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Culture and Religion

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 Dec 2016 12:00 AM GMT

By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee

The dictiory meaning of culture is that it is an intellectual and artistic achievement or expression. Actually it is a way of life of a group of people residing in a particular place and at a certain time. Culture is reflected in the customs and practices, which regulate the individual and their collective lives. There are various aspects of culture—notably aesthetic, moral, social and spiritual. All the cultural practices are guided by a belief, which represents a particular way and relations. Some people aim at wealth and power, and some aim at truth and virtue. All social customs are actively derived from the peoples’ particular view of the world. These aims of the people are regulated by a particular culture and it offers means to the people to pursue the goal. Beliefs belong to the realm of thought and it forms the foundation of a culture.

Religion is closely connected with the meaning and significance of human existence and therefore it is connected with culture. It has been said that “religion shapes a culture’s system of beliefs and practice, and a culture influences how a religion is interpreted. Diverse sects have diverse culture. Human civilization has not yet developed a culture, which is wholly secular”.

It has been said that Indian culture origited in the indigenous civilization of Indus valley, which was multi-lingual and multi-ethnic. Some of the elements of this period through its synthesis with vedic culture continue till today. Radhakrishn observed: “The cults of siva and sakti may have come down from the Indus people. Worship of trees, animals, and rivers, and other cults associated with fertility ritual may have had the same origin. At that phase there was a temporary setback to the vedic religion for a time. But it soon reinstated itself through the doctrines of vedanta, which stated that pure consciousness and bliss are all-pervading and one ultimate reality. The uponishads, by asserting the oneness of the ultimate reality with ture and man, discussed the existential problems of human beings. Upanishadic thought can be termed as the basis of Indian culture.

Possibly the concept of “var” was introduced to regulate division of labour. But tater on it degraded in to a rigid social system of caste, which has caused havoc in Indian society. Every aspect of one’s life had to be determined by the var customs. But Buddhism and Jainism were against these customs. They questioned the Vedic authority and put forward a different concept of Ethics, independent of Var system.

Emperor Ashoka was greatly influenced by the teachings of Gautama Buddha and in the Rock Edict XII, the Mouryan Emeror exhorts the members of all sects to be tolerant towards their beliefs and practices and to others’ beliefs and practices as well.

The great Indian epics, particularly the Ramaya and Mahabharata provided the continuity of this kind of socio-ethical tradition of Indian culture. These epics have clearly stated one’s responsibility to all living beings. The Dharma Sashtras of Hindu religion also stressed the need for harmonious integration of one’s rights with his responsibilities to others. It is an ethical doctrine that rights and duties go together. One cannot insist on his rights, if he does not realize that he has also obligations to others. This ethical theory was stated by the Hindu Dharma Sashtras long back. According to Dr. P. R. Kame, the word “Dharma” does not mean a religion, but a mode of life or course of conduct. Thus the Rigveda may be regarded as a divine revelation, but Hindu religion with a large number of religious festivals centred around an equal number of deities is more significant in the realm of culture than in religion. The “Dharma Sashtras” by introducing the “common code of conduct” propagated ethical practice, which are binding on all sections of the society. But these practices have nothing to do with religion. They aim at individual perfection by reconciling the conflicting claims of one’s persolity to achieve harmony in his life in society. The classical thoughts of ancient India gave birth to the philosophical traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Emperor Akbar rejuveted the tradition of secularism and tolerance, ingrained in Indian mind since the days of Emperor Ashoka. The idea of oneness of ture and man with God has long been propagated by the ancient Indian philosophy. This kind of idea is contained in the Bhagavad Gita, in which Lord Sri Krish, in his dialogues with Arju, explains, “He, who sees me in everything and everything within me, neither loses the right of me nor is lost beyond my sight, since he and I are one.

Rabindra th Tagore, who was greatly influenced by the Upanishads, said in one of his verses: “Oh Lord, unveil the covers and let me recognize my real self within my inte radiance”. Many Indian scholars believe that if one can recognize his true self, he will understand that there is a close relation between self and the God. In fact, jivatma is one with the Paramatma. There is no difference between the two.

It is ridiculous to think that one religion is superior to another. Superficially, in the surface, every religion has some elements, which are conditioned by constraints and prejudices of the time and space of its origin and influence the culture of that period. But deep beneath the surface of every religion lies its essence, that is, the “oneness of being”. In the context of the diversity of individual preference, the Bhagavad Gita clearly states that each of the apparently different paths of knowledge, love of God and disinterested action leads to the same goal. These paths to reach the goal are almost the same in all the religions of the world.

Indian reformation movement was initiated by Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. The European Reissance did influence Indian reformation to a certain extent. The spirit of Indian Reissance, which comprises ratiol inquiry, human rights, joy of living, was nothing new to Indian mind. These ideals were already incorporated in the Upanishads. The Upanishads have forbidden anything that is not ameble to reason. The very first verse of isha-upanisad states: “enjoy yourself by tyaga”, donot get tempted by others wealth”. The Taittiriya Upanishad states about the joy of being as it proclaims: “Everything is derived from joy, is nourished in joy, and filly returns to joy”.

However, the activities of the Christian missiories helped to spread education and medical care. This made a profound impact on the enlightened Indians. They did not fail to take the note of the wide gap between the awareness of one’s responsibility towards others and in its ineffective realization in social practice. This is obvious in the continuation of such evil social customs such as caste distinction and the treatment of the so- called untouchability. In Mahabharata itself we can notice the evil practice in certain cases as GuruDrocharya’s refusal to accept “low-born “Ekalavya as his disciple. Then kar was often humiliated by the pandavas, especially Arju, under the misconception tht he was the son of a “low-born”charioteer.

Swami Vivekanda pointed to this reality, when he said, ”no religion on earth preached the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism”. It is obvious that Vivekanda noticed both the good and bad aspects

In Hinduism. Perhaps every religion has something good and something bad in them. We should accept the good points and reject the bad ones.

Mahatma Gandhi explored the Upanishadic doctrines of “oneness” and “truth” through “satyagraha”, which asserts the supremacy of truth over brute physical strength. Satyagraha is a technique of Ahimsa. He said that satyagraha, translated in English, means soul force or love-force. Describing the ture of satyagraha Gandhi said, “its equivalent in the vercular rendered into English means truth-force. I think Tolstoy called it also soul-force or love-force and so it is carried out to its almost limit, this force is independent of pecuniary or other material assistance, even in its elementary form of physical force or violence. Indeed, violence is the negation of this great spiritual form which can only be wielded or cultivated by those who will entirely eschew violence. It is force that may be used by individuals as well as by communities… It is impossible for those who consider themselves to be weak to apply this force. Only those who realise that there is something in man which is superior to the brute ture in him, and that the latter always yields to it, can effectively be passive resisters. This force is to violence and, therefore to all tyranny ,all injustice, what light is to darkness.

From the writings of Gandhi one thing seems to be obvious and it follows from the very etymology of the word “satyagraha”. Truth according to Gandhi is God and satyagraha is “agraha” of satya and thus, it means holding fast to truth. Therefore, it demands a deep sympathy and rigorous love for truth. Satyagraha is essentially based on love, and it appears to Gandhi almost like a religious pursuit. It rests on a religious belief that there is one God behind everything and being and as such the same God resides in every one of us. This, according to Gandhi, is the basis of love, and unless one has this basic love for mankind, he cannot practise the technique of satyagraha. Maintaining a link with the past heritage, the revival of Indian culture in the modern period reaffirmed the concept of “oneness” by extending the claim that all religions point to the same goal. If we observe deeply we get the evidence that a uniform plan links every form in the manifold universe. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was supposed to have said “know thyself”. In the Chandogya-Upanishad the self has been explored in a number of ways. It is the knowledge of the self that holds the secret of how to transcend death. The “Katha-Upanishad” observed, “A rare discrimiting man, desiring immortality, turns his eyes towards and sees the self”.

From time immemorial man has been perplexed by diverse events of the world. He faces conflicting conceptions of various duties at every step of his life and he becomes uncertain about the right path he has to undertake. His quest for truth leads him to ask questions—questions concerning the human condition about one’s relationship with one’s self and with the world one lives in. In his search for the right path, he wanders through various conceptions, until the conflicting conceptions of his persolity dissolve into the fullness of the impersol, transcending the mortal barriers of existence. Then he is transformed into the rare discrimiting man of the Katha-Upanishad. Such a way of looking at the world and searching human relations accordingly is the distinctive feature of the cultural tradition of India.

Ancient Greece, which is the source of western philosophy, shared the same awareness of individual perfection as conceptualized in the classical Indian thoughts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. But unfortutely the intellectual development of enlightenment shifted its focus from attainment of perfection to individual comfort, which led to adverse consequences.

In the me of modernism, the Machiavellian policy of removing ethics and morality from society is complete. A culture of rights devoid of any sense of commitment to society and awareness of responsibilities to others has pervaded all forms of human religion and such has been the end of our so-called development of progress. In this competitive and mechanical world, human image is lost in a maze of shallow senseless entity that lacks the intention to face Reality in its entirety. In this intellectual vacuum, the notion of fragmentation and incoherence rules the roost and is presented as the domint culture of this age.

We are facing a strange paradox today. While the diverse sciences in their various fields have appreciated the idea of oneness of truth, the metaphysical thought is drifting apart to assert the relativity of truth. To realise the oneness of being, we have to note that the path of eterl life is not exterl, but interl. Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata age took his decisive journey to eterl life. Yet more than 2000 years after that fil journey of Yudhisthira, civilization driven by the primitive instincts of selfish greed has circled back to the vulgar competition for material gain in which a few are enriched at the expense of others. Thus we are steadily losing our battle against poverty and ignorance, not due to the dearth of material resources, but by making ourselves culturally bankrupt.

It is high time that we remembered our cultural priority. The individual must be aware of his/her responsibility towards others. The responsibility should arise not from an idea of duty or obedience to some law, but from a feeling of togetherness in a human situation. Morality alone is capable of balancing the tilt in today’s culture of selfish “rights”. Theism, which effectively accounts for the inescapability of the ethical values, can provide a moral compass until a wholly secular culture is evolved.

In the context of commul state or group loyalties, it is necessary to realise the importance of “oneness” underlying the various beliefs in the superstructure of Indian culture. Non-violence and tolerance are essential ingredients that form the basis of broader ethics capable of exploring ways to reduce the social conflicts in India.

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