names associated with Indian aesthetics. Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Paramhansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindo are some of the famous Indian spiritual philosophers of later period. Brajendra Nath Seal is known as a humanist philosopher. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is both spiritual and educational philosopher. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is a modern literary theorist and feminist critic.

Talking about political philosophers, we always remember Mahatma Gandhi whose philosophy of non-violence (during British age) is still relevant today in India.

Global Review: How much influenced is Indian society by Buddhism? Buddhism never played an important role as Hinduism or Islam did in India. Therefore it seems strange that Modi is promoting Hinduism and Buddhism as cultural heritage of India while portraying Christianity and Islam as foreign religions brought by invasion and colonialism. The Communist Party of China also sees Buddhism a part of its cultural heritage, tries to infiltrate and instrumentalize Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism for its own purpose and perceives the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong as Buddhist competitor who want to overthrow the government. Is China and India competing as leading nations in the sphere of Buddhist cultural heritage as Part of their soft power and charm offensive?

 

VKR: Indian society is very much influenced by Buddhism. It is not considered very much different from Hinduism. Everyone knows that Gautama Buddha was a Hindu (Kshatriya) prince who, after seeing pain and suffering of the people, left his palace in search of knowledge and attained enlightenment and called Lord Buddha. Even school going children in India study and know about the life and main teachings of Lord Buddha. The meditation state of Buddha is very easily identified by a child.

Buddhism played an important role in the period of Ashoka the Great, an ancient emperor of India who is credited with unifying India under his reign. It was that time when Buddhism was spread in many other countries of the world. It was only Buddhism after Hinduism that was followed in Indian subcontinent and nearby Asian countries. Buddhism is always known for peace and brotherhood like Hinduism. The whole world will never forget the 150 feet high and 1,700 years old Buddha statue near the Hindu Kush mountain in Afghanistan destroyed by Taliban, the extremist group, in 2001. Islam came to India later. How it spread here during those times is well known throughout the world.

People have observed communal approaches of the Prime Minister and his partymen many times, both in words and actions, only for political gain. But it is well known that India is a multicultural and multi-religious country. It is a secular democratic country in which all are free to believe in what they like and all have to respect others’ faiths. Most of the Indians believe in brotherhood and peaceful co-existence. You are also right by saying that Islam and Christianity were brought to India by invasions and colonialism respectively. In India generally people do not pay more attention to religion and religious aspects of politics. For Indians, religion is a personal thing; it should not and cannot be generalized.

 

Global Review: Some secular and Christian critics of Hinduism and Buddhism are questioning their peaceful image and claim that they have a hidden agenda, are in reality religious warrior with apocalyptic elements. Hinduism and Buddhism were only so peaceful as they wouldn’t be strong enough at the moment, but would lift their peaceful camouflage if it became a powerful movement as Islam, which would be the religion of warrior Mohammed. In the case of Buddhism they quote the Shambhala-Mythos in the Kalacakra-Tantra and in the case of Hinduism they quote the Arthashastra of the old Indian warrior caste Kshatriyas as proof for their theory. They also claim that Hinduism and Buddhism had structural and ideological similarities with German National-socialism and fascism and stick to the fact that the German Nazis were fascinated by these religions and had contacts with some of their religious leaders as the Dalai Lama. As modern examples for Hinduism and Buddhism as warrior’s religions they see the atrocities in Buddhist Myanmar and Sri Lanka or the Hindu nationalist fanatics of the BJP and the RSS who are burning down Christian temples or Islamic mosques. And they also quote the messianic and apocalyptic texts of the Chinese Buddhist mass sect Falun Gong which wants to bring down the CPC in its “Comments”. What do you say to such accusations?

 

VKR: It is evident that Hinduism and Buddhism have similarities, and for both of them peace and brotherhood are of immense importance. It is also evident that there are many things that you will find similar in Hinduism and all other organized religions of the world. Since the time immemorial Indians believe the world as a family (“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”). During recent years some incidents of communal clashes took place due to political reasons. One of the reasons was that people remember the history that is full of attacks by foreign invaders and tyrants who destroyed age old religious places in India and nearby countries and believed in spreading their religion by forceful conversions and all tyrannical activities for centuries. During British rule what kind of religious conversion had started the same continued due to poverty in India.

 

Any kind of approach to spread hatred poses a great danger for society and this must not be supported by anyone. People have realized the ‘hidden agenda’ of the political party you mention here and they are ready to change the government in order to save the country from that ‘agenda’. But the unemployed youths are easily misled by the political parties. Even many educated people come under clutches of pseudo-nationalism and have been seen supporting antisocial activities. This is surely a great danger for the nation. Now a perception has developed in India that all political parties think for their own powers and not for the welfare of nation. The Chinese narrative is also discussed in India but that cannot go further.

 

Global Review: Some experts compare the Arthashastra with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Is this comparison useful or misleading? What is written in this book, who was the author, what was the historical background and is it still influential in the Indian elite?

 

VKR: Arthashastra is a popular book of ancient India. Kautilya, who is also known as Chanakya and Vishnugupta, is credited as the writer of this book. This book deals with many aspects of governance that a king should be aware of for the welfare of his country including broader views and theories on judiciary, ethics, diplomacy, economics, trade, warfare, social welfare, agriculture and many more. All educated Indians are very much aware about Kautilya – his life and works. He is popular with the name Chanakya, and his book Chanakya Niti (Policy of Chanakya) is read by almost all Indians both in rural and urban areas. He was a great scholar of political science at Takshashila University (presently in Pakistan). His greatness lies in destroying Nanda dynasty due to an insult and establishing Maurya dynasty as the ruler of Magadha Kingdom.

 

Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a unique classical book of its kind and I don’t think it can be compared with any other books written after it, with or without its influence. This book is all time influential in India.

 

Global Review: Jabin T. Jacob PhD, Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies in Delhi analyzes the further implications of the soft power and image of India for the Sino-Indian relations in the South China Morning Post (September 2nd, 2017):

“It is a little-noticed reality that ordinary Chinese view India somewhat differently than they do other major global powers. While there is a template of nationalist rivalry with Japan and another of a larger, geopolitical rivalry with the United States, neither template fits the relationship with India. (…) Meanwhile, the challenge in India is to look at China more holistically as more than a security and/or economic challenge. As China’s early attempts to turn the narrative on India both within China and in the neighbourhood show, there is an ideological and political challenge that it perceives from India. Many ordinary Chinese know India to be a democratic country but also point out that it is ‘chaotic’, ‘dirty’ and ‘poor’. But if such a country can also grow faster than China, its citizens also possess political liberties, and, to top it all, is also now capable of standing up to it militarily, then the consensus about India being democratic but ‘ineffective’ or unable to catch up with China will eventually crumble. India, of course, cannot change its identity as a democracy, something Indians are justifiably proud of, but New Delhi must understand the implications of Beijing’s actions and work doubly hard to prevent a fraught security relationship with China from also turning into one where suspicion and prejudice dominate also at the people-to-people level. And Beijing, if it knows what is best for its own standing in Asia and the globe, will do likewise.”

Do you think besides military and economic conflicts India’s soft power will also create an ideological conflict between China and India as Mr. Jacob warns? India as the world’s biggest pluralistic democracy versus a new digitalized Leninism and new totalitarianism?

 

VKR: India and China both have different approaches of understanding development. To some extent Mr. Jacob is right. China is not a democratic country and it can take any decision that suits it time to time without feeling of facing any public revolt, but in India taking a decision by the government is not easy due to its vast democratic structure. There are a lot of complications on the way of development and diplomacy. Though in recent years people have criticized the present government for being totalitarian in its approach of governance but it is clear that in India it will not continue for long.

 

Global Review: How secular or religious is the Indian society? Do 100 millions still believe in reincarnation and that they will be born again? Do they really think that if they worship Shiva, Ganesh or other gods that they really exist and they will have a benefit from this? If Indians are celebrating their religious festivals, are these more traditional and family festivals and not that much religious events? Many Westerners often quote the holy cows on the streets in the megacities of India as proof for the deep religious belief that their ancestors will be reborn in animals. On the other side, India is the biggest beef exporter after the USA and Argentine. How does this fit? Is the equation that the lower the class and the caste, the more religious is a person?

 

VKR: Indian society is primarily secular. Yes, people believe in rebirth that is decided by the sum total of their actions in the present birth. People believe in demigods as well as the One, Absolute. Those who study the Bhagavad Gita they believe in the Supreme Reality, and good actions, not about the results thereof, but there are more who believe in demigods. There are many so called spiritual gurus who are responsible for misguiding the people on the name of religions. There are more people who believe in worshipping for the sake of some kinds of benefits. Here we find absence of true meaning of religion. Religious festivals are celebrated as more traditional and family festivals than religious festivals. There is no such belief that all will be born in animals. Rebirth is believed on the basis of actions – good and bad. Yes, cow is known as holy which has many connotations. She gives us milk, like a mother. The reason behind beef export is that when cows become old and ill, and do not give milk, people sell them for money. They forget religious factor at that time. Religious factor does not depend on lower or higher rank in society. It is a very personal thing and it is treated on the basis of one’s own understanding and situation.                

 

Global Review: Modi and his BJP are often termed in the West as “Hindu nationalist”. Critics often stick their finger to the atrocities against Christians and Muslims by Hindu nationalist which was promoted by Modi and the BJP besides the RSS, a fascist organisazation. Modi himself seems to have been an RSS member in his young days. Could you give the Western audience more detailed background information about Modi, the BJP and the RSS and do you think that the term “Hindu nationalist” is correct?

 

VKR: In India also people have the same perception. What wrong has happened during Modi regime that cannot be justified in any way. However, one thing is always left behind that is the population of India. What incidents take place in other countries if their numbers are compared with the incidents of India, then population should also be kept in mind. What you say atrocities that were also the results of reactions to the religious conversion systems prevailed in India and its neighbouring countries. It is very clear when we see decreasing population of one faith and increasing population of other faiths. There are many things that are hidden from common people, one of them is funding from foreign countries for religious teachings and conversion.

 

The term “Hindu nationalist” has become a common term in media these days. The RSS has lost its sanctity and respect that it had earlier after it was founded in 1925. It is due to hate speeches of its office bearers as well as the leaders of the BJP, its political organ. These speeches also come out in reactions to the so called religious leaders of other faiths inside and outside India.

 

I am not more aware about the ideologies of the RSS and other religious or political organisations. What I believe in that is India’s original belief system, “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” – the whole world is one family. This is what the Vedas, Upanishads and other ancient Indian treatises teach us. Those who misinterpret Indian philosophies of brotherhood for the sake of personal gain they can never be true Indians.       

 

Global Review: In our last interview you claimed that caste policy was not dominant in India anymore, but that communalism wouldn’t be the solution for India. Do you speak of Rawl’s communalism or has this another meaning? Could you explain this in more detail? What do you understand under communalism and why can’t it work in India?

 

VKR: Caste policy is used by all political parties for political gain in India, and communalism is a weapon for the BJP only. But it is sure that communalism does not have its lasting effect on the minds of Indians due to their belief in pluralism.   

 

Global Review: In our last interview you explained the traditional Indian school system in comparison with the English based modern Indian school system and saw many positive sides as a better teacher/guru-pupils relation and more spirituality. In the West there is a lot of criticism about the guru system as it would promote hierarchical orders, is authoritarian, lacks the spirit of democracy, independent, creative thinking and rationality, creates dumb, dogmatic and uncritical teaching methods and superstition. Do you think that the present Indian education system needs a reform and which kind of reform would you like to see?

 

VKR: I don’t fully agree with the modern education system of India. When you go to the past of Indian education system you will find the education meant for making one a complete human being, not a machine. Inculcating good values: social, spiritual, professional were in the core of ancient Indian education system besides discipline, the path of salvation. Today education has lost its sanctity due to focus on materialism. It is very easy to find modern educated people in all kinds of corrupt, immoral, illegal and inhuman activities. In India educational institutions were considered temples of learning – sacred places. After westernization of education, wealth management took place of human values and discipline. There were also few flaws in ancient education system but not in the present proportion. The present Indian education system needs a reform to make it more rigorous, value based, and research oriented.



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