India and Indian Polity - A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

William George Archer  (OBE – Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) was born on 1 February 1907, and studied first history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and then Hindi, Indian history and law at the School of Oriental Studies in London. He subsequently served in the Indian Civil Service, in Bihar from 1931 until around 1947, when India gained independence.

Books on India by Mr. Archer

 Kangra Painting. 1952. Bazaar Paintings of Calcutta: The Style of Kalighat. 1953.  Garhwal painting. 1954. Indian paintings from Rajasthan. 1957. The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry. Ethical and religious classics of East and West, 1957. Central Indian Painting. 1958. India and Modern Art. 1959. Indian Painting in Bundi and Kotah. 1959.  Indian Miniatures. 1960. Kalighat Drawings. 1962. Paintings of the Sikhs. 1966. Kalighat Paintings: A Catalogue and Introduction. 1971. Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills. London. 1973. The Hill Of Flutes: Life, Love And Poetry In Tribal India: A Portrait Of The Santals. London: 1974.

In order to understand Hinduism properly, two important things have to be emphasized. First of all, we have to appreciate that Hinduism is a non-dogmatic religion always inclined to include all religious and spiritual disciplines. It would have assimilated even Islam and Christianity, but it is Islam and Christianity which have resisted the inclusive process of Hinduism. Secondly, Hinduism not only responds to the supra-rational and rational demands of human nature, but it expands itself increasingly to respond even to the emotional, dynamic, vital, aesthetic and physical demands. In doing so, it respects each individual in his upward movement. Therefore, Hinduism does not provide one uniform system for all but attempts to give to each individual what he needs at his present stage of development and make for his upward and integral movement. This aspect is not sufficiently realized by the western mind which tends to give a uniform frame for all. As a result, it has failed in keeping religion alive. It wants religion to be purified and reformed, but it seeks purification and reform only by means of reason and not by spiritual means. Hinduism is seeking its purity and reforms by adopting spiritual means, and this would seem to be the real strength of Hinduism.

It has been accused that Indian religion lacks ethical content. This accusation is almost monstrously false. If we look for evidence, we shall find that Hindu thought is constantly filled with Dharma. The idea of Dharma is its major chord; Dharma, next to spirituality, is its foundation of life. Every ethical idea has been acknowledged, questioned, experimented upon and given a place in the total scheme of an ascending movement of life. There is also ample evidence that greatest virtues were not only advocated by India but also greatly practiced in older times. In spite of the degeneracy which took place in later periods one can notice a considerable insistence on ethical life throughout the history of India. Some of the many qualities which are greatly emphasized in Indian culture became depressed only when Indian Culture became depressed only when Indian people came to be subjugated and when the freedom was clipped. What is then the reason for it to be accused by the western mind of the want of ethical content? The answer to this question is twofold: first of all, the western mind came to underline that part of Indian teaching which gives greater importance to knowledge than to action. But it did not notice that it has been clearly underlined that one cannot attain to knowledge without attending to the sattwic mentality, which can be cultivated only by pursuing high ethical principles as the Geeta has very well stated, doers of evil cannot find the divine knowledge.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

The second reason is that India gives a greater importance to inner motivation that to outer conduct, and Indian thought also recognizes that ethical life has several stages forming a graded path of ascension. In this graded path, ethical laws can be seen to be relative, so that what is ethical at the lower level is surpassed by a higher law which is not imposed upon the lower stage. Thus, for example, Ahmisa, non-violence, is the highest ethical law of Dharma, Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah, but at the same time it gives more importance not to the actual non-killing but to the control of the inner states like hatred and envy which lead to the acts of killing. Moreover, it permits killing, but limits it only to that section of people who are expected to defend the society against the aggressor, against the evil-doer, and even then, that section of warriors are insistently demanded to develop high qualities of mercy, chivalry, respect for the non-belligerent, the weak, the unarmed, the vanquished, the prisoner, the wounded, and the fugitive. The Western mind is not able to appreciate the inwardness of the Indian ethical attitude and its wise relativity which allows each individual to develop gradual levels of ethicality. The western ethicist lays down high standard as the counsel of perfection, but it does not have the plasticity to admit stages of progress and approval of lower stages of achievement of ethicality. But when Indian culture is rightly understood, it will become clear that Hinduism with its magnificent examples of all sides of the Dharma, Jainism with its austere ideal of self-conquest, and Buddhism with its high and noble ethics are not inferior in ethical teaching and practice to any religion and system, but rather take the highest rank and have had the strongest effective force.

Having considered and seen that these criticisms of Hinduism are either false or invalid, we can now turn to consider the farther yet common charge. This charge is the damaging accusation that Indian culture depresses the vital force, paralyses the will, gives no great or vigorous power, no high incentive, no fortifying and ennobling motive to human life. It is to this accusation that we shall next turn to.



It is always useful to understand our own culture from the point of view of the alien because that may give us a fresh point of view and material for self- introspection. But the alien point of view can be that of sympathy and even of self-identification or of a dispassionate critic or even of a hostile critic. From the first kind of critic, we get a revelation of our ideal aspects or even of our own soul, even though it might not bring out adequately our imperfections. The second kind of critic may give us some kind of a balanced view of our merits and demerits and even though he might miss much that belongs to our soul, his criticism might give us fresh estimate from which we can learn a great deal. The third kind of critic may also help us because sometimes we need to look at ourselves quite harshly and our imperfections may come to our light more vividly. We can also learn to appreciate opposite stand points and get at the source of opposition. Wisdom, insight and sympathy grow by this kind of criticism.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

The book on India written by Mr. Archer cannot come even in the category of hostile criticism. For hostile criticism must at least be a criticism and not a slander or false witness, — which is the case with Mr Archer's criticism. It is true that this book is a wholesale and unsparing condemnation. And if this were the case, it would have been really useful because we could have had at one place a totality of a point of view. But Mr. Archer's book is vitiated in its hostile criticism by three important factors.

Firstly, this book has an ulterior motive, a political motive, to prove at any cost India's backwardness so as to suggest that India does not deserve self-government.

Secondly, this book, instead of being a book of criticism is actually a literary journalistic pugilism. It is addressed to an ignorant audience and has, therefore, the liberty of making misstatements and exaggerations in the hope of convincing that audience how he is able to make a living adversary prostrate and defeated. There is no sanity, justice or measure and like a boxer, the critic displays the appearance of staggering and irresistible blows. All this is not only occasional, — if it was occasional, it would be sometimes permissible and even interesting and amusing. Actually, the critic is found to be beating about the bush, and this brings us to the third defect of criticism.

And this third point is that the critic knew absolutely nothing for the most part about the things on which he is passing confident damnatory judgments. This book, therefore, can be regarded as a journalistic fake. Without knowing metaphysics, he has passed judgments on Indian Philosophy; without knowing comparative religion and claiming to be a rationalist, he regards religion as error, and advises Hinduism to follow in the footsteps of Christianity mainly because, as he really points out, Christians seriously don't believe in their religion. Even admitting his incompetence about music, he places Indian music to a position of helpless inferiority. In the fields of Arts and Architecture, his judgments betray narrowness. Although Drama and Literature are supposed to be his speciality, his arguments are so superficial that one wonders how he got the reputation of a literary critic.

It is useful to turn to a foreign critic in order to have a comparative study, — this is even indispensable. But if one wants to have a definitive view, one should turn to those who have authority in regard to the subject matter. For example, in order to obtain judgment of Indian philosophy, one should not go to Mr. Archer or Dr. Gough who know very little of philosophy, but one should turn to Emerson or Schlegel or Nietzsche or even to Cousins and Schopenhauer.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

In the matters connected with religion, one should not go to Begbie or to a European atheist and rationalist, but to somebody like Tolstoi or else one could even turn to a cultured Christian missionary who may have an inevitable bias but who will not dismiss religion as a barbarous superstition. In the matters of Arts, one should consult some recognized authority like Ferguson or to critics like Mr. Havell, or else to Okakura or Mr. Laurence Binyon. In the matters of Literature there is hardly anyone who has any firsthand knowledge of Sanskrit and Prakrit tongues. Hence, it is difficult to turn to any Western critic. But even then one could turn to Goethe, whose epigram on Shankutala is enough to show the worth of Indian writing.

There is still a purpose in turning to a critic like Mr. Archer. But that purpose is greatly overshadowed by the absurdity of the criticisms that Mr. Archer advances against Indian Culture. This absurdity is visible when he describes one of the postures of meditation as though according to the Indian view that posture itself was the best way of ascertaining the truth of Universal. This absurdity is once again exhibited when he pronounces that there is no real morality in Hinduism and that Indian Psychology is gloomy and easily inclined towards whatever is monstrous and unwholesome. These absurdities and falsehoods lead us to conclude that truth speaking is not one of the ethical virtues and in any case need not be a part of rationalist criticism of religion.

According to Mr. Archer, there is no real morality in Hinduism. This criticism is blatantly based on untruth, on something that is contrary to facts. But Mr. Archer contradicts himself and pays a grudging tribute on the altar of truth. He proceeds to say that Hinduism talks too much of righteousness and it has many admirable ethical doctrines. Having admitted this truth, he complains that Hinduism is illogical. Why? Because it ought not to be ethical; its presence does not suit Mr. Archer's thesis. Such is the irrationality of Mr. Archer who claims to be a champion of rationalism.

Consider, for example, Mr. Archer's objections to Ramayana. He argues that Rama and Sita are much too virtuous. Rama is too saintly for human nature, and therefore, not relevant to humanity. But is it true? Is Rama not like Christ or St. Francis, who are admittedly in Mr. Archer's view not beyond the pale of human nature? Mr. Archer then proceeds to point out that Sita is so excessive in her virtue as to verge on immorality, a statement that verges on being idiotic.

In spite of all this, if all that Mr. Archer had to say was also deplorable, one would have left Mr. Archer with only a contemptuous silence as a sole possible reply. But fortunately, all Mr. Archer's criticisms are not so deplorable. Although he writes crudely, he still expresses with sufficient accuracy the feeling of recoil of the average occidental mind when he first comes into contact with the unique characteristic of Indian culture.

It is this feeling of recoil of the average occidental mind, which needs to be understood so that we can find out its value.

For it is through the average mind that we get best of the root of psychological differences. It enables us to diminish the force of the prejudices or to reconcile the opposites. It is in the average mentality that we have a better chance to deal with this kind of a problem. In this Archer helps us admirably.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


Mr. Archer represents an average and typical occidental mind, which may be well educated but without genius and riddled with rigidity, but capable of giving an appearance of weight. This is, in fact, the mind and standpoint of an average Englishman. In another example of the same average mentality, which is, however, an appearance lifted up by the crude and barbaric genius is that of Mr. Rudyard Kipling who was led to affirm the permanent incompatibility of the East and the West. Why antagonism arises in the mind of the average occidental critic can be seen through writings of men like Mr. Archer and Mr. Rudyard Kipling and this study could be quite interesting and illuminating for our true purpose.

It may be argued that it would not be rewarding to study the criticisms of Indian culture advanced by rationalistic thinkers like Mr. Archer or Mr. Rudyard Kipling, particularly when they have political bias and when their mentality represents only one of the recent phases of Europe, and that, too, a phase which is already passing away with the advent of much more recent trend, which is not so unsympathetic.

The answer to this argument is that that particular phase, which Mr. Archer and Mr. Rudyard Kipling represent is likely to remain for quite some time in a condition among the largest bulk of people of Europe who belong to the average mentality, and it is that mentality which gives us the best opportunity to bring to us, when examined, the real cause of the misunderstanding between the East and the West. This mentality is not like that of an ancient Greek which is in a certain sense and in a certain direction nearer to the India mind, and this is shown by the fact that men like Pythagoras or Alexander or Menander could understand India with a greater sympathy. It is, therefore, best to turn to the rationalistic occidental mind in its average journalistic mode of superficial thinking; for then we shall get the direct point of encounter with the source of opposition of the average European against the Indian. It is there in its very instinct that will be revealed how and when the Indian approach to life creates resistance and misunderstanding. That mind may not be fully equipped with full information or intelligent study, but it will have sureness of instinct and its action will reveal those things, which are alien to its mental outlook.

The fact that Mr. Archer begins his attack by making religion and philosophy as the principal target shows that he has been able to perceive that since these two are essentials of Indian culture, once they are demolished, he would have succeeded in demolishing the whole theme of Indian culture.

Actually, every culture has three aspects: Upward will, ideal and thought turned upon the ideal; second, creative self-expression and appreciative aesthesis and imagination; and thirdly, practical and outward formulation. These three are represented, respectively, by (1) religion and philosophy; (2) Art, poetry, literature; (3) Society, politics and outward frame of external life.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

These three together give the totality of the culture, and in judging a culture, one has to discern what has been the main preoccupation and in what way it has been expressed. In Indian civilization, religion and philosophy have been the main preoccupation, as it has been of the more developed Asiatic people. But in India, this preoccupation has been extraordinary and its pervasiveness has been thoroughgoing. For this reason, Indian civilization has been described as Brahminical civilization. But there has been no domination of the priest in this culture, although in some lower aspects of the culture, priestly mind has been too prominent. As a result, although the priest had no hand in shaping the great lines of the culture, it has been shaped by the philosophic thinkers and religious minds. A prominent aspect of Indian culture has been the development of a class whose business was to preserve the spiritual tradition, knowledge and sacred laws of the race. That this class could succeed in this task for thousands of years and yet did not come to monopolize shows a special characteristic of Indian culture. The important fact that emerges is that Indian culture has been throughout a spiritual, and inward looking, religio-philosophical culture, and that everything else has been derived from this central peculiarity; even external life has been subjected to it.

Mr. Archer attacks Indian religion and philosophy unsparingly. He may show sympathy or concessions in respect of other aspects of Indian culture, but he shows no concessions in respect of Indian religion and philosophy. He does not want India even to claim that it has been religious and philosophical. For he knows that if that claim is conceded, India will have a right to tell the critic to demand from him an effort to rise up to its heights, in the domains of religion and philosophy, and then to come forward to advocate whatever he wants to profess. Therefore, in order to escape this situation, Mr. Archer simply announces that India has no religion and India has no philosophy that its so called religion is an irrational animistic cult of monstrosity and that Indian philosophy is unspiritual. Indeed, in this effort, he lands himself in a paradoxical absurdity and inconsistency which destroys his case by sheer overstatement.

Even then, from whatever Mr. Archer has argued, two important issues emerge:

(1) Which is better as a leader of mankind — spiritual and religio-philosophical life or the rationalistic and external view of life?

(2) If spiritual conception of life has value and power to lead mankind, the second question is whether India has developed its culture under this conception to its best possible degree and whether it is most helpful to the growth of humanity towards its highest level?

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

The western civilization has been developed and shaped by the vitalistic rational idea. It is true that during the Greek period of Greco-Roman culture, a small class of people developed a high culture of thought. It is also a fact that when the West was invaded by the Eastern spiritual religion and philosophical conception, the West rejected these invading forces and thrust them into a corner. As a result, the western religion has been the religion of life, of earth and terrestrial humanity; its idea has been of intellectual growth, vital efficiency, physical health and enjoyment, a rational social order.

Consequently, when the Western mind is confronted by Indian culture, it feels an automatic repulsion. It is unable to understand different ideas and forms of Indian culture and feels in them unfamiliarity, strangeness, irrationality, abnormality and plethora of unintelligible thoughts, which, again, bear the appearance of the supranatural and of falsehood. Everything there seems to be of the wrong shape. If the western point of view looks at it with the eyes of the old orthodox Christianity, Indian culture appears as a thing of hell, and abnormal creation of demons. If it looks with the modern orthodox rationalistic eyes, he feels that culture to be a nightmare, not only irrational, but antirational. Even those who are moderate, who want to avoid an extreme attitude, find Indian culture to be incomprehensible and distasteful.

In any case, to the average occidental mind, everything seems in Indian culture to be a repellent confusion, ‒ Indian philosophy, Indian art, Indian society. Even when this view has undergone some modifications recently, it still subsists. And it is that which constitutes the foundation of Mr. Archer's attack.

Fundamentally, the criticism of the western mind represents natural antagonism of the rationalized, vital and practical intelligence against a culture which subordinates reason to a supranatural spirituality. It cannot appreciate the close connection that exists in India between philosophy and religion which are truly her true soul. Indian philosophy supports the knowledge of the spirit and inspires the pursuit of the aim which Indian religion lays down as the supreme goal of existence. On the other hand, Indian religion attains sublimity from the spiritual philosophy which supports it.

If we ask as to how Mr. Archer expresses his antagonism to Indian culture, it can be summarized in three statements of accusations. Firstly, he points out that Indian philosophy is too philosophical. Secondly, the metaphysical philosophy of India is too metaphysical, and that metaphysics in any case is a worthless thing. And, thirdly, he argues that Indian philosophy, with its pessimism, asceticism, with its theory of karma and reincarnation discourages and even kills the personality and the will-power.  And, if we study these criticisms one by one, it will be clear that they are not dispassionate and that they are only the exaggerated expressions of a mental dislike and a fundamental difference of temperament and standpoint.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

It honors philosophers but allows their works to remain untouched except by a few minds of exceptional turn. Plato, of course, had declared that philosophers must be the right rulers and best directors of the society, but the west has looked upon this declaration as the most fantastic and unpractical of notions. On the other hand, the Indian mind has always looked upon the Rishi, the thinker, the seer of spiritual truth as the best guide not only in the domains of religion, morality, but also in the domain of practical life. Even today anyone who can give a spiritual truth which helps life and its activities is readily regarded as a Rishi.

The Indian mind derives its guidance for life from the ultimate truths of existence. To the European mind, the ultimate truth are not really relevant to life as they are regarded more often truths of the pure reason, which is abstract and remote from life. These truths of the pure reason are remote from mind, life and body which alone can provide verifying "tests of values". That is the reason why Mr. Archer considers all philosophy as speculation and act of guessing, and reproaches Indian mind for taking philosophical speculations seriously. This, he feels, is quite unspiritual because it seems to mistake groping for seeing and guessing for knowing, whereas it might appear that for him "spirituality" consists in taking physically sensible as the only knowable and in taking the knowledge of the body as if it is the knowledge of the soul and the spirit. Mr. Archer is bitterly sarcastic over the idea that philosophy and yoga are the best ways to know the Universe. Even though his descriptions of Indian philosophy are gross misrepresentations, they do indicate the general attitude of the normal positivist mind of the occident.

Mr. Archer is evidently wrong in labelling Indian philosophy as speculative; for Indian philosophy itself abhors speculation; it insists on testing its conclusions on the anvil of experience. The western mind takes pride in applying its method of verification on the anvil of experience, experimental analysis, synthesis, reason, intuition. But these are the very tests that India has been insisting upon in regard to all its thinking and all its body of knowledge. The only difference is that whereas the west is limited only to the scrutiny of physical nature or the everyday tests of our surface psychology, India has an expanded scope which covers the truths of the soul and spirit, and therefore it refers for verification to deeper psychological and spiritual experience. The very thing that Mr. Archer invites us so pressingly to abandon, namely, yoga, it is itself a well tested method of verification to which Indian philosophy always turns for ultimate support for its conclusions, so that philosophy may not remain speculative in character.

To Mr. Archer and to the minds that are like that of Mr. Archer, facts and ideas which are a part of yogic knowledge and relationship between religion, philosophy and yoga lie beyond the narrow range and fall outside their entire arc of knowledge. But even if they could come under their preview, they would reject them, and in this rejection, the average western mind will fully concur. The notion of yoga, of spiritual experience, of reconciliation, between religion and science, between philosophy and science, between science and spirituality, — all these notions seen to that mind absurd and incomprehensible. The positivist mind of the west regards Indians and Theosophists and Mystical thinkers as a disreputable clan, and it would like to bundle their ideas as a bunch of hieroglyphs, which are entirely undecipherable. This positivist mind can understand dogma, priesthood even Bible, even though it may dismiss them; but the idea that dogma can be substituted by a verifiable statement of spiritual experience, which can also be reconciled with psychological experience and scientific truths, and which can even provide a constructive method of self-perfection, — this is rather baffling, even offensive to the average positivist mind of the west. For in the west, science and philosophy have quarreled with each other, science and religion have quarreled with each other, even philosophy and religion have quarreled with each other. Indeed, they co-exist in Europe, but they are not a happy family, and they live in an atmosphere of civil war.

It is not surprising that positivist mind of the west which lives in that atmosphere of civil war should feel a sense of shrinking from the Indian thought where there has been a harmony between religion and philosophy and yoga which is based on systematized well-tested psychological experience. It is bound to dismiss that tradition of Indian thought so that it can live in peace of mind with its self-satisfied attitude. Unfortunately, this peace of mind is bound to be greatly disturbed by the recent trends which are now developing in the west, and which are coming nearer to the Indian thought and Indian way of thinking, which to Mr. Archer appears to be so monstrous.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


The criticism that has been so far made by Mr. Archer has really no sharp edge; in fact, it turns against the critic. Indian culture, by placing high value on philosophy and by establishing its religion upon spiritual and psychological experience stands out as a supreme part of the highest type of civilization. Indian culture in this respect does not need to abase itself before western positivism or even before the ancient achievements of rational enlightenment or the modern achievements in the field of its scientific thought and technology. At the most, it can be said that Indian culture is different, but it is certainly not inferior; on the contrary, its motive and its spiritual nobility constitute for it a distinct element of superiority.

It is necessary to stress the superior elements of Indian culture, because the critics take advantage of two extraneous circumstances to create a prejudice and confuse the real issue. The first circumstance is that India is today lying prostrate and in the dust, and it is easy to argue that materially India has ended in a great defeat and downfall, although in reality it is only a temporary phase. The assailants can afford to show India a sick and wounded, although she is really a lioness, but only caught in the net of the hunters. Because of the temporary decline of today, they can try to persuade the world that this lioness had never any strength and virtue in her. Today they stand with their triumph of reason and science, since their success is worshiped by cultured human beings in an unprecedented manner. The second circumstance, which is favorable to them, is that they happen to represent India to the world at a time when her civilization, after at least two thousand years of the most brilliant and many sided activity, has lost for a time everything except two things: memory of her past and a religious spirit which has always been living even though for a long time it was depressed and obscured, and which has now begun to revive-strongly.

The question is as to why Indian culture has failed and fallen into a state of eclipse, even though it may be temporary. This question can be touched upon separately. For the present moment, however, it may simply be said that a culture should not be judged merely because there has been a failure in material terms. Take, for example, the instance of Greece which failed and fell by the invasion of militarist Rome. Does it prove that philosophy, aesthetics, poetry and intellectuality of Greece were devoid of value? And does it mean because Rome triumphed and conquered, Rome had a greater civilization and higher culture? Let us take another example, ‒ the instance of Judea. It had developed a remarkable religious culture, but the Jewish State was destroyed. Does it mean that the religious culture of Judea is lessened by that destruction? The Jewish people later on showed a great commercial capacity during their long period of dispersion. But does it mean that that commercial capacity has a greater value than the value of ancient religious culture? Both Greece and Judea stand out in their respective fields for their achievements in the field of the mind and heart, inspite of their failure. Therefore, while judging Indian culture, the value of its spirituality stands by its lofty and multi-sided achievements and should not be adversely judged simply because that culture lies today so low.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

At the same time, it may be admitted, and this has always been admitted by Indian culture that material and economic prosperity are a necessary part of the total effort of the human civilization, even though they are not its highest or most essential parts. And, again, if India is to be judged from that point of view, it must be asserted that India can claim equality in respect of both material capacity and prosperity with any ancient and medieval country. It may even be added that no people before modern times had reached such higher peaks of achievements as India had achieved in the domains of Commerce, splendour and social organization. This is a historical fact, and to deny that fact will only prove a singular prejudice and an imaginative misreading. There was a time when the west used to stigmatize the prosperity of Asia and of India as a sign of barbarism, because at that time it was less opulent. Ironically, circumstances are strangely reversed. That less opulent west has truly become opulent and has also truly become barbaric. But that opulent barbarism points to the nakedness of India and a squalor of her poverty and argues that these are the proof of the worthlessness of a culture.

The evidence of the greatness of India's ancient and medieval achievements in all domains of practicality and materiality is indubitable, and it can contradict those critics who are merely ignorant or who want to criticize for the sake of journalistic or political interest. That there was an element of failure and defect cannot be doubted; that element was unavoidable because the totality of the problem of India was very large in its scale, and the conditions of those times were not favorable to avoid that failure. But would it be justified to exaggerate that failure and count it against the civilization? To do so, would be a singular severity of criticism, and if such severity were applied to other civilizations, hardly any civilization could survive in regard to its claims of greatness or success.

It is true that in the end, there has come about a great failure; but that failure has been due to the decline of her culture, and it is not a result of its most valuable elements. The essential elements get eclipsed in due course of time, but that cannot be regarded as a disproof of their original value. Indian civilization must be judged mainly by the culture and greatness of its millenniums, not by the ignorance and weakness of a few centuries.

A culture must be judged, first, by its essential spirit; second, it must be judged by its accomplishments, and, lastly, by its power of survival and its power of renovation. In all these three respects, Indian culture emerges with a high record of success. Because there is at present a temporary decline, the hostile witness refuses to see its power of survival and renovation. But the fact is that Indian civilization is now alive, its constant habit of survival and adaptation is again at work; it is not merely defensive, ‒ not any longer, but boldly aggressive. Not mere survival, but victory and conquest are the promise of its future.

Mr. Archer denies the lofty and great aim of Indian civilization, ‒ and that does not really matter because it can easily be seen that it arises from ignorance and prejudice. But he also questions its leading ideas, its practical life-values, its efficacy and character. If we ask as to what is the root of this criticism, we shall find that it arises from the positivist mind which is attached to the normal values of life, and it cannot enter into a true understanding of a different kind of a point of view that looks beyond to something greater, eternal and infinite.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

Take, for instance, the criticism that India has no spirituality and that India has succeeded in killing the germs of all sane and virile spirituality. Evidently, this surprising criticism springs from a view of spirituality or the use of the word spirituality which has nothing to do with what should really mean by the word spirituality. The true meaning of spirituality is that it is an aspiration to go beyond body, life and mind, contact with the inner soul and spirit and union with the eternal, which can liberate the soul in man from its bondage to the lower parts of the being. That is how the Indian thinking has always conceived of spirituality.

But the positivistic critic gives the name of the spirit to some  high passion and the effort of the emotions, will and reason, ‒ not directed to the infinite but to the finite. To him, idealism of Homer that burns with heart and suffering is sane and virile spirituality. For him, the calm and compassion of Buddha or the meditation on the eternal or the knowledge of the sage and rapture of the saint and the heroism of the Karma yogin which is raised above egoistic desire into the divine and universal will, these things which India values most and which can be attained only by great effort of will and thought, are not sane and virile.

To the western rationalist and positivist, Homer, Shakespeare, Raphael, Spinoza, Kant, Charlemagne are to be regarded as typical examples of spirituality, not Buddha or Christ, or Chaitanya or St. Francis or Ramakrishna. This is like saying, in the artistic field, that Vanban, Pestalozzi and some other artists were true heroes of artistic creation, instead of Vinci, Angelo, Shakespeare or Rodin. This brings out very clearly the oppositions of the standpoints and we begin to understand the inwardness of the difference between the west and India.

The western criticism emphasizes volitional individuality, and it does not understand when Indian culture speaks of transcendence of individuality; it thus misunderstands and presents only one side of the Indian mind and presents also false notions of pessimism, asceticism,, karma and reincarnation as though they constitute the whole Indian metaphysics and philosophy. Its criticisms are often based upon ignorance, and it misleads or puts aside the real evidence. At a certain time, this criticism had even managed to influence the mind of educated India. It is, therefore, best to present the     true picture of Indian philosophy, Indian spirituality and their effects on life and on the achievements in various domains of thought, practical endeavor and organization of life.

It can at once be affirmed that Indian philosophy has never prevented the study of physical nature. To argue otherwise is to state a gross unfact and to ignore the magnificent history of Indian civilization. India was in the first rank in Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Medicine, Surgery, all the branches of physical knowledge which were practised in ancient times. In fact, India was, along with the Greeks, the teacher of the Arabs; and it is the Arabs from whom Europe recovered the lost habit of scientific enquiry; it was only then that Europe got the basis from which modern science started. In many directions India was fore­runner in the field of discoveries, such as those of decimal notation of mathematics or the perception of the moving earth in the field of Astronomy. Indian mind was encouraged to study and observe minutely the multiplicity of things of life, and this had given rise to systematized observations so as to find in each department a science, shastra. This can be regarded as a good beginning of the scientific tendency as opposed to unsubstantial ethereal metaphysical speculation.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

It is true that Indian science stopped developing rather abruptly somewhere near the 13th century. It was followed by a period of darkness and inactivity and this prevented it from proceeding forward or sharing the development of modern scientific knowledge. But this was not the result of metaphysical thinking. As long as metaphysics was alive and was growing, science, too, was alive and developing. Actually, soon after the cessation of the growth of Indian science, Indian philosophy, too, ceased to develop.

It is true that Indian metaphysics did not depend on the truths of physical nature for understanding the truths of ultimate existence. This is where Indian metaphysics differed from modern philosophy. The Indian philosophy founded itself upon the truths of the experimental psychology and on a profound psychic science. But this also required a study of mind, and since mind is a part of nature, it depended upon the study of this point of nature. India's success in regard to psychological knowledge was greater than in physical knowledge. This was inevitable because it was nearer to the spiritual truth of existence which has been India's principal field of seeking.

It is also true that Indian culture established a greater harmony between philosophical truth and truth of psychology and religion than the harmony that could be established between philosophical truth and truth of physical nature. But this was because physical science had nowhere in the world arrived at that time at the great universal generalizations on the basis of which a synthesis of philosophical truth and truth of physical nature can be forged. And yet, it is a remarkable fact that from the earliest thought of the Vedas, the Indian mind had recognized the operation of the same general laws in all the three fields of existence, spiritual, psychological and physical. Indian     thought has discovered right from early times the universal presence of life; it had also affirmed the evolution of the soul in Nature in a graded manner from the vegetable and the animal to the human form. It is only now that the modern science is re-affirming from its own side certain truths of this knowledge of evolution. Surely, these things could have never resulted if Indian metaphysics was barren and empty or if Indian thinkers and scientists were bovine navel-gazing dreamers.

It is simply a misrepresentation to say that Indian culture denies all value to life and terrestrial interests. To admit the adverse comments of the European mind in this regard, would amount to reducing Indian Philosophy to a mere formulation of the Nihilistic school of thought or the Illusionistic school of thought. The real fact is that from the ancient times, India has founded its culture upon four human interests, namely — Kama, Artha, Dharma, and Moksa, meaning thereby — desire and enjoyment, next, material, economic, and other aims and needs of the mind and body, thirdly, ethical conduct and the right law of individual and social life, and lastly, spiritual liberation. And it was the function of the culture to lead these four elements of life in man and to build some kind of harmony of these forms and motives. Except in a very few cases, fullness of life was regarded to be a necessary precondition of the surpassing of life. So, it is a misstatement to say that Indian culture insists on the unimportance of the life of the moment, As such, India did not advocate a general rush to the cave and the hermitage.

If we look at the Indian literature, we shall clearly find that it was characterized by symmetry of life and vividity of life. It is true that some philosophical and religious writings were devoted to the withdrawal, but even then these are not as a rule contemptuous of value of life.

If we look at the Indian literature, we shall clearly find that it was characterized by symmetry of life and vividity of life. It is true that some philosophical and religious writings were devoted to the withdrawal, but even then these are not as a rule contemptuous of value of life.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


Undoubtedly, Indian mind has laid a great stress on spiritual liberation but this was not the only thing to which importance was given. It looked equally at ethics, law, politics, society, the sciences, the arts and crafts, rather everything that appertains to human life. Even if we take only one example, namely, great treatise of Sukraniti, we shall find that it was a fine monument of politics and administrative genius. If we come to Indian arts, we find that it was also devoted as much to the court, and city and to cultural ideas as to the temples. In the field of education, it can be said emphatically that Indian education of women as well as of men was much more may-sided and comprehensive than any system of education before modern times. To prove this, we have strong evidence in our hands which might satisfy the positivist European mind.

It is also a living fact that spiritual life to the Indian mind was a nobler thing than the life of external power and enjoyment. The soul that lives in God is more perfect than the soul that lives only in outward mind. This is the cardinal point where the difference between the east and the west occurs. The West has acquired the religious mind. It has not possessed it by nature, whereas India has constantly believed in the existence of other worlds behind of which the material world is only the antechamber. India has always seen a self within us, greater than the mental and vital self, greater than the ego. But it does not mean that Indian mind has neglected human life. It is true that ancient Indian Aryan has placed spirituality on the highest pedestal; on the other hand, it recognised other human possibilities too. This is shown by the fact that we have in Indian system four Varnas and four orders of life, which shows that Indian culture was not deficient of other human possibilities. But with the advent of Buddhism in India and its exaggerated and enormous extension to ascetic ideals, the balance of the four orders was upset. From the whole system of these four orders, consequently, only two orders were left: life of the householder and that of the ascetic, nothing in between. Buddhism by its tense exaggeration and its hard system of opposites, in the end weakened the life of Indian society. But this was not the only aspect of Buddhism. It too had another side and that of action and creation, which gave a new light, new life, and new ideal power to life.

Then came the illusionism of Shankara, with the influence of which life was depreciated too much as an unreality and ultimately not worth living. But this dogma was not universally accepted, nor admitted without a struggle. Shankara was even denounced as a masked Buddhist.

The later Indian mind came to give a great importance to the idea of Maya, but popular thought and sentiment was never wholly shaped by it. In the meanwhile, religions which see in life a play of God, gained a great prominence. The educated Indian mind only recently has reasserted Shankara's Mayavada and has started considering it as the one to be the highest thing, if not the whole of Indian Philosophy. But against this tendency there has arisen another powerful tendency and that of not replacing spirit by life and life by spirit, but towards a spiritual possession of mind, life and matter. However, it is true that the ascetic ideal of Hinduism which was at one time very prominent and was the spine of life mounting into the eternal existence, tended to crush the infrastructural edifice of life.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

But here also we should get the right view, away from all exaggeration and false stress. Mr. Archer's allegation against Indian belief in Karma and re-incarnation is that these are anti-vital elements, a view, which is totally ridiculous, totally preposterous. He further argues that it teaches the unimportance of life and escape from life. This is also a misrepresentation. In fact, the doctrine of Karma and re-incarnation preaches that the soul has a past and a future. Its past helps us in forming its present and shaping its future. As such, there is nothing in this doctrine which depresses the importance of present life; on the contrary, this doctrine gives utmost importance to action; the reason is that it only determines the immediate future but also subsequent future.

No doubt, if present life is considered as only an ephemeral moment without any past and future, it certainly results in attributing to the present moment an exclusive importance. But this view will confine human soul only in the prison of that moment. It may give a feverish intensity to action, but it is hostile to calm, joy and greatness of the spirit. Certainly, the idea that our present suffering is a result of our past actions leads us to accept our present condition with greater ease and quietude and resignation. And it may cause a quietistic fatalism in a time of great national weakness; this may lead to an extinction of fire of the endeavor. But in the records of the most rigorous past of Indian culture, we do not find quietistic fatalism, but the note of action, of tapasya.

The doctrine of rebirth and Karma was given another turn in Buddhism, where the message was that of succession of rebirth as a chain of Karma from which the soul must escape into the eternal silence. This has strongly affected Hinduism but whatever is depressing in it doesn't necessarily follow from the doctrine of rebirth; it is a result of other elements which have been stigmatized as an ascetic pessimism by the vitalistic thought of Europe.

Element of pessimism is not peculiar to Indian mind. It was prevalent all ancient civilizations. The cultures, which lived long, enjoyed much, experienced much, finally found that life was full of sufferings and that all is vanity and vexation of the spirit and there is nothing new in the world. It is nothing but pessimism. European pessimism was so great that it never expected any joy here except temporarily hope beyond. The concept of the medieval European religion regarding eternal hell waiting for man beyond the grave has an element of pain and terror alien to Indian mind. This is the mind of ascetic pessimism, which Europeans possessed.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

Indian mind believes also in the suffering of the world, but it believes that it can be got rid of by spiritual peace and ecstasy. We can cite a few examples to prove this. Buddhistic teachings laid a great stress on impermanence of the world and pain and suffering in the entire universe. But this can be overcome if we achieve the highest spiritual goal ‒ the Nirvana, which is considered as the only state of ultimate calm and joy, open for everybody, not where heavenly joy is reserved only like in Christianity for a few individuals. Even Shankara's illusionism preached not a gospel of sorrow, but the final unreality of worldly joy and grief and the whole worldly life. It does admit the validity of life and allows its values to those who dwell in the ignorance; it places before man the possibility of a great effort. Apart from illusionism, Indian mind has accepted life as a game of God and it sees beyond this life real happiness and joy, nearness and ecstasy in the arms of God. A luminous ascent into godhead was always held to be a consummation well within man's grasp. This cannot be called pessimism.

Another allegation of Mr. Archer against Indian culture is that it is full of asceticism. This fact is also misstated. Truth is that no great culture can be sustained without the element of asceticism in it. It means self-denial and self-conquest by which man represses his lower impulses and rises to greater and greater heights of his nature. Indian asceticism is a noble effort towards a higher joy, not a mournful gospel of sorrow. Only a human mind ensnared or beset by vitalistic desire for pleasure and restlessness may not be able to appreciate the greatness and nobility of asceticism.

But, at the same time, it must be admitted that there were exaggerations in the ascetic effort of India. No doubt, asceticism did become self-torture, a crude repression of the nature, a tired flight from existence or an indolent avoidance of the trouble of life and weak recoil from the effort demanded of our manhood. These things are inevitable when the effort is prescribed not to a few individuals but to large sections of people. We do not consider asceticism as the true solution of the problems of life, but it can be said firmly that the effect that its exaggeration had in India, a nobler spirit behind them than the vitalistic exaggerations.

Finally, it can be said that Indian spirituality has never been quietism or a conventional monasticism, but it was a high effort of the human spirit to rise beyond the life of desire and vital satisfaction and arrive at the highest calm, peace and real ecstasy. The question now is whether this is essential or not for the perfection of mankind. If the answer is in the affirmative, then the further question is whether it should be confined the limited number of human beings or it should spread to the entire human civilisation.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


We have so far dealt with the life-values of Indian philosophy. But a right judgment of these life-values is intimately bound up with a right appreciation of the life-values of Indian religion.

In India, religion and philosophy cannot be divided from each other. Indian philosophy is the organized intellectual theory of the deepest truths and powers that lie at the heart of Indian religion. On the other hand, Indian religion is Indian spiritual philosophy put into action and experience. Whatever does not come under this description is either social framework or external ritualism or survival of all supports and additions or an excrescence or dead habit, contracted in periods of fossilisation or ill-assimilated extraneous matter. The inner principle of Hinduism has been synthetic, acquisitive, inclusive unlike the religious spirit of Christianity or Islam.

But before we take the Western hostile critic in his dealings with Indian religious philosophy, it is as well to consider what he has to say about other side of Hinduism. For he has a great deal to say and it is unsparing and without measure, although he does not like Mr. Begbie to whom Sir John Woodroffe has made reference and who denounces Hinduism with intemperate drunkenness and with hatred and uncharitableness, he is still unsparing in his condemnation, illogical and filled with the spirit of misrepresentation and exaggeration. We shall turn to him because even from his crude mass we shall be able to disengage why the uncritical and why even many critical minds betray their salient and typical antipathies ‒ which alone is useful to discover.

Mr. Archer's basic criticism against Hinduism is that it is totally irrational. He, of course, casually admits the philosophical elements in Hinduism but he disparages, he dismisses it and even pronounces that it is positively harmful. He alleges that Indian people have always gravitated towards the form rather than the substance and towards the latter rather than the spirit. It may immediately be remarked that this kind of gravitation is universal, and that is a feature not only in religion but also in society, politics, and arts, literature and even in science. It may even be remarked that Europe has a worst record in this regard and has therefore, hardly any title to cast this reproach in the face of the East. For in Europe people have not only gravitated towards forms and outward ritualism but have even constantly fought, killed, burnt, tortured, imprisoned, persecuted for the sake of outer form, for dogmas, for words, and forms of church government. Mr. Archer, forgetting the story of Europe, misrepresents the history of Indian religion and argues that this gravitation afflicts the Indian religion more than any other creed. He maintains that higher Hinduism scarcely exists except in certain small reforming sects and current Hinduism. He contends that Hinduism is a popular religion and it is the cult of monstrous folklore of oppressive and paralysing to the imagination. And it may again be remarked at once that Hinduism is marked by an access by the creative imagination rather than a paralysis. But Mr. Archer paints Hinduism as animism and magic, and argues that Indian people have displayed a genius for obscurity, formalism and degradation. He concedes that India has possessed great thinkers but points out that she has not been benefited by them and taken the help of their thoughts to introduce rationality and nobility in its religion. He thinks that even the Russian peasant or devotion of the Spanish is more rational and more enlightened than the Indian's. Archer's constant tune is that Indian religion is irrational and anti-rational.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

Mr. Archer is astonished and disgusted with the obstinate survival of the old religious spirit, and the large anti-religious types; he is impatient that these things have not been submerged by the flood of modernism and its devastating utilitarian free thought. He argues that even China and Japan have undergone changes, but India still clings to the past. He regards Hinduism as a superstition full of performances of piety, and these performances are repulsive to the free enlightened secular mind of the modern times. He contends that the daily practices of the Hinduism fall outside the pale of civilisation. It might seem that Mr. Archer would have thought that Hinduism was somewhat humane and tolerable if it had discarded all its practices and confined them only to church attendance on Sundays and to marriage and funeral services and some such practices, which are found in Christianity. He finds Hinduism to be a great anachronism of the modern world, which has not been cleansed for so many centuries. He looks upon Hinduism as Paganism, a wholly unfiltered Paganism; he believes that Hinduism pollutes rather than purifies and it is the lowest in the scales of world religions. He even proposes the ingenious remedy for Hinduism. He argues that even though Christianity is rather irrational, it can still be used as a remedy, because it has proved its power in destroying Paganism in Europe. He, therefore, advocates that Christianity and especially Protestant Christianity will be at least a good preparatory step, although ultimately, India must turn towards the noble freedom and stainless purities of atheism and agnosticism. But even if the preparatory step cannot be taken in spite of numerous famine conversions that Christianity is affecting, he would like Hinduism to get itself filtered in one way or the other. And he concludes that until that filteration has taken place or until that hygienic operation has been executed, India must not be allowed an entry on equal terms into the group of civilised nations.

Mr. Archer has argued that Hinduism is irrational and that it is Paganism. But these two arguments would not be able to demolish the worth of Hinduism. For there is an increasing perception, even in Europe, that reason is not the highest of human mind and that reason cannot be made a judge of religious and spiritual truths. In regard to Paganism, plenty of cultivated minds are able to admit that pre-Christian Paganism had many great and beautiful things, and world has not become better by losing Paganism. Hence, to say that Hinduism is irrational and paganism does not stir many Westerners to feel repelled by Hinduism. Hence, Mr. Archer brings a third argument against Hinduism. His argument is that Hinduism is devoid of moral worth and ethical substance. This argument is very effective because most of the modern minds like to subscribe themselves to morality, even though they may not practise it. Indeed, Mr. Archer finds it difficult to substantiate its charge, but he goes about his arguments without scruple and without measure. He argues that Hinduism talks much of righteousness, but it has never claimed moral teachings as one of its functions. This is, of course, is a strange argument because a religion cannot talk of morality without performing the function of moral teaching. And yet to argue that Hinduism talks much of righteousness without performing the function of moral teaching is like arguing that a square cannot make a claim to be a quadrilateral. Mr. Archer's main argument is that although the Hindu is comparatively free from the grosser Western vices, it is not because he is intrinsically ethical, but his social system binds him so much to the barbarous idea of the Dharma that he has hardly any opportunity to depart from his social law. In other words, the Hindu is moral by compulsion, not moral through freedom which Western civilisation provides to its people. In any case, Mr. Archer concludes Hinduism has melancholy proclivity towards whatever is monstrous and unwholesome. This in substance, Mr. Archer's unfounded but unmeasured denunciation of Hinduism. And with this statement, we may leave Mr. Archer and turn ourselves to disengage the temperamental sources of his dislike and anger.

We must ask for the real reason, temperamental reason, for understanding of the great lines of divergence between the East and the West.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

The West is characterised by the cult of inquiring practical reason and the cult of life. Whenever these two cults come to predominate, the West flourishes powerfully. Examples are those of periods of Greek culture, of the Roman world before Constantine who adopted Christianity as its religion, the Renaissance and the modern age with its high tide of industrialisation and physical science. In all these periods, practical reason and pulsation of life have dominated. In contrast, when these two powers have ebbed, the European mind has entered into much confusion and darkness. When, for example, Christianity entered into Europe, it failed to accomplish its mission; Christianity could not spiritualise Europe, it could only do something towards humanising Europe in certain ethical directions; for Christianity denied the supremacy of reason and asked for control over the satisfactions of life impulses and perfect flowering of life-force.

In Asia there has been no predominance of reason and the cult of life, and these two were not found to be incompatible with the religious spirit. As a result, surge of spiritual light has also been accompanied by the tide of fresh systems of thought, poetry, arts and flowering of material life into splendour. This is what we find in the great ages of Asia, and in India when it began with the Vedic age and when there was a great spiritual surge in the period of Upanishads and when Buddhism flooded widely over the country or when Vedanta, Samkhya and the Puranic and Tantric religions flourished and when Vaishnavism and Shaivism flowered in Southern kingdom. On the other hand, we find that with the ebbing of spiritual light and power, India passes through weakness of the powers of thought and light, and weakness overpowers it to such an extent that there is a real decline or even beginnings of decay.

To rise to the spirit is the aim of all the powers and instruments of culture, but differences arise in regard to the ways of approach. Europe has its own proper Dharma, and it can find spiritual truth only when life and reason develop to their highest point of culmination and at last arrive at spiritual truth as a crown and as a revelation. Europe cannot at once rise to the spiritual truth. On the other hand, Asia, or at any rate, India lives naturally by a spiritual influx from above. When there is a flood from spirituality, her powers of mind and life also flower. Actually, Asia and Europe represent two divergent waves, and both combined together would bring about the totality of integral perfection. But until humanity becomes truly broad so as to draw together and reconcile all, Asia and Europe have to run on divergent lines. In the view of this understanding, there is no point for the European to speak of barbarism of Asia and for the Asian to speak of the barbarism of European. As far as masses of people are concerned, they are both in Asia and in Europe barbarians, labouring to civilise themselves. But in the upward movement of culture, we have to realise, how both move upwards on different lines and how these two lines can be considered to be complementary for the richness and completeness of the growing orb of the human culture.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

If we and want to understand why the Eastern Western are psychologically in conflict with each other, we have to realise that the Western mind emphasises life and all things that are visible and tangible, whereas the Asian mind emphasises inner search of the Spirit. We may notice that even from religion the West tends to demand what is utilisable for the immediate visible world. The Greeks and the Romans looked on religious cult as a basis for the stability of the State. During the middle ages, when Christianity brought in the Oriental ideal and developed it to its great heights, the Western mind tried to assimilate an oriental ideal, but it never succeeded in firmly assimilating it; eventually, it threw it aside or kept in only for a verbal homage. The genuine temperament of the West rationalised the religious spirit, secularised it and almost annihilated it. And today religion has become in the West more and more a pale and ever-thinning shadow pushed aside into the small corner of the light. The Western march of progress has taken place outside the doors of the vanquished Church and developed the outward life, positive reason and materialistic science. On the other hand, when we examine the present moment of Asia, it can be seen that it is passing through a transitional period in which it is trying to assimilate the Western outlook and its earth-bound ideals. And it can be safely predicted that Asia will not succeed in assimilating the Western law of life firmly or for a long time.

The cult of life and reason, when divorced from the inmost in-look necessarily leads to the tendency that nourishes secularism. It is true that ancient Europe did not separate religion and light and thus it did not appear to be supportive of secularism. But ancient Europe first of all got rid of the oriental element of the mysteries from its religion; religion itself then became a secular institution, and it was used as a convenient aid to the government in sustaining its social and political institutions. Ancient Europe also developed philosophy and logical and practical reason, which threw away the relics of the original religious spirit. But when we come to modern Europe, we find that it has gone to the logical extreme and separated religion and life so as to nourish the tendency of secularism. Christianity attempted to spiritualise life, but modern Europe not only separated religion and life but even from Philosophy, art, science, politics, and from the social part and social existence. It went even farther, it secularised and rationalised also the ethical demand so that morality can stand on its own basis without any aid from religious sanction or spiritual experience. There is even a tendency to get rid of ethics itself, not only by rising above ethics as spiritual experience claims to do, but by breaking out of its barriers to enjoy an exultant freedom of the play of the vital desire. In this process, religion has been left aside; what is left of religion is an impoverished system of belief and ceremony to which one might or might not subscribe a superficial pigmentation of dogma, sentiment and emotion.

For some time the intellectual idea did not invade religious belief vehemently. The old pagan symbolism was already thrown out at an early stage; the Divine was supposed to be living in the celestial heaven along with the presence of the saints and the immortal spirit, aloof from the physical earth. But in due course, the reason demanded whether there was any proof in our sense experience of any world other than the physical. Even the blank and tepid Theism was subject to critical light of intelligence. It came to be argued that the world is governed by a physical law and by a moral law, by Reason or by Power by which one call by the name of God. But reason went still farther and questioned the need to posit any God at all, even as a hypothesis. As a result, the West reached the atheistic or agnostic cult of secularism. And the West is now looking forward to the full triumph of reason and life, if only that ambiguous infinite something will not interface with them and leave them alone for the future.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

It is very clear from this amount of the way in which Western outlook has developed from stage to stage that it cannot tolerate the straining after the supra-rational and the infinite ‒ that earnest straining which has characterised Asia and India in particular. It may tolerate this straining if it was to be a moderate innocent indulgence of the speculative mind or the artistic imagination. But asceticism and other worldliness are abhorrent to its temperament and fatal to its outlook. pessimism as a passing mood, but it takes its stand on taking life as it is and making the most of it. It may allow to use the word spirituality, provided that word means high labour of a lofty intelligence, rational will, limited beauty and moral good, and provided it does not mean same inhumane, unattainable, infinite or absolute satisfaction. It may allow religion, provided it limits itself to this limited meaning of spirituality, provided it keeps itself within the bounds of the practical reason and an earthly intelligence. This is its basic poise, although there are some departures from it which are always to be found in a complex structure of culture.

This is the standpoint of the Western mind, and it is easy to see that it finds itself irreconcilable to the surviving force of Indian religion. It finds Indian mentality to be quite strange and even abhorrent when Indian philosophy admits the Infinite and the Absolute and justifies its demand on the soul of man. And he fails to understand how there are people in India who are ready to abandon the outward life and society and home and family in order to pursue the Beyond with a living belief in other worlds and re-incarnation and the whole army of other ideas whose truths are very unverifiable by the physical science. It finds the Indian attitude towards Yoga to be quite irrational because it holds experiences of Yoga more true than the experiments of the laboratory. The Western mind asks as to why India should not give up thinking of things which are unthinkable, since its own rationality has ceased to think about them. The West wants that India should not even think of art, culture and conduct because they are inconsistent with spirituality and religion. Its argument is that if India wants to pursue art and culture and conduct, it must abandon its irrational, its spirituality and religion. It is here that we find why there is apparent gulf between the Western mind and the Indian mind, and why the Occidental intelligence, finds Indian mentality to be abnormal or unintelligible, if not damnable.

So far we have dealt with the Indian religio-philosophical standpoint and the abhorrence that the Western mind feels towards it. But we can see farther that the Occidental critic finds it even more intolerable when that Indian religio-philosophical standpoint belittles the importance of life. It finds that in India asceticism ranges rampant and calls man to exceed the life of the body and even the life of the mental will and intelligence. And even where asceticism is combated, life is not found to be accepted anywhere in India for its own sake. This is in sharp contrast to the enormous stress that the Western mind lays on life, on force of personality, on individual will, and on the apparent man and the desires and demands of his nature. While the West encourages the flowering of the mental and the vital ego or permits subservience of the ego to the larger communal ego, the Indian ideal looks upon he ego as the chief obstacle to the soul's perfection; while the Western temperament is Rajasic, dynamic and pragmatic, the Indian temperament is specially turned to the admiration of the Sattwic man for whom thought, spiritual knowledge and the inner life are the things of the greatest importance and to whom action is not important for its rewards and fruits but for its effects on the growth of the inner nature. It is, therefore, not surprising that the occidental mind should look upon these contrasts with much dissatisfaction. A recoil of antipathy and almost ferocious repugnance.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

It is true that these specialities of Indian mentality, its admiration for the Sattwic ideals and its proposal to regard the ego as the chief obstacle to the soul's perfection may seem to the occidental mind as false, anti-rational and depressing, but may not denounce them as evil and ignoble unless they are read in the context of such misrepresentations like those found in Mr. Archer's more irresponsible strictures. But the occidental mind does not find itself reconcilable when it surveys the forms of the religion under whose influence the Indian mentality has developed its ideas regarding the Sattwic ideal and the ideal of soul's perfection. For in that religion, the Western mind finds all those things, which it had exiled from its own culture. It finds in India a gigantic Polytheism and finds in India temples, images, priesthood, a mass of unintelligible rites and ceremonies, the daily repetition of Sanskrit mantras and prayers and in the belief of all kinds of supra-physical forces, saints, gurus, holidays, vows, offerings, sacrifice, a constant reference of life through powers of influence of which there can be no physical evidence. The Western mind finds this to be the unintelligible chaos, unabridged animism, and a monstrous folklore. It does not have the patience to understand the spiritual sense the Indian mind has put upon the system of beliefs and practices. It finds it intolerable that Indian mind has not only accepted to eliminate religion or to put it in a corner, but even it is prepared to fill the whole of life with religion.

It will be difficult to bring home to the Western mind the inner spirit that lies behind the complex system of religious belief and practices. If it is pointed out that the multitudes of Gods are living aspects of the One not understand how Infinite, the logical European mind does monotheism, polytheism, pantheism can be reconciled; if it is explained that the image worship is for the Hindu only a support at a supraphysical, the European does not understand how the physical and the supra-physical can become connected, because in the first place it does not have faith in the supra-physical. He thinks that any connection between the physical and supra-physical is a meaningless subtlety admissible only in imaginative poetry and romance.

In order to understand Hinduism properly, two important things have to be emphasized. First of all, we have to appreciate that Hinduism is a non-dogmatic religion always inclined to include all religious and spiritual disciplines. It would have assimilated even Islam and Christianity, but it is Islam and Christianity which have resisted the inclusive process of Hinduism. Secondly, Hinduism not only responds to the supra-rational and rational demands of human nature, but it expands itself increasingly to respond even to the emotional, dynamic, vital, aesthetic and physical demands. In doing so, it respects each individual in his upward movement. Therefore, Hinduism does not provide one uniform system for all but attempts to give to each individual what he needs at his present stage of development and make for his upward and integral movement. This aspect is not sufficiently realized by the western mind which tends to give a uniform frame for all. As a result, it has failed in keeping religion alive. It wants religion to be purified and reformed, but it seeks purification and reform only by means of reason and not by spiritual means. Hinduism is seeking its purity and reforms by adopting spiritual means, and this would seem to be the real strength of Hinduism.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

It has been accused that Indian religion lacks ethical content. This accusation is almost monstrously false. If we look for evidence, we shall find that Hindu thought is constantly filled with Dharma. The idea of Dharma is its major chord; Dharma, next to spirituality, is its foundation of life. Every ethical idea has been acknowledged, questioned, experimented upon and given a place in the total scheme of an ascending movement of life. There is also ample evidence that greatest virtues were not only advocated by India but also greatly practiced in older times. In spite of the degeneracy which took place in later periods one can notice a considerable insistence on ethical life throughout the history of India. Some of the many qualities which are greatly emphasized in Indian culture became depressed only when Indian Culture became depressed only when Indian people came to be subjugated and when the freedom was clipped. What is then the reason for it to be accused by the western mind of the want of ethical content? The answer to this question is twofold: first of all, the western mind came to underline that part of Indian teaching which gives greater importance to knowledge than to action. But it did not notice that it has been clearly underlined that one cannot attain to knowledge without attending to the sattwic mentality, which can be cultivated only by pursuing high ethical principles as the Geeta has very well stated, doers of evil cannot find the divine knowledge.

The second reason is that India gives a greater importance to inner motivation that to outer conduct, and Indian thought also recognizes that ethical life has several stages forming a graded path of ascension. In this graded path, ethical laws can be seen to be relative, so that what is ethical at the lower level is surpassed by a higher law which is not imposed upon the lower stage. Thus, for example, Ahmisa, non-violence, is the highest ethical law of Dharma, Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah, but at the same time it gives more importance not to the actual non-killing but to the control of the inner states like hatred and envy which lead to the acts of killing. Moreover, it permits killing, but limits it only to that section of people who are expected to defend the society against the aggressor, against the evil-doer, and even then, that section of warriors are insistently  demanded to develop high qualities of mercy, chivalry, respect for the non-belligerent, the weak, the unarmed, the vanquished, the prisoner, the wounded, and the fugitive. The Western mind is not able to appreciate the inwardness of the Indian ethical attitude and its wise relativity which allows each individual to develop gradual levels of ethicality. The western ethicist lays down high standard as the counsel of perfection, but it does not have the plasticity to admit stages of progress and approval of lower stages of achievement of ethicality. But when Indian culture is rightly understood, it will become clear that Hinduism with its magnificent examples of all sides of the Dharma, Jainism with its austere ideal of self-conquest, and Buddhism with its high and noble ethics are not inferior in ethical teaching and practice to any religion and system, but rather take the highest rank and have had the strongest effective force.

Having considered and seen that these criticisms of Hinduism are either false or invalid, we can now turn to consider the farther yet common charge. This charge is the damaging accusation that Indian culture depresses the vital force, paralyses the will, gives no great or vigorous power, no high incentive, no fortifying and ennobling motive to human life. It is to this accusation that we shall turn to next.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


We are now to consider whether Indian culture has the power for expansion of life and to establish the greatness and growth of the human race on the earth. A power merely to rise above into a transcendental reality, into silence and nirvana or to gravitate towards material death cannot be the source of sustainable culture. Indian culture was certainly sublime because it provided to people transcendental up-rush towards great heights; but it did even much more; it provided for great curiosity, knowledge, science, philosophical enquiry; it also provided for rich light and blaze of art, poetry and architecture, it even provided for long stability and orderly well-being, ripe and human society. But still we need to ask whether Indian culture went farther and whether it can satisfy the tests of a progressive life-power.

For if Indian culture had missed the care and cultivation of the progressive life-power, we have to declare that Indian culture suffered from a capital imperfection. It is this central question that we have to inquire into and arrive at a proper judgement.

Critics like Archer will readily argue that Indian culture has been a general failure in providing the right inspiration for the greatness of progressive life-force. These critics might admit that Indian philosophy may be sublime, its religious spirit fervent, its ancient social system strong, symmetrical and stable, its literature and its art good in their own way, but they point out that the salt of life is absent in this culture, the breath of will-power and the force of a living endeavour is missing. Archer points out that Indian religion and philosophy undervalue life and endeavour, and that life is compared to a movement of waves rising and falling helplessly and purposelessly. He finds that Buddha, who "never existed”, is one solitary character in the entire history of India; otherwise the individual is everywhere dwarfed and depreciated, except a pale featureless Ashoka. He points out that the character of Indian drama and poetry are lifeless exaggerations or puppets of supranatural powers; he finds Indian art to be empty of reality; and he finds whole history of civilization to be drab, effete and sorrowful. He concludes that there is no power of life, and no breath of life and no colour of life in Indian culture. These criticisms, when studied in the light of a first-hand acquaintance with Indian literature and history will be found to be a bitter misrepresentation, a violent caricature and an absurd falsehood. But still we must ask as to why the European mind gets this false impression when it studies Indian culture. And the answer is that there is a primary misunderstanding at the root. It is this misunderstanding which is to be understood and remedied. It arises because although India has lived and lived richly, splendidly, greatly, the will that has been operating in Indian life is different from that will which has been operating in the life of Europe. The Indian idea and plan of life have been peculiar, original and unique, and Indian values cannot easily be seized by an outsider. As a result, the supreme things of Indian life are easily open to hostile misrepresentation by the minds which are ignorant.

The life-value of a culture can be judged by the presence of three powers: (i) The power of its original conception of life; (ii) The power of forms, types and rhythms, it has given to life; (iii) the inspiration, the vigour, the force of vital extension of its motives manifested in the actual lives of men and of the community which flourished under its influence.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

If we look at the European conception of life, we shall find that it regards life as a force that manifests itself in the material universe and that man is almost the only discoverable meaning. This may be regarded as the anthropocentric view, which concentrates on man in whom life is striving to arrive at some light and harmony, some efficient rational power, adorning beauty, strong utility, vital enjoyment, economic welfare. The European idea assigns great value to the free power of the individual ego and the organized will of the corporate ego; and the idea that it presents is centred on two things: the development of individual personality and an organized efficient national life. It is true that the European ideal assigns value also to the effort to govern life by reason, science, ethics, art and a restraining and harmonizing utility. It is also true that Christianity has added new tones, modified some tendencies and deepened others. At different stages of history there have been a greater complexity and largeness.

At present, the European idea of life is served by the idea of the great intellectual and material progress and has ameliorated political and social State government by science. There has come about a terribly outward and mechanical endeavour, which is, however, tempered by a more humanistic idea. But this is a passing phase, on which we may not lay too much emphasis.

The broad, permanent European conception of life is in its own limits a great and invigorating conception, imperfect and narrow at the top, shut in a heavy lid, poor in its horizons, too much of the soil, but still with a sense in it that is strenuous and noble. The Indian conception of life starts from a deeper centre and has an inner attitude which looks for spirit behind outer form and force. The Indian mind does not feel satisfied with anything that is short of the inmost spirit. It looks upon physical existence with a sense of the presence of the psychological and spiritual reality. Matter, life and mind are instruments of the spirit, and they are to be used for spiritual purposes. This is the reason why one talks of Indian spirituality. This is very remote from the dominant European idea, it is different even from the form given by Europe to the Christian conception of life.

But it does not mean that Indian culture concedes no reality to life; it allows material and vital aims and satisfaction, it even bestows a great care on actual human existence. It even goes farther and gives a tremendous impetus to arrive at some of the great heights of the development of their body, life and mind; it is only when the mind and heart and reason heighten to their greatest heights and powers that the embodied life can hope to open up to a greater life and power of the spirit; it is only when the individual mind is greatly widened that one can enter into a vast spiritual universal consciousness and a high spiritual transcendence. This conception impels the highest possible efforts of the body, life and mind; and in any case they do not sterilize or depress life. The human life was in ancient times looked upon as the greatest thing which even the gods in heaven desire to possess in order to experience something that is available only in the human life. These ideas exalt the life of man and make something like godhead its logical outcome.

The value that is given to human life in Indian culture can be judged more appropriately if we examine the Indian concept of the human being, of the human soul. The Vedantic thought and the thought of the classical ages went very far beyond anything conceived by the western thought in regard to human beings and souls. In the west, there are only two alternative ideas of man; man is either a passing phenomenon created by Nature so that he has no permanent sense or meaning, or else he is conceived under the Christian thought to be a soul manufactured at birth by an arbitrary breath of the whimsical Creator who is asked to seek salvation under impossible conditions so that he is far more likely to be thrown away into the burning refuse heap of Hell as a hopeless failure. It is true that sometimes the western thought has assigned a great significance to man's reasoning mind and will so that man can even become better than God or better than what Nature has made him. As compared to this western thought, Indian conception of man is far more ennobling, inspiring and filled with the motive force of a great effort. The human soul, according to Indian view, is an inextinguishable spark of the supreme fire which is Divine and Eternal. The soul of man can even become identical with ineffable transcendence because in his uttermost reality it is already identical with that transcendence from which he has come and who is even greater than the godheads whom he worships. What he appears to be in his present stage is only his half-developed manifestation, and he has the capacity to pass to a supreme and extraordinary pitch of manhood; it is only when his height is reached that a greater freedom is opened up so that he can become semi-divine man, mukta, siddha. No human soul is to be thrown away into any eternal hell, because such a hell does not exist, and no soul is incapable of reaching to any highest perfection. The human soul can even become released in cosmic consciousness, he can realize himself in all and all in himself and realize himself as eternally one with the Supreme. He is not here on the earth to be shut up forever in his ego; he can break through any of his powers, through his heart of love and sympathy, through his will and dynamic drive towards right action, through his ethical nature and virtues and even through his aesthetic sense and through his seekings of delight and beauty; through any of these or all these powers he can attain to the highest. All powers are to be developed and perfected; no power is to be depressed or rejected as something incapable of attaining great heights and opening up to greater calm and wideness, joy and peace.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

From the earliest Vedic times, India has endeavoured to find out all the possible paths to attain spiritual liberation, of the Siddha, Bhagawata, Mukta. And India had succeeded in arriving at the discovery of this goal and put it forward as the common highest aim and universal spiritual destiny of the soul that is in every human creature. The positivist western mind finds it difficult to understand this goal, and it seems to be through its Christian associations a blasphemy against the solitary greatness of God. It is true that in ancient Europe the Stoics, Platonists, Pythagoreans had made some approach to this aspiration, and even afterwards a few rare souls have envisaged or pursued it through occult ways. It is true that even once again this aspiration appears in poetry in the West or through movements like Theosophy. But Western science and philosophy and religion still regard it with scorn, with indifference or with condemnation.

Indian thought recognized that the ideal of spiritual liberation and perfection can be reached only by building up a bridge of gradual ascent from the present actual imperfect state of ordinary life. The Indian conception in its early soundness did not think of ascetic and violent means by which springs of life are dried up or destroyed. Even in the period of decline when exaggerated asceticism came to be pursued, life was still regarded as an intermediate reality, and the concept of the world as an illusory Maya, which was put forward very powerfully by one school of thought was resisted by several other theories. In some, it can be said that Indian thought recognized that the normal life must be passed through to fulfil its ordinary purpose, and various powers of life must be developed; even enjoyments of life were fully taken in their own level. The spiritual perfection was conceived as the crown of a long, patient flowering of the spirit of life and nature. At every step in human progression, action in life, will in life had their importance right from the earliest stages to the last stages.

Indian conception of life and existence is centred in the belief in a gradual soul evolution with a final perfection and human life as its first direct means and often repeated opportunity. Human life is seen in the figure of an ascent in spirals or circles, and there is room within it with all terrestrial aims, activities and aspirations. Hundred forms of the pursuit of knowledge, complex play of emotions and refinements, developments of aesthetic faculties and rich and robust and heroic life of action, all this has come in the scope of Indian life. Indian culture never depressed or mutilated the activities of our nature, subject to a certain principal harmony and government. It allowed their extreme value. It is impossible to escape the sense of fullness of human life and action if one reads the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the rest of the literature in Sanskrit and in the later tongues, and if one tries to understand the massive remains of other cultural works and social and political systems and speculations.

Culture must first enrich, enlarge and encourage human life; but at a higher level it must also provide a system of social and individual life with a guiding law by which vital forces can come to be subjected to some moral and rational government, until a higher freedom, a spiritual freedom, perfection and greatness are discovered and pursued. Ancient Indian civilization did this work with profound wisdom and high and subtle skill and organized society and ordered the individual life in such a way that the entire human nature and propensities are finally turned towards spiritual realization. But never did it lose sight of the use of life as a discipline for spiritual perfection and the passage to the Infinite.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

Two main truths of existence have governed the Indian mind: first is the idea that human growth must pass through stages; and the second is that at every stage we have to acknowledge the complexity of life and nature of man.

In the initial stage of life, kama and artha, hedonistic desire and self-interest were given great importance. But they were not allowed to make unbridled claim; a higher law was imposed, the higher law of Dharma. India perceived and even permitted the development of materialistic aim as seen in the philosophy of the Charvakas; but unlike the western attitude to materialism or even to what is unjustly called paganism, India placed before man a higher law and did not favour colossal egoism either of the mind or of senses, of the Asura or of the Rakshasa. That higher law was called Dharma.

Dharma as understood in Indian culture is not a creed or cult or ideal inspiring ethical and social rule. It is at once religious law of action and deepest law of our nature. But since natures differ, positions and works of individuals differ, Dharma develops in accordance with each individual nature and in respect of each position and work. The general Dharma is the same for everyone and that is that every action of life, internal and external, should be so developed that at every stage there is enabling inspiration to rise to the next stage of development until the stage is reached where the spiritual consciousness determines spontaneously what is to be done and manifested. That is the reason why India did not impose one rule on every one uniformly but developed a system and framework so that each has his own proper function and rule and ideal for that function. Indian culture did not allow lawless impulsion of desire and interest; even in the frankest following of desire and interest, it provided a governing and restraining, guiding lines. Indian Dharma was thus developing law for each individual appropriate to his stage of development, but universal too in the broad lines which all have to pursue. A special concept was that of adhikara, the concept which underlined the degree and turn of development and capacity of the individual, so that what was demanded of each individual was appropriate to his adhikara.

What is universal in Indian Dharma is the law of ideal perfection for the developing mind and the soul of man. The ideal perfection was conceived as a combination of certain high and large universal qualities, and the self-perfecting individual was described as Arya, Shrestha, Sajjana, Sadhu. The ideal was not confined to a purely moral idea but it embraced the perfection of the total human nature. It included great qualities of heart, of character, of power of wisdom and even openness to poetry, art and beauty and an educated capacity and skill and works; at a deeper level, it included the quality of inner being and even love of God, seeking after the Highest; it had the dimension of social relations and qualities that make an ideal father, son, husband, friend, and ideal master and servant, king and sage, member of clan or of the group. The ideal is clearly portrayed in the written records of ancient India during millennia and it is the very life-breath of Hindu ethics. This ideal was spirit-wise and worldly-wise, deeply religious, nobly ethical, firmly yet flexibly intellectual, scientific and aesthetic, patient and tolerant of life's difficulties and human weaknesses but arduous in self-discipline. This ideal gave to all the culture of India its characteristic stamp.

But this was only the foundation and preparation, but the ideal went beyond the Dharma and it was raised up to the great aim of spiritual perfection. It declared that mere nobility or highest manhood, which is death-bound is not the greatest height of man's perfection; beyond law, there is the freedom of the spirit; beyond death there is divine immortality. It was this ideal that was held before the inner eye of the soul; the entire life of the individual was ennobled by the aim, and the whole ordering of society was cast into a scale of graduated ascension towards the supreme summit.

In sum, it can be said that the claim of desire, interest and natural functioning were recognized and even fulfilled, although all of them were controlled, uplifted and widened by Dharma. And beyond that, higher spiritual consciousness was kept throughout in view as the supreme goal of life.

Indian culture succeeded in keeping this supreme ideal and goal in front of everyone, and it provided ways and disciplines by which one could realize the liberating truth or could follow at distance this higher aim according to his nature and adhikara. Besides, a number of revered and powerful practitioners and mighty masters of disciplines were found amidst the people, and they proved that the spiritual perfection was not a far-off intangible ideal but it was realizable and practicable. The spiritual idea governed and enlightened and gathered around itself all the life motives of a great civilized people.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture


It is clear that the structure that was built up on these principal lines provided to Indian civilization the flowering of life and gave impetus to an upward elevation towards the highest possible and realizable perfection. Nothing here discouraged life, and if a civilization is to be judged by the power of this idea and by the power of great uses, Indian civilization was inferior to none. No culture can claim perfection, and Indian culture was not perfect; but Indian idea seized with a remarkable depth and comprehensiveness on the main truths and needs of the whole being, on his mind, life and body, his artistic, ethical, intellectual parts of nature, his soul and spirit and gave them a subtle and liberal, a profoundly large, high and wise, a sympathetic and yet nobly arduous direction. More is still possible, but so far more cannot be said for any past or any existing culture.

While it is true that Indian culture had great and noble governing and inspiring ideals, it has also certain harmonious forms and rhythms, certain moulds into which these ideas can run and settle, although it is natural to be prepared for a lesser perfection, a greater incompleteness. For no mould or form can fully express what is intended, and a time comes when the form has to lose itself in uplifting transformations so as to arrive at new and richer synthesis.

In every history of great cultures, we find a passage through three periods. There is, first, a period of large and loose formation; there is a second period in which forms, moulds, rhythms come to be fixed; and there is a third but critical period of old age, decay, and disintegration. This last stage is that of supreme crisis in the life of a civilization; if it cannot transform itself, it declines further and collapses in a death agony brought about by the rapid impact of stronger and more immediately living though not necessarily greater or truer powers or formations. At that stage, if it is able to renovate its ideas, if it can liberate itself from its limiting forms, if it can give a new scope to its spirit, if it can assimilate novel growth and necessities, then there is a rebirth, a fresh lease of life and expansion, a true renascence.

We can see in the history of Indian civilization all these three stages, and today when we are in the midst of a violent and decisive crisis brought about by the in-flooding of the West, we are required to understand the special significance of each of these stages so that we can see how its course is now uplifted by the strong hope at a great revival, transmutation and rebirth. In order to understand the essential spirit of Indian civilization, we must go back to the early epoch of the Vedas and Upanishads and its heroic creative seedtime, when spiritual out-flowering took place in forms which were supple, flexible and freely responsive to its essential spirit. If we want to study the fixed forms which developed in its second period, we shall find the powerful intellectuality from where shastras developed, when philosophy and science, legislation and political and social theory and many-sided critical thought developed, and when religious life came to arrive at fixation, and art, sculpture, painting and architecture took their forms and developed their specific laws of forms. If we want to discover the limitations because of which it failed to develop its whole or its true spirit, we shall find them by studying its period of decline. If we want to discover as to what on new lines Indian culture is likely to follow in its transformation, we must study what lies beneath the still confused movements of the present crisis through which a new birth or renascence is being shaped. At present, however, we shall study only the developed forms and the principal rhythms, which persisted through its greater eras.

Indian culture had asked two important questions while building up a firm outward basis on which its spirit and its idea in life can be practically developed in a secure manner. The first question was as to how to deal with the natural life of man and how to allow sufficient scope and variety and freedom and still make it subject to Dharma, a law of function, a law of type and law of the unideal human tendencies and also a law of highest ideal intention. And the second question was how to direct that Dharma towards its own exceeding so as to permit the secure freedom of the spiritual life. Indian culture from an early stage seized upon a double idea, which resulted in the double system of the four varnas and the four ashramas, four graded classes of society and four successive stages of developing human life.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

The ancient chaturvarnya should be distinguished from the caste system, which is its later disintegrated degeneration and gross meaningless parody. It should also be distinguished from system of classes which we find in other civilizations. Its distinguishing idea was based upon the perception that human beings fall by nature into four types, the brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra. The economic order of society was cast in the form and gradation of these four types, each class served one economic purpose. But the Indian idea went farther; it assigned the supreme position to religion, thought and learning; these were not only at the top of the scale, but they had the dominant power. It went still farther and it fixed the status of the individual not by his birth, but by his capacities and inner nature. Unfortunately, this very important and distinguishing feature did not last long; if it could have been kept alive it would have been a very clear mark of distinctness, a superiority of a unique kind. But in practice, we find that birth became the basis of varna. But even then there was something very distinguishing in the varna system which has made of this social structure a thing apart and sole in its type, and we must ask as to what that distinguishing mark was.

That distinguishing feature was that the varna system did not adhere completely to the economic rule. In the early ages, there was a considerable flexibility, and even in the later period when the caste system became more rigid, there was sufficient confusion of economic functions, which provided flexibility. In the long run, the Indian society did not escape the general law by which forms become mechanical and soulless. As a result, varna system was overtaken by deficiencies; it lost the true sense and degenerated into a chaos of castes, which had developed evils which must be eliminated but which are found to be difficult to be eliminated. But the original varna system was a well devised and necessary scheme in its time; it gave the community the firm and nobly built stability for providing the basis for a high cultural development, a stability hardly paralleled in any other culture. And if we examine the system, we shall find that, as interpreted by the Indian genius, it became a greater thing than a mere outward economic, political and social mechanism.

The specialty of varna system lay in the ethical and spiritual content that was poured into the four-fold society. It was this inner content of the varna system which was its distinguishing feature. How was this inner content fashioned and secured? The following points may be noted in this connection:

  1. It was emphasized that the intellectual, ethical and spiritual growth of the individual is the central need of the race;
  2. Society itself is only a necessary framework for this growth;
  3. Society is a system of relations, and relationships provide a framework, medium, field, conditions and nexus of helpful influences;
  4. A secure place was given to each individual, and each individual was asked to give to society what he could give by his own self development;
  5. Birth came to be accepted as the first gross and natural indicator, since heredity was to Indian mind a factor of the highest importance, although birth is not and cannot be the sole test of varna. And it was rather the turn of temperament and its intellectual and ethical and spiritual capacities that really determined the test of varna.

There came to be developed a rule of family living and a system of education that emphasised individual observance and self-training, so that each individual came to be carefully trained in the capacities, habits and attainments, and each individual was habituated to the sense of honour and duty necessary for the discharge for the allotted function in life. Each was equipped with the science of the things he had to do, the best way to succeed in it, and to attain to the recognised perfection of his activities; in addition to this special function and training the system provided facilities for study and perfection in sciences, arts, graces of life, ‒ and in ancient India they were taught with minuteness, thoroughness and subtlety and were available to all men of culture.

The varna-system did not stop here; it went farther.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

Indian culture provided to each individual the elevating idea that no matter, what varna one belongs to, each one by following the highest ideal or Dharma of his specific nature and temperament, he will be led to discover his own self, his inmost soul which is a spiritual portion of the infinite, one in its essence with the eternal. Each one was told that apart from fulfilling his place in the society, his basic purpose of life was to discover his self and his soul, and this he can discover by fulfilling the ideal of his specific Dharma. Once the ideal of Dharma is reached, one can grow out of the limitations in which he was trained; having fulfilled Dharma, he can go beyond it to the eternity of his self, into the fullness of freedom, greatness, and bliss of the immortal spirit. Then one attains to the freedom of Divine liberty, moksha. In that state of Divine liberty one can either act for the good of all the living things or else turn to enjoy in solitude the bliss of eternity and transcendence. This was most distinguishing feature of the varna-system.

This system further provided an extremely important aid for every individual. This aid was the object of the four Ashramas, a framework that gave to the individual a scale and relation for his life which could be made into a kind of ladder rising from one stage to the next. Four stages were recognised: the stage of the student, the stage of the householder, the stage of the forest-dweller, and the stage of the free super social man, parivrajaka. The student life provided training in the necessary arts and sciences; but more importantly it provided the discipline of the ethical nature, and in the earlier days, it also imparted a grounding in the Vedic formula of spiritual knowledge. In the earlier days the training was given by someone who had arrived at some remarkable realisation of spiritual knowledge. But subsequently, education became more intellectual and mundane, and it was imparted in cities and universities that aim less at an inner preparation of character and knowledge and more at instruction and training of the intelligence. But in the beginning, the Aryans were prepared in some degree for the four great objects of this life, artha, kama, dharma and moksha.

In the stage of the householder, one was able to serve the purposes of artha, kama and dharma.

In the third stage, the individual retired to the forest to live in a broad freedom to work out in seclusion the truth of the spirit. If he so willed, he could gather around him young students and seekers and impart to new rising generations his knowledge as an educator or a spiritual teacher.

In the last stage of his life, he was free to throw off every remaining tie and to wander over the world in an extreme spiritual detachment from all the forms of social life, satisfying only the barest necessities, communicating with the universal spirit, making his soul ready for eternity.

This circle was not obligatory for all, the great majority never went beyond the first two stages; many passed away in the vanaprastha stage; only the rare few entered into the life of the wandering recluse parivrajaka. But this profound conception of the cycle of four stages kept before each individual the full course of the human spirit in his view. Each one could take advantage of this scheme according to its actual growth and it could be fully utilised by those who were sufficiently developed in their present birth to complete the circle.

This was the firm basis on which Indian civilisation grew to its maturity; it became rich, splendid and unique; it grew to astonishing heights of culture and civilisation; it lived with a noble, well-based, ample and vigorous order and freedom.

Indian culture developed a great literature, sciences, arts, crafts, industries. It rose to the highest possible ideals and no mean practice of knowledge and culture. It gave a great impetus to arduous heroism, to kindness, philanthropy and human sympathy and oneness. It laid the inspired basis of wonderful spiritual philosophies, it examined the secrets of external nature and discovered and lived the boundless and miraculous truths of the inner being. It fathomed self and understood and possessed the world.

As the civilisation grew in richness and complexity, the intellect towered and widened, but intuition waved or retreated into the hearts of the saints and adepts and mystics. Society became more artificial and complex, less free and noble. A time came when artha and kama were in some direction developed at the expense of the dharma. The lines of the dharma were filled and stamped with such rigidities that it stood in the way of the freedom of the spirit. Spiritual liberation was pursued in hostility of life and not as its full-orbed results and high crowning.

But still the soul of India was kept alive, some strong basis of old knowledge continued to inspire and harmonize. Even when deterioration came and a small collapse, even in confusion and petrified ignorance, the old spiritual aim and tradition continued to save the Indian peoples. It continually swept back in the race of new waves and high outbursts of life-giving energy. Even now it rises once more in all its strength to give the impulse of a great renascence.

A Critic of Mr Archer on Indian Culture

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