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Indian Culture Includes Western Culture

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
Tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

- Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was a Bombay born British poet and Nobel Prize winner.  The verses above is from his classic work titled “The Ballad of East and West” which was first published in 1889.  As a general rule I do not understand the reasons for the anti-Western feeling among certain educated members of the Indian society.  We live in a world where all kinds of information can be accessed for free very quickly.  As a society we are running out of excuses for not knowing. In addition we are also very informed about the cultural, religious, linguistic, philosophical and ethnic diversity of India now more than any time in our history.  So where is this anti-Western feeling coming from?

Labeling someone as a stooge of the West (or western influenced) is one of the most common charge that is leveled at any Indian today who is very critical of India, Hinduism, our traditions and/or our culture.  I think this is partly due to the fact that some Indians try to link liberal and/or critical thinking or questioning as a domain of the West.  So if I seriously question the Hindu caste system or some of its basic assumptions (like the often repeated false notion that it was portable at one point) then I must be Western influenced!!

Personally I do not believe in the concept of East and West.  Separating philosophies, cultures and religions based on Eastern or Western is illogical and does not make sense.  Today Christianity is considered a Western religion but Islam is not although they pretty much evolved from the same region (Middle East).  Christianity was present and well known in many parts of the East long before it set foot on some of the major Western nations.

Philosophy is a study of issues concerning knowledge, values, existence, mind and language.  Today the term “Western Philosophy” loosely defines the ancient philosophy of Greece.  The Greek philosophy of that period was mostly an intellectual process involving the study of physics, culture, astronomy and mathematics.  But most people in India know that such intellectual endeavor was also very common in India during the period as well.  Is there a better “Western Philosopher” than Buddha?

I have another problem with equating Greek philosophy with Western philosophy.  Greece even today is by no means a “Western nation”.  The culture and people of Greece are very different from Western Europe or the United States.  When Greek philosophy and culture was at its peak, Greece was interacting in a major way not with the West (which was mostly unknown during that time) but with places like India, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and North Africa.   So how can a philosophy that is partially a result of such interactions be considered strictly as Western?

Can an Indian today claim that he/she is not influenced by the West or Western thought process?  To put it differently is there an Indian who is not a “stooge of the West”?  Most of us know that parts of India and eventually the whole of India were under the control of European (Western) countries for almost 500 years.  Although the colonizers left their legacy lives on.

We follow the parliamentary form of democracy and the law of the land is based on “English law” imposed by the British during the 18th century (today we call it the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and it was actually enacted in the 1860’s).  So can an Indian who is living under a system of government created by the West and a set of laws enacted by the West that is based on Western culture and values, say that they are not Western influenced?

The greatest and the most effective tool to propagate a set of values is language.  There is no question that English which is the most important language of the West and also the language of business and science also happens to be the favored language of the middle class and upper middle class Indians.  In addition English is also the language of science and technology in India as well.  There is no question that irrespective of government’s efforts to impose Hindi, English continues to be the most important and fastest growing language in India.  Can an Indian who is trying hard to master the English language and is totally dependent on this language for his/her livelihood state that he/she is not influenced by the Western culture?

The impact of Western culture on India is huge.  Today an Indian is very comfortable living in Western nations including the United States, Britain, and Australia rather than living in a country like China, Saudi Arabia or Malaysia although these nations have a lot more in common with us than the Western nations.

Let us step back and take this argument even further.  Indians as evidenced from our DNA have varied backgrounds (For more please read my article The First Indians).  Some of us directly migrated from East coast of Africa to India almost 60,000 years ago.  Others migrated from the Middle East almost 35,000 years ago.  But there is a group that migrated from parts of Central Asia, South Russia and Ukraine to India fairly recently (a few thousand years).  These migrants are the speakers of the Indo-European languages like English and Hindi (larger numbers of North Indians and Upper Caste Indians have these genetic markers than others).  The issue of whether or not Indian epics like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Mahabharatha were written by these European migrants is still an open question!!

Can a group of people, some of whom share DNA with Europeans, who also happen to speak languages closely related to European languages (and not other Indian languages like Tamil) claim that they are not influenced by the “West”?  In a sense we are part of the West!!

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover is yourself” – Alan Alda

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  3. Indian Culture and Values Eroding
  4. Hinduism: Myth vs. Reality
  5. Hinduism in India: Originated From Steppes

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Category: Culture & Religion

Comments (12)

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  1. Christianity is an imported religion even in the USA and Europe. Christianity came to India long before America was found out, and even before many European countries became Christian. Many people in the West are misinformed that Christianity in India is a European contribution. However, in fact, Christianity in India is as old as Christianity itself, and it was brought to India by a disciple of Christ himself.
    Difficult to believe, but true!

    • Hari says:

      You are right Nalini. Christianity has long roots in India as compared to the West. However, some of the earlier Christian stories like the story of Saint Thomas visiting India are myths.

  2. Sumit Chandra says:

    India was the first land where civilisation made its home.Ancient Indians developed the art of farming,medicine,surgery,philosophy,mathematics and various other sciences.The most ancient langauge on earth Sanskrit is still the most scientific humans ever created.Alas we forgot what ancient Indians did.We dont care to do research on Vedas, we donot care to popularise Sanskrit among masses, we dont care to popularise Yoga and Ayurveda.We dont care to teach Indians the art of concentration of mind,the art of meditation,we donot provide Indians with secular education and initiate Gurukul system.What we have is Nehruvian India, which is blindly trying to ape the West.Result-india as we are now.If India has to do good, they should follow Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose.Till the time it doesnot more CWG messes will continue.90% Indians will continue to be impoverished, illiterate and corrupt.

    • Hari says:

      Sumit,

      If I understand you correctly you like the ancient Vedic aspects of India and not the modern India (after independence). I am a lot more optimistic about modern India. I believe that India’s best days are ahead of us.

      I have heard many Indians complain about not doing research about Vedas, not popularizing Sanskrit, Yoga and Ayurveda and so on. What is stopping us from doing it and how do you propose we can do it in a nation that is multicultural and multi-religious?

      • Sumit Chandra says:

        “I am a lot more optimistic about modern India. I believe that India’s best days are ahead of us.”
        Hope so.But there are no signs of it at present.Things are just getting worse by the day.West has nothing to look back to.China and India have.China is already progressing on that path.If India needs to grow it has to gain confidence in herself by looking at her past achievements.Present India is impoverished,illiterate,corrupt.GDP is a faulty measure of growth.HDI is more robust.

        “What is stopping us from doing it and how do you propose we can do it in a nation that is multicultural and multi-religious?”

        The pseudo-secular Govt of India feels Indian philosophies and scriptures are communal.Sanskrit as a Hindu language.Ayurveda & Yoga Hindu practices.Do you see government actively sponsoring Indian philosophy,Yoga etc.Active Govt support is need for popularising Sanskrit,Yoga,Ayurveda and Indian philosophies. Believe me Indian philosophy is the most open and secular of all.Politics and corruption is the bane of India.In India everyone puts personal interest above national interest.Had national interest been taken care of India would have been a developed country by now.

        • Hari says:

          Sumit,

          How can there be so sign of India improving? Since independence our literacy rate, our infant mortality rate, average lifespan, our GDP, our industrial output etc. have all dramatically improved and they continue to improve.

          India is a secular democracy. Whether it is pseudo secular or not depends on who you ask. Some religious Hindus or people from other religions might feel that India is pseudo secular but others for whom religion is not important might feel India is fine the way it is. I do not feel we have to wait for the government of India to promote Sanskrit, Yoga or Ayurveda. They have a lot more important things to do with our tax dollars. Also there are plenty of other organizations with a lot of money that are capable of doing it.

          Many Indians including secular Hindus and many minorities would also not consider Ayurveda, study of Vedas, promoting Yoga etc. as promoting “Indian” culture but rather a specific version of Indian culture. Some people can claim that the Indian government should instead be promoting languages like Tamil, Sangam literature, Islam and Christianity that is part of India as well.

  3. Sumit Chandra says:

    Christianity is an offshoot of a branch of Buddhism and local Mediterrenean customs.The missionary form of Christian practice is obtained from Theraputists sect of Buddhism who would go about and serve mankind.Such a branch was present in Egypt which influenced their thinking and Christianity was developed.There is much doubt whether any person as Jesus Christ was actually there or not, however Saint Paul was responsible for preaching the ideals of so called Christ.Long before the Romans embraced Christianity,Socrates was greatly influenced by Indian philosphy and to this day he is one of the most important philosophers of the West.Though West has been unable to absorb the teachings of Socrates,he is one of the more respected lot.In the mid 18t century onwards Indian philosophy again travelled west and led to German ideological revolution.Kant,Schopenuer were among them responsible.With Swami Vivekananda’s visit to the West, the spread of Indian philosophy and ideas expedited.In the intellectual circles of the west Vedanta is one of the most discussed sciences.However it will take time for most and mainly the masses to absorb it,but slowly they will.Recent reports from Russia,USA,UK, testify the same.Alas Indians are unable to stop apeing the West and research deep into their culture.They may do it once the westerners take it up.

    • Hari says:

      Sumit,

      I feel many of us in India want Westerners and others to understand, appreciate and incorporate the Indian culture, values, philosophies and traditions (maybe I am wrong in making this assumption). Do you think that there are things that we can learn and absorb from the “West”?

      • Sumit Chandra says:

        Surely we can.Western efficiency, organising power,patriotism needs to be learnt.But at the same time Indians need to be taught about their own heritage,culture and philosophy.Every nation has a central theme.India too has one.For India it is religion.If you see Indians are generally religious.You can see the most devout Hindu,Muslim or Christian in India.Religion should be encouraged in India, but not the dogmatic and ritualistic part but the spiritual aspect of religion.

        • Hari says:

          I slightly disagree Sumit. Some of the major problems facing India today are religious in nature. We need less religion and more science. Indians have a very good understanding of their heritage, culture and philosophy (what every individual believes might not be entirely the right version (if there is one) but that is what they want to cling on to). India’s central them should be unity in diversity.

    • Kasia says:

      Sorry, but I have do disagree wiith what you write about Indian influences on Europe… Socrates lived in the fifth century BC, only a few decennies after Buddha and much before Alexander the Great so it is really doubtful he might be influenced by Indian philosophers. He uses no terms that might be taken from Sanskrit and his teachings really do not have much to do with Upanishad or the Vedas. Jesus Christ was a humble Jew and he didn’t have much of a chance to be noticed by historians being sentenced to death after only three years of teaching (for claiming He is the Son of God which was a blaspheme for the Jews). Yet Jesus was noted by a Jewish historian from the I century CE Flavius Josephus. As for Paul, he was a Jew well educated in Greek philosophy, notably by the writings of Plato, a direct disciple of Socrates.
      If some European philosophers in the 1700s and 1800s were astonished with what they learned from India, Persia or China meant it was something completely new and unknown to them…

      • Hari says:

        The connection between Greek, Persian, Egyptian mythologies and the mythologies found in Hinduism and Buddhism is undeniable. The word Abraham (birth name is Abram), which refers to the father of the Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the word Bram (deity found in almost all religions in India) is almost identical. Also I would also like to point out Josephus supposed account of Jesus is a very contentious issue among historians. The same Josephus writes about “James the Just” whom he describes as the brother of Jesus (this goes against traditional Christian beliefs). Many historians believe that Testimonium Flavianum was altered and the phrase “who was called Christ” was added later.

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