A student of Pre-modern India, of virtually any Caste or tradition, could gain access to a thorough grounding in the spiritual philosophy and value system that supplemented the family traditions and practices, and provided a context for the cultural training and learning that was imparted at home by the family. Modern India has squandered that heritage of spiritually centered education and grounding, in pursuit of purely western ideals. India has lost something that it had possessed for Millennia in the space of a few decades – Its ancient system of Gurukula education.
In modern times, there have been attempts to revive the form of a Gurukulam in new ways – at Tagore’s Shantiniketan, at Gandhi’s Sabarmati and Wardha ashrams, at Sri Aurobindo’s ashram in Pondicherry and in other more recent environments such as the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Coimbatore, Rishikesh and Saylorsburg. The S-Vyasa Institute in Bangalore, is another attempt to integrate the form of an Ashram or Gurukulam with the modern construct of a University that offers degrees. The model is challenging to implement in our times due, among other things, to an increased pressure for standardization, accreditation and a heightened sense of the utilitarian value of education, introduced by modernity. Yet there are aspects to a deeper spiritual learning that the environment of an Ashram or Gurukulam offers which cannot be replicated easily in modern institutional settings, such as a College or University.
Since independence, we have increasingly lost the Indian sources of knowledge. Modernity’s demands have reformulated the aims of life so as to harness all members of society to the productive engines of the world market. Artha and Kama have taken center stage, while Dharma and Moksha have receded into the background. The sources of Indian knowledge have increasingly been seen as “useless” to such aims, so that today’s children lack the need for an education centered on Dharma and Moksha, which can easily seem a cultural burden, in our competitive times.
Indians are by and large caught in the middle of a culture and value system that is somewhat at odds with their western education. And every Indian has to choose how they see themselves, a product of primarily Western values and thought, who distance themselves from traditional India, and therefore, from their own family and ancestral heritage centered on Dharma, or a person who could embrace both the ancient Indian Sanatana Dharma and modern Western thought, and could choose intelligently how to move from one to the other, without having to abandon either, and being able to pick the best of both worlds. This is the great divide that splits modern Hindus into two seemingly opposed groups.
The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu used the term “doxa” to refer to the unquestioned assumptions of a culture. Doxa makes us what we are as “insiders” of a culture who can understand one another, yet cannot explain ourselves completely to people from other cultures. When the luxury of segregated cultural existence is no longer given to us (either due to invasion or migration or globalization) we either cling to these unquestioned assumptions in blind ways, or we blindly reject them. Rarely, a few amongst us become empowered to creatively re-form both our own and the “other” culture’s values and practices. Bourdieu sees this as the bifurcation of doxa into orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Clinging blindly to one’s own assumptions, becoming paranoid about the “other” and bad-mouthing them unexceptionally are signs of “orthodoxy.” Rejecting our own for the other’s values is an “inverse orthodoxy”, the predisposition of Secularized India.
Becoming creatively conscious of our assumptions and able to translate them adequately into another cultural system, often introducing new ways of being and acting for both cultures is considered heterodox. All living and expanding cultures grow through creative heterodoxy. This has been the case with “Indian cultural traditions,” which have never been static and in their best times and the best minds have expanded themselves in this manner. But this requires committed investment of attention which few are willing to give in our times. It seems much easier to swell the numbers of one orthodoxy or another.
Sri Aurobindo once mused if the Dharma still had the vitality in it to give rise to new forms, or if we as a people are going to be stuck in holding on to forms that had long since lost their appeal or relevance. When the Dharma fails to appeal to people who are born, raised or educated in a Western milieu or environment, it is probable that it will get lost totally in its essence as well.
Dharma Civilization’s endeavor is in many ways an experiment in giving new form to an ancient essence, new life to an ancient value system, a new mode of existence of what has intuitively always been with us, even if in an attenuated and weak form, embedded into the mores and values of our Caste and Community. It is only fitting that we are entering this phase of our journey, in the 150th Year of Swami Vivekananda’s birth, arguably the first Indian to speak about Sanatana Dharma, to a global audience, and in a language that had the potential for a more global appeal. People like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi and many others during India’s nationalist period could voice themselves in a way that spoke powerfully to a world population of the crisis in civilization for modern humanity at the cusp of a decolonized global age, which impacted the global condition of humankind, and not merely the colonized Indian.
Dharma civilization Foundation has the opportunity to address our own times about the crises of our age as participants using the distinctions and concerns we all share as contemporary human beings but with the archives of engagement and transcendence which the civilizational history of India centered on Dharma has made possible. For this, we need to embody these inner resources and master the languages of our own culture and of neo-colonialism, post-colonialism and more, the inclusive language yet to be born. Dharma Civilization Foundation has to enable Indic Knowledge to enter the academy, not as a specialized domain of non-utilitarian choice but as part of the value education of modern existence. This is the unique and extraordinary challenge and opportunity that Dharma Civilization Foundation has created both for itself, the Dharma communities and the world at large.
Note: This article has been created from an e-mail exchange between Kalyan Viswanathan and Dr. Debashish Banerjee, Dean, University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles, California.