Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, The Triple Transformation - Track 303

Barbarism, Philistinism and Culture

For education this whole psychological understanding is very important. For mothers, fathers, teachers, this understanding is very important because children have basically physical and vital needs and they have been fed with some kind of mental ideas and every mental idea that is fed into the child's mind is like foreign material to the child's psychology in the beginning. That is why very often children begin to wonder as to who has created studies at all and why should there be so much of study and why so much in detail and why so many pages after pages have to be studied. Because every idea that is thrown into the mind is a foreign material and is not congenial to the normal rhythm of life. So the question is as to how to make the child understand the importance of ideas and to habituate the mind to enjoy the ideas.

To make the mind capable of enjoying ideas and capable of controlling the vital and physical needs by the power of ideas is the first step of culture. There are three states in which human beings live: the state of barbarism, the state of philistinism, and the state of culture. Those who are interested only in food, housing, clothing and nothing else, are living in a state of barbarism. Even a barbarian takes care of these three things, and is very much tied up with these three things. The physical needs – satisfaction of these physical needs – is all that is of importance to the barbarian. The satisfaction of the vital needs is the level of philistinism. It is slightly higher than barbarism and it takes interest into some kind of adventure, life of ambition, life of great desires, attractions, repulsions which are not merely physical. Like Alexander the Great for example, who had a tremendous ambition to conquer the whole world and to master the whole world and he sacrificed everything for the sake of this one single impulse and ambition. But the kind of personality that is formed as a result of this has a philistinic character. For him relations do not matter much at all, friendships can be useful only so long as ambitions are fulfilled through those friendships; otherwise they do not matter much at all. The higher ethical ideas do not make any difference. To be the first is the fundamental urge of a philistine. You know there is a story that Aristotle was the teacher of Alexander, and Aristotle wrote something which was very important, He made some new kind of discovery in the field of mind and he explained it to his students and then he wrote about it to Alexander. Alexander was furious with Aristotle and said: "Such a beautiful thing should have come first to me! How can you allow this to go to somebody else?" This is the special characteristic of a vital man who always wants to excel others by one means or the other.

It is when mind begins to influence the body and the vital, then culture begins to take shape, it is a beginning. You can say that somebody is cultured only when he has begun to influence his vital and physical by the help of the mind. And the greater the influence of his mind over the vital and the physical, the greater is the culture in the man. And then the greater heights of culture are reached when the ethical mind, the artistic mind and the logical mind all begin to develop and they all begin to influence the body and the vital, then you can say: a greater height of culture has been achieved by the man or by the nation where this has happened. Now if you look at the past history of the world, you will find that among all the nations, the one nation that had reached a great deal of mental culture was Greek – the Greeks, the Hellenics. They had reached a very high level of ethical thinking, artistic thinking and logical thinking. In fact with regard to art, the Greeks had reached a great perfection. Similarly they had also reached a great perfection with regard to logical thinking that is how we got great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle. Even with regard to ethical thinking, there was a great height reached which was represented by Socrates. And the Greeks have tried to harmonise the vital and the physical by the power of these three aspects of the human mind, and that is why the kind of life that they had reached was a highly cultured life, very refined culture. Even today after thousands of years, many civilisations look back to the Greeks to derive a fresh inspiration from them. In fact you might say that modern Europe and modern America are trying to reach back to the glory of Greek culture which was lost for many, many centuries after the Roman conquest of the Greeks in ancient times. You might say that secretly India too is worshipping the Greek culture, but in a diminished form because we do not know yet fully the great heights to which Greek culture had reached, but some kind of influences which are spreading from the Greeks, which is being absorbed by Europe and America, which is being infiltrated into India; a third remote level is reaching us, though adulterated. So in a sense you might say that today, what is happening in India is a kind of admiration for the Greek culture, although in a very diminished form, in a very corrupted form.