Arun Shourie's column, Part 1/3
THE WAGES OF CALUMNY
The Observer, Feb. 18, 1994
The traditions of India were rich as can be. They had attained insights of
the first order. A person who has reflected on what the Buddha has to say on
the workings of the mind for instance, one who has even a little acquaintance
with Buddhist works on psychology will find the writings of, say, Freud to be
high-school level reductionism. The traditions informed all of life: The
mingling of literature art, music and religion is a ready instance.
And they were inclusive. A person devoted to a tree was not traduced as an
"animist", a person devoted to a bull or an elephant, or a lion, or a snake or
even the lowly mouse was not laughed away.
The objects of his devotion were received with reverence - they became parts
of a rich pantheon: The bull was honored as the mount of Shiva and one could
approach Shiva only after paying obeisance to Nandi, the elephant became the
head of Ganesha and the mouse his mount, the lion became the head of Narsimha
and the mount of Durga, the swan of Saraswati, the peacock of Kartikeya, the
snakes became the necklace and amulets of Shiva, the girdle of Ganesha.
As a confluence of the colors of the people, Rama and Krishna were pictured
as having been blue, Venkateshwara at Triputi, the child Krishna at Nathadwara,
Kali in the East were pictured as pitch dark...
Nor was this artifice. The inclusiveness flowed from deep conviction, from
what had been experienced at the deepest - it flowed from experience which
yielded premises which were the diametric opposites of the religions
There are many levels to reality, the traditions taught. There are many ways
to realise it. The ones who have gone before have left books and suggested
practices which will help you. But these are just aids, and there are many
of them as persons with different tempraments, at different stages of prepara-
tion will find one device more helpful than the other.
You must yourself understand yourself, and gauge the stage at which you are.
By dividing your nature and your progress you must assess the suitability of
the device, of the text. All this was not licence, it was assigning responsi-
bility, it was the call to be "mindful" to look within. It gave an unassailable
sphere of autonomy to the individual.
Everything in human affairs ossifies. Many things in this tradition did too.
But no one could impede reform by an appeal to the "fundamentals", for these
fundamentals made the individual's own, inner experience the ultimate
That everything should reform and transform the tradition regarded as
natural. Differences were harmonised through discourse - witness Shankara's
journeys and the shastraarthas on the way.
Even Islam was eventually tempered: The Sufis who had been set upon in one
Islamic country after another, so much so that secretiveness, had become their
mark, they did not just find a home here, they found honour, reverence.
But all this, the missionaries traduced. The inclusiveness they condemned
as being a sinister stratagem to swallow up other religions. The efflorescence
of different speculations they condemned as cacophony. The openness and tenta-
tiveness they condemned as intellectual flabbiness. The inner-directed search
they condemned as morbid life-denial. The offering of many ways they condemned
as unsettled mush.
The many gods and goddesses they condemned as chaos. What had become the
norm for Islam was now made the norm for Christianity: Freedom of speech
meant the freedom only to laud it, freedom of inquiry meant the freedom to
discover only its glories.
.....to be continued...