Oriental Heritage


History is an uninterupted landscape where past, present and future coexist in a dynamic fashion. This supplies the key to the present and the present shapes the contour of the future.

However, history with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleans the passion of yester years.

Unlike the Babylonian Civilization (C 1800-500 BC), Egyptian Civilization (C 5510 BC) and Mayan Civilization (700-800 AD), Indian Civilization with its periodic ups and downs, maintained a continuity, a stability, a sustainability, adaptability and adjustability and it always moved with the dynamic history of a changing world.

‘‘Bhagavad Gita’’ (part of the epic Mahabarata—24-42nd chapters) is not a book of religious discourse as is generally supposed but a gospel of life which is relevant to every man even today, after thousands of years. It is a part of the Mahabharata, the great epic of India and is sung and recited as it is read by people all over the world, whichever race or religion they may belong to, get a guidance in fighting the battle of life, and in facing its many problems, trials and tribulations. It is divided into 18 chapters—700 slokas. The Bhagavad Gita in its first six chapters teaches how to act with complete detachment and thereafter unfolds the secret of true attachment or devotion to the Supreme Spirit. In the next 6 concluding chapters it gives the essence of all knowledge about the tree of life that is the world. The Gita is thus most comprehensive in its teaching making full use of the hand, the heart and the head—the three main components of man.

Vedanta is the religion of India. Max Muller (1823-1900), the famous Sanskrit scholar and Professor of Oriental Studies in the University of Oxford rightly said in his lecture on Vedanta philosophy in 1894 :

‘‘What distiguishes Vedanta from all other philosophies is that, it is at the same time a religion and a philosophy. It is the most sublime philosophy and the most satisfying religion.’’

Ancient Indian civilization was the cynosure of the world. It attracted scholars from all over the civilized world. The Greek polymath, philosopher and physician Pythagoras (580-498 BC) is known to have visited India to learn Ayurvedic system of medicine. He also used to believe in transmigation of souls. It all happened long before the invasion of India by the Macedonian King—Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) in 326 BC. There was contact with other old civilizations—Chinese, Babyloniyan, Egyptian, Mayan and so on.

During a conversation with the famous historian and writer Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), Poet-Philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1913, said :

‘‘Physical science of the nineteenth century probably has created this spirit of race and superiority in the West. When the East assimilates this physical science, the tide may turn and take a normal course.’’

Rabindranath pinpointed the core of India’s deficiency in the contemporary world. Many people from different parts of the world have been and are still interested to know about the spiritual, intellectual, literal, philosophical and cultural history of India. Again, what Rabindranath told the French philosopher and writer—Romain Rolland (1866-1944), Nobel Laureate, 1915, is still relevant today :
‘‘If you want to know India, read Vivekananda. There is nothing negative in him. Everything is positive and affirmative.’’

The origin of many ideas of western philosophy such as German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) duty-based theory, supremacy of the motive of an action over the action itself and its consequences, the categorical imperative and the principle of universalizability. These are all reflections of the philosophy of the Bhagvad Gita written about 2600 years ago.

What the American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910)] wrote about India in 1887 still gives a genuine introduction of India to the world outside :

‘‘India, land of dreams and romance —the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birth place of human speech, mother of history, grand in mother of legend, great-grand mother of tradition, the land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.’’

Vol. 46, No. 25, Dec 29 2013 -Jan 4, 2014

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